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Headington history: Miscellaneous

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Roman Headington


A number of Roman remains have been found in Headington, which was conveniently situated near two Roman roads to the east:

  • The main road running between the Roman towns of Alchester and Dorchester in Oxfordshire, which more or less followed the line of the present Eastern bypass. A substantial section of the road was found at the part of Open Magdalen Wood now deemed to be part of Brasenose Woods during the construction of the bypass. The route has also been recorded at Bayards Hill Primary School and Stowford Road in Barton. An excavation at Stowford Road identified a fourth-century metalled trackway running north–south towards the Bayswater Brook, and a possible side road was recorded adjacent to the Northfield Brook in 1994.
  • The link road running from Frilford to the south-west in a line passed just to the south of the Churchill Hospital site and joined up with that main road.

It is possible that there were other Roman ways in Headington, but these are only theories:

  • Peshall writing in the eighteenth century believed that the road running down Headington Hill was created by the Romans. It could however be a natural hollow way.
  • Others think 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.

Roman Villa near Wick Farm

In the spring of 1849 Llewellyn(n) Jewitt discovered a Roman villa 500 yards to the north-west of Wick Farm in Barton, on a field whose tenant was then Martin Tagg of Elsfield. Llewellyn, who was a wood engraver (the brother of the more famous Orlando Jewitt) lived in St Andrew’s Lane in Old Headington and was a member of the council of the British Archaeological Association.

The villa had “massive walls of solid masonry” and stood on a typical Roman site, on ground sloping southwards to the Bayswater Brook. More information here (item 24). Coins found on this Headington site include those of Constantius Chlorus (Constantine I, the father of Constantine the Great), who died in July AD 306, and Gratian, who was Roman emperor from AD 367 to 383.

Roman pottery

Roman pots found near Wick Farm

 

 

The illustrations (above and right), which appeared in The Illustrated London News of 14 April 1849, show some of the finds from this villa.

See the full published text that accompanied these photographs at the end of this webpage

 

 

A fuller description of the site near Wick Farm and the finds can be found here:

Llewellynn Jewitt, “On Roman remains, recently discovered at Headington, near Oxford”, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, Vol. VI (1851)


Pottery site at Churchill Hospital

In Roman times the Headington/Cowley area was one of the most important pottery sites in Britain, and pieces of Roman pottery are still found in the Lye Valley.

In 1971–4 excavations took place at the south-eastern corner of the Churchill Hospital site (bounded to the south-east by the gorge of the Lye Valley), and remains of two periods of potting activity were discovered. The first dated to the late third century and comprised a workshop, well, stone platform, and four kilns; the second period dated from the fourth-century. A large kiln of uncertain date but probably fourth-century (formerly on display in the Museum of Oxford) was excavated.

A man who inscribed Tamesubugus fecit on a piece of pottery he made on the Churchill site is the first person known by name who worked and probably lived in Headington.


Roman remains on other Headington sites

The Oxford Archaeological Resource Assessment: Roman Oxford (produced by the Heritage and Specialist Services Team of Oxford City Council) lists many other sites in Headington where Roman remains have been found, including:

  • Bayswater Brook: Three intact Romano-British pots were recovered from the brook in 1952
  • Bayswater Hill: A Roman burial and/or occupation site was recorded during development in the late 1940s. A substantial amount of third–fourth century Oxford colour-coated ware and coarse wares were noted
  • Bayswater Road: A Roman burial and pottery were found at 102 Bayswater Road in 1994
  • Bernwood First School: An early Roman burial pit was found here in 2005 and was scientifically dated to AD 20–240
  • Churchill Hospital site: Kilns were found in the nineteenth century but destroyed. Large quantities of Roman pottery were recovered in 1953 during building work for the Regional Blood Transfusion Unit, but one kiln was destroyed during building work. A second kiln was revealed and preserved in situ. Excavations in 1971–3 revealed three more kilns and some evidence of first-century pottery production
  • Dunstan Road: Many potsherds, including mortaria and other kitchen vessels of the late third and fourth centuries, were discovered during house-building in 1935, possibly suggesting another kiln site
  • Harry Bear's Pit (at the south-east end of the Slade): several possible kiln sites were recorded during quarrying in the nineteenth century
  • Headington School: Roman boundaries forming part of a rectilinear plan and dating from the first century were found in 2008 on the site of the new music building. The site appears to have been abandoned in the early second century
  • Headley Way: A large quantity of kiln debris was found in 1960
  • Manor Ground: Mortaria of the late third–fourth centuries found in 2003 suggesting mortaria production nearby
  • Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre: Evidence of possible kiln site from a scatter of pottery sherds found in 1963
  • Ruskin College (Rookery): Quantities of Roman pottery found in 1964, and again in 2008, possibly suggesting another kiln site
  • Stowford Road: small excavation pointing to third-century activity of low-level rural character: sherds of Baetican Dressel amphorae found
  • Windmill Primary School: Three sherds of Roman pottery were found in 2005
  • Warneford Meadow: Several ditches and some Roman pottery have been found

See also Percy Manning, in “Notes on the Archaeology of Oxford and its Neighbourhood” (Berks, Bucks & Oxon Archaeological Journal, 1898), pp.18ff, where he mentions kilns found in Harry Bear's Pit (at the north-east end of the Slade), and also describes Roman finds near the Lye Valley and Warren Cottages, and down to Cowley Marsh.


Text accompanying the Wick Farm find illustrated above
in the Illustrated London News of 14 April 1849

ROMAN ANTIQUTITIES 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.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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