Wolverton District Archeological Society Newsletter 1961

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The Roman site at Thornton, midway between Stony Stratford and Buokingham and beside the spinney with the unlovely name of ‘The Quabs’ was located last year. It is on the south bank of the Ouse on the terrace rise above the flood meadow, and the Roman minor road passing by its south side shows a masonry spread where a gate would open down to the house. It is also interesting in having below it an inlet cut into tho river, opposite which petrified timbers were taken up in dredging. It was Roman pottery from the silt at this point which set into motion Mr John Marchant’s search for the actual site. Below the site is a long impressive bank parallel with the river, but we would hesitate yet to name it Roman.

The building debris disturbed by the plough is yet in measurable concentration. It is on split levels, the house on higher ground, and below it what appears to have been a long barn. The surface stone suggests a narrow corridor house some 250 foot long. Close to it on the east side is a copious spring, above which masonry spills from what may have been an earlier source or the original well. Beyond this and along the house line was a small patch of flooring, and still further, a trackway leading down to the river. It is doubtful whether this is Roman for it leads up to another debris concentration clearly medieval with later survival. This building was probably responsible for the effective stripping of the Reman leavings, and certainly confuses the Roman scene. A broad shallow ditch, also N.S. beyond the metalled track may well be the survival of the eastern fosse boundary of the Roman farm. On the wost side is yet another spring and stream, and also a prominent embankment, but this suspected as medieval.

Between the levels of the upper and lower buildings are uneven dips and areas of intense black, Major J.D.Young of Thornton Hall kindly gave permission for these to be investigated, which could be managed without undue incursion into his grass crop. Two trenches 30 feet long, 3 wide and 6 feet apart revealed a constructed gully sunk between the buildings.

Trench A.

S.end. Only a few inches below top soil on the house side the bound layer of limestone rubble began descent by a ramp, into which was recessed a deep and well constructed post socket 15 inches in diameter. The soil along the trench face was heavily seamed with ash (?timber) changing to grey with peculiar patches of rust, when the ramp ended by dropping on to a plaster floor deep in soot.

N.end. A stone floor on which were no artefacts of any sort had a lesser drop, ending with a hood of stones resembling fallen coping, under which was a fireback of clay, in which pieces of tile and pottery were embedded. The masonry on the floor was too confused and fragmentary to convey anything relating to construction except that the floor had been cbanneled..All was submerged in ash, soot, and decayed vegetation recognised as wheat straw among which were ears of grain. Pottery was thrown in and beneath a stone collapse on the floor was part of the skull and neck of an infant.

Trench B.

Six feet from A, the pattern is repeated with a little less emphasis, as the firewall had subsided to a normal channel but in the same depth of soot and debris. On the slope of the house end was again a deep post socket, having in its circumference the neck of an amphora. On the descent to the channel was a spill of black seeds, collected and sent for identification, and in the ash layer were tegulae, fluetile and pottery. In the interval before infilling heavy rain caused collapse of the trench side and another skull appear this time of an adult. Since others have been recovered from the river nearby, one cloven, grisly decapitation would seem to have been an unhappy finale to the Thorntor Roman farm.

Mrs Alison Young F.S.A. was kind enough to visit the site and to confirm the existence of an underfloor corn drying kiln. It was sunk purposely where the prevailing winds (from W. or S.W.) blowing along the gully between the buildings would create an effective draught, at the same time carrying fumes and smoke very quickly from the inhabited part of the farmhouse above.

Miss K.M.Richardson, F.S.A, kindly examined the pottery pieces from the floor debris of the kiln, with these comment:

I. Rim of amphora, not dateable.

2. Jar in sandy cream ware with two grooves at base of neck, and one round body. Similar to Wakefield 6. Cf. Camulodunum, Soc.Antiguaries Report No. XIV, 1947, forms 218, 226, and 228 which continue in use in the Colonia to A.D.I0O.

3,4,5. Three rims of large bowl shaped vessels in sandy ware, grey buff and orange, common into the 2nd century. Similar to Wakefield II.

6. Cooking pot in heavily calcite-gritted and laminated brown ware, with darker outer surface. Cf. Park Street Villa, Archaeological. Journal.CII (1945) 21, fig, 19, 33, mid. 4th century.

7. Dish in light grey ware with diagonal tooled decoration, the surface very worn and of a type normally in black polished ware, late 2nd cent. onwards.

8. Flanged bowl in sandy light grey ware, possibly a derivative from the 1st century reed bowl, but Cf. Lockleys Villa, Antiquaries Journal, fig.13, II, ‘certainlyA.:D.150.’

9. Rebated rim of jar or bowl in buff ware, black on the surface, covered with fine horizontal rilling such as seen on vessels (quoted Wakefield 13) from Park Street Villa. This rim form recalls earlier vessels found at Verualmium, see Archaeologia XC (1944) 81. fig.II, 22-29, which are also rilled. In the present context however, this, like No.6 and Wakefield 13 must represent a 4th century revival of an earlier technique. Cf.Leicester, Fig.53, first quarter of 4th century, ‘rim recessed for a lid, heavily impregnated with white grit’ , also fig. 30.

10. Mortarium in drab ware, upright square head and hooked down flange, Cf. Roman Colchoster, form 504, 4th century.

11. Dish with rounded rim in grey ware, unpolished. Cf. Roman Coichestor, form 38, The rim, small and ncat,could be of mid, to late 2nd century.

The limited excavation has been sufficiently rewarding for the hope that Major Young will be kind enough to allow us to return to the site when convenient to him. No large-scale operation is contemplated; small excavations at certain points should clear up queries which naturally arise.