From the middle of the second century to the mid-fourth century, pottery kilns stretched from Witherley to the Hartshill ridge and on towards Weddington. The goods went out to markets across the Midlands and the North.
Mortaria – Roman mixing bowls
The ‘pipe clay’ available here was particularly suitable for making a kitchen bowl known as a mortarium (plural mortaria). This was a fairly thick bowl with a substantial rim which would be useful for grasping or steadying whilst in use. It normally had a spout and the interior was covered with fragmented rock, slag or re-fired waste pottery and tile, or a mixture of these, to make an abrasive surface.
Widely used as mixing bowls, they were the Romano-British equivalent of the modern food-processor, and every soldier had one. They were commonly mentioned in Roman cookery books and were probably in use throughout most of the Roman Empire.
Many of the sixty-four kilns recorded in this area were devoted entirely to the firing of mortaria, though flagons were also made. Associated with the pottery kilns was a drying shed with a complex system of flues. When it was not used for pottery there is evidence that grain was dried in it.
Potters would stamp their names on the flange and the trademarks or names of some sixty potters have been recorded from excavations here.
The prolific G. Attius Marinus began his career in Colchester, then moved to Radlett, Hertfordshire, before coming to Mancetter. Another potter, Sarrius, working between AD130 and AD170, stamped more mortaria than any other second-century potter, and opened subsidiary workshops elsewhere in Britain. Another known name in the locale is that of the potter Junius.
Recorded excavation of the pottery kilns at Mancetter began in the 1890s when kilns were found during the course of quarrying in the area. However, the absence of “wasters” (broken specimens of pottery) led the experts of the time to conclude that there was nothing to show that the kilns were Roman.i
It was not until 1959 that a plough-damaged kiln was excavated by Mrs R. Hemsley. Discovered in the north corner of the field south of Manduessedum (MWA387), only the lowest 33 cms remained. Even the stokehole, which was 180 mm in diameter, had been partly removed.
The flue, 92 cms long, 30 cms high and 30 cms wide, had been constructed of large stones and cobbles. Part of the roof had survived and consisted of 5 cms of clay and kiln debris. The oven was roughly pear-shaped, 180 mm by 165mm. It had a central support made of stones and cobbles packed in clay and the top finished in such a way as to leave no doubt that most of the support had survived and originally stood only 15 cms above the bottom of the surrounding flue-channel. On the side facing the main flue the furnace floor and support had been finished with a straight line. Beyond this point and the entrance to the main flue there was a spread of ash 15 cms thick. ii
Kay Hartley in 1972 described her excavations on kilns at Mancetter and Hartshill. She reported that so far she had excavated 21 kilns in Mancetter, all in one field south-west of Manduessedum burgus. More kilns were known to exist in neighbouring fields. She also referred to four kilns discovered in the 19th century in quarrying at Hartshill, two miles south of Mancetter, as noted above. She added that another 34 had been excavated there in advance of further recent quarrying. Their date-range and identical pottery led Hartley to treat the Mancetter and Hartshill potteries as part of the same industry. Hence, the size of her sample enabled her to identify the most common types of kiln in use on this industrial site. Despite a variety of constructions, certain features stood out as characteristic. For instance, the kilns tended to have permanent fittings, the potters did not normally use clay dome-plates for covering the load, and the building of the kilns made frequent and rather casual use of local stone. She recognised a chronological development in kiln-structure, observing without doubt that such development was stimulated by the very wide market for mortaria enjoyed by these potteries. She did, however, point to one kiln as being of especial interest; it was producing fourth-century colour-coated ware related to products of the Oxfordshire kilns. Both this kiln and its pottery are unique at Mancetter and Hartshill. Hartley concludes: “There seems to be adequate evidence to believe that we have here the work of a fourth-century migrant potter from Oxfordshire”.
Although there have been many other excavations of pottery kilns, reports are not yet available. A list of excavations can be seen at www.warwickshire.gov.uk/timetrail
Finds on the site have included extensive amounts of pottery and the bones of at least five horses in a well.
A late first- /early second-century infant cremation was found with two cremation vessels of second-century grey ware. When a Roman died the body was burned on a funeral pyre with perfumes and objects that might be of use to the dead in the afterlife. When the fire died down, wine was used to douse the embers, so that the ashes could be gathered and placed in funerary urns.
A small glass-making furnace was discovered here in 1964 (MWA6244). It was clay-lined, measured 65 x 53 cm and was 25 cm deep. It was cut into an earlier feature and was later found to have been relined four times. The process carried out was not clear, but it had solidified glass on its side and many associated fragments of glass vessel, which confirmed that it was producing glass.
There are also signs of a small settlement that pre-dates the potteries. This may have been a Roman marching camp, or a vicus, a civilian settlement interdependent with the fortress.
Near this footpath a large Roman building has been discovered. It was built in the second century, of sandstone, with some painted wall plaster, and a hypocaust for heating. It may have been a mansio, or posting station, for travellers from the Watling Street.
The building was partially excavated in 1996 by Atherstone Archaeological and Historical Society. This revealed a complex of rectangular buildings, including a room with an apsidal end, painted wall plaster in red, green and yellow, and a hypercaust heating system. Pottery found during field walking and excavation suggests that the villa was occupied during the second and third centuries. Traces of features associated with pottery from the first century were also identified.
Excavations have revealed what may have been the remains of a local road system, leading from the Watling Street. It is possible it was laid during the late second to mid-third century, when the pottery industry was at its height.
End of the Roman pottery industry
By the late third century Mancetter was beginning to lose out to potteries elsewhere, particularly at Crambeck in east Yorkshire, then to Oxford and the lower Nene valley. By the fifth century the pottery industry had almost disappeared from all these places, as they became less peaceful, and communications and the money economy collapsed.
Colin Baddeley, Roman Mancetter, Atherstone Civic Society, 2013 (available from firstname.lastname@example.org )
Unpublished excavation notes of Keith Scott and Kay Hartley
Historic Environment Record for Warwickshire www.warwickshire.gov.uk/timetrail
K.F. Hartley, ‘The kilns at Mancetter and Hartshill, Warwickshire’, 1973[b], in Current Research in Romano-British Coarse Pottery, A. Detsicas (ed.), Council for British Archaeology [CBA] Res Rep 10, pp143-7
K.F. Hartley and R. Tomber (eds) ‘A mortarium bibliography for Roman Britain’, the Journal of Roman Pottery Studies, Vol. 13, 2006, for K.F. Hartley, ‘Comments and Prognosis’, pages 15-21
‘Papers in honour of K.F. Hartley’, the Journal of Roman Pottery Studies, Vol. 12, 2005
i Windle, MD, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, 1897, Vol 16, pp. 404-407
ii Hemsley, R, et al. ‘A Romano-British Pottery Kiln at Manduessedum,’ in Transactions of the Birmingham Archaeological Society, 1961, Vol. 77 (1959), pp. 5-17