Archaeologist joins call to save unique Roman Villa
An archaeologist at the University of Nottingham has joined the
fight to protect the site of a unique Roman villa. The site, until
recently buried under the old Southwell Minster School, has planning
permission for 13 new homes. But experts say at least part of the
land earmarked for development should be protected because of the
villa remains and its special relationship with Southwell Minster,
the Cathedral Church of Nottinghamshire.
The University of Nottingham is custodian of a remarkable archive
of photographs and lecture slides bequeathed to the Department of
Archaeology after the death of Charles Daniels who led the very
first major excavation of the site in 1959 — before the Minster
Grammar School was built.
Three hundred and fifty people who attended a recent public meeting
were told by Dr Will Bowden, from the Department of Archaeology,
that this was a fantastic opportunity to find out more about the
history of Southwell and its Cathedral and Minster. Dr Bowden has
joined with community groups in Southwell to call for full investigation
of the site and for the area of the villa to remain free of development.
Roman remains were discovered under parts of Southwell as far back
as the 1790s. Charles Daniels, who was employed by the Ministry
of Works, led a team of archaeologists who found extraordinary plaster
work dating back to the 2nd or possibly early 3rd century AD, painted
with marine scenes of cupids which now adorn the walls of the Minster.
They discovered the remains of baths which formed part of a villa.
They also uncovered mosaics in what is thought to be the central
room in the south wing of the villa — regarded as exceptional
in the Midlands and North East in terms of size and quality.
When the Minster School was extended in the 1970s diggers unearthed
and destroyed 225 skeletons. The skeletons were so badly damaged
that they were reburied with minimal recording.
Most recently after the new Minster School was built and the old
one was demolished to make way for 13 prestige homes archaeologists
uncovered a huge wall of probable Roman date. They believe it could
be the remains of a Roman temple precinct — although Dr Bowden
remains uncertain about this. The wall is 20 metres long by two
and a half metres tall and is made from large, smooth-faced sandstone
blocks typically used for lavish Roman buildings.
Dr Bowden, an associate professor at the University, said: “The
relationship with the minster is what makes this site so special;
this is what gives it added value. We have known about the villa
for a long time but we do not know anything about the period between
the loss of the villa and the construction of the minster. The villa
has to be seen as a key part of the minster complex and its origins.
We don't know what the link is yet but there almost certainly is
one. There is an enormous potential for research — to put
the whole thing into context. We cannot lose this opportunity because
of a failure to protect the site.”