Earliest scientific account of Vindolanda

Joined: August 22nd, 2006, 9:29 pm

December 29th, 2009, 3:04 am #1

As northern England emerged from centuries of Anglo-Scottish border wars and chaos in the 17th Century, many antiquaries came to walk the Wall (Camden, Horsley, Warburton, Stukeley, etc.). Many also stopped at and noted Vindolanda (known by a variety of names over the centuries). But it wasn't until 1840 that anyone compiled & published a fairly comprehensive report of Vindolanda. John Hodgson and some co-collaborators finally did so in "The History of Northumberland."

Whilst of course some of the information has been outdated by modern digs, there is a surprising amount of good information to be found in the pages of this book. And thanks to modern technology, it can now be read in its entirety at http://www.archive.org/stream/ahistoryn ... 3/mode/2up. (I highly recommend www.archive.org as an excellent source for high-quality scans of antiquarian and out-of-print books on most any topic!)

Following is a long excerpt from the text, omitting the thorough discussion at the end of the more substantial inscriptions and altars. In it are descriptions of the large bath house outside the fort (with a colourful local fairytale to boot!); the commanding officer's private bath-suite inside; digs at some of the fort towers and stretches of wall; tantalizing descriptions of potential treasure-troves still not yet excavated to this day; and poignant memories of recent destruction and carelessness that still resonate. A good read!

VINDOLANA, or Little Chester, has been also called The Bowers and Chester-in-the-Wood. The high heath-topped hill of Borcum [sic] frowns over it on the south-east, and a mile to the north the basaltic ridge of the Roman Wall. It was the station of the fourth cohort of the Gauls, and stands about 100 yards to the north of the Roman road which ran between Cilurnum and Magna, through Newbrough, and was formerly called "Carlilestreet," and here still bears the name of the Causeway. [nb: Hence the name of the thatch-roofed "Causeway House" to the west of the site today - ed]

Its site is on a plot of rich flat ground, on a turn on the right bank of the Chineley-burn, which is here steep and picturesque. Under the east wall of the station this bank is trodden into narrow paths or terraces by cattle, and bears the singular name of Skelf-me-delf. The station was plentifully supplied with water by a channel cut in large stones from a copious spring, about a furlong to the west. Mr. Hedley, in 1832, found several roods of this gutter stone lying quite perfect, and near the surface. Vindolana is 34 miles from each end of The Wall, and has nine stations to the west, and eight to the east of it.

That the antient name of this station was Vindolana, the united testimony of the Notitia and inscriptions most decidedly prove. Some call it “Little Chesters,” to distinguish it from the next station that goes by the name of Great Chesters; and it is in reality not only less than Great Chesters, but than most of the other forts on the Wall. It is only seven chains long from north to south, and four broad from east to west, and so does not contain three acres. The ramparts are visible quite round, and very large, and the ditch is still visible. The town or out-buildings here have been chiefly to the west and south-west of the fort.

There have been two hypocausts to this station—one within and one without it. Dr. Hunter, in the Philosophical Transactions (No. 278 ; Abrid, ir., 666) says—“Some years ago, on the west side of this place, about 50 yards from the walls thereof, there was discovered, under a heap of rubbish, a square room, strongly vaulted above, and paved with large square stones set in lime; and under this a lower room, whose roof was supported by rows of square pillars of about half-a-yard high. The upper room had two niches, like, and perhaps in the nature of, chimneys, on each side of every corner or square, which, in all, made the number 16. The pavement of this room, as well as its roof, was tinged with smoke. The stones used in vaulting the upper room have been marked as our joiners do the deals for chambers; those I saw were numbered thus—x, xi, xiii.”

Of this structure there are still considerable remains. The water to it had been conveyed from the strand of the spring already noticed, by a gutter seven inches wide and five deep, cut in freestone. Many of the vaulting stones also remain, forming sections such as these, coated with bath cement on their narrower end. Their courses have been of different thicknesses, and the grooves along their sides are differently shaped. I think they had formed a series of ribs that sprung from pilasters of common masonry now remaining in the east and west walls and the grooves in their sides had been to receive slatestones or raglings of wood, the underside of which was plastered with the ordinary cement of lime, and pounded limestone and tile ; and the space above, between the ribs, filled with sand to retain the heat. The pillars of the hypocaust are still very black with fire and soot, and people say that the Bowers, from the Roman age till within the last century, was the elysium of a colony of fairies; and this ruined bath the kitchen to one of their palaces, of which the soot among the stones was undeniable evidence; and confident Belief affirmed, that long passages led from this laboratory " of savoury messes" to subterraneous halls, that ever echoed to the festivities and music of the Queen of the Bowers and her aerial court.

Of the other bath, the first notice is in a letter from Warburton to Gale, in 1717. and in which he says that his workmen " had not dug above two yards in the area of the platform" of the station of "Chester-in-the-Wood," before they struck into a vault of very irregular figure, three-quarters of a yard in height and three or four in length and breadth, all blacked on the inside with smoke," and in which they found the great altar to Fortune, No. 8, of this station. It was lying "with its face downwards, and by it another of the same size, but broken in pieces, and the inscription imperfect." This vault was, I apprehend, situated in a high turf-covered mound of ruins, about 60 feet to the north-west of the entrance by the east gate, where Mr. Hedley, in 1831, cleared away the rubbish from several apartments of a sudatory, three of which were built as usual upon pillars, and the greatest of them measured 21 feet from east to west, and 13 from north to south, including on that side a semi circular recess, on the outside of which the noble altars, numbers 1,2,and 3, of this station, and many other antiquities, were discovered on October 21, in the same year. The altars had their faces downwards. The mouth of the furnace to this hypocaust was about six feet in advance to the west of this principal room, arched, and narrowed in height and width inwards; and strong marks of fire on its floor, roof, and walls, showed that it had been much used. The pillars to both the rooms were of different shapes and diameters—some of them portions of square columns, moulded and fluted on all sides; and some circular, like the bannisters of stairs, as may be seen by the specimens of them in the garden at Chesterholme; but those of one of the smaller rooms, which was 12 feet square, were shorter than the rest. Adjoining the third room, and between it and the entrance-room, on the north, was a cistern 46 inches by 27 ; and north of it another, 5 feet 5 inches by 4 feet, but not on pillars, both floored and lined with bath cement. From this range of apartments buildings seemed to have branched off to the east, west, and south.

Wallis mentions a temple found here, a few years before his time, by some masons, at the west end of the station, "adorned with Doric pilasters and capitals," which from the workmen's ignorance of the value of such antiquities, perished under their tools. The Romans themselves, it would seem, treated the fallen works of their predecessors here with very unceremonious regard, when they cut down the handsome columns of halls and temples into pillars for sooty hypocausts.

In 1814, this station and contiguous estate became the property of a zealous and warm-hearted antiquary— the rev. Anthony Hedley, who from that time frequently and successfully explored its remains. Of it he himself has said, that " for time immemorial (horresco reforens) it had been the common quarry of the farm and partly of the neighbourhood for almost every purpose for which stone is wanted." In 1818, his own tenant, in search for stone, fell upon a flight of steps leading up the declivity from Chineley burn to the eastern gateway ; on the left side of which the wall was found standing, and entire, to the height of six feet, eight feet thick, and still retaining the bolt-hole and check for the door : on the right side it had given way nearly to its foundations ; but among its ruins had preserved in fine order the monumental inscription, No. 20. The stairs were removed before Mr, Hedley heard of their discovery.

In 1832, some portions of the outside of the west wall were cleared of rubbish down to the original surface of the ground, above which it was found standing to the height of twelve feet; but partly bulged out, though in this height two courses of thin flat stones, with broad beds, were interposed at about three feet distance from each other, as binders to the ordinary small facing stones. In the beginning of 1833, the rubbish was also cleared out of a tower near the middle of this wall, when several stones of its cordon, and also of the wall, to the north of it, were fuund each 9? inches thick, and all uniformly moulded, with a fillet and ovólo for a projection of the same size. It is also worthy of remark that all these large, broad-bedded stones had a luis hole in their upper surface, by which they had been raised to the top of the wall, and that upon and about one of them belonging to this gateway 300 small brass coins, mostly of Constantius and Magnentius, but a few of Constantine II and Constans, were found, not in a heap, or a vessel, but dispersed among the soil, evidently aller the cordon stones of the tower had fallen from its top, and very probably some 70 or 80 years before the supposed date of the Notitia in 460, which authority garrisons the fourth cohort of the Gauls here at that time. lake the western gateway at Housesteads, that, I think, on the same side here, had never been much used after it was built ; and the tops of its towers, therefore, might be suffered to remain in a ruinous state long before the station was finally deserted. Probably, in building a station, the four gates were made according to some standing order in the army. That on the north in this station would be most used, because the military way runs past it on that side. Mr. Hedley excavated the towers on both sides of it, and found them paved at the bottom level with the natural surface of the ground. He also removed the rubbish from a long reach of the northeast portion of the east wall, where the courses remaining are of different thicknesses, and sometimes two run into one; and where the facing stones have not the usual square character of Roman masonry, but, in length, often exceed their height by twice or thrice.

In a swampy part of a close to the south-west of the field in which the station stands, an old inhabitant of the place, in 1810, told me that urns had been often found—sometimes four or more together, covered with a square flat tile, and having a strong oak stake driven into the earth close by them. A little to the south of this sepulchral ground, a dry green hill was pointed out to me as the Chapel-steads. Sepulchral stones have also been found in the fields on the north side of the Causeway ; and, near the Well-house, clinker-built shoes, and much Roman earthenware.

I must not also omit to mention that at Codley-gate, only a hundred yards or so from the north-east corner of the station, close by the side of the Brooky-burn, and on the north side of the Roman Causeway, there is a green tumulus or earth-altar, and close by it, a round mile pillar about 7 feet high; and that about a mile further west, another of the same form and height was still standing little more than 20 years since, on the north side of the Causeway, and about 30 or 40 yards east of the gate that opens into the lane from Henshaw to the military way, where now, split lengthwise into two pieces, it serves as posts to the gate.

The late lamented proprietor of this station has observed—"That it is melancholy to reflect that these eighteen immense magazines of Roman Antiquities should have been almost completely rifled, and no one good collection formed of their contents:" and during his occasional researches here, he often expressed an anxious wish that all the scattered antiquities of the Roman Wall were added to the collection of the Newcastle Antiquarian Society—where it was his intention to place the rich result of his own researches, but when, and on what conditions, I do not recollect that he mentioned. At present they are collected into the Arcade raised on purpose to receive them, or scattered about the garden, or built into the walls of the cottage, which, in his love of antiquity and “learned leisure,” he reared here in 1830, and in which he continued to reside to the day of his death, January 17, 1835.

Reference: Hodgson, John, etc. A History of Northumberland, in Three Parts. Newcastle Antiquarian Society, 1840, pp. 195-197.
Last edited by SacoHarry on January 18th, 2010, 12:50 am, edited 4 times in total.