Essex Branch Visit to Venta Icenorum or Caistor Roman Town Wednesday 18 August 2021

Thanks to Martin, our Hon. Programme Secretary, who invited Professor Will Bowden to speak to the Essex Branch on 4 January last, we had every reason to be interested in following up a great talk with a site visit.  And in questions after the talk on Zoom, Professor Bowden of Nottingham University graciously agreed to welcome us.

Ten of us negotiated the 97.5 miles of the A12, A14 and then the A140 to make our rendezvous at England’s second-largest Romano-British Town at 11:00 a.m. We should have been 11 in number, but I have since learned in an email exchange with Vic Gray, the former Essex County Archivist, that Vic is in Norwich hospital suffering from abdominal pains and is, to his annoyance, something of ‘a medical mystery’. Of course we wish him a full and speedy recovery.

For the rest of the morning we were in the very capable hands of Alex Atherton who is Education and Outreach Trustee of the Caistor Roman Project:

Alex betrays in her infectious enthusiasm for the site her twin origins as an archaeologist and school-teacher. She walked us briskly round this quite large walled-town and explained its significance and singularity. Despite having a basilica and amphitheatre nearby, this well-populated town doesn’t seem to have had a military presence. It was the home of the ICENI pronounced ICK-A-NEE, with dwellings and food to suit themselves rather our preconceived views of a Roman town.

Unfortunately during our good walk around Venta Icenorum, Tony was temporarily inconvenienced by an impacted wisdom tooth that causes him some bother every 18 months or so, but he is OK now.

The wall was probably a statement of boundary and pride rather than defensive. A curious diagonal routeway led us towards our afternoon with Professor Bowden at the Temple Site nearby:

The current dig on the Temple Site was well-shared with us.

 As Shirley expressed it so well: ‘it was a really great day with excellent guides and so good to see each other ‘in the flesh again’. Who would have thought that an empty field and a lot of people digging holes could be so interesting!’ Shirley expressed our thanks to Martin and whoever organised it.  Professor Bowden proved a gentle and good host who tends to be self-deprecatory of his and his colleagues’ expertise. There were no grandiose claims, but we were left in no doubt of the site’s importance and hopes of what may yet be revealed,

We were witness to much trowel-work and a fine display of the tee-shirts now in favour. ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘It’s A Ritual Thing’ caught the eye.

A third and enthusiastic welcome was given us by Ian Jackson, the Finds Officer, who tried to get past the questions of our Branch Chairman:

But our Chairman was determined to show the fruits of his reading of the Historical Association’s Teaching History pamphlet ‘Coins in the Classroom’ by P.D.Whitting, (T.H.22, 1966). But again Ian was a good and gentle host well-able to deal with a too-keen visitor!