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Viewing Single Post From: Excavations of 1930
SacoHarry
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AN INTRODUCTION TO THE EXCAVATION OF CHESTERHOLM-VINDOLANDA.

By Eric Birley.

[Read on 26th November, 1930.]

The following abbreviations are used in this report:


A.A. 1, 2, 3 or 4. Archaeologia Aeliana, series 1-4.
A J. Archaeological Journal.
C.I.L. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinaruon.
C. C.I.L., vol. VII.
C.W. 1 or 2. Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, O.S. and N.S.
D. Figure types in Dechelette, Les vases ceramiques ornes de la Gaule romaine.
E.E. Ephemeris epigraphica.
Knorr, 1919. R. Knorr, Topfer and Fabriken verzierter Terra-sigillatades ersten Jahrhunderts.
P.I.R. Prosopographia imperii Romani.
P.-W. Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopadie.

In general, a place-name in small capitals refers to an excavation report or museum catalogue that can be readily identified.

In May, 1930, there began at Chesterholm the first of a series of excavations that will last, it is hoped, until the site has been thoroughly explored. It has seemed advisable, therefore, to preface the first interim report on the excavation with an account of the site, and a summary of what was previously known or conjectured about its history.

Dr. Hunter was the first antiquary to visit the place; in 1702 he gave an account of the site in a letter published in the Philosophical Transactions, and described some recent discoveries made to the west of the fort itself, in the bath-house whose smoke-blackened ruins gave the place its name of “the Bowers.” In Hodgson's words, “the Bowers, from the Roman age till within the last century, was the elysium of a colony of fairies; and this ruined bath the kitchen to one of their palaces, of which the soot among the stones was undeniable evidence.”1 Dr. Hunter noted that traces of towers could be made out “on the walls of the fort,” and among the inscriptions published one (no. 3 below) that had “contained the name of the cohors quarta Gallorum, and so proves that this place is Vindolana.”2 Warburton did some digging here in 1717, and found an inscription, now at Durham; it is not clear whether Horsley was ever there--he has nothing to add to Dr. Hunter's account [a curious comment, as Horsley’s work says that he was personally shown the site of the bath house - editor]; the modern history of the place may be said to begin with its acquisition in 1814 by the rev. Anthony Hedley, an early member of this society, who devoted considerable time and energy to the examination of it. Hedley died after a very short illness in January, 1835, and left no record of the work that he had carried out there; for what we know of his researches we depend on the account given by the rev. John Hodgson in part II, volume iii, of his HISTORY OF NORTHUMBERLAND.3 Hodgson was Hedley's close friend for more than twenty years, and his record of the discoveries made at Chesterholm is of especial interest for the light that it throws on the character and ability of that “zealous and warm-hearted antiquary,” the first member of this society to carry out excavations on a Roman site.

In 1818 Hedley's tenant was digging for stone on the east side of the fort, when he came upon a flight of steps leading up from the burn; these steps he removed at once--like most Roman sites in the north, the Bowers had long served as a quarry for stone for every purpose, and Hedley could deplore but not put a stop to the practice. But he followed up the discovery, and excavated the east gate of the fort, to which the flight of steps led.4 In the autumn of 1831, when he had just built or was on the point of building5 the cottage of Chesterholm (from which the fort has since derived its name), he turned his attention to a prominent grassy mound inside the fort, sixty feet northwest of the east gate; there he found an elaborate building--

"several apartments of a sudatory, three of which were built as
usual upon pillars, and the greatest of them measured 21 feet from
east to west, and 13 from north to south, including on that side a
semi-circular recess, on the outside of which the noble altars6 ...
were discovered. . . . The mouth of the furnace to this hypocaust
was about 6 feet in advance to the west of this principal room,
arched, and narrowed in height and width inwards; and strong
marks of fire on its floor, roof, and walls showed that it had been
much used. The pillars to both the rooms were of different shapes
and diameters--some of them portions of square columns, moulded
and fluted on all sides; and some circular, like the banisters of
stairs, as may be seen by the specimens of them in the garden at
Chesterholme; but those of one of the smaller rooms, which was
12 feet square, were shorter than the rest. Adjoining the third
room, and between it and the entrance-room, on the north, was a
cistern 46 inches by 27; and north of it another, 5 feet 5 inches by
4 feet, but not on pillars, both floored and lined with bath cement.
From this range of apartments buildings seemed to have branched
off to the east, west, and south."7

In the absence of a plan, the account presents some difficulties; until the building has been uncovered again it is not necessary to attempt to solve them : but it is clear, at least, that the building was not an early one, since a variety of architectural fragments had been re-used in it : and that there was a street running east and west immediately to the north of it, in addition to the street leading to the east gate, to the south of it. Above all, it is clear that Hedley's excavation involved a careful examination of the structure, and was in a different class to the rather haphazard digging for inscriptions, so characteristic of an earlier, and not unknown in a later, generation of antiquaries.

In the following year and 1833, he cleared the northern part of the west wall of the fort (it was still standing 12 feet high, “but partly bilged out”) and the west gate, in one of the guard-chambers of which he found some 300 coins, “mostly of Constantius and Magnentius, but a few of Constantine II and Constans.” Perhaps it was after this (Hodgson gives no date for it) that he excavated “the towers on both sides of (the north gate), and found them paved at the bottom level with the natural surface of the ground. He also removed the rubbish from a long reach of the north-east portion of the east wall, where the courses remaining are of different thicknesses, and sometimes two run into one; and where the facing stones have not the usual square character of Roman masonry, but, in length, often exceed their height by twice or thrice."8

1 HISTORY OF NORTHUMBERLAND, II, iii, p. 195.
2 Alexander Gordon has sometimes been credited with this identification, which he puts forward, indeed, as though it were his own; he has clearly taken it from Hunter, to whose account he refers indirectly. Cf. ITINERARIUM SEPTENTRIONALE, p. 78. Bruce ascribes the identification to Horsley.
3 Other descriptions of the site are given by Maclauchlan and Bruce, in addition to the writers mentioned above. Maclauchlan's plan of the fort and its surroundings is valuable; Bruce epitomizes Hodgson, not always accurately.
4 Hodgson, op. cit., p. 196. Cf. also p. 199 below.
5 Hodgson in one place (p. 197) gives 1830, in another (p. 330) 1832, as the date of the erection of this “sweet picture of mosaic work . . . a cottage in the Abbotsford style.” There is evidence that suggests that Chesterholm was completed in 1831.
6 Cf. no. 5 below.
7 Op. cit., p. 196.
8 Op. cit., p. 197. This type of masonry was noted as characteristic of the Theodosian reconstruction at BIRDOSWALD; cf. also below, p. 197.
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Excavations of 1930 · Reports & Papers