Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Roman Empire’s Most Northerly Farm? (NZ288419)

A little to the east of Durham City sits a spot on the map which goes by the name of Old Durham. It is aptly named, as here was said to sit what is thought to have been the most northerly farm in Roman Britain. Well, of those that have so far been found, anyway.

Sand quarrying led to the accidental discovery of promising-looking relics there in the late 1930s, so the site was properly examined, archaeologically, in 1940. Broken Roman tiles seemed to indicate the former presence of a Roman bath house. It was speculated that a Romano-British villa-farm may have occupied the spot – but subsequent quarrying activities destroyed what was left of the aging bits and bobs.

Circumstantial evidence has since backed up the original archaeologists’ claims, and Old Durham is now generally regarded as the best candidate for the most northerly farmstead-villa of the old Roman Empire. It is known that a Roman way, Cade’s Road, passed nearby, for one thing – and ancient bridge footings have also been found a matter of yards away, suggesting it was may have been a busy little place. The site was probably active from the second to the fourth centuries, with the bath house added late in the day.

Much of the area is today taken up by Old Durham Gardens (see here), the recently revitalised grounds of an originally 17th century manor house. Though the building was demolished within decades of its construction, the grounds continued to be used during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries as a place of public recreation. Following a period of decline after WWII, the site has been brought back to life by the local council in recent years.

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