Roman Mansfield

AS has already been mentioned, there is ample evidence of the neighbourhood of Mansfield having formed the site of an extensive Roman camp, or station, which extended from near the Hermitage Mill to the other side of Mansfield Woodhouse. This formed part of the territory of the Coritani, and was included in the province of Flavia Caesariensis. Many relics of that period have been discovered, including coins, ornaments, and a Roman villa. Several of these were unearthed some years ago between Mansfield and Harlowe Wood. The most important, however, was that of the Roman villa, by Major Rooke, of Woodhouse Place, in 1786. In his account of the discovery he says:—"Having seen some small stone cubes about an inch square, which the country people call fairy pavements, said to be found in the north fields, where many stones and bricks had at different times been taken up to prepare the fields for cultivation and repair the fences, and having discovered these to be Roman bricks, I was induced to persevere in my researches; and in May, 1786, I set three men to work. In digging about a foot below the surface they came to some walls, and by following them I soon discovered seven rooms, which I think I may venture to say will appear to be an elegant villa urbana. In removing the earth, which was near a foot deep to the floor, it was perceptible the walls of most of the rooms have been stuccoed and painted, many fragments being found in different places on the floors which must have fallen from the upper part of the walls. The remaining lower part had the stucco perfect in many places. The composition was near two inches thick, made chiefly of lime and sand; on this was laid a very thin body of stucco, painted in stripes of purple, red, yellow, green, and various colours. In the centre room is part of a very elegant mosaic pavement, of red, white, yellow, and grey tessera, about the size of a die. The other part was probably torn up some years ago, when, in rooting up some trees and brushwood that covered the spot, several of the small cubes were found. The space between the mosaic pavement and the walls was paved with stone cubes about an inch thick; and it is not improbable but that this space was intended for the three beds or couches, and that this was the triclinium, or dining room.

Plan of the Roman villa near Mansfield Woodhouse published in William Harrod's 'The History of MAnsfield and it's Environs' (1801).
Plan of the Roman villa near Mansfield Woodhouse published in William Harrod's 'The History of MAnsfield and it's Environs' (1801).

"The walls of some of the rooms were painted, but had no tesselated pavements; the floors were stucco, that appeared to be made of lime, brick pounded, and clay. Ashes and other appearances of there having been fires were visible towards the centre of these rooms. The entrance of this villa seems to have been on the east front, into a narrow porticus, or rather cryptoporticus, with painted walls and tesselated pavement. The cubes, near an inch square, of a light stone colour, formed a border of about two feet round the room, within which were squares of about a foot of the same sized cubes, but of a greyish colour. A limekiln, built many years ago, has destroyed great part of the pavement. At one end of the cryptoporticus is a small room; at the other is a hypocaust, the flues one foot wide and fourteen inches deep. At one of the flues was a kind of tile, about fifteen inches high and twelve broad. This seems intended to lift up occasionally, to let in the heat conveyed through an arch under the wall from the other side, where the fire was made, and where a quantity of ashes were found.

"Joining the hypocaust is a small room, from whence there is a door into the large room, 24 feet square. The floor was stucco, and in the centre was a square place paved with stone and flat bricks, which evidently appeared to have marks of fire. In this room was found the top of a lamp, made of a very sandy kind of light-coloured pottery, and a piece of cullender, from whence we may suppose this to have been the kitchen. The outer walls are about two feet six inches thick, the party walls one foot six. I must not omit a small building which, from its construction, must have been a necessary convenience.

"I am now to consider what I think may be called the villa rusticus, which might have been part, but certainly belonged to the villa urbana, though no junction at this time appears, the distance being only ten yards from the northeast end. In the position of this building no regard has been paid to uniformity, as it visibly stands in a diagonal line from the other, which is parallel to the adjoining hedge. The three rooms at the west end had no painted walls nor tessellated pavements. These rooms are divided from the rest by a very thick wall. One room had painted walls and a very smooth stucco floor; the next room had, likewise, painted walls; the rest at this end had none, though the walls seem to have been drawn. A large space in the middle of this villa, there is now reason to suppose, was covered in, from having discovered a fire-place. In the east end are two rooms, two hypocausts with their fire-places, a bath, and cellars. The centre room had very elegant painted walls, the colours remarkably bright. On clearing out one of the hypocausts, the flues were very perfect—one foot six inches deep and one foot two inches wide. At the top of every flue, within three or four inches of the top, and fixed in the wall, was a hollow kind of case made of coarse baked earth: these seem to have been intended to carry off the smoke. The other hypocaust, being much longer, was probably intended to heat the sudatorium and bath built over it. From what remains of the pillars or supporters of the upper floor, their bases appear to have been made of layers of flat bricks; the lowermost, one foot square and two inches thick; a lesser one, laid over this, nine inches square. These parts were in their proper position when I cleared out the hypocaust. From the bottom to the present height of the walls, two feet ten inches. Length of the hypocaust to the flue, which appeared to have been arched, and through which the heat was conveyed, twenty-two feet five inches. Length of the flue, eight feet five inches; width, one foot eight inches. This opened into a room of eleven feet by eight, in which there was a space of five feet where the fire was made; the sides sloped and covered with flat stones. In this hollow was found a great quantity of ashes. Joining the hypocaust, and surrounded by a very thick wall, is a little cold bath, five feet six inches by three feet two; width of the step, ten inches; present depth, one foot ten inches. The sides and bottom were stuccoed. A leaden pipe, one foot seven inches long and two inches diameter at the widest end, was fixed in the wall within three inches of the bottom; this carried off the water into a narrow kind of trough in the wall, seven feet in length, two wide, and about two deep, from whence it ran off through fissures in the rock which appeared at the bottom. In clearing out the above hypocaust, several large pieces of cement, made of lime and pounded brick, harder than stone, were found at the bottom. Other pieces of the same composition, only nearer to the resemblance of pillars, were found in the hypocaust of the other villa; some were eight inches high and nine in diameter, some larger.

"In the inside walls of the little room are fixed two oblong bases of pillars, two feet eight inches by one foot seven; height, ten inches. On the tops are grooves. One measured one foot seven by ten inches and a half; the other, at the end of the wall, one foot six inches by nine inches and a half within the grooves. Three more of the same kind of bases have been discovered in a line with the others. These also differ in size, therefore could not have been supporters of the pillars. But I am more inclined to think they were bases of altars dedicated to local deities, and that this room was the penetralo, or chapel, which the Romans had in their private houses for the worship of the household gods. In clearing out the villas, many slates were found with holes in them; in one was a nail. These must have covered the roof. The outhouses, stables, and other appendages of this farm must have been destroyed long ago, owing to the rock being so near the soil, which, in many places in this and the adjoining field, is not above six or seven inches deep.

"At about one hundred yards south-east of the villa urbana I discovered two sepulchres. Nothing remains of one but the foundations; the walls, being near the surface, were probably destroyed by the plough. The other was more perfect: the remains of the side walls were about one foot under ground. In clearing out two feet of earth, I came to a stucco floor, which covered some flat stones that were laid over a cist, or little vault, seven feet long, two wide, and one foot six inches deep, after it was cleared out. This was full of a very light kind of earth. In the bottom stood an urn containing ashes, which was cracked, and fell to pieces on being removed. Two small bones of the arm, two rib bones, and four or five joints of the backbone lay scattered in the bottom. The floor was made of three dressed stones, on the sides of which the walls were built. The roof of this sepulchre must have been covered with red tiles, of which a great many were found in clearing the walls. They were one inch thick, fifteen long, and eleven wide. The two sides were raised one inch and a half. Among these were several ridge tiles, fifteen inches long and six inches diameter at the widest end. These tiles seem to have been of the same kind as those mentioned by Dr. Burton in his account of a Roman sepulchre found near York in 1768, where they covered the roof. Between the two sepulchres was a pavement, seven feet square; in the centre was a kind of pedestal, part of it broken. On this, probably, was placed a stone with a sepulchral inscription, fragments of which were found in clearing away the earth from the pavement; but, not having been able to recover them all, the inscription cannot be made out.

"Many fragments of paterae and pots of different kinds of Roman ware were picked up in clearing out the different rooms; some of a dark colour, thin, hard, and elegantly ornamented with indented work. A small patera, of the best kind of red ware, had 'Albus,' the maker's name, in Roman capitals, at the bottom. Many impressions of the feet of sheep and dogs were found upon bricks. Several pieces of stags' horns were picked up which had been sawed off; one piece, in particular, had been smoothed on each side and stamped with a circular mark. Many bones of animals, boars' tusks, and some remarkably large teeth, supposed to have been horses', were found in both villas.

"In digging to the floor of the room which, from its situation, I take to be the apodyterium, or stripping room, being joined to the hypocaust and cold bath, I found an instrument which, from its construction and lightness, I should suppose to have been the strigil which the Romans used to rub their skin with. It is of a pale grey colour, the bottom smooth; on the top is a handle.

"Antiquities found in the villas:—Three ivory pins, a top of a lamp, a pair of scissors; an iron chisel, nine inches long; two fragments of hand-mills, two pieces of brass parts of a fibula; part of a circular ornament, with a heart in the centre, which has the appearance of green enamel, with a narrow border of yellow metal; and several Roman coins of the Lower Empire."

It is exceedingly unfortunate that, for want of another Major Rooke to look after such a treasure, the villas have been lost, it is to be feared, for ever. The field in which they were discovered has been ploughed over time after time, the pavement has disappeared, and the larger stones have been used for the repair of fences. Regrets, however, are vain. The chance of a wonderful show-place for Mansfield, so far as antiquarians are concerned, has been lost, and all that now remains is a memory of the past.