The Romans do not appear to have settled down in Oxford, but there are signs of their presence in Headington, which is not surprising, as the present Eastern bypass is very near the line of a Roman road which ran from the Oxfordshire Roman towns of Alchester and Dorchester.
In the 1840s a Roman villa was discovered 500 yards to the north-west of Wick Farm in Barton, and the illustrations (above and right), which appeared in The Illustrated London News of 14 April 1849, show some of the finds from this villa, which were discovered by the wood engraver Llewellyn Jewitt, who lived in St Andrew’s Lane in Old Headington and was the brother of Orlando Jewitt.
In Roman times the Headington/Cowley area was also one of the most important pottery sites in Britain. A kiln was discovered on the site of the Churchill Hospital, and was formerly on display in the Museum of Oxford. A man who inscribed Thamesubugus fecit on a piece of pottery he made there is the first person known by name who worked and probably lived in Headington.
Peshall writing in the eighteenth century believed that the road running up Headington Hill was created by the Romans; but it could be a natural hollow way.
Others believe that the path running down to Marston Road behind Headington Hill Hall follows the line of a Roman way that was used instead of the present route up the hill.
The following text accompanied the above pictures when they were published in the Illustrated London News of 14 April 1849.
Roman Antiquities at Headington, near Oxford.
The remains of a Roman Villa, &c., which have recently been discovered near the above place, by Mr. Llewellyn Jewitt, local member of council of the British Archaeological Association, are situated at a distance of about three-quarters of a mile to the west of the Roman road leading from Alcester to Dorchester; and the foundations at present excavated lie in the two parishes of Headington and Elsfield. From the earthworks and foundations the remains appear to be a considerable extent; and in the partial excavations which have at present been carried on, some massive walls of solid masonry, a small bath lined with a red-dish-coloured plaster, and a room measuring fourteen feet by ten feet six inches, likewise plastered, and having a concrete floor, have been laid bare, and many interesting relics brought to light. Amongst these are a beautiful little globular bell of bronze, highly ornamented; the umbo of a shield, in an excellent state of preservation; two bone pins; some implements of iron; several iron nails of various forms and sizes; a few coins; fragments of glass vessels and window-glass; some horns and bones; flue, drain, and other tiles; stone roofing slates; pottery, &c.
Of pottery, the variety both of form and material is very great, and the fragments exhibit examples of most of the known varieties – from the fine red glazed ware, usually called Samian, down to the coarser descriptions of the home manufactured vessels. Our illustrations exhibit some of the forms restored from fragments in Mr. Jewitt’s possession. In the larger engraving, the centre vessel is of a coarse red ware; and fragments of several other nearly similar pots have been found. The indented vase to the right is formed of a very thin, fine, light grey material, and is of an elegant shape. The one to the left is of a coarsish black material; while the lower vessels, ornamented with intersecting surface lines, are also black, but the material is quite fine. In the front, at the right-hand corner, is a Samian patera. The vessel lying down to the left is coarse, and but slightly baked.
In the smaller engraving, the front vessel (No. 1) has the inside studded with fragments of quartz. Of this description of pottery, portions of upwards of forty vessels have already been found, of various forms and colours, ranging in sizes from nine or ten inches to nearly two feet in diameter. Behind this, No. 2 is made of a fine black clay, with ornamental surface lines. Of the same form as No. 3, which is of a fine red ware, many fragments have been found, including one or two of the fine glazed variety. No. 4 is coarse red. No. 5, with the indented circles, is brown, on a coarse red body; and the neck of No. 6 is stone-coloured.
Of the varieties of pottery found, are fragments of elegant vessels, having on highly glazed metallic surfaces embossed and white scrolls and other ornaments; portions of light buff-coloured ware, painted in various patterns with a red colour; one fragment of a drinking-cup, with raised figures, of the kind described in No. 1 of the “Journal of the British Archaeological Association,” as found by Mr. Artis in the Durobrivian Potteries; and several other interesting examples of fictile art.