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Hampshire excavations # 5

An occasional series covering Hampshire digs large and small; the Greyhound and Albany Hotel sites, 1989 and 1997.

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Part of the zoomorphic roof finial (see below). The nose is 70mm across.

Fordingbridge lies just to the west of the New Forest, about 4 km to the south-east of Rockbourne Roman villa. It sits on the west bank of the Hampshire Avon, the river being spanned by a seven-arched stone bridge dating from the 14th or 15th centuries. Fordingbridge functioned as a market centre at least from the 13th century and was the head of a Deanery including Ringwood and Christchurch. Archaeological excavations in the area just to the north of the bridge have revealed a sequence of 13th and 14th century buildings with interesting decorative features, as well as a 17th to 18th century tannery.

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Flint wall footings of the earlier (Phase 2) occupation

Hearths and Fires

The first archaeological work, by the Avon Valley Archaeological Society under the direction of Anthony Light, took place in 1989. This followed the demolition of the Greyhound and Albany hotels. The core of the Greyhound had been known to date from the second half of the 17th century. Excavation revealed that this area had been occupied by a small medieval cottage to which a hearth of reddened clay had been added in the 15th century. In the following century the cottage was rebuilt and given an inglenook fireplace. An additional room with a hearth of overlapping peg tile was then added, using the old hearth as a foundation. The house was destroyed by fire, probably in the late 16th century. The Greyhound Inn was built a little before 1663 – a fairly worn Charles I farthing (c.1640) was found in a footing trench – but the building was destroyed in 1672 during a fire which affected much of the town. It was reconstructed two years later, using some of the original foundations. A half-cellar, employing natural springs to cool the stored barrels of beer, was utilised into the second half of the 20th century.

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Wessex Archaeology work begins: Phil Harding in attendance.

In 1997 Wessex Archaeology undertook further excavations, with Phil Harding directing the work. One of the three trenches included the footprint of the Albany Hotel, premises which had been rebuilt as tenements in 1879 and documented as the Albany Temperance Hotel in 1881. Excavation revealed an earlier rectangular building of the 13th or 14th centuries with flint foundations. The gable end faced Bridge Street and the substantial structure extended back at least two bays. The archaeological report of 2003 suggests that the unusual siting allowed the owners to collect tolls from traffic using the bridge. These owners were probably of some social standing as the overlying demolition layer contained a fine assemblage of ceramic building material. This included fragments of at least three louvres. The absence of sooting on their interior indicates that they were used for ventilation, rather than the escape of smoke. They all have some green glaze and the fabric suggests that they were produced by the kilns at Laverstock near Salisbury.

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The cow reunited with its ear- a leg and other fragments were also found.

Other roof furniture included coxcomb ridge tiles. These are also of Laverstock-type, as was a very interesting find – a ‘zoomorphic finial’ fragment. This relatively realistic representation of a cow’s head would have been attached to a ridge tile. It has applied ears and horns (one missing). Other fragments include a leg and possible tail.

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The view from the bridge shows the proximity of the River Avon

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One of the ‘barrel pits’ (right)

It has been suggested that the cow finial may have had symbolic value, linking with the later tanning activity. The ‘Albany Hotel’ trench revealed features associated with tanning activity dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. A stone-lined trough with a brick floor contained lime and clay deposits, one of which yielded an 18th century pottery sherd. In addition, four barrel pits were probably used for the immersion of hides in tanning solutions. The animal bone evidence suggests that both cattle hides and sheep skins were processed at the site.

Further reading

A1989.30 & A1997.37 Archives deposited with the Hampshire Cultural Trust

Hampshire County Council 1997, ‘Fordingbridge Archaeological Assessment Document’ in Hampshire Extensive Urban Studies. Online:< http://documents.hants.gov.uk/archaeology/28414FordingbridgeExtensiveUrbanSurvey.pdf>

Harding, P. and Light, A. 2003, Excavations in Fordingbridge, 1989 and 1997: The former Albany and Greyhound Hotel site, Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, Vol 58, pp. 130-176. Online: < http://www.hantsfieldclub.org.uk/publications/hampshirestudies/digital/2000s/vol58/Harding.pdf>

Light, A. 1990 ‘Fordingbridge – Greyhound Hotel’ in Hughes, M.F. [Ed] Archaeology in Hampshire 1989, Hampshire County Council., pp.25-30.

Series by:         Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.

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Royal Blood transfused

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Claire Woodhead (Hampshire Cultural Trust) and Ashvini Sivakumar (British Museum) prepare the condition reports on the Iron Age coins.

It seems like only yesterday that ‘Royal Blood – heads & tales’ was being installed at Andover, but since then versions of the show have visited Fareham and Aldershot and are still in situ at Alton, Christchurch and Eastleigh. Now the exhibition has gone up a notch and ‘Royal Blood – births, battles and beheadings’ has just opened at the Sainsbury Gallery, Willis Museum, Basingstoke.

The larger venue allows for a more expansive display but the time frame has been narrowed to cover, in six steps, the period from 100 BC to AD 1649. Star attraction of the Iron Age case, on loan from the British Museum, are items from the ‘Alton Hoard’, including coins of Tincomarus, an Atrebatic leader. Representing the Romans are objects from recent work at Silchester and a previously unseen enamelled belt buckle with military connections, from Kingsclere. The Saxons chip in with buckets and buckles, but of the most exquisite and rare variety, from Breamore and Monk Sherborne.

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Eleanor of Pembroke stands beside Odiham Castle – on her one hand swords, spurs and armour piercing arrows – on the other three stone missiles. But her ‘household roll’ told of servants Gobithesti and Trubodi ad Slingaway, and her maid, Domicella Christiana.

The medieval period focuses on Odiham Castle, one of Hampshire’s hidden gems. As well as a fragment of the building raised for King John, there’s the county’s oldest example of the Great Seal, added to an Andover charter 10 years before the Magna Carta. This is rarely seen outside the Hampshire Record Office. Also on show is a beautiful heraldic horse harness pendant of the Despenser family.

For the Tudors the Tichborne Spoons, a remarkable example of Elizabethan craftsmanship, shine out, but the Stuart period focuses on the Civil War, with armour, a sword and a hoard of 122 silver coins capturing the strife and disruption so widespread at the time.

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In addition, hunting – a popular pastime at all periods – and music are celebrated, both via the pages of Tudor volumes, on loan from Winchester College.

Reminding us, throughout, that history is about people not about things, are the costumed figures dressed, appropriately, in shades of red. These majestic personages, based on historical individuals, led far from genteel existences and questions of birth, battles and beheadings were ever present in their royal lives.

Royal Blood is at the Willis Museum until the end of October – Admission Free.

Buried in time – Royal Blood letting

The Royal Blood exhibition ‘Heads and Tales’ is now on show in three of the Hampshire Cultural Trust museums; Andover, Fareham and Aldershot.  Andover features the Iron Age and Saxon periods and rehearses the story of Dead Man’s Plack, in Harewood Forest, where King Edgar the Peaceable (959-975) is reputed to have slain his right-hand man, Aethelwold.

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            Royal Blood at Andover – Iron Age artefacts and ‘Dead Man’s Plack’                            photograph by George Turner.

Having sent his loyal servant on a wife-scouting mission to Devon, where the fair Aelfthryth was reputed to be a maid without compare, Edgar was just about coming to terms with the unfavourable reports when he tripped over a beautiful woman in the Forest.  He followed her home and found that it was none other than Aelfthryth. Aethelwold, bewitched by her beauty, had decided to keep her for himself – a bad move.  The King ordered him to saddle up and accompany him on the hunt – whereupon he ran him through with a spear.  The ‘Plack’ – a stone cross – marks the spot where it happened.  He then took Aelfthryth as his bride.

The story found a champion in landowner Col William Iremonger, who had the cross put up in 1825.  An Oxford Professor, Edward Freeman, then poured cold water on it, but that only incensed the famous naturalist, William Hudson, who while out searching for rare spiders in Harewood Forest, ate his lunch in the shade of the cross and imagined he saw the whole tragedy unfurl in front of his eyes.  He was so taken by the story he put it in print (1920).

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Ethelred

Edgar and Aelfthryth had a son (Ethelred) and following the King’s death, Aelfthryth was implicated in the murder of his son by a previous marriage – Edward (‘the Martyr’) – at Corfe, so that her son could take the throne. Again it is thought that the medieval chroniclers painted a far worse picture of her than she deserved, and she had nothing to do with the heinous crime.

Aelfthryth’s  close connection to the Harewood Forest area seems to have been through Wherwell Priory, which she is variously credited with founding, or endowing with gifts. She died there around the year 1000.  Comparatively recent work has discovered the plan of the abbey (Priory) church and shown that some of the buildings still survive intact, but a number of graves found in an archaeological dig were left in situ, as the development work was tailored in such a way that they would remain undisturbed.

One hundred and fifty years after Aelfthryth, Wherwell was again at the heart of the action, following the ‘Rout of Winchester’, but that’s another chapter.

Further reading:

William Henry Hudson, 1920, Dead Man’s Plack and an Old Thorn

Wherwell Priory – survey and excavations – Hampshire Studies 53, Roberts; 55, Clark and Roberts; 58, Manning and Rawlings.

Series by;  Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone.

 

Buried in time – a castle, and many a diagnosis

Just over the county boundary into Wiltshire is the small town of Ludgershall, important in recent history, along with the Tidworths, as an army base.  It also had a significant military aspect in the medieval period, when an extensive castle existed there – most of which is now lost to view.  Excavations led by Peter Addyman in the later 1960s revealed many features of this important site.

Ludgershall Castle was a medieval royal castle, but fell into ruin in the mid-16th century; the only building which survives above ground is a tower, dating from the late 12th or early 13th century.  Built of flint and mortar, it was probably originally of three storeys, a type of structure called a ‘keep’ or ‘great tower’ comprising a secure lower chamber for storage and a fine chamber on each of the upper floors.  It is situated within the more northerly of two conjoined enclosures composed of double banks and ditches.

The site of the castle, which is looked after by English Heritage, is just to the north of Ludgershall.  Roughly equidistant from Salisbury, Newbury and Winchester, it lies on an old Marlborough-Winchester road near the eastern edge of Salisbury Plain.  No prehistoric material was found during the excavations, but a Celtic field system occupied land to the north and west of the town.  An earthwork survey carried out in 1998 suggested that the southern enclosure had possibly been a prehistoric enclosure or hillfort before forming the bailey or outer court of the medieval castle, but the absence of finds of this period argues against this.

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16 July, 2000; the launch of the Ludgershall Castle excavation report.

The castle was excavated by Peter Addyman and the University of Southampton over a nine-year period, starting in 1964.  The ruined tower was found to form part of an extensive series of buildings maintained and enlarged over 300 years, starting in the early 12th century when, as documentary records show, the castle was in the hands of Henry I (1100-1135).  To give some impression of the complexity of the 12th century buildings, which preceded the ‘great-tower’ in the northern enclosure, some of the earlier foundations were left exposed after completion of the excavation.

A long series of building projects took place under Henry III (1216-1272) during whose reign the castle served as a country retreat, hunting lodge, estate headquarters and even a prison for offenders against the ‘forest laws’.  In 1244 a major change was ordered following one of over twenty documented visits by the king: a new great hall replaced an older one ‘with four full height windows and at the end a pantry and buttery; and also 2 kitchens, 1 for the king and 1 for his household; the door of the king’s wardrobe is to be removed; the king’s and queen’s chambers to be wainscoted’.  Twenty-nine fragments of masonry found during the excavation allowed the reconstruction of the unusual windows with their high-quality carved detail.  Much window glass, both plain and painted, was found in association with the great hall.  It is evidence of a high level of domestic comfort and artistic quality.

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The excavation report, showing one of the excellent reconstruction drawings

Medieval domestic glazing of the period, such as was found at Ludgershall, is rarely recovered in England.  Potash glass is unstable because of its wood ash content; it normally disintegrates soon after removal from soil, but the excavators managed to keep many of the Ludgershall fragments intact, at least until they could be examined and recorded in the excellent report published in 2000.

 

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Uroscopy flask from excavations in Winchester – 250mm tall.

The garderobe pits and other medieval contexts of the site produced 13th and 14th century glass vessels, including one of the finest and most complete 14th century goblets with a flanged bowl found in Britain. In addition, a large number of uroscopy vessels were found, including one which was almost complete.  Such bag-shaped flasks with thick convex bases were used for the examination of urine and diagnosis of illnesses.  In the medieval period and beyond, it was thought that the four humours (blood, choler, melancholy and phlegm) were balanced in a healthy person; an imbalance brought with it illness, and comparison of the patient’s urine to a well-established colour chart, as well as testing its smell and taste (!) would determine which of the humours was out of step.
Further Reading:
Ludgershall Castle: Excavations by Peter Addyman 1964-1972 (2000), Peter Ellis (ed.), Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, Monograph Series 2.
History of Ludgershall Castle and Cross. Online: <http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/ludgershall-castle-and-cross/history/&gt;.
Ludgershall. A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 15, Amesbury Hundred, Branch and Dole Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1995. Online: <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol15/pp119-135#s&gt;.

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

Great survivors – the Angel of Andover

When Andover entered into an agreement with the Greater London Council and grew rapidly in the 1960s and 70s, it was promised a new town centre. This massive redevelopment swept away many buildings and even threatened the old Angel Inn at the top of the High Street.  A ‘Save the Angel’ campaign was mounted and most of the structure was saved. Investigations by Richard Warmington and Edward Roberts have confirmed that it is ‘arguably one of the most significant timber-framed buildings in Hampshire’.

Work in progress, June 1969. The Angel is top right, on the other side of the High Street from all the white-fronted buildings.

Work in progress, June 1969. The Angel is top right, opposite all the white-fronted buildings on Upper High Street.                            Photo RAF Andover

In 1414, the rectory of Andover was purchased by St. Mary’s College, Winchester, and brought with it income in tithes, urban land and freehold property in an important medieval cloth-producing centre.  It stood at a crossing of trade routes from London to Salisbury and Southampton to the Midlands and was almost certainly a long-term investment. When the town was devastated by fire in 1434, the College re-built extensively, including the construction of a brand new timber-framed inn.

The half-timbered heart of the Angel

The half-timbered heart of the Angel

In March 1445 the College Warden, Robert Thorbern, entered into a contract with carpenters John Hardynge and Richard Holners for a building consisting of four ranges around a courtyard to be situated on a rectangular plot of land measuring 90’ north to south by 80’ east to west. A separate contract provided for the building of a ‘long house’, probably on a separate site, that would contain kitchens.

Although the Angel was associated with the main contract, published by the College in 1892, other references made no mention of it. Research by architectural historian Richard Warmington (1972) and later availability of other documents, have led to the firm conclusion that the structures specified in the 1445 contract and the Angel Inn are one and the same.

View from the courtyard, showing the gate to the east (and the old London Road)

View from the courtyard, showing the gate to the east (and the old London Road)

The documents include a College ‘chattels only’ listing (1462) and an inventory of Richard Pope, inn-holder, of 1633. The latter shows the inn to have consisted of a hall, parlour, and seventeen chambers, with ninety-one beds! It also refers to fifteen fireplaces. Staff accommodation (hostery) and an innkeeper’s chamber are also noted along with numerous service rooms such as kitchens and cellars and ‘ffyve stables’.

Present day structural evidence points towards substantial alterations between the 16th and 18th centuries, resulting in the excavation of an additional cellar, a gallery overlooking the courtyard behind the east gate, lean-tos and internal partitions, as well as chimneys

These alterations changed the external appearance of the building significantly with demolition of the west range and substantial reconfiguring to most of the south range. The east front, facing the High Street, was re-built probably in 1775, as evidenced by an inscribed brick, when the jettied gable ends of the cross wings were taken down and roofs truncated.

The brick clad east front

The brick clad east front

In 1793 the building was divided into two tenancies with a carpenter occupying it to the south of the gate with access to a timber yard. To the north a brewer took the building now called ‘The Old Angel’. The division is shown on a plan of 1839 when James Grant, presumably the landlord, was the occupier; a carrier named Reynolds held the south range.

The plain walls of the adjacent shopping centre (Chantry Centre) have bbeen enlivened by a host of Hogarthian characters.

The plain walls of the adjacent shopping centre (Chantry Centre) have been enlivened by a host of life-sized Hogarthian characters.

An investigation of 1990/91 showed that the remains of three original ranges contain some interesting features that conclusively support the opinion that the core of the present day building closely follows the specification laid down in 1445. Of particular interest was the scissors brace in the east range hall, which itself had dimensions of 20’ by 30’ in line with the original specification. The northernmost bay of this range contains the arched gateway still in use.

Another survivor is a large chimney-stack, attributed to Thomas Beere in 1449 -50. Also, the 5’ width of a present day closed corridor has led to the conclusion that it is the original ‘oriell’ (open gallery).  The south range contains the remains of a cross wing which mirrors that of the north range. The chimneypiece and stack of this range were removed in the 20th century. The cellars beneath it and the north ranges have dimensions as listed in the 1445 contract.

Of the west range there is no trace.

More 18th century revels

More 18th century revels

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References

Roberts, E (1991) A Fifteenth Century Inn at Andover, Proc Hants Field Club & Arch Soc. Vol. 47 pp 153-170

Series by:  Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

Buried in time – the Danes in Wessex

To Winchester City Museum, for the launch of a new book ‘Danes in Wessex’, edited by Ryan Lavelle and Simon Roffey of the University of Winchester.  The book stems from a conference held at the University back in 2011, but the editors also widened their net to include contributions from a number of specialists who were not at the original event.

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As might be expected from a volume which covers a period when the power of the sword was more influential than the power of the word, a good number of the papers are about warfare. Thomas Williams looks at ‘The Place of Slaughter: Exploring the West Saxon Battlescape’, while the aptly-named Derek Gore conducts ‘A Review of Viking Attacks in Western England’.   Among other dark offerings is ‘Death on the Dorset Ridgeway: The Discovery and Excavation of an Early Medieval Mass Burial’ by Angela Boyle.   It’s not all cut and thrust, of course, and I, for one, look forward to reading about ‘Orc of Abbotsbury and Tole of Tolpuddle’, who according to Ann Williams, enjoyed ‘A place in the country’.

The fragment of carved relief in the Winchester City Museum

The fragment of carved relief in the Winchester City Museum

Another delightful offering is sure to be ‘Danish Royal Burials in Winchester: Cnut and his Family’, by Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjolbye-Biddle.  Professor Biddle was at the Museum to give his blessing to the book and enthralled his audience by describing the action taking place on a fragment of stone sculpture from Old Minster.  A prostrate, bound man grapples with a large dog-like animal, which has its muzzle pressed hard against his face.  This may well be depicting the episode of Sigmund and the Wolf, from Volsunga Saga.

Having seen nine of his brothers devoured nightly by an evil-looking she-wolf, Sigmund is saved by his twin sister Signy, who sent her servant to smear his face with honey and put some in his mouth. When the wolf licked the honey and thrust her tongue into his mouth in search of more, Sigmund bit hard. The shock made the wolf jump backwards and break his bonds, but Sigmund didn’t let go and tore out the lupine tongue, killing the beast.

Reading about the episode I was transported back a couple of weeks to the cinema – and a viewing of ‘The Revenant’.  I’m not sure a mouthful of honey would have done much to help Mr Glass in his encounter with the bear but despite the differences in time, terrain and weapons of choice, the film certainly conveyed the feeling of a rough, tough, raiding-party world.

A coin of Cnut - 1016-1035.

A coin of King Cnut – 1016-1035.  ‘CNVT REX’

The ‘Big Theme’ at several Hampshire Cultural Trust venues this year is ‘Royal Blood’, which looks at the role of royals from the Late Iron Age onwards.  A touring show (Basingstoke, Winchester, Gosport) starting in September, is complemented by offerings at the Community Museums.

Alfred the Great - guardian of Wessex and Winchester.

Alfred the Great – guardian of Wessex and Winchester.

Further reading:

Ryan Lavelle & Simon Roffey (eds), 2016, Danes in Wessex; The Scandinavian Impact on Southern England, c 800 – c 1100. Oxbow Books.

Series by: Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.

Buried in time – a Roman amphitheatre

At the southern entrance to the amphitheatre

At the southern entrance to the amphitheatre

The best surviving and most upstanding Roman remains in the north of Hampshire are the walls surrounding Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester), a civitas capital.  Just outside them, at the northeast corner, stands the oval form of the town’s amphitheatre.  It escaped examination a century ago, when much of the site was sampled as it did not lie within the Wellington Estate.  It was only when it was taken into Guardianship in 1979 that a programme of seven years excavation took place, led by Mike Fulford of Reading University, at the request of the former Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments.

 

Ian Stewart, Inspector of Ancient Monuments, Michael Hughes, County Archaeologist, and Mike Fulford inspect progress during the dig.

Ian Stewart, Inspector of Ancient Monuments, Michael Hughes, County Archaeologist, and Mike Fulford inspect progress during the dig.

British amphitheatres tend to be smaller than those found on the Continent and generally have three characteristics in common: they are always outside town walls, are variable in orientation to street grids or defences and consist of local material that supports the cavea (seating) with no record of purely masonry support.  The amphitheatre at Silchester displays all these characteristics.

The first timber phase at Silchester was constructed to a circular plan probably between about AD 55-75 on land that had been in prior use, as evidenced by two substantial ditches, which it truncated, and by a pottery-making site beneath the western seating bank from which coarse-ware wasters were found among pre-Flavian finds.

Plan of the amphitheatre at the 'First Stone-built phase'.

Plan of the amphitheatre at the stone-built phase.

Seating was not free-standing and was supported on material excavated from the site. The overall capacity is estimated to have been about 3600 to 3700 although if spectators stood on wide terraces more than 7000 may have been accommodated.

The second timber phase, difficult to date but perhaps of the mid -2nd century AD when masonry was the preferred building material, did not fundamentally change these arrangements. The original entrance layouts were retained and it seems very likely that there was no disturbance to the recesses on the east-west axis but efforts were focused on adapting the arena plan to give it an oval shape.

Another view in through the south entrance.

Another view in through the south entrance.

The arena wall of the second timber phase was replaced in the 3rd century by one of stone which consisted mostly of flint with some use of greensand and sarsen. Flint was also the preferred material used in the re-construction of the passage walls, while brown ironstone was used in the refurbishment of the arena surface. The dimensions of the arena were slightly increased to about 45.5 by 39.m with its oval shape unchanged. It has been found difficult to date the stone re-construction phase although a plausible suggestion is the time of arrival in Britain of Septimius Severus in 208 AD. Such an event may well have justified the considerable expenditure incurred – estimated to be comparable with the cost of the original construction.

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The arena at Pompeii with its posh front seats, separated by a moat. Vesuvius broods in the background.

The amphitheatre at Pompeii - Vesuvius broods in the background.

The amphitheatre at Pompeii – here we go!

About the time that the Silchester  amphitheatre was being constructed, the monument at Pompeii on the Bay of Naples was being overwhelmed by the eruption of Vesuvius.  This froze in time an arena which had been built 150 years before, when the name given to them was ‘Spectacula’. The term amphitheatre (‘double theatre’) came later.  The Pompeii seating could accommodate over 2000 in the best seats (separated by a deep moat from those behind!) and about 25000 overall, more than six times Silchester.  There were also special boxes on the top tier for ladies – as Augustus thought it wrong for them be too near the action…and action there certainly was.  Supporters at a gladiatorial show in AD 59 got out of hand and a riot took place between the Pompeiians and visiting Nucerians.  This resulted in a 10-year ban for such shows at Pompeii, and exile for those who had staged it.

The remains at Pozzuoli

The remains at Pozzuoli

If Pompeii had not been buried in ash and lava, the amphitheatre would almost certainly have been improved, with the provision of an under-floor level, as at nearby Pozzuoli.

Positive evidence for the use of the Silchester amphitheatre is too sparse to draw any firm conclusions. Animal remains, predominantly horse, were retrieved from all three construction phases and it may be that there were equestrian displays, possibly animal hunts (venationes) or even beast fights. There is no evidence of gladiatorial contests and Nemesea, serving some religious purpose, seems to be the most acceptable explanation for the recesses on the east-west axis.

It is quite likely that the amphitheatre fell into disuse and eventual abandonment sometime in the mid – 4th century as evidenced by the finding of two coins of that period. It has also been suggested that the robbing-out of the stone wall could have occurred not much later, although the construction of the parish church of St. Mary 1125-1250 AD may be a more probable cause.

There is as yet no evidence that the amphitheatre may have been used in the post-Roman period until at least the 11th century when a single-aisled hall was built and a number of pits were dug within it. Pottery finds indicate a short period of occupation and the other contemporary structural changes do not preclude the use of the site as a castle during the ‘Anarchy’ of the reign of King Stephen (1135-54).

Thereafter from the 15th century until the 1970s the arena served as a yard for a nearby farm with late-17th to early 18th century pottery, glass and building material from the south entrance vicinity indicating the presence of a long-vanished cottage.

The amphitheatre has an evocative atmosphere and is well worth the short walk from the Church should you be visiting Silchester Roman Town.

References:

Fulford, M (1989) The Silchester Amphitheatre, Excavations of 1979-85.  Britannia Monograph Series No. 10.

 Archive; A1980.65 held by Hampshire Cultural Trust

Series by: Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

To the arena and the baying crowd...

To the arena and the baying crowd…