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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.”


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