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The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset
by John Hutchins:

(3rd Edition published 1868)

Transcribed by Michael Russell OPC for Dorchester - March 2017



Antiquities - Part 26
Pages 394-397

"This town", says Hutchins, "was fortified by the Romans with a wall and foss, quite round, quite round, and two exterior rampart, which are visible on the south and west, but they are in many places leveled by the plough.(1) The high ground on the north rendered any works there unnecessary. On the west side of the town part of the old Roman wall is standing, sixt-five paces lon, six feet thick, and twelve high, in some places. The foundation, as may be seen in the saw pit under it, is laid on solid chalk. It is of rag stone laid side by side and obliquely, and then covered over with very strong mortar. The next course generally leans to the contrary way; now and then three horizontal ones for binding; much flint is also used.

Much more remained of it in the memory of man, and some of the foundations appear in other places; and on the east a small lane is built upon it, and the ditch filled up, which is still called 'the Walls'. Great part of the remains were leveled or destroyed in making the walks round the town. About 1764 eighty-five feet of the wall were pulled down and only seventy-seven left standing. The Danes under Sueno demolished the walls A.D.1003, and time hath completed their ruin. The method of making them seems to have been by building two parallel walls, and filling up the interval between them with hot mortar or cement, with flint and stones promiscuously mixed. They are constructed like the Roman wall in the north of England, only in that flint is used.

"Many Roman coins, gold, silver, and brass are dug up here. Camden, Coker, and Speed say they were called by the vulgar Dorn's pennies, or King Dor's money; but that name is now lost.

About 1725 was found, three or four feet deep in a garden in the back lane, parallel to the south street, a large mosaic pavement, or opus tessellatum.

"In 1747, in the back garden of the free school, was found, at five feet depth, a brass image of a Roman deity, four inches and a half long, in a sitting posture, his left hand resting on something lost; the right on his thigh holding a purse. It had a young face, and on his head the petasus, or winged hat, the usual attribute of Mercury. It is now in the possession of the descendants of John PITT, of Encombe, esq formerly a representative of this town in parliament." This figure afterwards came into the possession of the late Joseph STONE, esq and by that gentleman was presented to the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester. It appears to be a statue of Mercurius Mercator, who is represented with wings on his head, and a bag in his right hand.(2)
    [Note:- See picture above included as part of John Hutchins account. It was discovered by the Rev. Edward COZENS (1690-1753) who was Master of the 'Free School' in Dorchester from 1736-1749. John PITT (1706-1787) of Encombe represented Dorchester in Parliament from 1751 to 1761
Many Roman remains have been found in the grounds of Dorchester Castle, the site of the present Dorchester gaol.

A continuator of Hutchins mentions that, "On digging the foundation for a new gaol in the castle many Roman coins were found; amongst others, those of Antonius Pius, Vespasianus, Constantinus (rev. Principi Juventutis), Julianus, Theodora, Carausius, Marcus Aurelius, Saloninus Valerianus, Fla. Valens, Constantinius (rev, Sarmatia devicta), and Gallienus".

August 10, 1858, in preparing the grave in the burial ground for James SEAL, executed for murder(3), a small portion of tessellated pavement was discovered at a depth of four feet. The digging for this purpose was suspended, but the earth was removed so long as any tesseræ were to be met with. The result was the discovery of a magnificent pavement, twenty feet square, one corner of which, however, had been destroyed by previous interments. The beautiful centre was fortunately undamaged and entire, as well as the remaining portion of the pavement, together with the threshold. The pavement was carefully transferred to the chapel of the gaol, piece by piece, where the whole breadth of the pattern is now displayed, and no foreign substance was employed to make good any portion of it. The outer border composed of larger and rougher stones, together with the threshold, remain undisturbed in situ, and a stone marks their position in the castle field. immediately under the centre of the flooring an oyster shell was found. Portions of the stone roofing of the house and a small coin of Constantine the great were among the rubbish on the pavement. The former were sent to the Dorset County Museum; the latter was attached to a brass plate containing the following inscription, which is fixed in the masonry above the pavement in the chapel:-
    "This portion of the Roman Pavement was discovered in the prison ground, four feet from the surface, August 10, 1858, and transferred to the Chapel by order of the Visiting Justices. J.V.LAWRENCE, Governor"

After the removal of the pavement in order to ascertain on what foundation it was placed, borings were made, and layers of flints three in number were discovered. Upon each layer was placed lime concrete to the depth of six inches, making altogether a solid bed more than two feet in thickness., impervious to damp. At the bottom the bore came to the virgin chalk, which exhibited signs of containing much moisture. At a distance of eighteen feet from the threshold, in a slanting direction, due east, a pit of rough stones nine feet deep, was met with four feet below the present surface. Amongst the earth with which it had been filled up, charcoal, bones of animals pieces of Roman pottery, and many fragments of a peculiar kind of vase were dug up. A wall five feet in length, four in breadth, but only two in depth, abutted on one side of this pit, which was terminated by another, ten feet long, in a south westerly direction; this was again intersected by one twenty-two feet in length, running south east which was met by another wall of eighteen feet, turning north-east, where it was built into another of only four feet in length, and proceeded no further. At this point were discovered several large stones carefully sawn and dressed, two of which were curiously carved. They are now fixed over the doorways of the gaol chapel, and the mouldings sculptured on them seem to be of the Norman style of architecture. A portion of the cement with which the walls of the room were covered had been painted pale green, with a border of maroon and two shades of red. In the center of the space partly enclosed by the walls already mentioned another pit five feet in depth, built of rough stone, was found, which also contained charcoal, pieces of pottery, portions of Roman vases, and animal bones. Other relics were generally turned up with the earth throughout the excavations near the walls several bone pins were found embedded in the earth, one of which had a flat circular head; another a head of a fourteen-sided geometrical solid; and another a roundish one (their lengths varied from two to four inches); the glass bottom of a small and rather flat vessel; a boar's tusk and a tooth in excellent preservation and a considerable quantity of bones and teeth of an ox. The cork of an amphora, with a circular bronze plate and ring on the top for drawing it, a flat metal shaft passing through the cork, and fastened by a small plate at the bottom, as also a piece of the neck of the amphora fitting the cork, were brought to light. The foundations above described were bounded on the north side at a distance of three feet by another wall of stone, seven feet from the surface, twenty in length, varying in breadth from two and a half to five feet; its depth in front was seven feet, but behind only two, being built upon solid chalk. It appears that the earth had been removed in front in form of a square for some purpose, but afterwards filled up, which would account for its greater height on this side. The portion of this wall at the north-west end appeared to terminate suddenly, but subsequent excavations clearly evinced that it had proceeded at one time further, but had been removed, the exact width being seen, but no vestiges of it were to be found. In the square place were discovered a vase and portions of another, and under the foundations of the wall a third. It being suspected that other portions of the same edifice would be discovered, a further search again at a depth of four feet from the surface revealed some fine portions of pavements designed in medallions encircled by a guilloche of the same pattern as that exhumed in 1854, but different in colour; the tesseræ had been much disturbed, so that no portion of the original pattern could be distinctly made out, with the exception of the guilloche, which was entire, and was transferred to the chapel of the prison in the same manner as the pavement.

The site of this apartment was upon made ground over which chalk was spread one foot in depth, the whole entirely covered by a solid mass of flints and cement grouted together three feet in thickness upon which the pavement was laid. The Wall of this room, two feet in thickness, was afterwards discovered, and the size of the apartment was eighteen feet, and the doorstep of the room which contained the pavement originally discovered communicated with this one from the same level. Many fragments of the painted walls in good preservation were here found; on red bordered with black, and white with a border of black and red. It is suggested that the fact of the square pit having been constructed in the centre of the room, as above described, proclaims the foundations previously mentioned to be of a more recent date, consequently not Roman; for it is scarcely to be imagined that in constructing what appeared to be an ash pit, it should have been erected in the center of the room, or that so magnificent a room should be destroyed for that purpose as was the case in this instance.

The boundary wall, however, already alluded to, on the north side, bears evidence of being Roman. The foundations of a wall in a south-westerly direction, 36ft in length, formed the side of the two rooms above described. Pat of another wall and some remains of a tessellated pavement with a border of a chain-pattern indicated the existence of another apartment, but the tesseræ were so disarranged that it was impossible to make out the pattern; the centre of this room, however, was composed only of stone coloured mosaics of a larger size, formed in a circle, the border of the pavement which was the only vestige remaining was presented to the County Museum. It made the fourth apartment in the suit of rooms.

In October 1840 an interesting discovery of Roman remains was made in the meadow adjoining Dorchester to the eastward. Some men employed in cleaning out and lowering the bed of the river found a few mutilated Roman coins of the brass with a fragment or two of dark ware, and digging a little deeper in this spot the succeeded in discovering from 300 to 400 coins curiously intermingled with fragments of thin brass, portions of brass instruments, a fibula, brass rings, rings of twisted wire, the front of a heart shaped clasp beautifully inlaid with enamel, fragments of Samian pottery, &c. all lying on a hard bed constituted of a rude kind of cement, composed of the ordinary detritus of the river, with flints, sand, large nails, and other iron fragments firmly compacted together and bearing occasional indications of scoriæ

The coins were nearly all of the third brass, with a few of the first brass, and comprised the reigns of Hadrianus, Antoninus Pias, Faustina the Elder, Faustina the Younger, Gallienus, Salonina, Postumus, Victorinus, Retricus the Elder, Tetricus the Younger, Claudius Gothicus, Aurelianus, Tacitus, Probus, Carausius, Allectus, Maximinus, Crispus, &c. thus embracing a lapse of time of upwards of 200 years, ranging from A.D. 117 to a.d. 326. though some few were in fine preservation, the great bulk of these coins was in the worst possible condition, and the fragment of brass and other circumstances with which they were associated, render it not improbable that they might have formed a collection of metal for the purpose of being recast: though if this be the case the discovery being made in the bed of a river can only be accounted for on the supposition that the course of the stream may have changed since the deposit was made (Ref Sydenham MSS).

In 1841one of those relics of the Romano-British æra so frequently brought to light at Dorchester was discovered during the process of digging a tank in a field near the south-west angle of the town. It was an imperfect fragment of a tessallated pavement, measuring about 14ft by 8ft, which formed a portion of the floor of an apartment of a Romano-British dwelling with a recessed zotheca or alcove, which later, whilst the dwelling was inhabited, was perhaps separated from the larger room by hanging drapery. The whole of the floor had been destroyed at some previous period, leaving only a portion of the guilloche border, with an outer border of spiral and circular ornaments. From this the floor of the zotheca, which was formed of a very favourite pattern in such pavements, was divided by a series of large lozenges. The tesseræ were about half an inch square, and the colours were rich and varied, comprising black, red, blue, white, and light brown. The outer border was of a coarser white tesserę. As the sinking of the tank was proceeded with this relic was destroyed.

In the same year labourers employed in leveling the meadow between the river Frome and the north walk at Dorchester, found buried in the chalk close to the bottom of Glydepath Hill several human skeletons, near one of which were three small vases. Two were of the ordinary barrel form, of dark ware, one with a black polished surface, the other of a brown colour and absorbent texture. The third was of more depressed form, of a light red ware, fine soft texture, and of the Græco-Roman character. They were all unornamented. The two former were of the same size and figure, about two inches in height; the third somewhat shorter. They were perhaps used for holding ungent, oils, or balsams. Round the neck of another of the skeletons was an iron collar fastening behind with a spring. It is suggested that this is a mark of slavery, but it was probably analogous with the torque of the Celtæ.

From this town issue several Vicinal Roads besides the Via Iceniana. One passes the meadow of Wolverton; another to Bradford, and thence to Ilchester; another runs south to Monkton and Weymouth; and a fourth to Wareham.

"After all these marks of antiquity in it and its environs" says Hutchins, "It is strange that Mr Baxter should remove his place to Maiden Castle, though Ptolemy expressly calls Dunium the metropolis of the Durotriges;and more strange that Mr Horsey should remove it to Eggerton Hill, after having confessed that the name, walls, coins, amphitheatre, camp , &c. and the consent of all antiquaries, left no room to doubt its having been Roman" (4).

From the foregoing discoveries we gather sufficient to shew that Dorchester, or rather Durnovaria, must have been a town of considerable importance during the æra of Roman occupation; indeed, fragmentary relics of this period are continually turned up all over the town whenever the surface is penetrated to a sufficient dept. The level at which these remains are found is usually about four feet below the present surface.

Dr POCOCK shewed the Society of Antiquaries, 1750, a gold ring found in the river Frome, about two miles above Dorchester, half an inch thick, valued at £3.17s.6d. and brought to the town by George TRENCHARD esq.

A large signet ring with the initial 'I' was dug up some years ago in the rectorial glebe of the Holy Trinity; and another picked up in the school garden had "Simon EYRE" on it, and round it "Dorchester 1657".

Notes:- by John Hutchins unless otherwise stated:-

(1). Stuckeley, Itin. Curios. i. pp. 153, 154

(2). Mercury running off with a large horse was found painted in a house in Pompeii. --Gell's Pompeii, vol 22.29. In 1842 the workmen who were digging the foundations of some new buildings in the Place des Casernes at Besancon turned up two statuettes of the god Mercury. One was no more than twenty two inches high, the figure invested with a tunic, which descended to its feet. It was somewhat injured by its long interment, and had lost its left hand. The other was nearly five inches in height, and in perfect preservation. It represented the god in a state of nudity. It stood firmly on the left leg, the right being somewhat bent, touching the ground, with the point of the foot. Drapery, or a mantle , fell from the left shoulder, which touched the same arm, and descended the the calf of the leg. This statuette also had a purse in the right hand, the fingers of which, however, were incorrectly moulded and out of harmony with the rest of the work, which appeared to be the best era of Roman art. -- Galignani's Messemger.

(3). Extract from The Dorset Page:-

"Twenty-three-year-old Sara Guppy was not very tall, and although slightly deformed, was said to be a quick, lively, and intelligent person. She and her mother lodged with a labourer called James Seale in one of a pair of cottages in Anchor Lane, Stoke Abbot. The other cottage was occupied by Seale's landlord, a man called John Hutchings. On Friday, 30th April 1858 neighbours became aware that Sara's cottage was on fire. The fire was quickly extinguished but Sara's body was discovered in the kitchen with her throat cut. Suspicion quickly fell on the another James Seale, a young relative the houses occupier who lived about a furlong away, who had already served a four month prison sentence for robbing a child. He was arrested, tried and found guilty. He was hanged at the gates of Dorchester prison on 10th August 1858".

(4). As the amphitheatre at Maumbury and the fortification at Poundbury stand in the parish of Fordington, and Maiden Castle in that of Martin's town, these antiquities will be described in those parishes. Under the first mentioned parish also may be found an account of the numerous discoveries on the site of the Romano-British cemetery of Durnovaria. [Note:- Link to John Hutchins account of Antiquities in Fordington]

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