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Recent Work at Osmanthorpe, Nottinghamshire

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 November 2011

M.C. Bishop
36 Simpson Street, Crookhill, Ryton, Tyne and Wear
P.W.M. Freeman
36 Simpson Street, Crookhill, Ryton, Tyne and Wear


Although the so-called vexillation fortress at Osmanthorpe (SK 678563) in the Greet Valley, Nottinghamshire, is a recent discovery, fieldwork in the immediate vicinity of the site has been conducted independent of it in the past. This paper reports the results of recent work connected with what we shall term the castra and brings to wider attention some of the earlier work in the Greet Valley, combined with a consideration of its possible implications.

Britannia , Volume 24 , November 1993 , pp. 159 - 189
Copyright © M.C. Bishop and P.W.M. Freeman 1993. Exclusive Licence to Publish: The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

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1 Riley, D.N., Britannia xi (1980), 330–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Grateful thanks are offered to M.V. Andrews, C. Barclay, J. Clarke, B. Dickinson, K.F. Hartley, D.F. Mackreth, J. Roy, and S.J. Tomson for help in preparing this report. Sir John Starkey has also graciously allowed access to his estate for the various fieldwalking expeditions, whilst Mrs C. Turner has provided useful background information on previous work in the area. Graeme Guilbert of the Trent and Peak Archaeological Trust has taken a keen interest in how the work reported below has developed. Similar thanks are offered to Professor D. Mosley, Drs J. Roy, J. Lloyd, and D. Kennedy and D.N. Riley at Sheffield for support and advice, and to Dr A. Poulter, M. Dawson and Mr R. Alvey at the University of Nottingham for their help with the brooches, which Mrs J. Kennedy very kindly drew. However, our greatest debts are firstly to the many undergraduate students who have assisted with the work reported here and secondly to Mr and Mrs A. Bower of Osmanthorpe Manor who have been more than generous in facilitating our work and letting us have access to their fields.

The following abbreviations are used in this note:

EMAB = East Midlands Archaeological Bulletin.

TTS = Transactions of the Thornton Society of Nottinghamshire.

2 In this report, the term castra has been preferred over fort, fortress, or vexillation fortress.

3 O'Brien, C., EMAB suppl. 12, (1978)Google Scholar (see also O'Brien, in Burnham, B.C. and Johnson, H.B. (eds), Invasion and Response; the Case of Roman Britain, BAR Brit. Ser. 73 (1979), 299313)Google Scholar; Whitwell, J.B., The Coritani. Some Aspects of the Iron Age Tribe and the Roman Civitas, BAR Brit. Ser. 99 (1982)Google Scholar; Wheater, V., The Greet Valley: The Course of a Roman Road and Associated Iron Age and Roman Sites Along a Tributary of the Trent (unpubl. University of Durham B.A. Hons Archaeology Dissertation 1982)Google Scholar; Turner, C.J., Settlement between the Trent and the Don in Relationship to Adjacent Areas in Prehistoric and Romano-British Times (unpubl. M.Phil dissertation, Nottingham University 1986).Google Scholar I am grateful to Miss Wheater (now Madame Carasco) and to Professor Rosemary Cramp for permission to consult and cite Miss Wheater's dissertation. It has not yet been possible for me to consult Mrs Turner's dissertation; but I am grateful to her for discussing her work with me, and for showing me the sherds collected during her preparatory fieldwork.

4 RCHM (England), A Matter of Time: an Archaeological Survey of the River Gravels of England Prepared by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England) (1960), 31, 41, 56; O'Brien, op. cit. (note 3,1978), 4–9.

5 On these earthworks, see Simmons, B.B., ‘Iron Age hill forts in Nottinghamshire’, TTS lxvii (1963), 920.Google Scholar On Camp Hill, Simmons, , EMAB iii (1960), 10Google Scholar, and Wheater, op. cit. (note 3), 28–9 with figs 4–6 and pl.5; a few flints have also been found near Camp Hill, Knowles, G.C., EMAB x (1974), 41.Google Scholar On Combs Farm, Simmons, , EMAB iv (1961), 1314Google Scholar; EMAB V (1962), 21.Google Scholar O'Brien, op. cit. (note 3, 1979), 309, notes that the evidence for Iron Age occupation of these earthworks is limited; also O'Brien, op. cit. (note 3, 1978), 10–12.

6 VCH Nottinghamshire I, 304.

7 Excavation of Southwell villa: Daniels, C.M., TTS lxx (1966), 1354.Google Scholar Excavations of the Epperstone villa: Revill, S.E., EMAB iv (1961), 14Google Scholar; EMAB vi (1963), 15Google Scholar; EMAB vii (1964), 25Google Scholar; May, J., EMAB ix (1966), 35–6Google Scholar; Mulholland, F., EMAB ix (1966), 40–1Google Scholar. Excavation of the villa at Thurgarton: Revill, S.E., EMAB ii (1959), 1314Google Scholar; EMAB iii (1960), 11Google Scholar; EMAB iv (1961), 15.Google Scholar On a scatter of Romano-British sherds and building materials half-a-mile from the Epperstone and Thurgarton villas: Houldsworth, H.O., EMAB v (1962), 21Google Scholar; Todd, M., EMAB Xi (1977), 51Google Scholar. On the relative importance of these villas; M. Todd, The Coritani (1973), 76–88, with the comments of Whitwell, op. cit. (note 3), 101, 107, III.

8 Farnsfield camp, Riley, D.N., Britannia viii (1977), 189–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar; excavation, Swarbrick, C.J. and Turner, J., TTS lxxxvi (1982), 108–10Google Scholar. Before the Osmanthorpe fort was recognised, fieldwalking had produced sherds from within the area of the fort: March, D.J., EMAB ix (1966), 40Google Scholar; and from just outside to the south: Mackreth, D.F. and Simmons, B.B., EMAB v (1962), 21.Google Scholar

9 The fullest study of the possible existence of a Roman road in the Greet valley is by Wheater, op. cit. (note 3). Todd, op. cit. (note 7, 1973), 17–18, considers the question briefly; see also the earlier remarks of Penny, S.R., Derbys. Arch. Journ. lxxxvi (1966), 7087.Google Scholar Whitwell, op. cit. (note 3), 67, accepts the existence of this road, because of the observed gravel bands, and likewise the existence of a road on the opposite side of the Trent, running SE from Ad Pontem.

10 Gravel band: Simmons, B.B., EMAB vi (1963), 15Google Scholar; section and possible continuation to the south-east; Wheater, op. cit. (note 3), 32–5. Wheater also notes other possible evidence for the existence and the line of the road.

11 Mackreth, D.F. and Simmons, B.B., EMAB v (1962), 21Google Scholar; Wheater, op. cit. (note 3), 36.

12 This band of gravel, and the associated sherds and brooch, were recorded by Simmons, B.B., EMAB vi (1963), 15.Google Scholar Further work at the same location is discussed in the text.

13 Lyth, P., TTS lxxxvi (1982), 51–2.Google Scholar

14 Pers. comm. from Mrs Turner (see note 3).

15 I am grateful to Ms Ruth Birss of the Trent and Peak Archaeological Unit for a report on the sherds found; and to my Sheffield colleague Dr J.F. Drinkwater for a report on the two coins, which appear to be of the second century A.D. I also thank S.J.N. Tomson for an early study of the sherds found in 1984.

16 VCH Nottinghamshire 11, 26–7; R.F. Tylecote, Metallurgy in Archaeology (1962), 82–93.

17 Simmons, B.B., EMAB vi (1963), 14.Google Scholar

18 Roman coin: Dove, G.C., EMAB viii (1965), 30Google Scholar (cf.32); Romano-British sherds: March, D.J.EMAB ix (1966), 41.Google Scholar

19 Simmons, B.B., EMAB vi (1963), 16Google Scholar (cf. Wheater, op. cit. (note 3), 36); March, D.J., EMAB ix (1966), 43Google Scholar; Brooke, C.J., EMAB xiii (19791982), 25.Google Scholar Mention should also be made of pottery recorded from west of Kirklington village (Whitwell, op. cit. (note 3), 261), and of Roman material from Upton (VCH Nottinghamshire 11, 35, Whitwell, op. cit. (note 3), 326).

20 Riley, op. cit. (note 1), 334.

21 idem, 330–2.

22 Maxwell, G.S. and Wilson, D.R., Britannia xviii (1987), 9, fig. 3.Google Scholar

23 Wilson, D.R., Britannia xv (1984), 5161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

24 It is now widely accepted by modern writers that the site is connected with the earliest years of the Roman occupation; e.g. P. Holder, The Roman Army in Britain (1982), 42–3; M. Todd, Roman Britain; 55 B.C.-A.D. 400 (1982), 80 (who refers to it as Edingley); S.S. Frere and J.K. St. Joseph, Roman Britain from the Air (1983), 39. Only one author has attempted to place the site in a specific historical context; G. Webster, Rome against Caratacus: The Roman Campaigns in Britain A.D. 48–58 (1981), 99.

25 A report of this fieldwalking (and some subsequent excavation) is incorporated in V.J. Wheater's study (op. cit. (note 3)).

26 Britannia xv (1984), 290.Google Scholar

27 Mackreth, D.F. and Simmons, B.B., EMAB v (1962), 21.Google Scholar

28 Wheater, op. cit. (note 3), 16–22.

29 These sondages were in fact only 35–50 cm deep (c. 15–20 in.). Although Wheater published three trenches in her report, she opened a fourth trench in the vicinity of the north gate, but nothing of note was identified there (pers. comm.).

30 Epit. re milit. 1.23; 111.8.

31 Hyginus, Lib. mun. cast. 57–8.

32 See note 24.

33 Todd, op. cit. (note 7, 1981), 81.

34 Joseph, J.K. St., JRS xliii (1953), 83–4Google Scholar; idem, JRS lxxv (1965), 75–6.

35 Frere, S.S. and Joseph, J.K. St., Britannia v (1974), 6.Google Scholar

36 cf. P. Salway, Roman Britain (1981), 95–6; Todd, op. cit. (note 24), 78–83; Webster, op. cit. (note 24), 94; idem, The Roman Imperial Army (1985), 175; Holder, op. cit. (note 24), 42–4; Frere and St. Joseph, op. cit. (note 24), 37–9; A. Johnson, Roman Forts (1983), 243–4; K. Branigan, The Catuvellauni (1985), 38, 48; Hanson, W.S. and Campbell, D.B., Britannia xvii (1986), 80ff.; I. Longworth and J. Cherry (eds), Archaeology in Britain since 1945 (1986), 89; S.S. Frere, Britannia (1987), 55, 57, 62Google Scholar; W.S. Hanson, Agricola (1987), 61–2; Coulston in Coulston, J.C. (ed.), Military Equipment and the Identity of Roman Soldiers, BAR Int. Ser. 394 (1988), 1314Google Scholar; Maxfield, V.A. in Todd, M. (ed.), Research on Roman Britain 1960–1989, Britannia Monograph 11 (1989), 24–5.Google Scholar

37 cf. Todd, op. cit. (note 24), 80, fig. 10 (11 listed); Frere and St. Joseph, op. cit. (note 24), 37, ‘…some 10–12 early vexillation fortresses’; R. Wilson, Roman Forts (1980), 24; Holder, op. cit. (note 24), 43 (14 listed); Frere, op. cit. (note 36), 56, fig. 2 (15 listed); Maxfield, op. cit. (note 36), 24, fig. 1 (22 definitely or probably pre-Flavian sites larger than 20-acre sites listed, but including ‘full’ legionary sites).

38 Clyro: M.J. Jones, Roman Fort Defences to A.D. 117 (1975), 144–5; Kingsholm: H.R. Hurst, Kingsholm (1985); Britannia xvii (1986), 414Google Scholar; xviii (1987), 341; xxi (1990), 347; Kinvaston: Jones, op. cit., 158; Farm, Lake: Britannia ii (1971), 281Google Scholar; iii (1972), 346; v (1974), 455; xi (1980), 391; xiii (1982), 384; Longthorpe: Frere and St.Joseph, op. cit. (note 35); Malton: Jones, op. cit., 164–5; Mancetter: Jones, op. cit., 165; Britannia viii (1977), 379–80Google Scholar; ix (1978), 440–1; x (1979), 300; xii (1981), 339; xiii (1982), 361; xv (1984), 295–7; xvi (1985), 286–7; Rhyn Park: G.D.B. Jones, Rhyn Park Roman Fortress (1978); Wall: Jones, op. cit., 181–2; Britannia vii (1976), 328Google Scholar; viii (1977), 394; ix (1978), 435–6; x (1979), 296; xi (1980), 367.

39 Frere and St. Joseph, op. cit. (note 36), 38. Cf. Johnson, op. cit. (note 43), 247; Webster, op. cit. (note 43), 175.

40 loc. cit. (note 35).

41 Richmond, L.A., Hod Hill 2 (1968), 6691.Google Scholar

42 But see Maxfield, V.A., Britannia xvii (1986), 72Google Scholar, who doubts legionary fragmentation and prefers lack of discrimination in the use of military equipment. Cf. Coulston, op. cit. (note 36), 15, for an alternative view.

43 Todd, op. cit. (note 24), 78.

44 Wilson, op. cit. (note 37), 24; Johnson, op. cit. (note 36), 243; Maxfield, op. cit. (note 36), 23; Webster, op. cit. (note 36), 175, classes Longthorpe as ‘…the headquarters fortress of legio IX with some cohorts at outpost stations, rather than associated with a campaign’.

45 Salway, op. cit. (note 36), 95; Holder, op. cit. (note 24), 42, with a shift in use to winter quarters; Webster, op. cit. (note 36), 175.

46 Ann. III. 74.

47 So, for example, in eastern England, the sites of Newton-on-Trent, Rossington Bridge, Osmanthorpe, and even Longthorpe have been postulated as dormitory sites for the construction of the fortress at Lincoln: cf. Hanson and Campbell, op. cit. (note 36), 80; Frere, op. cit. (note 36), 55–7.

48 Rhyn Park: Frere and St. Joseph, op. cit. (note 35), 6; Joseph, J.K. St., Antiquity li (1977), 5560CrossRefGoogle Scholar; G.D. B. Jones, Rhyn Park Roman Fortress (1978); Frere and St. Joseph, op. cit. (note 24), 37, 51–3.

49 Frere and St. Joseph, op. cit. (note 24), 37; Webster, op. cit. (note 36), 167, but note his cautionary comment: ‘There is a further complication in that occasionally one finds timber buildings, presumably for stores, inside what is otherwise an enclosure for tents. It is unfortunate, too, that most of the literary authorities, Caesar, Polybius, Josephus and Tacitus and the so-called Hyginus, were describing campaign camps and hiberna (winter quarters)’; cf. Baatz, D., Germania lxiii (1985), 147–54.Google Scholar

50 Bell. Gall. v.43.

51 Ann. xv. 6.

52 Webster, op. cit. (note 36), 169–74.

53 idem, 169.

54 Ann. 1.37, 39, 48.

55 Ann. XIII. 35.

56 Ann. XV. 7–8, 10.

57 Frere and St. Joseph, op. cit. (note 35), 5: i.e. (semi-)permanent; 6: hiberna; 38: ‘campaign fortress’ (aestiva?).

58 cf. Riley, D.N., Britannia xi (1980), 332.Google Scholar

59 cf. Wheater, op. cit. (note 3), 22.

60 To this list might be added the pottery recovered by Dr J. Roy from the fields surrounding those of the castra over the period 1984–88. Most sherds were recovered in fields east of the castra (cf. J. Roy, forthcoming): (1) Forms 15/17 or 18 (F403) and 27 (F407, with flattened rim), South Gaulish: pre-Flavian; (2) Forms 30 or 37 (F409) and 37 (F411), South Gaulish: Flavian or Flavian-Trajanic; (3) Scrap (F400), South Gaulish: first century; (4) Form 18/31 (646), from Les Martres-de-Veyre: Trajanic; (5) Forms 18/31R (2: F404, F408) and 37 (645), Central Gaulish: Hadriani corearly Antonine; (6) Forms 31 (2: F410, F415) and 33 (F412), Central Gaulish: Antonine. We are grateful to Dr Roy for allowing access to his material in advance of publication.

61 V. Rigby in A.P. Detsicas (ed.), Current Research in Romano-British Coarse Pottery (1973), 14 no. 39; Hawkes, C.F.C. and Hull, M.R., Camulodunum, Soc. Ant. Res. Rep. xiv (1947), 223, pl. L.Google Scholar

62 Hawkes and Hull, op. cit. (note 61), 233–4, pl. LV.

63 idem, 238, pl. LVII.

64 M.J. Darling in H.R. Hurst, Kingsholm (1985), 68, 80.

65 Darling, M.J. in Dore, J. and Greene, K. (eds), Roman Pottery Studies in Britain and Beyond, BAR Int. Ser. 10 (1977).Google Scholar

66 D.P.S. Peacock and D.F. Williams, Amphorae and the Roman Economy (1986).

67 M.G. Wilson in Frere and St. Joseph, op. cit. (note 35).

68 L.F. Pitts in Hurst, op. cit. (note 64), 102–5, fig. 36E.

69 D. Charlesworth in J.S.Wacher and A.D.McWhirr (eds), Early Roman Occupation at Cirencester (1982), 106, fig. 34, 93.

70 K. Greene, The Pre-Flavian Fine Wares. Report on the Excavations at Usk 1965–1976 (1979).

71 ibid., 120, fig. 52.

72 J.R. Timby in Hurst, op. cit. (note 64), III, Fine ware No. iii.

73 Hawkes and Hull, op. cit. (note 61).

74 Greene, op. cit. (note 70), 81–2, fig. 35.

75 Wilson, op. cit. (note 67).

76 Hawkes and Hull, op. cit. (note 61).

77 Charlesworth, op. cit. (note 69), No. 94.

78 Pitts, op. cit. (note 68), 105, fig. 36F.

79 Boesterd, M.H.P. den and Hoekstra, E., Oudheid. Med. xlvi (1965).Google Scholar

80 In conjunction with other analyses which have been conducted on copper-alloy Roman military artefacts by Bishop, the patera handle was subjected to a series of atomic absorption spectroscoplc analyses in order to determine its constituent elements. These were identified as: Copper 72·8%; Tin 20 % Iron 0·37%; Antimony 0·37%; Lead 0·25%; Zinc 0·1%. The total identified was 93·89%. The missing percentages will include such elements as arsenic and gold amongst others, for which tests were not carried out. Oxygen present in the oxidised bronze would have also been burnt off in the test. Thanks are due to Mr M. Dobby, Senior Technician in the Department of Metallurgy at the University of Sheffield, for undertaking these tests.

81 Parallels to the Osmanthorpe example include: Oswald, F., Antiq. Journ. xix (1939), 441, pl.LXXXVII (Brox-towe); J. Brailsford, Hod Hill I (1962), fig. 5, A135 (Hod Hill)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Webster, G., Trans. Birmingham Warwick, Arch. Soc. lxxxi (19631964), 143–4Google Scholar, pl. 30 (Caves Inn); Ulbert, G., Das frührömische Kastell Rheingönheim, Limesforschungen Band 9 (1969), Taf.37, 12Google Scholar (Rheingönheim); see Eggers, H.J., Jahrbuch des Röm.-Germ. Zentralmuseums xiii (1966).Google Scholar Discussion of stamped pater a handles can be found in McPeake, J.C. and Moore, C.N., Britannia ix (1978), 331–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bennett, J. and Young, R., Britannia xii (1981), 3744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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137 Denarius of Gnaeus Fulvius c. 106 B.C. (Lincolns. Hist. Arch, i (1966), 38)Google Scholar = Cn. Fulvius monetalis with M. Calidius and Q. Metellus 106 B.C. (cf. Broughton, T.R.S., The Magistrates of the Roman Republic, 11 (1951)Google Scholar, Appendix I, 440); initial reference courtesy Professor S.S. Frere.

138 Unpublished. Dr D.N. Riley is preparing material from this site for publication.

139 Published in G. Webster, Rome Against Caratacus (1981), pl. 11.

140 For reductions at Longthorpe and Rhyn, cf. above note 48 for references.