Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wroxeter, Shropshire

What the Romans did for us

The Romans – and those among the British who adopted the Roman way of life during the occupation – built a great deal. But most of their buildings in Britain, if they survive at all, do so as ruins a foot or two high. For example, only a few full-size Roman arches remain in Britain, and even Hadrian’s Wall, in all its windswept magnificence, is a shadow of its original self. The remains of a Roman town like Wroxeter, which survive as an acre or two of foundation and hypocaust, and a section of high wall, are impressive. But much more has vanished. Where on earth did it all go?

Well, some at least of the stone and brick was recycled. I have seen Roman bricks incorporated into the structures of Saxon churches, Norman castles, and gatehouses of uncertain age. The gateway to the churchyard of St Andrew’s, Wroxeter is testimony to just such a case of reuse. The two round stone columns come from the Roman site down the road, an inspired piece of recycling and rejigging - the bases are apparently from Roman farm buildings, the columns themselves from Wroxeter's baths, and the capitals from some other unknown Roman building in the locality. The walls of the church itself, which was first built in the Saxon period, though it has been much altered since, are also partly of stone blocks cut originally by the Romans. The Roman builders and masons did more for us than we sometimes realise.


Peter Ashley said...

I have been looking at Roman stuff recently, after a visit to the Ravenglass Roman Baths in Cumbria. Together with the Jewry Wall in Leicester, both have complete arches, but not as imposing as your Lincoln example. But do they count?

Philip Wilkinson said...

I think you;re right about the Leicester one, which I'd overlooked: I'll edit my post. The Ravenglass one I don't remember as being very large – but it's still an important and unusual survival.

emma said...

August 1969: My parents with me in tow, break a longer journey to look at the Roman remains in Wroxeter. We get out of the car and my mother is thrilled to see an excavation in progress - and surrounded by police. With excitement and trepidation she goes up to the nearest of the bleu-de-travail clad archaeologists and asks why all the police are there.
"I suppose they've got nothing better to do " replies the man. Then the penny dropped, the workers were inmates from the local prison doing a bit of outdoor labour!
You ask 'where on earth did it all go?', maybe here you have an answer!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Emma: Brilliant! Now we know the answer. Old lags, frustrated at not finding bits of Roman gold to snaffle, selling off rubble on the quiet, making capital out of capitals.

Thud said...

Chester although victim of some terrible urban planning has plenty for the lover of Roman remains.