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Roman Industrial Surburbs of Normangate Field

70-450AD

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The area to the south of Ailsworth and Castor villages is known as Normangate Field. It was the site of extensive Roman pottery and metal working workshops. The Roman road of Ermine Street runs through the area. It can be seen today as a massive bank of earth concealed underneath several hundred years of repeated road surfacing. The potteries here gave their name to the distinctive Roman pottery known at Castor Ware. Interpretation from 2018 has revealed that the Normangate Fields contained a complex and thriving community. The location of the fields put the pottery and metal workers in an excellent position. They were near the Praetorium, Durobrivae and Rive Nene for water-based transport. Also, not only were they straddling Ermine Street, but King Street too. It is possible that King Street was once much more important than Ermine Street based on the location of the workers.





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The Praetorium at Castor

230AD

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Underneath St Kyneburgha's Church, Castor are the remains of one of the biggest buildings in Roman Britain. Parts of its walls still can be seen in various parts of the village. The site has been explored over several hundred years with early antiquaries confused by what the mosaic floors and several bath houses all meant. We now know that the site was probably part of a vast Imperial Estate from where much of the fenlands was governed. The building appears to have been the administrative centre of this estate and was where a procurator would have held court and possibly lived. The building on the top of the rise, where the church now stands, would have been seen for miles as a symbol of Roman power and authority.





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Death of Edmund Artis

1847

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Early Life: Edmund Artis was of humble origins, the son of a carpenter, born in 1789, in the small village of Sweffling in Suffolk. At the age of 16 he moved to London to work with his uncle in the wine trade. He then opened a confectionery shop. His life was changed when one of his confectionery creations, used as the centre-piece at a dinner party, caught the eye of Earl Fitzwilliam. Fitzwilliam invited Artis to join his staff at Milton Hall near Castor, then in Northamptonshire. Despite having little formal education Artis was a very able and competent man, this was recognised and within three years he became House Steward with the responsibility of running Milton Hall. Interests: Artis was a man of broad interests, among them painting, natural history and geology but he is most remembered as an antiquarian (one who studies the past and artefacts associated with it).  In the 1820s, whilst living at Milton Hall, he conducted many excavations of Roman sites in the surrounding area including the town of Durobrivae and the Praetorium (palace) at Castor. Unusually for the time he not only uncovered sites and objects, but carefully recorded them. The Durobrivae of Antoninus: This book, published in 1828, contains engravings of the careful plans and illustrations Artis made of his findings, including coloured illustrations of the mosaic floors found in local villas. Unfortunately he died before the companion book of text to accompany the illustrations could be written. His scientific approach to finding and recording evidence of the past mean that he is truly one of the fathers of archaeology. Edmund Artis is buried at St Kyneburgha's church, which is built over the site of Castor Praetorium.  





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Bagley’s Bells of Castor

1700

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Castor Church sits in a commanding position over the Nene Valley. It has a rich history with enviable Roman, Saxon and Norman construction within the building. Evidence of the Roman Praetorium and Saint Kyneburgha's church are easy to identify. What is not as easy to see, but easy to hear, are the church bells. There are eight in total, six of which date from 1700. They were inscribed by the name of the bell founder Henry Bagley who lived in Ecton, Northamptonshire. Two bells declare 'Henry Bagley of Ecton Made Me 1700' and two repeat the statement in Latin. The other two are a mixture of Latin and English, the Tenor bell declaring 'I to the church the living call and to the grave do summon all.' Henry Bagley was a master bell founder and the second Henry Bagley. He also holds the honour of being the tutor of Henry Penn, Peterborough's well-known bell founder. The two newest bells were installed as millennium commemorations. One is inscribed 'Untouched I am a silent thing, but strike me and I sweetly sing.' We can imagine that Henry Bagley would be happy with that sentiment.