Roman Excavations and teetotallers

1840 – Roman Excavations at Kenchester

The Very Ref the Dean wrote to the British Museum regarding exciting archaeological finds at Kentchurch, and a site which locals knew as Magna Castra.

The reply came back from Sir Henry Ellis dated 26th October 1840, and he expressed great delight in the interest that Kenchester was taking in the excavations, which he said formed one of the “richest fields that we know of, now remaining, for the investigation of the Anglo-Roman antiquary”.

He called into question the name Magna Castra and said that Gough in Camden’s Britannica called the site Ariconium, but went on to say that Roman remains were discovered above ground during the reign of Henry the Eighth.  (In actual fact, this site WAS Magna Castra and Ariconium was down the road towards Ross).

He expressed concern, and urged caution, regarding the uncovering of portions of three tesselated pavements recalling “at North Leigh in Oxfordshire, the rustics picked so much at a fine pavement that was uncovered, that if the investigators had not shedded it and locked the door, scarce a morsel in a short time would have remained of the discovery”.

He suggested that an architect or surveyor would be the best choice for overseeing the work, and recommended Mr. Adams, Mr. Henry Lawson’s young friend, from Hereford.

Sir Henry was sorry, but there was no grant to help with the work but he said that they would love to hear what was found and would lay the results before the Society of Antiquaries.

The Roman Invasion of Kenchurch and Herefordshire

In 1861 James Davies of Hereford gave a lecture on the Roman invasion.

Ostorius Scapula and Caractacus

He told how Ostorius Scapula, appointed by the Emperor Claudius to finalise the take over of Britain,  fought with Caractacus the leader of the Silures, a brave people.  It was hardly dramatic fighting, because Ostorius failed to lure Caractacus into the open – clever Caractacus realised that his troops had no chance of winning such combat with the well trained Romans, and he kept to the high ground.

The Britons had few worthwhile weapons and even less armoury and had been easily defeated in previous battles fought in the open, and Caractacus placed garrisons on the Rivers Severn and Avon.

The final result of the battles such as were fought is hazy, and some doubt was cast on the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus, especially as he had never even set foot in Britain.

Tacitus wrote:

“Ostorius set out against the Silures, who, besides their natural fierceness, were relying on the vigour of Caractacus, whose many doubtful, many successful, issues in battle had raised him above the other general of the Britons.  But he having the advantage, as well by craft as his knowledge of the treacherous nature of the country, though his force was smaller, led the war into the territory of the Ordovices, and those having joined him who were fearful of the consequences of a peace with the Romans, he resolved to try his last chance, having too fixed on such a spot for the battle that the approach and retreat in all respects unfavourable to the Romans might be more easy to his own men.”

He went on to say that Caractacus built a rampart of stone high on the hill above the river and stationed his best men behind it.  Ostorius was surprised by the preparations and realised that his men would be at a distinct disadvantage, but his men were eager to fight so he led them over the river and they managed to climb to the rampart.   Initially, Ostorius and his men got the worst of it with many killed or wounded, but then he ordered them to form a tortoise by putting their shields over their heads, and before too long they had stormed the rampart and were able to fight hand to hand.

The Britons retreated up the hill, but were easily pursued and as none of them had breastplates or helmets they were struck down at will by the swords and darts of the Romans.

With victory assured, the daughters of Caractacus were captured, and his brothers surrendered.

Defeat of the Silures

Caractacus himself fled to Pengwer-wyn in Denbighshire, but was later betrayed and given to the Romans which resulted in cessation of war for a while, but the Silures rallied again  they went back to keeping the Romans on their toes, and their constant niggling wore Ostorius down to such an extent that he died.  However, the Romans eventually proved too strong and they established Ariconium near Ross;  Magna Castra at Kenchester, Bravinium at Leintwardine and Circutio at Stretton Grandison, with roads or portways connecting each to another.

In the 5th century the Romans finally left the country and the Silures were the first to regain their territory, and they joined forces with other Britons under Uther Pendragon and Arthur to once again show their bravery when defending against the Saxon invasion, which proved futile in the end.

The ancient Britons were driven back to the Welsh mountains, and the boundary of the River Severn was violated;  Offa’s Dyke marked the edge of the Mercian dominions to the west and most of Herefordshire was included in the limits.

1840 – Child Burnt at Kenchester

Seven year old John Whiting was left home alone by his parents, and strayed too close to the fire.

His clothes burst into flames, and although when discovered he was rushed to Hereford Infirmary, he died the following day.

1842 – Skeleton found at Kenchester

A human skeleton, doubled over, was found just a foot down in the ground at Kenchester.

However, given that the remains were discovered very near to the Rectory, nobody dare suggest that it could possibly due to a murder, and the safer option was to assume that it was from the time of Roman occupation – despite the fact that the remains looked far too fresh!

1843 – Kenchester Teetotal Society

The Kenchester teetotalers held their first tea meeting on a fine day in an orchard belonging to Mr. Pearce.

Close to 200 people attended, many from Hereford, and they congratulated themselves on the general good feeling amongst them which reinforced their belief that total abstinence was the way to go.

Once tea was over the meeting commenced in earnest, with several speakers pontificating on the merits of giving up drink.  They said that it was a “cure for the drunkard” (well, yes!) and a “safe preventive for the so called moderate man.”

At 8 in the evening the meeting broke up, with everyone seemingly “more than ever in love with the cause of total abstinence”.

Several people signed the pledge.

1862 – The Railway comes to Kenchester

The first engine of the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway ran as far as Kenchester during mid July of 1862, and the Rev. James Staples, minister of the chapel, gave the engine driver, George Dowdeswell, a small pocket bible.

1867 – More on the Roman Excavations at Kenchester

At the Cambrian Archaeological Association meeting in Hereford, the Kenchester excavations were discussed and it was said that traces of the site of a Roman villa had been found by Archdeacon Freer, who also found the tesselated pavement.

It had been decided that the villa had been built for a Roman gentleman, with lovely views to the East and West.

Many wonderful and interesting artefacts had been discovered around the site over the years, including a Roman ring found by Mr. Whitfield; a figure of a horse’s head presumed to be the handle of a knife;  a tiny stilus for writing on wax tablets and  bone ornaments and pins.

Also found was an almost perfect coin of Julia Maesa, the grandmother of Heliogabalus, which was dated at around 1600 years old.  It was considered remarkable that the hairstyle shown on the coin was almost indentical to that of the mid 19th century.

1867 – Death of 12 year old Wagon Driver

I find it hard to have sympathy – although the thought of a 12 year old in charge of two horses and a laden wagon is pretty frightening, even for those days.

James William Nicholas aged 12 died at the Weir, Kenchester, on 11th September when he was working for Mr. Jowitt of the Weir.

At the inquest,  Mr. Jowitt confirmed that James had been driving two horses with a wagon load of barley, having being doing this work since the beginning of the harvest season, but that he had had to have stern words with James for ill treating and hitting the horses.

On the day of the accident, a witness saw him grab hold of the head of the lead horse in the shafts with one hand, and then strike it several times with a whip held in his other hand.  The horses broke into a gallop and the lad fell to the ground where the wheels of the wagon went over his body. Although he was quickly taken to the Infirmary he died soon afterwards, which is not surprising considering his chest was crushed.

1899 – Annual Kenchester Concert

The evening concert took place in the lecture hall of the Lady Southampton’s Chapel on 29th December, and was a huge success despite the dreadful weather.

The packed audience thoroughly enjoyed the music, which began with The Tonic Solfa Class giving a rendering of The Fairies, conducted by Miss Hughes.

There was a piano solo by Miss L. Hancorn, and a rendition of Lead Kindly Light by Mr. Apperley, a former member of Kenchester Chapel choir.  He sang again later in the evening, to enthusiastic applause.

Master Simpson of Hereford played the mandolin, which was a first for the concert, and Dr. A.B. Hughes sang Ben-ma-chree.

Many more solos were performed throughout the evening, and most of it was very well received.