DES RES ~ Nouveau Roman Anyone?


I think I may have mentioned somewhere on this blog that, a few miles up the road from Wenlock, we have the remains of Wroxeter Roman City aka Viroconium aka Uriconium. In its day it was one of the largest urban settlements in Europe (AD 47 – AD 650). Most of it still lies under farm fields within the broad sweep of the River Severn, although the outlines of houses and roads have been eerily revealed in aerial photos and  LADAR surveys.

For centuries, too, farmers at their  ploughs have turned up marvellous Roman artefacts. Even now, if you walk the fields after harvest you can easily spot the polished terracotta shards of fine Samian pottery among the wheat stubble. Archaeological excavations have been on-going for decades. I dug there myself aeons ago, as an undergraduate archaeology student who needed to rack up some fieldwork  experience. The exposed remains are now in the care of English Heritage, and many of the finds are on display in the site’s small museum. More of the collection has been recently re-displayed at the county’s new Shrewsbury Museum.

But now we come to the Roman Villa in the photo – this ‘desirable town residence’. Its appearance here was prompted by Jo’s ‘restoration’ challenge. Strictly speaking, this is not so much a restoration as a  reconstruction. Although on the other hand, you could say that its builders did attempt to use only Roman construction methods – thus ensuring the restoration of long-lost skills. They did, however, have to apply for present day planning permission before they could start work.

And the whole project came about as part of a TV series on UK’s Channel 4 – Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can have virtual tour of the villa HERE


Of the original city, there is not a great deal to see, although the remaining high-standing basilica wall is pretty impressive, and did feature rather splendidly in Simon Schama’s epic A History of Britain TV series. You can see the first episode in which it and the surrounding remains feature at 40 minutes in:

Simon Schama’s A History of Britain


One of the reasons why the physical remains of this large and long-lived city are so few is because the building stone was recycled through the ages. If you walk down the lane to Wroxeter Church you will find that Roman pillars have been used to make the gateposts. Doubtless much more of the Roman stonework found its way into the body of the original Anglo-Saxon, later Gothic church. The church is redundant now, and looking rather sad.


And finally, I can’t leave you without showing off some more Roman treasures that may be found in Shrewsbury Museum’s Roman gallery. The finest object of all is a polished silver mirror, made in the Rhineland but found in Wroxeter forum’s courtyard. It dates from the AD 2oos. Its convex design, and the weight of the silver suggests it would have been held by a slave or servant so ‘my lady’ could admire her latest hair-do. Enjoy!


Back of a convex silver mirror, circa 3rd century AD, Shrewsbury Museum.



Restored section of Roman mosaic floor from Whitley Grange Roman Villa, near Shrewsbury.



The Shrewsbury Hoard: over 9,000 coins dating from 280 AD to the following century. The coins were wrapped in cloth bags and buried in a big storage jar.


copyright 2015 Tish Farrell



For more restored pieces go to: Jo’s guest challenge ‘restoration’. Also check in at Paula’s response at Lost in Translation Thursday’s Special

46 thoughts on “DES RES ~ Nouveau Roman Anyone?

  1. Dear Tish I will have to look at this and watch the video later on today (I’m at work now). For the moment I will provide the links to this terrific looking post. Thank you for this!

    1. Please do watch the video later if you can. I think you’ll enjoy it – it’s an hour long, but a brilliant intro to British history. Simon Schama is an art historian by profession, but he’s pretty good on plain history too. It’s an excellent series.

  2. Fascinating history. I hadn’t heard of this before. But if the city existed till 650 AD, it is at least fourteen hundred years old, and could be considered to be close to two thousand years old. Or am I missing something here?

  3. You are right, Shimon. The city is 1400-2000 years old. I didn’t put that bit very well, did I. I meant that considering the city had lasted for 600 years it did not leave much above-ground trace of itself. Perhaps I better go back and re-phrase. You have an eagle-eye/mind, good sir 🙂

  4. Funny how things stick in your mind. I read Wroxeter and the Roman name came to mind. Roman Britain was the major part of my last year at university, including a field trip to the south west. I assume Wroxeter was on the list although I can’t remember. We did visit Bath (of course) and Caerleon. And as our prof was ex RN we had to go and watch Harrier jump jets and visit the Fleet Air Arm museum. Very Roman!

    I’m not a fan of reconstruction though. I can see it all in my minds eye anyway, and I find the reconstruction takes away the mystery, and to some extent, the history. We have a great site near here, Carteia,
    although for some reason the pictures got rotated en route from blogger!

    Sad to see old churches falling apart. While I might not agree with the purpose, I like the buildings.

      1. They came out in this order on the first link, though a little bigger. I think WordPress is being wobbly today. They particularly seem to be fiddling with the the responses side bar. Nice shots.

      2. Thanks Tish. It was a great morning. The personalised tour made it special, and archaeology terms translate across most European languages. Plus, I knew the history of what he was saying anyway (it was all in Spanish).

      3. A personalised tour is always a treat. That once happened to me in a Brittany church where an old man decided to explain to me in great detail a medieval frieze of the Dance of Death that went all round the knave. I hardly understood a word, but nonetheless felt welcomed into his world. It was an interesting church in other ways too. Its crypt was a Neolithic long barrow, the stones left intact when the church was built on top.

    1. I take your point about reconstructions. On the other hand, Wroxeter is not too exciting for the non-specialist visitor, and I guess the house is a gift for school parties. It does look a bit strange, standing by itself without all the usual outbuildings etc – there in a Shropshire field.

  5. Brilliant response, Tish! Like Paula I’ll have to come back to absorb the details as I’m due out with the Nordic walkers. I’ve neglected them lately 😦 Bit damp so I could easily be persuaded not to go. See you later, and thanks! 🙂

    1. It’s quite something isn’t it. At one time we only used to have a replica copy on show in what was once Shrewsbury’s Ref. Library (and before that Charles Darwin’s old school). As a child I used to go and stare and stare at it. It’s lovely that we now seem to have the original and that it is so well shown off in the new museum.

  6. Schama puts together a good docu, doesn’t he, Tish? Certainly tells it well, anyway, and it is a fascinating story. I usually watch the series but hadn’t seen this one. Delighted to find Wroxeter in there. Presumably you’ve been up to the Roman Wall a time or two, Tish? I haven’t for a long while and really must go again this Summer. (I think Paula’s headed that way too!)
    Enjoyed the virtual tour, too. Shrewsbury must be a great museum to have a pootle round. Once again- thank you for putting together such a fine post. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 🙂

    1. Am so glad you liked this post, Jo, since you inspired it. Schama is indeed good value (his progs on Rothko, Van Gogh and Rembrandt are magic too). And no, I’ve not been up to the wall, and was only saying to other half yesterday that we ought to go there. So much to see and discover in one’s own country. 🙂

  7. That’s a v. interesting alternative to Law, Celestine. I wish him well with his first choice, because fascinating as archaeology is, I’m not sure there are quite so many career opportunities in that direction.

    1. Thanks, Ian. Am looking forward to more of your TB workshop. You made me laugh not recognising a colleague out in her finery. Tho of course this is a v. serious topic/condition.

  8. I love history and Roman history in particular. Rosemary Sutcliff was a great writer about Roman Britain. Really enjoyed this, Tish, and hope to get back to watch the video, too.


      1. I just found Ruth Downie and she seems pretty good on Roman Britain. Hard to beat Sutcliff, though, who used beautiful language as well as told complex stories with complex emotions.

    1. That’s interesting to think about, Sue – your perspective of time versus mine. We rather take it for granted here. Though I remember as an archaeology student, when we had to do a term of geology, my mind simply boggled to incompetence faced with that kind of time scale. We need to take up quantum physics or shamanism, then time would be circular, though that’s too complicated for me to think about first thing in the a.m. 🙂

  9. You live in such an interesting place, Tish. So much history! I’d be digging in the fields:) The Roman villa tour also gave a fascinating glimpse into the way of living then, by the privileged.

    1. The Roman villa tour is great, isn’t it. It is tempting, too, to go ferreting about the place – another way not to write a novel :). Even walking the field behind the house, the plough turns up masses of clay pipe bowls and stems. Not very old, perhaps a century or so, dropped by ploughman working with their heavy horses. And I did find a 1725 half penny when I was weeding just outside my allotment shed door. I think perhaps my shed was on the line of the old footpath that once went across the fields. Gives one a frisson. Losing a half penny back then would have been a big deal for a country lad or lass.

  10. Fabulous. I have something to watch after dinner.
    It was always a treat for my brother and I as kids to wander round Chester Museum with all the Roman artifacts on display.
    They have/had a fully caparisoned Roman soldier just inside the entrance and I still remember to this day how ) relatively) small in stature he was. Couldn’t have been more than five foot and a bit.

  11. The Roman Empire did stretch way up North. Even where I grew up in Southwestern Germany, we had spas that were based on the ruins of Roman baths. And the vineyards that surrounded my village on 3 sides were actually started by Roman invaders 2000 yrs ago. Always fascinating to find a piece of ancient history like the examples you gave here…

  12. How I enjoy sites like this, Tish. I find it fascinating to come across an ancient Roman — or Greek — settlement far, far from the ancient capital. Just the fact that they have survived, often through some very desperate times, is amazing. I could easily spend a day here, taking it all in.

    1. Hello, John. Nice to see you here again. I have not been over to the Bartolini Kitchens lately, but I should say that honey mustard recipe you gave us before Christmas proved a real hit. So a big thank you.

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