Beneath the Surface: Digging around the Crescent

 

 

From Newsletter No 51, Winter 2002

 

It is quite understandable that you might want a little more information from Channel Four's Time Team. We did after all dig up large sections of your front and back lawns and generally churned up rather a lot of mud whilst we were there. Luckily amidst this dirt and chaos we made some interesting discoveries. Whilst I must leave some suspense for the programme I am more than happy to give you a brief summary.

 

There were several reasons for Time Team to choose the lawn of the Royal Crescent and the triangle off Julian Road as archaeological targets that would have the potential to make an exciting programme. Initial interests arose after conversations with Rob Armour‑Chelu of the Bath Archaeological Trust, who has worked with us on many of our programmes.' He, along with his colleagues Peter Davenport and Marek Lewcun has been interested in the area's archaeology for several reasons.

 

Firstly, the Julian Road triangle had been the site of St Andrew's Church prior to its destruction in the Blitz. When this was built in the nineteenth century the architect noted discovering several stone coffins and bones which were potentially Roman. It therefore seemed likely that there may have been a Roman cemetery lining Julian Road.

 

Secondly, when the school across the road was built fifteen years ago, large quantities of finds typically associated with Roman religious sites were discovered. This suggested that there was potentially a small temple or mausoleum in the area.

 

Thirdly, some of the Bath Archaeological Trust archaeologists felt that there was evidence for a Roman road running across the corner of the triangle, presumably under the Crescent, and down the lawn. One argument was that this was the missing link of the then highly‑important Fosse Way.

 

Fourthly, vague parch marks on the Lawn potentially indicated the presence of sub≠surface structures. As the Lawn is known not to have been built on in recent history there was room to believe that these may have been the remains of Roman architecture.

 

Additionally, it is not often that archaeologists receive the opportunity to excavate in a World Heritage Site. The exciting possibility of discovering what the clues were pointing to, especially within the beautiful surroundings of the Crescent and Park, made this an ideal project for the Time Team to undertake.

 

Of course non-intrusive speculation can sometimes be right. But sometimes it can be wrong and unproven; especially when one has only three days for careful excavation.

 

While not wishing to give too much away I can let you know that the archaeology was far from straightforward and provided a really exciting challenge, especially in the torrential rain that soaked us. And we were certainly in for some surprises. Luckily some of these were truly interesting, including walls, ditches, small finds and skeletons. Although we donít know the transmission date yet, it will certainly be shown on a Sunday sometime between early January and March 2003, and I suspect closer to the end of that period.

 

Ewan Fletcher

 

 

 

Beneath the Surface: Channel Four's Time Team comes to Bath

 

From Newsletter No 50, Spring 2003

 

Strange scorch marks on the Lower Lawn have been taken to be indicative of a Roman building, and perhaps more interestingly, under the triangle of grass at the back of the Royal Crescent, sarcophagi were discovered some 130 years ago when Victorians built a church on the site. These were the locations for Time Team's visit to Bath. The Church having been destroyed by bombing during World War Two, and with permission for an archaeological dig to take place on both proposed sites, Time Team set out to look for further evidence of Roman occupation on what was then the west end of Roman Bath. The plan was to dig downwards directly above where the sarcophagi were believed to be, and to dig trenches across the areas of interest the Lower Lawn. Of course, little went to plan. The detailed Victorian drawing showing the location of the sarcophagi was in fact a drawing of the original church structure, and there had been later church building directly over the sarcophagi. The trench on the Lower Lawn did not reveal a Roman building, as had been hoped, but natural variations in the geophysical landscape. However, there was exciting evidence of possible Iron and Bronze‑age settlement.

 

Initial disappointment led to further digging at the rear of the Crescent, revealing a wonderful section of Roman wall, probably part of a domestic building. Further trenches on the Lower Lawn revealed skeletons buried in coffins in non‑Christian alignment i.e. North to South as opposed to East to West, alongside what is believed to be a missing section of the important Roman road the Fosse Way. The upward direction of the road, passing under what appeared to be Number 12 the Royal Crescent, corresponded with the site of the Roman building discovered at the back of the Crescent, confirming the importance of both sites. How many Roman skeletons are waiting to be discovered under the Crescent?

 

Whilst the Time Team didn't find what they came in search of, they arguably found something much more important, and demonstrated once again that Bath is justly a World Heritage Site. But what will archaeologists of the dis≠tant future discover at these same sites, and more importantly how will they interpret their findings? Will there be reconstructions of teenagers bringing their votive offerings of litter, beer cans and other substances to scatter before their shrine to the god of the Ha‑ha. Others in uniform will be shown taking away these same offerings the following morning, only for the same ritual to be repeated day after day. What sense will they make of it? What indeed.

 

Roy Maxwell