Shapwick’s Roman Fort, Kingston Lacy

This is the view along the Shapwick Road across our field towards Badbury Rings.

This is the view along the Shapwick Road across our field towards Badbury Rings.

Let’s walk across a Dorset field. It’s a good one.. and although we’ll stay in the same space we will be hopping about in time a bit. Well- we’re archaeologists after all.

For the moment it’s late summer, the corn’s been cut and as we leave the far hedge and walk diagonally towards the road our boots crunch on the stubble. Keep your eyes down, there are all sorts of things beneath our feet.

Yes. There. See it ? Sticking out of that tractor rut a black chunk of pottery. Pick it up.

On the upper edge it’s polished but on the rougher zone below you have that typical cross-hatch pattern. Iron Age? Roman?

I call this the ‘Long Field’. Not its old name.. but definitely very large and long. You’d notice that if you divided it up and surveyed it. There’s Geoff, laying out the grid, walking up and down with the magnetometer. He was the first man to map the archaeology here. I walked with him some days fixing the pegs, positioning the lines. We walked miles.. but the results were spectacular. Thanks Geoff.

The field is bottom left. This is Geoff's magnetometer survey showing the fort in detail and the underlying Iron Age settlement. If you look carefully you can see the parallel side ditches of the Badbury to Dorchester Roman road. Our walk is from fort entrance to fort entrance. From middle right to bottom left.

The field is bottom left. This is Geoff’s magnetometer survey showing the fort in detail and the underlying Iron Age settlement. If you look carefully you can see the parallel side ditches of the Badbury to Dorchester Roman road. Our walk is from fort entrance to fort entrance. From middle right to bottom left.

You almost missed that. An orange samian base fragment. It has that silk sheen to it. Unlucky, the potter’s stamp is fractured at the edge and we can’t quite read who made it. Came all the way from Gaul though.

We’re approaching a large’L’-shaped trench. Ian’s in a ‘bee-hive pit, narrow at the neck and twice the width at the bottom. It’s cool down there. He hands up something like samian except it’s ruby-coloured. An earlier pottery.. dates this grain storage pit to the Late Iron Age- 2000 years ago.

At the other end of the trench is Martin..he’s in a large pit. No, he’s gone,
someone’s placing a dog in the pit on top of a piglet. The field’s disappeared.. there are circular houses all around us, a hub-bub of people livestock and wooden fences within a settlement stockade.

Gone again.. the place is blacksmith’s workshop, furnaces and hearths. These guys look Roman.. at least the pots are 3rd century style.

From scaffold tower to scaffold tower. Looking towards the  trench to locate the SW entrance of the fort.

From scaffold tower to scaffold tower. Looking towards the trench to locate the SW entrance of the fort.

We’re in the field heading to another larger longer trench with a scaffold tower beside it. This is the main highway, the Roman road from Badbury to Dorchester but we are also in the middle of a large Roman fort.

It was first seen on aerial photos in 1976, three concentric ditches with rounded corners. The first idea was that it was 1st century.. built on top of the Iron Age settlement right after the Roman Conquest of AD 43-44. Very different to the Roman fort at Hod Hill a few miles away though. It has only two entrances, one in the NE corner and one in the SW… and the ditches at the corners don’t quite match.

Let’s climb the scaffold tower and look down at the trench. We’ve put it at the SW entrance. We can see the three ends of the ditches in plan. The road metalling has sunk into the soft ditch filling so it has not been ploughed away.

The fort SW entrance from the scaffold tower. The outer ditch terminal is clear with remains of road metalling crushed into its surface. The middle and deep inner ditch have not yet been excavated. Most of the upper layers including the road have been ploughed away over hundreds of years. This land was part of the Shapwick common fields in the medieval period.

The fort SW entrance from the scaffold tower. The outer ditch terminal is clear with remains of road metalling crushed into its surface. The middle and deep inner ditch have not yet been excavated. Most of the upper layers including the road have been ploughed away over hundreds of years. This land was part of the Shapwick common fields in the medieval period.

Gerald, Becki and Rob, if you could just remove the upper layers..yes, there are the ditches filled with pottery, animal bone and the occasional coin. It seems to date mostly to the end of the 2nd century. The outer two ditches are only a metre deep but the inner one is massive.. over 4m deep. Strange, some of the finds are 4th century.

Here it is..white chalk ramparts with a timber wall along the crest of the innermost defence. Inside it is full of rectangular buildings. Curious, the Dorchester road is blocked by the fort gates guarded by soldiers. They’re checking all the traffic. The Saxon raids along the coast have increased in recent months and this place, Vindocladia, is vulnerable. They haven’t the resources to build stone walls like those at Durnovaria (Dorchester). This secure place, the burgus fort, will have to do the job. A place of last resort for the Romanised Brits. Tense times.

Lets climb down from the scaffold and get into the car. I hope you enjoyed my favourite field. Nancy climbs in beside us. “How was it for you”…. “The earth moved”.. it certainly did.. and there was so much in it!

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