Last Record of Vindolanda before Hedley

SacoHarry
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Joined: 9:29 PM - Aug 22, 2006

11:51 PM - Oct 21, 2010 #1

After John Horsley's writings on Vindolanda from 1732, nearly a century passed before the arrival of Anthony Hedley in 1814. The only record that I can find of the site in that interval comes from John Wallis, Vicar of Simonburn. Wallis wrote a two-volume treatise titled "The Natural History and Antiquities of Northumberland," published in 1769. It included a walk along the line of the Wall in his writings, with wanderings to nearby castles, manors, and sites of interest.

He is fascinating for the personal touches, and keeps a nice account of the names of landowners, tenants, and farms in the area. It's a great bit of local history in its own right. And of course priceless for the story of Vindolanda, which can be read below.

The whole of his work can be found here: http://www.archive.org/stream/naturalhi ... 1/mode/2up

A little higher up from the military road, we have a view of the Roman station of Little Chesters, easily distinguished by the clumps of trees and brushwood in it, like natural arbours, from which it has obtained the name of The Bowers. It is of the usual form, nearly square, containing about an acre and an half ; the wall round it of earth and stone, very fair ; a pleasant flowing rill, called Bardon-Burn, washing its eastern skirts, in its course to Bardon-mill, overlooked by Barkham-hills : a deep ditch or hollow, called in this country a clugh, to the south ; one of the natural arbours large, compoaed of white thorn, birch, oak, and nut-bushes, giving a pleasant shade.

The Via Vacinalis from Caer-vorran to Walwick-Chesters comes close up to the north side of it, on which a Roman military stone is still standing, by a gate called Caudley-gate, near the brink of Bardon-streamlet ; also another a mile west from it, in a straight line ; the road very fair ; the mile-stones in fine preservation, of white rag, six feet, four inches, in diameter, and near as much in height above ground, of a round figure, like large rollers.

Some Roman shoes and sandals were digged up by Mr. Warburton, the late Somerset-heraid, which he gave to the Royal Society. A winged image, wanting the head and feet, about three inches long, was found and presented to Dr. Hunter. A Roman Hypocaustum or sudatory has been also discovered, of which the last mentioned inquisitive and industrious antiquary gives this account.
" Some years ago, on the west fide of this place, about
" fifty 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 sixteen ; the pavement
" of this room, as also its roof, were tinged black with smoak.
" 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".

Roman baths were first introduced in Britain by Agricola, to give the natives an agreeable picture of a polite and well civilized community.

Fornix--et uncta popina
Incutiunt urbis desiderium.
Hor. Epist. Lib. i. 14.

A sculpture in stone of Mercury, the Custos Manium, and god of the highways, was found here ; an engraving of which, with some others, may be seen in the Britannia Romana. The mercantile part of Britain held a solemn festival to Mercury, 15 October.

Camden gives us an altar, found at this place, of A. Licinius Clemens praefectus cohortis primaes Hamiorum, dedicated to the Syrian goddess, Astarte; the reading scrupled by Mr. Horsley, but confirmed by the Greek altar to Astarte at Corbridge, in the judgment of Dr. Stukely.

In digging up the foundations of a Castellum or milliary turret, in the wall, in an opening of the precipice by Crag-Lake, called, Lough-End-Crag, or Milking-Gap, for stones, for building a farmhouse, belonging to William Lowes, of Newcastle, Esq; to the north-east of this station, a centurial stone was found by the masons, very large, inscribed,

IMP CAES TRAIAN
HADRIANI AVG
LEG II AVG
A PLATORIO NEPOTE LEG P R P R

This stone is now at Mr. Lowes's Seat at Ridley-Hall.

A large stone, in the altar-form, was lately digged up at this station, with the sculpture of a red deer in the center, leaning againft a tree, and two fawns at the bottom, in relief. It is now standing in a field on the north side of the house of Hugh Ridley, at Archy-flat, adjoining to the station, who placed it there to answer the use of a rubbing stone for cattle. It was two feet thick, when it was turned out of the ground, but he split it nearly in the middle downwards, to make it easier to remove. It is of the fine white rag, adorned with moldings.

Many stags horns have been digged up ; some of an unusual size; one, presented to me, measures round at the base nine inches ; striated lengthways, and studded with small irregular tubercles. The festival of the Roman hunters, sacred to Diana, was 13th August, when stags were sacrificed. A temple, perhaps built in honour of her, was discovered by some masons in digging for stones, some years ago, adorned with Doric pilasters and capitals, which perished under the strokes of their tools, being unacquainted with the value of such a curiofity. It was at the west end of the station.

Urns, of various sizes, with ashes in them, were found in digging by the above-mentioned Hugh Ridley, on the north side of his house ; both of fine and coarse pottery, incautiously broken by his spade ; one of them as small as a pint-mug.

In the south-west end of the Well-House, belonging to William Smith, built about twelve years ago, at the west end of the station, by the suburbs, is an altar inscribed,

MARTI VICTORI
COH III NERVIORVM
PRAFECT I CANINIVS

It is thirty-four inches long, and twelve inches and an half broad, the under part hammered off by the incurious mafons ; the inscription within a neat molding or raised border, much injured by the weather, though cut upon that durable stone, the fine white rag, found plentifully on the neighbouring moors. The festival of Mars, was in March. In the cabinet of the Revd. Mr. Walton, vicar of Corbridge, is a brafs coin struck in honour of it, Marti pacifero ; the deity in armour, helmeted ; a Parma or shield on his left arm ; a sprig of olive held forth in his right.

[n.b. - deleted long aside on Roman festivals here]

The present owner of this station is Mr. William Lowes ; his house behind it, within the manour of Henshaw, belonging to Sir Edward Blacket, of West Matfen, Bart.
Last edited by SacoHarry on 11:56 PM - Oct 21, 2010, edited 1 time in total.
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sarcanon
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Joined: 6:01 PM - May 03, 2010

2:31 AM - Aug 25, 2012 #2

Actually, I am loath to doubt Harry in such matters, but I'm not so sure about the assertion that Hedley was the first author of the 19th century to write about Vindolanda.

There was William Hutton's account called "The History of the Roman Wall" published in 1802. It has about 6 pages on Vindolanda (pp. 242-7), or rather Vindolana [sic] as he calls it, otherwise known as Little Chesters. You can find the book on Google Books here: http://books.google.com/books/about/The ... Q2AAAAMAAJ.

There is also a very amusing account of the author's meal and night's accommodations at the Twice-Brewed on pp. 229-232.

I have transcribed the Vindolanda section, which follows:

THE
NINTH STATION.
Vindolana;
now
Little Chesters.
I think myself bound to place Little Chesters among the Stations, that I may follow my predecessors, and not break their numerical order. Although Roman, and garrisoned by Romans, it does not appear to belong to the works of Severus. It stands nearly two miles South of the Wall.

Agricola erected Castles adjoining his works; but this stands nearly a mile south of his, therefore it could add no security.

It probably was used as a prison, and this is corroborated by a remark of our writers, "That there was discovered under a hear of rubbish a square room below the ground, strongly vaulted, and paved with large square stones, set in lime; and under this another room, whose roof was supported by rows of square pillars." These two rooms could answer no end but that of a prison.

There are four Stations, of the eighteen, smaller than the rest, which are detached from the Wall, and lie considerably to the South:
  • Little Chesters;
  • Carvoran;
  • Cambeck Fort; and
  • Watch Cross.
As Little Chesters is the first that occurs, it is necessary to speak of all the four.

Hadrian and Severus could have nothing to do with these. They were most probably the work of Agricola. That he made the banks and ditches I have described in his name, is not doubted. That he erected some Castles, is as clear; but, for many ages, all his ramparts, mounds, and Castles, have gone under the name of Hadrian's.

If he erected Castles and mounds, there must have been roads to communicate with them. It is reasonable then to conclude, that he was the author of all the roads appertaining to his Works.

A Roman road went from Walwick Chesters, directly to Little Chesters, and left Carrowburgh and Housesteads much on the right. It then from Little Chesters to Carvoran, leaving Great Chesters on the right, and directed its course to Cambeck Fort, leaving Burdoswald to the right, and then took its course to Watch Cross. All these four Stations lie to the South, totally distinct from Severus' Wall, or Stations; Agricola must have formed them for the accommodation of this works.

The road I have described is about eighteen miles; besides many smaller roads, which were connected with his grand undertaking. It may be considered as a string, and Severus' Wall, the bow. It ends in the great military way, and joins Severus's Wall, about four miles before we came to Carlisle, in all about twenty-eight miles.

Severus, afterwards, constructed a great number of roads now to be seen, which branched from this towards the North, and communicated with his Wall, Stations, &c.

The Wall, at Wall-green, takes a small turn, and continues about three feet high. broken as usual; and Severus's Ditch is in high preservation, as we rise the hill to the next Station.

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SacoHarry
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Joined: 9:29 PM - Aug 22, 2006

4:47 PM - Aug 25, 2012 #3

I have a feeling that Hutton never actually visited Vindolanda. That talk of "prison cells" is actually talking about the hypocaust of the bath house. The only way someone could think that 2-foot-tall room was a prison is if they'd never actually seen it! Also, he doesn't actually say anything at all about how the fort looked, which is unusual. (Look at his description of Great-Chesters right after it.) I guess he could've been there. But if so, he didn't seem to find anything original to say about it at all.
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sarcanon
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Joined: 6:01 PM - May 03, 2010

5:07 PM - Aug 25, 2012 #4

Entirely possible, Harry. Journalistic integrity in those days meant something very different than ... uhh, errr... well, let's not go there. :-)

In any event, it does strain credulity that a bona fide eyewitness would mistake the hypocaust for a "prison cell", particular if the person in question had any experience with Roman ruins, which Hutton presumably had.

As for the state of the fort, I wonder, what a visitor in 1801 would actually have been able to see on the surface?
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Justin-T
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Joined: 4:30 PM - Aug 19, 2009

8:13 PM - Aug 25, 2012 #5

My understanding is that the most extensive period of stone-robbing in the Wall area in general occurred between the mid 18th and mid 19th centuries, so there's the potential for much more to have remained at Vindolanda in 1801 than made it into the 20th century; I believe there are references to the bath house still having some of its roof in 1700. However, Wallis' 1769 account makes it sound like he actually visited, and it seems highly likely that he would have described all significant stone remains at least as well as he described the various types of tree-cover around the site. Presumably what stone remained was by then largely covered with soil and undergrowth.
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Justin-T
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Joined: 4:30 PM - Aug 19, 2009

1:55 AM - Aug 27, 2012 #6

This discussion reminded me of a fabulous aerial photo of Vindolanda from 1967 I spotted a while back on the Vindolanda Tablets online site. Its obviously not exactly the period we're talking about, but it shows what a good portion of the fort and surrounds looked like before most of it was excavated. The low winter sun was perfect...
Last edited by Justin-T on 12:37 PM - Aug 27, 2012, edited 3 times in total.
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sarcanon
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Joined: 6:01 PM - May 03, 2010

6:01 AM - Apr 22, 2013 #7

While doing some research I just came across another mention of Vindolanda during the interval between Horsley and Hedley. That would be Rev. J. Brand's History and antiquities of the town and county of Newcastle upon Tyne published in two volumes in 1789. In an Appendix entitled The Roman Wall, he describes all the forts along the way. On page 610, he describes Vindolanda, or as he calls it, Little Chesters:
wrote:From House-Steeds to the station of Little Chesters, which is considerably to the south of both the walls, it measures about a mile and three quarters. It stands close to the military way, which proceeds like the string of a bow, in a straight course from Wal∣wick-Chesters to Caervorran. I was at Little Chesters, October 8th, 1783, and found the ramparts and pretorium still distinguishable. A stone, with an inscription, which I could not make out, is built up in the western gable end of a cottage a little westward of this fort A remarkable pillar or milliary stone stands a little to the east of this station, adjoining to the military way of Severus. I was informed of another to the west of the station. I procured here a small stone, with the rude sculpture of a Roman soldier, holding a spear in one hand and a patera in the other, with some fragments of Roman pottery. I saw here also several ornamented fragments of stones--one in the form of a pine apple, and heard of No. XI. mentioned in Warburton, p. 7, line 7th..From Little Chesters to Great Chesters, the distance is three miles three quarters...
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SacoHarry
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Joined: 9:29 PM - Aug 22, 2006

12:37 AM - Apr 23, 2013 #8

Oh wow. That's a great find! It really gets the mind going, just what they were seeing then. How much was already gone, & was still left. Thanks!
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