The wealth of cropmarks seen on aerial photographs of the proposed CatPlant quarry at Hampole led to a major series of archaeological works, culminating in excavations by Archaeological Services WYAS in one area during 1997 and by Thames Valley Archaeological Services between 2002 and 2003 in the other. A lot of work had gone into investigating the site prior to the excavations, including analysis of aerial photographs, geophysical survey and fieldwalking.
The results paint a detailed picture of life here in the Iron Age and Roman period.
Farming when the Romans arrive
The oldest site excavated was a large rectangular compound that had been built on an area of higher land, with streams to the north and south. The compound was enclosed within an earthen bank and a deep ditch, with an entrance in the eastern side. Surrounding it was a network of fields, which were assumed to be contemporary.
These ditches had been allowed to silt up, rather than being dug out to keep them open. This suggests that the compound was built and used for only a short time. We can assume that no one was using the site by the time the soil had accumulated in the ditches.
The small amount of pottery found in the ditches was mostly jars, some made in South Yorkshire, dating from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. This suggests that the compound may have been in use during the Roman invasion and for a generation after. Other finds included fragments of bone from cows, pigs and sheep or goats.
The quantity of finds was much smaller than expected for a 2nd century AD farmstead in the Doncaster area. It is more likely that the site was being used for corralling animals pastured in the surrounding fields.
Taking a bath
Later excavations found a very different site about 300 metres to the north of the compound. Archaeologists discovered the foundations of an L-shaped building. Walls were made from mortared limestone and there was evidence for a tiled roof. As they dug further, they realised it was one of only three Roman bath-houses known in Doncaster.
From documentary evidence and excavations elsewhere we know how the bath-house building would have been used. A wood-burning boiler located outside of the building heated air that circulated underneath the building’s raised floor in a hypocaust. The air flowed up narrow chimneys built into the walls and escaped via vents under the roof eaves. The Hampole bath-house had four rooms. The large room was built over part of the hypocaust and would probably have been a warm room. There was a small room next to this, which may have been the hot room. Built on to the side of the fourth room was a small semi-circular wall that probably retained a cold plunge pool. Bathers either entered via the cold plunge room or through an unheated room attached to the south of the warm room. On entering, they exchanged clothes for a towel and put on wooden sandals, as hypocaust floors could get very hot.
Pieces of wall plaster were found, which were painted with a red, green, blue and yellow design on a white background. Unfortunately, not enough survived to be able to piece the decoration together. From other sites, we know that it probably depicted a mythical figure, with a pleated or twisted patterned border.
The bath-house was probably privately owned. It would originally have been sited next to a house, but any evidence for this must, unfortunately, have been quarried away before being identified.
A large quantity of broken pottery was found at the bath-house, most of which was made during the 3rd century AD. The majority of the vessels were oven-to-table wares from the pottery kilns south-east of Doncaster. These include dishes, bowls, cooking pots and a mortar for grinding cooking ingredients. There were also jars from Lincolnshire and Dorset, mortars made in Warwickshire and cooking pots from the Thames Estuary. The pottery shows that the bath-house dates from between 50 and 200 years later than the compound to the south. This may be the farm of a native family who grew wealthy by supplying the Romans with farm produce. Perhaps one generation became inspired to live more of a Roman lifestyle. Or perhaps this is where a Roman citizen, possibly a retired soldier, obtained land to set up his own farm. Archaeology can’t answer these specific questions, but it can throw up possibilities from the past.
The Water's Lovely
The Romans knew how to make the most of bathing as a recreation. Towns and forts had public baths – the equivalent of modern leisure centres. Romans didn’t use soap, unlike Iron Age Britons. Instead, oil was rubbed into the skin, after the heat had opened skin pores, and then scraped off (using a tool called a strigil). Baths were arranged in a specific order so that bathers went from a cold to a hot room and back again via an intermediate warm room. At public baths you could lift weights, play ball games and buy ‘fast food’ snacks, such as mussels and whelks. The town of Bath is named after the famous Roman baths, which were part of a religious centre attached to a temple. Many wealthy families also had their own private bath-houses built next to their homes. This indicated to others their high status and wealth, as well as how ‘Roman’ they were.
For further information, please contact us:
- tel: 0114 273 6354
- address: South Yorkshire Archaeology Service, Howden House, 1 Union Street, Sheffield, S1 2SH