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David Johnston Memorial Lecture 2021

Silchester – The Baths Tell A Story

Professor Mike Fulford has led the Reading University excavations at Silchester for the past forty years. The excavations of Insula IX have shed light on the life and times of people living in this remarkably well-preserved Hampshire Roman town. In 2018 and 2019 the team excavated the bathhouse area in the south-east corner of Calleva Atrebatum and made some astonishing discoveries. There are photographs, below, of the site taken on a visit by the HFC Archaeology Section in 2019; there is a link for photos 2-4 to a larger image (you may need to allow pop-ups). Not only was an extensive bathing complex unearthed but there was compelling evidence that these were some of the earliest such features in Roman Britain. In this free memorial lecture, Professor Fulford was to explore the new ideas about this Hampshire Roman town as prompted by these new discoveries, and set them into the context of the other meticulous work done in the Forum area, and Insula IX.

Professor Fulford should have delivered his lecture on 27th March 2020, but, due to Covid-19, the lecture could not go ahead. However, the lecture was rearranged as an online presentation, via Zoom, on 23rd March 2021; the lecture is available as a video on YouTube. The Hampshire Field Club website will allow you to look at some past excavations at Silchester and related articles as reported in the Proceedings as can be seen in the links below.

Excavations at Silchester 2019

Vol 39, 1983, pp. 57-68 - John Collis of the University of Sheffield wrote an article on 'Excavations at Silchester, Hants, 1968'. In his Abstract he notes:

Prior to the construction of the earthen defences there is evidence of pre- and post-conquest settlement around the South Gate. The earth bank was built after c AD 160-180, but the stone wall probably not until about AD 250 or later, but before AD 300. Sections of the report are on microfiche, 2-29.
1. A view of the excavation team.
Edge of the Bath House Excavation

Vol 21, Part 2, 1959, pp. 83-97 - A. Clarke published an article on a related topic 'The Chichester - Silchester Roman Road'. Pages 90-97 show a series of strip-maps of the route from Chichester to Silchester. In the introduction, it is stated that:

This road was first discovered in 1949 in the course of routine examination of air-photographs at the Archaeology Division of the Ordnance Survey. The air-photo evidence, supplemented by fieldwork, enabled it to be traced from Milland to Chichester—a distance of 14 miles. In 1956, the remainder of the route was identified by the Ordnance Survey, and it proved to be a road connecting the cantonal capitals of Chichester (Noviomagus Regnensium) and Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum). Where best preserved it is accompanied by small side ditches with an overall width of approximately 62 feet, a distinctive characteristic of second-class Roman roads.

2. The edge of the excavations.
The Bath House in 2019

Vol 21, Part 1, 1958, pp. 8-21 - George C. Boon's article looked at 'Excavations at Silchester, 1954-7 : an Interim Report'. The first paragraph gives background on earlier excavations along with the aims of the 1954-7 work:

THE Society of Antiquaries' excavations (1890-1909) mark the end of a phase in the exploration of Silchester, in which the recovery of the Roman town-plan was the main object. A second phase, in which attention was expressly directed towards the elucidation of the history of Calleva, began in 1938-9, when Mrs M. Aylwin Cotton, O.B.E., F.S.A., undertook fresh excavations upon the defences and street-plan. Since 1954, work has been particularly concerned with the pre-Roman period: that long blank in the archaeology of a site known, from numismatic evidence, to have been in being within a decade of the birth of Christ.
3. The remains of the Bath House
Explanation for HFC Members

Vol 15, Part 2, 1942, pp. 159-164 - S E & V E Winbolt wrote about 'The Winchester-Silchester Roman Road'; in the account they gave details of the route on the ground which was related to Ordnance Survey mapping of the period.

Vol 7, Part 1, 1914, pp. 43-44 - There is a report by J. B. Karslake, F.S.A, on excavations carried out by him, in 1911, at Silchester since the Society of Antiquaries ceased to excavate the site.

Vol 2, Part 2, 1892, pp. 240-252 - G W Minns, in his article The Ancient Christian Church at Silchester, gives background information on the Society of Antiquitaries' excavations which began in 1890.

4. An explanation of the site.
Small finds

As well as Proceedings, reports have appeared in the Newsletter which have updated the knowledge of the archaeology done at Silchester after the account in Proceedings Vol. 39. These are the references:

  • Newsletter 34, 2000, pp 4-5 - M G Fulford - The Silchester Ogham Stone
  • Newsletter 26, 1996, pp 3-4 - D Allen - Spotlight on Silchester and p. 5 - S Orr - Calleva Atrebatum, the Roman Town of Silchester, gallery review
  • Newsletter 8, 1987, pp 25-7 - M G Fulford - Silchester Excavations 1986

Unfortunately, we do not yet have digitised copies of Newsletter articles; it is hoped that these will become available in the near futured.

Also, there is a 'Description of Silchester Roman City Walls and Amphitheatre' on the English Heritage website. This page gives links to more information, including a downloadable map of the site so that you can see where the Bath House was located.

The University of Reading has a range of webpages related to the excavations and their results:

5. Prof. Fulford explains some of the small finds.