Monday, August 7th 2017
It was very pleasing to see an amalgamation of several Leicestershire-based Fieldworking Groups join together for an enlightening day superbly organised by the St Kynaburgha Building Preservation Trust. The party of 48 was privileged to be escorted by Dr Stephen Upex – who has published papers and books on a variety of topics including Roman Archaeology of the Nene Valley (The Romans in the East of England 2008). He is currently editing a substantial paper on the major Roman remains beneath the surface at Castor and his vast knowledge and passion for the area shone through his commentary and brought the site to life.
The day started with refreshments in St Remigius, Water Newton Church, mentioned in the Doomsday Survey of 1086 and sitting close to the site of the original Roman bridge over the River Nene along Ermine Street. Close by the hoard of 4th century silver was found in 1975, known as the ‘Water Newton Treasure’ it is the earliest Christian liturgical silver yet found in the Roman Empire and is evidence of early Christian worship in the area.
Each visitor was given a highly informative booklet entitled ‘The Romans at Durobrivae‘ to peruse as we walked across the fields to the site of the fort.
It was built to defend the river crossing, Durobrivae and was at a crucial point along Ermine Street within the the Roman military landscape.
On to the garrison town of Durobrivae itself, entering through ‘London Gate’ and we stood on the town ramparts whilst imagining a busy, densely packed town with a variety of official buildings. The town seems to have developed over a period of time rather than being formally planned. One very interesting building to note for the Hallaton Group was the ‘square within a square’ classic temple! Standing on the raised platform of Ermine Street it was fascinating to see the modern A1 directly in front and behind.
After a delicious lunch we were shown around the outside of Castor church (St Kynaburgha) and the surrounding area. The evidence of Roman masonry and the re-use of masonry within the building was pointed out and the huge scale of the praetorium building became apparent. This building is thought to have been the second largest administrative centre of its time, second only to London.
We ended the day with a tour of the inside of the church – containing stunning Saxon carvings. Andrew Nash (member of the Preservation Trust) gave a very informative talk on the post-Roman phase and we learnt more about St. Kynaburgha herself.
A final treat was a chance to look at a very rare copy of Edmund Artis’ book of illustrations from his survey of the site in 1828, many thanks to Andrew Nash for his generosity.
It has to be noted that ‘our’ revered experts Peter Liddle and Paul Bowman looked very relaxed and enjoyed receiving information instead of supplying it – surprisingly few questions were asked, we had such a thorough saturation of information to mull over and a day to remember.
Thanks also to Bob Gale, Colin Towell and the bus driver … who joined in throughout and learnt a lot!
Jane Kennedy (Pics by kind permission of Dr Upex and St Kynaburgha Trust)