Vindocladia

This week we took the opportunity to dig 3 trenches in the back garden of a cottage that awaits a new tenant.

It lies in the sleepy village of Shapwick. The shop closed in the 1990s. The pub is still open but it lies beside a market cross where there has been no market for hundreds of years. On its own, beside the river, is the lovely parish church. It looks towards the bridge across the Stour but the bridge is gone. Shapwick is a dead end now. However, the earthwork of the old road can be seen continuing across the Sturminster Marshall meadows beyond the river.

Shapwick beside the River Stour. The High Street (top left) follows the line of the Roman road. It now stops short of the River Stour but there is a ford there and the earthwork of the road continues across Sturminster meadows towards Dorchester

Shapwick beside the River Stour. The High Street (top left) follows the line of the Roman road.It now stops short of the River Stour but there is a ford there and the earthwork of the road continues across Sturminster meadows towards Dorchester”

This place hides its pedigree. After Dorchester (still the county town), Shapwick was once the second largest place in Roman Dorset (do you believe me?). The village High Street follows the line of the Roman road from Salisbury (Sorviodunum) to Dorchester (Durnovaria) but the line disappears in the arable fields between Shapwick and the crossroads at Badbury Rings (the spaghetti junction of Roman Dorset). These were the common fields in the medieval period but there are place name clues in the furlong names. ‘Stoney Lease’, ‘Blacklands’ and ‘Walls’. The old farmers were obviously finding stuff.

The three ditches of the Shapwick 4th century fortress. The furthest ditch was 3.5m  deep when we excavated it in 1995.

The three ditches of the Shapwick 4th century fortress. The furthest ditch was 3.5m deep when we excavated it in 1995.

There are few places where the Roman names are known. From Dorset we have two names, Durnovaria and a place called Vindocladia and for centuries historians have been searching for it. Back in the dry summer of 1976, a pilot spotted the outline of a Roman fort in the fields beside Shapwick and in 1991, the local farmer told me to look in a field beside the fort. It was covered in clusters of stone and flint rubble. I picked up part of a grinding stone, fragments of mosaic and painted plaster and a collection of pottery dating from the 1st to 4th century AD.

The story so far. The geophysical survey of the Roman town we think is Vindocladia. Fort top right, streets and builidngs and many other features. This week's trenches were at Hyde Farm which we will add to our survey later in the month.

The story so far. The geophysical survey of the Roman town we think is Vindocladia. Fort top right, streets and buildings and many other features. This week’s trenches were at Hyde Farm which we will add to our survey later in the month.

The local National Trust association gave us money to carry out a geophysical survey of the field. A couple of days in, I went to see John the surveyor. “Found anything?”, he pressed a button on his lap-top and there was a chunk of the town. Wow! Roads, buildings and property boundaries and an array of rubbish pits and post-holes. Since then, we have built up a picture of this place. It extends from the river, continues under the village and below the fields as far as an escarpment overlooking Badbury Rings. This place was already important in the Iron Age. It grew after the Roman Conquest, when round houses were gradually replaced by increasingly sophisticated rectangular houses.

The fort is a rare thing for the south of England. Not a AD 43-44 conquest fort but a ‘burgus’, dating from the late 4th century, when the province of Britannia was under attack and a secure place was needed. In one corner of the fortification, the geophysics shows what looks like a government inn and relay station (mansio)

We found that the fort overlay earlier Roman structures which were above Iron Age storage pits. This one dated from 300 BC and contained various skeletons including a pig, dog, and sheep.

We found that the fort overlay earlier Roman structures which were above Iron Age storage pits. This one dated from 300 BC and contained various skeletons including a pig, dog, and sheep.

In the 5th century, Britannia was on its own. It broke up into different political units. Communities that had to fend for themselves. The economic network of society crumbled. The population of Shapwick shrank and the roads and houses deteriorated. Building materials were taken for other uses and eventually, much of the old town became fields and was forgotten. By 1086, Vindocladia was known as the ‘sheep (shap) settlement’ (wick derived from the Roman vicus perhaps)’ and a small remnant has survived to the present day. The village has a long and fabulous past under its quiet streets.

9 thoughts on “Vindocladia

  1. Not very original I know BUT what a fantastic site. How many more are there like this? How did the Romans force the IA people to move? On the end of a spear I suppose.

  2. Yes, this is a very exciting place. I’m sure there are others awaiting discovery..see the blog on Woeful Lake Farm. There would have been a lot of disruption when the Roman army took over but over time the Iron Age people became Roman. Most of them stayed where they were.

  3. Hi Martin,

    This blog has so many fascinating posts. I really appreciate the archaeological information it provides for the area, both the hard evidence and the informed speculation. It’s information at a level of detail that’s surprisingly hard to come by given the locality’s rich heritage (or maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places!)

    The above is an an old post I know, but I’m hoping you’re still receiving notifications of posted comments. I’m fascinated by the Shapwick story and have a few questions, if I may.

    Is there any evidence that the Romans built a bridge across the Stour at this point or would they have just used the ford you mention? If they did build a bridge, do you think it’s likely that it was a substantial enough structure for foundational material (stones or wooden pilings) to still be down there in the mud, waiting to be found?

    You write that the church once faced a bridge, was this on the site of the (asssumed) Roman crossing point or was this a later bridge built at a slightly different location? Is it known exactly where this was, when it was built, when it fell into disuse/was dismantled, etc?

    Many thanks in advance.

  4. Dear Roger

    Many thanks for your comment. I’m glad you like the information in the blog. The best place to find out more is National Trust Heritage Records Online. Google that and then zoom into Kingston Lacy on the map and then click on one of the many green dots and then on the underlined title of each site.

    I would like to think that there was once a bridge across the Stour at Shapwick. This was the main road to Dorchester and with ditches and side banks was nearly 30m wide. A significant construction worthy of a bridge. The river has shifted in its course over the years and may have washed away much of the evidence for stone or timber footings but something may remain, The farmer of this land said there was still a crossing here and he used to take his cattle across from Shapwick to the Stourminster meadows at this point.

    The parish church is aligned with the Roman road though now a backwater in Shapwick village so I assume a crossing point here still in the medieval period and a bridge but this is just an assumption. I have no historical evidence.

    This blog has been going quite a time and it is good to see older posts are still read though for some reason the photos disappear sometimes.

    You may like to read ‘Shapwick’s Roman Fort at Kingston Lacy’ if you have not already seen it.

    With best wishes

    Martin

  5. Many thanks for your reply Martin. I’ve just had a look at the National Trust Heritage Records Online site, typed in “Shapwick” and wow! Plenty to read and digest there. It’s going to be fun using the zoomable map to see if any of the interesting features visible in aerial imagery from the likes of Google, Bing and others, correspond to any verified sites of interest (yes, yes, long winter nights do indeed fly by in this house… 😉

    Thank you also for the information and your thoughts about the bridge. I have indeed read your entry on the dig at the Roman fort at Crab Farm, your earlier “Vindocladia” post and the entry about the Roman “temple” site adjacent to the rings. All fascinating stuff. A little shiver runs up my spine each time I drive along straight-as-a-die New Road and I pass through the area of the fort (which I did again on Sunday, travelling to the Shapwick Country Fair).

    I’m a member of a local archaeological group here in Christchurch and I’ll be reading this blog and watching your work on the estate with interest. Again, many thanks for taking the time to reply.

    Best regards,

    Roger Lancefield

  6. Hi,

    There is no doubt this an amazing site but I’d like to ask if you have considered whilst this is amazing this may still not be Vindocladia but actually Sorbiodoni? I have been researching our local Hillfort near Milborne St Andrew called Weatherby Castle. There is a school of thought, supported by place names and distances, that suggests Bindogladia was actually Weatherby Castle and this became Vindogladia/Vindoclavia. Curious because if there has been a mistake there be may gem waiting to be uncovered.

    http://www.romanplaces.eu/home/chapter-11

    Best regards,

    Ian L

  7. Dear Ian I have heard of lots of candidates for Vindocladia or Bindoclada. Someone thought it was Blandford, Sir Richard Colt Hoare thought it was Gussage Cow Down on Cranborne Chase which fits the mileage from Old Sarum which is usually thought to be Sorviodunum/Sorbiodum. Until I did the work at Shapwick, it was generally thought that Badbury Rings (RCHM Dorset) was Vindocladia or ‘white ditches’ as it is sometimes translated (Badbury would have had white ditches when first excavated much like Weatherby Castle. Another early candidate was Wimborne Minster though apart from some questionable tesserae under the minster there has been very little of Roman date found in the town. The argument goes that the scribe who copied the Antonine Itinerary missed an X off the distance from Old Sarum to Shapwick and from Shapwick to Dorchester and that’s why the distances don’t work. The document has been copied many times and what we have is not Roman so it’s a nice argument and works for the Shapwick hypothesis.

    The Tolpuddle Ball settlement (Hearne, C.M. & Birbeck, V., 1999, A35 Tolpuddle to Puddletown Bypass DBFO, Dorset, 1996-8, Wessex Archaeology Report No 15) is the site for Weatherby I think but it does not seem large enough for Vindocladia and not at a crossroads like Old Sarum or at a river crossing near a crossroads like Shapwick.

    The site, I think, that is of particular interest quite near you is Bagwood Copse, Bere Regis read Toms, G.S.G, 1964-1966, Excavations at Bagwood, Bere Regis, Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Vols 86 p110-112; 88, p.116-117) this site is close to Woodbury Castle and is large and yields a lot of exotic material. Neither Weatherby nor Woodbury have ever been excavated as far as I know and lots more to be teased out from the archaeological landscapes of both places.

    Sir Ian Richmond, I have later discovered, considered that Shapwick was Vindocladia. He mentions it in the introduction of Hod Hill (Richmond, I., 1968, Hod Hill Vol 2, British Museum, p.2) because of its strategic position at the Stour river crossing.

    Having said all that..everything is up for grabs even Durnovaria being Dorchester has been questioned because there are no inscriptions from the town that pin the name to the place.

    Thanks for your comment. I hope that this helps.

    With best wishes
    Martin

    • Many thanks for your reply ,

      I am no expert and am just here ally interested in the subject and also very familiar with all the locations you talk about mainly from day dreaming when walking my dog . Perhaps it my military background or just my curiosity but to me Weatherby castle is a perfect location both logistically and geographically to merit a little more investigation . There is an obvious large scale medieval ( or earlier ground works on the Milborne Brook crossing to the west of the castle connected by well established paths to tolpuddle and towards Milton abbey and the BB other forts near Bulbarrow . Perhaps it’s just spending time standing there imagining a Roman garrison harboured in the location or perhaps it’s the fact it is the correct distance from Dorchester to match that in the Iter…maybe it’s worth a look one day ? Best regards.

      • It’s a lovely area to explore. I worked on Dewlish Roman villa when at college and walked the footpaths to Milton, Cheselbourne and Milborne St Andrew. A landscape full of interest and much still to discover.

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