Information Board 4

MANDUESSEDUM BURGUS

The Bull Inn lies almost centrally within Manduessedum (the Roman name for Mancetter). The remains of this small late-third-century walled town can still be seen as a rectangular earthwork, bisected by Watling Street. Manduessedum appears to be one of five staging posts placed equidistant between Uxacona (Redhill, Shropshire) and Tripontium (Churchover, Warwickshire). These may have been military posts for the policing of Watling Street. The fact that the name Manduessedum is derived from the Celtic words for ‘small horse/war chariot’ has added conviction to the suggestion that Boudica’s last battle was fought here.

The rectangular earthwork defences which can be seen on either side of the A5 are the remains of the Roman burgus (‘strong point’). Those you can see date from the third century AD, but it now appears that they were preceded by first-century defences, probably in connection with the Roman conquest of Britain.

It is now clear that both sides of Watling Street were developed outside the burgus. A presence in the first century was followed by marked expansion in the second century, continuing into the second quarter of the fourth century. This appears to have been a civilian settlement initially dependent on the soldiers at the fortress.

Historical background

In AD 43, during the reign of the Emperor Claudius, a Roman army, under commander-in-chief, Aulus Plautius, invaded Britain. A number of the British tribes put up a strong resistance, but were forced to surrender, some eventually becoming ‘client kingdoms’ of Rome. Those who refused to submit were led by Caratacus in a determined and violent revolt which may have led the Romans to wonder why they had conquered Britain in the first place. The Roman fort at Mancetter was constructed by the Fourteenth Legion in AD 48/49 as a substantial military base to strengthen their rule and to provide a base from which they could move north and thus extend their control to the whole of Britain.

Archaeology of the Burgus

Although the site had been identified as Roman in Camden’s Britannia published in 1600, it was not until 1928 that a trench was dug by archaeologist, B.H. St John O’Neil to reveal traces of a rampart on the north embankment.

In 1954, excavation by Adrian Oswald revealed an outer ditch on the north-west bank, and mortaria from the late fourth century. The ditch was separated from the footings of the wall by a berm 11.3m wide. Behind the footings, which were formed of loose stones of Hartshill quartzite, was a clay bank, at least 7.6m wide. Pottery from the bank layer was mostly second century. However, the bank was superimposed on an earlier ditch 3.65m wide which contained first-century pottery, indicating that it was built early in the Roman conquest of Britain.

In 1956, Oswald took a section of the south-east corner. It revealed an outer ditch with a fragment of late third- or early fourth-century mortarium. Between the ditch and the wall was a berm 10m wide, which consisted of two layers of compact gravel with a little fourth-century pottery. This overlaid first- and second-century layers and features. The trench for the wall footing was 3m wide. Behind the wall was a bank beneath which was sealed an old ground surface, underneath which was a V-shaped ditch 5.5m wide, 3m deep with pottery not later than 90-100 AD. The hope had been to find the bastion of the wall, but robbing in the medieval period had been extensive and no trace remained.

Finds:

A fragment of terra sigillata, form 37, (c.100 AD) was found in a posthole.

A coin of Licinius (307-24AD) was found with mid-fourth-century mortaria.

In 1964, Christine Mahany cut a section through the east defences in advance of road widening. This confirmed that the rampart and wall (2.62m wide) were contemporary and of the late third to fourth century. A flat-bottomed inner ditch 1.52m deep was separated from the wall by a berm 11.3m wide and 1.5m deep. The rampart consisted of red clay taken from the ditch, interspersed with re-deposited occupation debris. Beneath and in front of the rampart were signs of intensive occupation from the first century onwards. The construction of the defences had involved the dismantling of a very substantial timber structure. The earliest features were shallow and ill-defined and contained mid- to-late-first-century pottery. These features included post holes, pits and slots. In the early second century these were replaced by more substantial features with floors of clay and mortar. These were altered and rebuilt throughout the second and third century. Later they were dismantled and the defensive system constructed.

Archaeology of the site of the Bull Inn within the burgus

In 1927, B.H. St John O’Neil carried out an excavation inside the burgus in advance of alterations to the Bull Inn. No walls or foundations were found; only a Roman ditch. However this contained a Roman coin, a ‘sestertius’ of Nerva, and was thought to represent the original position of a wall. Also found was a midden deposit which may have derived from neighbouring dwellings. The majority of finds dated to 70-150 AD and are all described as Romano-British.

Finds:

Brooch

2 coins

Whetstone

Terracotta bead

Pottery spindle whorl

Large quantity of pottery sherds

Outside the burgus – Ribbon development north of Watling Street

The picture is emerging of a considerable settlement along Watling Street in the third and fourth centuries. In 1993-4, to the west of the burgus, Atherstone Archaeological and Historical Society carried out excavations in the garden of Witherley Lodge. Three small trenches were dug, revealing evidence of ribbon development.

In Trench 1 (3m x 3m) a pebbled surface c.25mm thick beneath ploughsoil sealed a road constructed of local quartzite. The eastern flank of the road was butted by a series of layers, the latest of which contained pottery dating from the second to fourth centuries AD. The road had been constructed on second century make-up layer that sealed a possible paving layer of angular quartzite rubble with first- to early second-century pottery. The paving sealed a first-century ditch that ran in an approximately north-south direction across the trench. A possible well was also found in this trench.

This road appears to correspond with a fragment of road noted immediately south of Watling Street during road-widening works in 1963. However, it does not align with the road in use from the second to the fourth centuries that extends into the pottery production area and is visible on a geophysical survey carried out in the mid 1990s (Wilson 1997; Scott 1997).

Finds:

Base of a grey ware jar with graffito (Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society Transactions 112, p. 34)

Sherds of mortaria

Fragments of Romano-British tile

34 sherds of Samian ware

Face pot sherd. Orange fabric with traces of dark orange slip (Trans 112, p.37, No.33).

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Copper alloy surgical instruments; tweezers, knobbed terminal, scalpel handle (all from second-/third-century layers). Trans 112, p.40, Nos.73-75 (scalpel handle illustrated).

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The tile and surgeon’s instruments were found at the point where the later layers sagged into the first-century well. The scalpel handle is a good example of the most common Roman type and is likely to have been manufactured in the first to third century. The fact that the tweezers were found with them suggests that they were used here on this site rather than being brought by dumping of debris or casual loss. The knobbed terminal is a little on the large size to be definitively associated with medicine. However, these finds suggest the possibility of a medical practitioner on this site.

Trench 2 (2m x 4m) was located approximately 9m to the north-east of Trench 1. The topsoil sealed the post-Roman plough soil, The uppermost Roman deposit sealed a spread of angular quartzite rubble that overlay a c.0.15m-thick layer of pebble, which were interpreted as the internal flooring of a building or series of buildings that had been in use in the second and third centuries and were defined by a series of postholes and two possible foundation slots. The pebble floor lay directly on an earlier ground surface in which the ancient turf line was represented by a thin black organic layer.

Finds:

Sherds of coarsewares including mortaria

Ten sherds of first- and second-century Samian ware vessels.

A coin of Constantine I (the Great) issued AD330-337.

A coin of Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, issued AD337-340.

Tile fragments.

Trench 3 (2m x 8.7m) was located to the north of Trench 1 and to the west of Trench 2. At the western end of Trench 3, the second-century road found in Trench 1 was absent. However, in its place quartzite rubble sealed a sandy clay layer and a series of thin deposits which continued over the first-century ditch seen in Trench 1. The lowest and most extensive of these deposits was a destruction layer, containing much charcoal and burnt clay. At the eastern end quartzite rubble sealed the internal pebble floor of the building seen in Trench 2. On the south baulk the pebbles terminated adjacent to a posthole. The destruction layer was not present in the interior of the building and it was conjectured that it had been removed during construction, enabling the excavator to date the building to the second and third centuries.

Finds:

37 sherds of Samian ware from first century (some in destruction layer).

Sherds of coarse ware

Single fragment from ribbed bowl in pale blue glass from first-century ditch

Tripod vessel in light grey pottery. The lower section of the body of this unusual vessel has two raised bands around its girth. The square section legs are coarsely hand-formed. There are no traces of either sooting or residues (Trans 112, pp.39-40, No. 61).

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The investigations at Witherley Lodge have added greatly to our knowledge of activity outside the small walled town of Manduessedum. It was discovered from previous excavations that the Romans had developed the south side of Watling Street, but now we can see that the north side was developed, too.

A Roman building was found on the north side of Witherley in 2002 by the Shepshed Fieldwalk Group, with further work in 2010 by the Hinckley Fieldwalking and Archaeological Society, led by Malcolm Lockett. The finds suggest that this was a villa with mosaics and a heating system. Nearby in 2013 a child’s burial in a lead coffin was found. It was lifted from the ground by Archaeology Warwickshire, who have carried out the initial research on the remains.

It is clear that an initial presence in the first century was followed by marked expansion in the second century, continuing into the second quarter of the fourth century. This appears to have been a civilian settlement, probably beginning as dependent on the military presence at the fort. Whatever the case, after the Romans left, the site was abandoned and returned to agricultural use until the early 19th century when Witherley Lodge was built.

Possible Mansio

As noted in the QR code link from Board 3 (The Mancetter-Hartshill Roman Potteries) the remains of another Roman building have been found close to the Manduessedum site, to the south on land in Warwickshire.. It was discovered in 1996 by Keith Scott of the Atherstone Archaeological and Historical Society and his team. One room had an apse on the south facade, a hypercaust floor and painted wall plaster. The building’s position, close to the Watling Street, suggests that it could have been a mansio or staging post for travellers.

Sources:

Historic Environment Record for Warwickshire (www.warwickshire.gov.uk/timetrail)

Historic Environment Record for Leicestershire and Rutland (Leicestershire CC HNET)

B.H. St. John O’Neil, ‘Excavation at Mancetter’, Transactions of the Birmingham Archaeological Society, Vol. 53, 1928

Adrian Oswald, ‘Observation and Excavation at Manduessedum 1954-56’, Transactions of the Birmingham Archaeological Society, Vol. 74, 1956,

Christine Mahany, ‘Excavations at Manduessedum 1964’ Transactions of the Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society, Vol. 84, 1971

N D Melton, ‘Excavations at Witherley Lodge, Witherley, 1993-1994’, Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society Transactions for 1998, Vol. 112, pp 33-43.

MD Wilson, ‘The Mancetter-Witherley Romano-British Landscape Survey Project’, Coventry and District Archaeological Society Bulletin, September 1997.

K Scott, ‘Manduessedum: the civil settlement,’ Coventry and District Archaeological Society Bulletin, November/December 1997.

Unpublished excavation notes of Keith Scott, Atherstone Archaeological & Historical Society.

Further reading:

Webster, Graham, Boudica: The British Revolt Against Rome AD60 (London, 1993)

Jim Gould, ‘The Watling Street Burgi,’ Britannia, Vol 30, 1999 pp185-197

Colin Baddeley, Roman Mancetter, Atherstone Civic Society, 2013 (available from secretary@atherstonecivicsociety.co.uk)