Our Meetings

Swindon Society Meeting Review

Wednesday 11th March 2020

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Mike Stone is a Swindon archaeologist, who has worked in Swindon Museum and for the last ten years of his working life was a curator at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. He began by talking us through the Roman settlements in the area. The town of Durocornovium was built in the area that is now Wanborough and there was also a settlement on Swindon hill. Nearby Corinium (now Cirencester) was the second largest town in Roman Britain and Durocornovium was on the junction of two Roman roads. Mike reminded us that roads were incredibly important in the Roman period, as was geology. In this area there was Oxford, Kellaways and Gault clays that were suitable for making pottery and tiles. Mike described how although Durocornovium was a properly laid out Roman town, it was also a shocking place to build a town because it is so wet! Mike showed us some aerial photographs, which are useful for discovering historical settlements because ditches, building foundations etc. can be seen in crop markings. The widening of the A419 in 1999 threw up lots of interesting things such as Roman activity at Court Farm near Cricklade; an early road near Alex Farm and a nearby fort; and lots of coins. When new Swindon was being built, they found a ditch full of pottery under the bus station and coins were found under the David Murray John building and also the Railway Village. When Toothill was being built, Mike told us the site was excavated by archaeological volunteers working just ahead of the bulldozer. A properly funded excavation of Whitehill Farm in 1973 found millions of bits of pots - in the photo Mike showed us, the bits looked like gravel, illustrating how challenging archaeology can be. The excavation also found several kilns. One had been abandoned because it blew up and many things were found inside it. Because of the kilns, such a huge fuss was kicked up with the developers that the field was left untouched and houses were built in an adjacent field instead. From the blown kiln pots, dates could be taken and they were established to have been from the late second century. When the motorway junction was being excavated at Badbury, a Roman villa was found. It was expected that Roman remains would be found in Old Town but they are hard to find because the area has been built on for a long time. There is evidence of Roman buildings at the rear of The Planks though. There were also quarries in Old Town during the Roman period, from which they quarried Portland stone and Jurassic limestone. A.D. Passmore (a Swindon antiques dealer) used to go round all the farms out as far as Cricklade and ask them to let him know if they found anything and he would then buy it from them. Unfortunately, he fell out with the curators at both the Swindon and the Devizes museums and when he died most of his collection went to the Ashmoleum Museum. I can’t remember when (if?) we have ever had a talk about the archaeology of Swindon before and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. Thanks to Mike for taking the time to visit us for what unfortunately turned out to be our last talk of this season. Kelly Blake - March 2020

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