"Bedfordshire on Sunday" - October 3rd, 2015
Illustrated article which neatly sums up the importance of our discoveries, and our plans for the future.
Roman finds in Manton Lane are rewriting history
Read more at between historic Cambridge and that haven for roundabout enthusiasts, Milton Keynes, Bedford's finer features can be overlooked – but a ground breaking archaeological find is about to put our town on the map.
Local historians Stephen Cockings and Elizabeth Sayer have found remains of not only a Roman wall but also the most lavishly decorated Roman villa ever known in the UK . . . in Manton Lane.
Excavated by volunteers, the archaeological site has been kept under wraps to protect it from treasure hunters since 2011.
Mr Cockings, vice chairman of Bedfordshire Archaeological Council, said: "We first realised the field next to Bedford Modern School could hold some archaeological clues after construction workers found Iron Age and Roman artefacts while building a wheelchair ramp at Edith Cavell Lower School."
When a roadway for construction traffic was built during the development of Manton Heights Care Centre in the field opposite Edith Cavell Mr Cockings discovered different coloured layers in the soil. He dug into the ground expecting to find evidence of a Roman road but instead hit an ancient wall.
The day builders started digging drainage trenches Mr Cockings spotted a digger cutting through the Roman wall 'just out the corner of my eye' and stood in the path of the digger to prevent further damage.
"This is a find of international significance and completely contradicts everything historians believed about the region.
"Ouse Valley was thought to be nowhere in Roman Britain. But we have found a major government owned villa and low relief free-style stucco work never before discovered in Britain."
The most poignant discovery was the imprint of a child's footprint on a floor tile (pictured above and inset).
Mr Cockings said: "Given its size, the child was around four years old and, from the outline, we know this was a type of fashionable higher status shoe only worn by males and dateable to between 250 and 300 AD.
"Since it was not workday country footwear, there is a chance this was worn by one of the sons of the owner of the villa."
Professional archaeologists gave up their free time to investigate the site while Harpur ward councillors Louise Jackson and Colleen Atkins have donated ward funds and Charles Wells has also helped fund the work.
The site was filled in on Friday but the team is hoping to open it up to the public in the future and to complete a full scale excavation of the Roman remains to coincide with Bedford Borough's celebration of the 850th anniversary of the renewal of its charter next year.
This will require more than just the good will of volunteers. It will involve extensive analysis of finds and a published report. To properly understand the heritage site and open it to the public, funding is vital.
For more information about donating to the Bedford Roman Villa Fund email
DID YOU KNOW?
Blue azurite, found on wall plaster at Manton Lane, is the third most expensive pigment in the ancient world
The special type of stucco work found in Bedford would have been created free hand by a highly skilled artist
Manton Heights mineral spring was a key attraction for settlers to the area
"Bedfordshire on Sunday" - August 3rd, 2016
A good, well-balanced article written by Jenna Hutber.
Community support puts 'internationally significant' Bedford Roman project back on track.
INVESTIGATIONS into a groundbreaking archaeological site could be back on the cards after the community responded to an appeal for funding.
Local historian Stephen Cockings told BoS last year that a chance historical find in Manton Lane, Bedford, had uncovered remains of the most lavishly decorated Roman villa ever seen in the UK.
But in May excavations were paused indefinitely due to a 'disappointing' lack of support.
Since the announcement, Bedford Borough Council have agreed to contribute funding towards the project and an unnamed local charity has made a 'significant' donation.
The charity funding means a preliminary excavation can begin in September. But Mr Cockings said most of their budget will be taken up by conservation and other post-conservation work.
Cllr Roger Rigby, an enthusiast of all things Roman, was delighted that the Environment Committee agreed to his request to put it onto the work programme for the coming year.
It is not known whether the structure discovered is a large villa or an important administrative centre, but a professional dig this year hopes to uncover some answers.
The find is being hailed as internationally significant and is generating strong excitement in the archaeological world and amongst local people.
Cllr Rigby said: "Bedford is a Borough rich in history and this intriguing and exciting discovery can paint an entirely new picture of the Roman occupation in Bedford. I would like to see if we can learn from and support the archaeologists in their future investigations.
"I hope the Committee will time its investigation with this year's excavations in late September and we will have the opportunity visit the site."
Mayor of Bedford Borough, Dave Hodgson, said: "I have visited this exciting discovery and would like to thank the numerous volunteers I have met for their hard work and enthusiasm."
"Bedfordshire on Sunday" - July 31st, 2011
Illustrated article by Adam Thompson which outline's our very first discoveries.
Historic find dates back to the Romans
Archaeologists have unearthed a ‘significant’ find, thought to be the remains of a Roman villa complex.
They were called to the site in Manton Lane, Bedford, after builders discovered a preserved section of an historical wall.
The discovery was made during the construction of a care home on land next to Bedford Modern School.
Investigations are ongoing but evidence suggests that the wall dates back to the Roman period AD43-410.
Roman roofing tiles, floor tiles and pottery have also been recovered from the site.
A geophysical survey undertaken immediately adjacent to the site suggests that the building could have formed part of a possible Roman villa complex.
A more detailed survey will be conducted in the near future which should help the archaeologists better understand the nature of the site.
Jeremy Oetgen a project manager for Albion Archaeology, which is working on the site, said: “The early indications are that this is a very significant find and it is certainly something. Other ruins unearthed in Bedford have mainly been farm houses and although it is not certain, there’s a possibility that this could have been a Roman villa.”
Dave Hodgson, Mayor of Bedford Borough, said: “This was a completely unexpected but important discovery. The ruins have now been carefully taken away to protect them and for further investigations. A more detailed survey will be carried out to unlock more of the secrets on the site.”
Epistula Issue IV - Winter 2012
On-line Journal of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies
Free‐Style “Italianate” Bas Relief Stucco Work Found at Bedford
From a newly‐discovered Roman “villa” complex in Bedford has been found the only known example of free‐style bas relief stucco work in Roman Britain. Ceramic and coin evidence dates construction of this “villa” to around 270 AD.
Stucco work is rare in Britain and mainly consists of architectural mouldings. The only other example of free‐style work is from Gorhambury villa in Hertfordshire, datable to the second century AD. However, this is high relief and ‘statuesque’ in scale, rather than fine bas relief work.
While Bedford’s late third to early fourth‐century example is a unique survival for Roman Britain, this does not mean that such plaster work, common to Italy and the Mediterranean, was not more widely employed in the province. Unfortunately, it is a fragile medium and so chances of
survival are limited.
The fragments were found among a dump of painted wall plaster that had been systematically removed from the walls of the “villa’s” probable bath house prior to the stone’s reuse.
The stucco work and painted wall plaster, made up of 16 colours in both linear and more complex patterning, were part of a later remodelling of the “villa” and overlaid on a much simpler decorative scheme. This embellishment possibly occurred during the early fourth‐century Constantinian revival, although the bath house may have been decommissioned just one generation later.
One fragment appears to represent the folds of a "curtain,” often used as a ‘filling’ motif in large panels of stucco work, as in the caldarium of the Suburban Baths at Herculaneum.
The white stucco is highlighted by being set against various coloured backgrounds. The “curtain” fragment is bordered by red and black paint, others by flesh pink.
Examples of this technique can be found on the palaestra wall of the Stabian baths in Pompeii.