Sunday 17th July and out of the house by 7.30am to meet a coach in town for a journey to near junction 15 of the M1. Here, in a field between Milton Keynes and Northampton, in the second century AD, the Romans built a villa for one Tiberius Claudius Severus. Enough of this precision. The owner may not have been Roman, probably British, but adopted Roman ways when he threw in with the new masters. And most of the building was probably done by local people – but there is evidence (on tile markings) that some trades were carried out by travelling craftsmen, who probably organised local labour for grunt work and perhaps travelled with a few key craftspersons.
Local archaeologists began excavating the villa site in 1979, and they explore a new area, digging every Sunday as well as 3 weeks at Easter and all of August, using the rest of the year to write up the work, conserve the finds and extend the small museum they have created on an old chapel in the village. So what is there to see of the main villa today?
Not a lot – its under this grassy area. The soil was replaced to protect the archaeology, and the permanent grass replaced the arable field (thanks to the friendly farmer) to reduce the risk of future plough damage. The site is bigger than just the villa – to the north they have uncovered a range of buildings and a road which they now know was inside an extensive Roman fort covering several acres, with a grand gateway on one side.
This is in part a stabling block beside the road, it will be further explored in August when up to 30 volunteers will arrive, many camping on the grassy villa site, to work and enjoy this spot. The society provides meals from a field kitchen in a caravan, and washing and toilet facilities are brought on site.
This is a view inside the ex-Wesleyan chapel that is now the museum. Its only small but has excellent exhibitions made up of finds gathered over 25 years and more. In the photo Jackie is talking to half of the couple who have driven this long-term project – the orange-shirted 80 year old Roy Friendship-Taylor (his wife Liz is a trained conservator of finds and was looking after the other half of our group in the office/research space upstairs).
Then we went on to Earls Barton, a village on the east of Northampton, to see an Anglo-Saxon church tower which I have known about for 50 years – ever since O-level Art with Architecture at Riley High School, Hull. It is probably the best preserved and biggest Anglo-Saxon church tower in Britain, and is therefore in every book on church architecture, including the very first illustration in my Observers Book of Architecture.
Jackie and I explored the south side of the church for evidence of Mass Dials, and found one beside the main door (now inside a porch) and 5 more on the stonework of the nave
Here are two of them, the higher one being a bit clearer. Mass dials were used by priests to divide the day into equal portions associated with times of services. In the winter the day was shorter, so the hours were shorter. This kind of dial is one showing unequal hours.