Friday, 19 September 2014

Roman Britain

Following the defeat of rebellious local tribes, such as Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni Tribe, Britain was ruled as a Roman colony for 350 years.  Our Roman legacy includes military and civil construction: forts, walls, towns, and public buildings. The many long straight roads, built for easy movement of troops, are still a feature of the landscape today.
Viroconium in Shropshire, now Wroxeter, was the fourth largest city in Roman Britain. It began as a legionary fortress and later developed into a thriving civilian city. Though much still remains below ground the most impressive visible feature is the huge wall that divided the municipal baths from the exercise hall (Basilica) in the heart of the city.
The Basilica - an artists impression of how the exercise hall would have looked
It is likely that the inhabitants of Wroxeter were able to maintain an urban way of life long after the Romans' formally abandoned control of Britain in the early fifth century. However, by the mid-seventh century everybody had left, perhaps moving to small communities developing nearby. Gradually the deserted buildings of Wroxeter were mostly dismantled and reused. Roman stone can be seen in nearby churches and houses.
This country road running between the ruins was the principal city street separating the Basilica from the Forum. Today this road is part of Watling Street, which runs all of the way from what was Viroconium (Wroxeter) to Londinium (London) onwards to Portus Dubris (Dover) - the sea crossing point back to Rome. 
These are the only visible remains of the Forums once impressive colonnade to the right of which there was a large market square and town hall
Remains of the hypocaust - underfloor heating system
Heading across Watling Street to the area where the Forum stood is a Roman Town House constructed about 4 years ago. Built using only materials that would have been available locally to the Romans and without the aid of any modern day machinery, the builders were aided in their quest by a manual on Roman building written by engineer Vitruvius 2,000 years ago. The building process helped shed new light on how the incredible feats of ancient engineering were achieved. This replica house stands as testament to the energy and ingenuity that defined so much of the Roman era.
The house was inspired by buildings excavated at Wroxeter. It stands on a platform to protect the important archaeological remains of the Forum which lie beneath it. The house reveals just how comfortable life could be in Roman Britain around 320 AD.
I think that this symbol on the outside wall of the house represents Sol Invictus "unconquered Sun" the official sun god of the later Roman Empire and a patron of soldiers. It seems to fit in with the fact that Viroconium was originally a legionary fortress. I would be happy to learn any other thoughts that you might have as this is pure guess work on my part.
House owners often rented out parts of their property to tenants, who used the space to sell goods. Shops occupied the front portion of many houses that faced out onto the street. They sold pottery, vegetables, furs - even fast food such as ready cooked meats.
The Triclinium where guests were entertained
The painted walls are decidedly amateurish
in contrast to the luxurious Roman villa at Boscoreale near Pompeii, which has beautifully detailed wall paintings designed to make the room appear more open and spacious.
Having bathed in the frigidarium (cold room) the Romans would then move on to the tepidarium (warm room) and finally the caldarium (hot room)
All of the terracotta tiles used in the project were handmade using moulds and the slate tiles split and shaped using Roman tools.
Our hotel was literally 2 mins walk away and stood on ground that was once Viroconium.  Alongside the hotel was the Church of St. Andrew, Wroxeter
but what do we see here?
 ....entrance gates and wall using Roman columns and Roman stone 
and the principal church walls and tower were built with substantial amounts of Roman stone
the enormous font is the base of a Roman column
A Morris & Co (1902) window depicting St. Andrew and St. George
Having just visited Derbyshire and shown a post with very fine Chellaston alabaster tombs, I was very excited to discover this equally outstanding alabaster tomb thought to have been made by Richard Parker of Burton-on-Trent, and still retaining most of its original colouring!
 Sir Thomas Bromley (d.1555) and his wife Mabel Lyster - Sir Thomas was Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench. 
On the left the Arms of Thomas Bromley and
on the right his Arms impaled with those of his wife 
In the centre their daughter, Margaret
 dressed in his judicial robes
On the south side of the chancel lies their daughter Margaret. The tomb is not quite such fine quality but is still made in alabaster and thought to have been done by the Royley workshop, Burton-on-Trent
Margaret died 1578 and lies with her husband Sir Richard Newport who died 1570
Their eight children are depicted as 'weepers' around the tomb - here you can see four daughters and two sons. Three daughters appear to have married as their arms have all been impaled onto those of their husband but the daughter on the right must have been unmarried as she carries arms the same as her brothers
Completing the eight children - the end of the tomb shows a son and a baby girl who most likely died shortly after birth as she is depicted in swaddling clothes
St. Andrew's is a large church and the parish was unable to maintain it. Consequently it closed in 1980, being placed in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust in 1987 following repairs by English Heritage and excavations by Birmingham University Field Archaeology Unit

30 comments:

  1. A lot of interesting information again Rosemary! Thank you for that. It's always special to see how remains were reused as in that gate and wall. A few years ago I made a post about the 'weird' houses I wondered about in our town, in a street near ours and then found out that remains from the castle that once stood there but was destroyed during WWI were used to build those houses. That explained why the houses were looking kind of strange, not that that is so much the case with this gate or wall though. At first sight you may not realize it's built with reused materials. The alabaster tomb with so much of the colour left is amazing! Often we don't realize when seeing old statues and tombs, now colourless, that they were once very colourful.
    Marian

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    1. Dear Marian - you are right about colour - this tomb gives a little glimpse of how colourful our churches would actually have been. Wall paintings, called Doom Walls, revealing the difference between heaven and hell would have covered the walls of most churches. These have mostly faded away or been white washed over.

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  2. Such an interesting post, have heard of Wroxeter, but have never visited it.

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    1. Thank you, I am pleased that you found the post interesting. It was my first visit to Wroxeter, but it is an area that I shall definitely return to.

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  3. So very clever and forward thinking with toilets, bathing and heating. You are right it did look like a pretty comfortable life.

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    1. Whenever I see Roman achievements I always think to myself how great they were. I remember gazing at the huge double arched aqueduct at Pont du Gard, near Nîmes a few years ago and marvelling at how they had built it.

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  4. Would it not be nice to rebuild it in the original style.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. The house was rebuilt in the original style discovered during archeological excavations.

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  5. Fascinating..just fascinating. And I loved the blog on Shrewsbury as I have fond memories visiting a number of years ago...family history sleuthing. Great photos as always. Thanks Rosemary.

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    1. I am interested that you have family links in Shrewsbury because I had imagined that your links were possibly with Scotland.

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  6. Thank you for another interesting post. I had not heard of Wroxeter - definitely on the bucket list.

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    1. It is half way between Shrewsbury and Telford.

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  7. Interesting post.
    Lovely photos, I loved to whatch them.
    Have a happy weekend.

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    1. Thank you Orvokki for your kind comment - wishing you sun shine and happiness this weekend.

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  8. I am always amazed at how far ahead of their time the romans were , so modern ! Wish you a pleasant weekend.

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    1. I feel exactly the same Jane - not only did they carry out these amazing feats in their own country but in all of the other countries that they colonised too.

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  9. Interesting post, I continue to learn from you, Rosemary.

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    1. If you found it interesting then I am pleased - thank you

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  10. So much beauty to experience and to see in your country Rosemary. It always amazes me how the romans got so deep into Europe.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

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    1. The Romans were here for three and a half centuries and made a large impact on our countryside. There is even an amphitheatre just down the road from where I live, but sadly the stone has gone, used locally, but the shape of it remains.

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  11. Dear Rosemary,

    As usual, there is so much to comment upon here. The hypocaust makes a remarkable modern square, and I'm so glad that it has at least survived. I am assuming that the structures around it were once sheathed in a finer stone. The replica house was an inspired project (though I would have loved to have given input for the interior). It's so interesting to see St. Andrew Church as a continuum, from Roman building materials, to medieval tombs, to Morris glass!

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    1. Dear Mark - the structures would have been sheathed in the type of stone that you can see beside the entrance gates to the church, and the large visible structure separating the basilica would have been dressed in marble.
      I am sure that you can imagine what H and I said to each other when we saw that wall painting!!! Your input would have made the interior magical.

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  12. Though I think I have quite a good imagination, I'm ashamed to say I struggle to enjoy ruins. I'm trying very hard as we've joined English Heritage! But the wonderful coloured alabaster tombs and stained glass in the nearby church make history come alive for me. What a difference a roof makes!

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    1. Understanding and picturing earthworks, and piles of masonry as they were originally is difficult for me to interpret too.

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  13. Hi Rosemary, just catching up now I am back, I have been reading, just not commenting. I watched the TV show with this villa being built, although the work isn't as fine as the Romans themselves would have produced, I remember the people working on this had a pretty hard time of it, so it is good to know that it is still there and being visited. Very interesting post as always! xx

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    1. Dear Amy - I saw some of the programmes so was interested to see the results of what they built. I do not think that it is going to last as long as any Roman building, but it was interesting to see the results of their hard labours.

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  14. Sitting here with a warm cup of coffe and just DREAMING away, looking at your pictures.
    What a beautiful town and interesting post...love it!
    Have a great week and thank´s for your sweet comment Rosemary.
    Love,
    Titti

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    1. It was so interesting to see how the local people had reused all of the Roman remains in their houses and churches - hope that you are feeling better Titti♡

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  15. I keep meaning to visit Wroxeter, but have never yet managed to do so. Your fascinating post shows me just what I'm missing, Rosemary.

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    1. I am reliving this lovely trip to Shropshire through your comments Perpetua - do go and see Wroxeter and don't forget to visit St. Andrews too just down the road to see what the locals did with the Roman remains.

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