Wickham House

BAS2023_P014

There have been numerous finds of Romano-British coins, pottery and other artefacts around Wickham discovered by local residents and metal detectorists, and in small scale archaeological excavations prior to property redevelopment. The intersection of the Roman Road to Bath (Margary 53) with Ermin Street has long been thought to lie approximately 1.5km to the southeast of Wickham close to the modern day B4000 (Toller 2013). The HER records the interpretation of this evidence as being a Romano-British domestic dwelling or low status farmstead located on Church Hill (a short distance from Ermin Street) dating from the Late-1st century AD through to the Late-3rd century AD.

Recent geophysics fieldwork projects carried out by the Berkshire Archaeological Society (BAS) has shed new light on the possible route taken by the Roman Road to Bath projecting its intersection with Ermin Street to lie close to the centre of the modern village of Wickham. Also, over many years a wide spread of Roman coins, pottery and other artefacts discovered by local residents and metal detectorists have been collated by BAS and recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database. The dates of coin finds suggest that the settlement at Wickham was active from the early 1st century AD through to the end of the Roman Period, with a significant peak in activity in the Late- 4th century AD.

We have been invited by the owner of Wickham House to undertake a series of geophysics surveys with the objective of looking for evidence of Romano-British settlement as well as further evidence of the intersection of the two Roman Roads. The surveys are planned to take place in two tranches – the first during mid-June/mid-July and the second in September. Following a BAS lecture in November 2022 at St Swithun’s Church that was well attended by local residents, it is hoped that members of the local community will participate in the survey and certainly will be following our progress with great interest

June/July 2023

This took place in June/July 2023 close to the centre of Wickham to carry out gradiometer and earth resistance geophysics surveys to locate further evidence of the Roman Road to Bath and Ermin Street and to identify evidence of Romano-British occupation. The project involved over 20 BAS Members, and involved a number of local residents who were provided with training and a warm BAS welcome.  

New BAS member, Chris, who was involved as a schoolboy in 1968 in an excavation of the Road to Bath at Radley Farm, resuming his research of this Roman Road after a 55-year break!

Results of this survey added further evidence suggesting that the Roman Road to Bath does indeed take a more northerly route than previously thought, as shown in figure 2, and intersects with Ermin Street close to the centre of Wickham village. The survey also revealed a number of probable structures aligned with the route of Ermin Street together with areas of less well-defined rectilinear anomalies with the same orientation interpreted as a possible roadside settlement running along Ermin Street close to the intersection with the Road to Bath.

Revised route of the Roman Road to Bath (Open Streetmap, 2023) 

This survey evidence aligns with the latest material culture evidence, where a wide spread of Roman coins, pottery and other artefacts have been discovered by local residents and metal detectorists over many years, have now been collated by BAS and recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. The dates of coins and other finds suggest that was this settlement was active from the Early-1st century AD through to the end of the Roman Period, with a significant peak in activity in the Late-4th century AD and was larger than previously thought. 

September 2023

Following on from the first phase of geophysics surveying at Wickham House in June/July, which revealed a number of rectilinear anomalies along the route of the Ermin Street Roman Road (Margary 41) from Silchester to Cirencester, we were very grateful to be invited back to continue our work across areas of the estate not yet covered. Our first survey had revealed a number of rectilinear anomalies tentatively interpreted as the remains of a Romano-British roadside settlement extending some 800m SE to NW along Ermin Street close to where previous BAS geophysics surveys had placed the junction of Ermin Street with the Roman Road to Bath (Margary 53). 

This latest survey took place during September 2023, which fortunately coincided with some unseasonably warm weather which allowed the project to complete ahead of plan, during which time some 25 BAS members, and some local residents took part! Surveying to the south of Wickham House revealed anomalies relating to metaled driveways and building foundations dated to the Georgian period from historic maps and paintings. But also revealed were a cluster of circular anomalies tentatively interpreted as the possible gullies of a group with round houses, and a curious ‘L-Shaped’ surface which will need further investigation to identify. 

Figure 1. Earth resistance surveying across rough ground at Wickham 

Further to the west the latest survey located a wide area of rectilinear anomalies, some aligned with the Roman Road and others on a different alignment. These results give us a further indication of the extent of the possible Roman period settlement and suggest that a later phase of settlement was built on a different alignment in the same location. Historic maps tell us that by the Georgian period this land was being used for agriculture. 

Figure 2. Rectilinear anomalies observed in Area 4 

Taken together the geophysics surveys suggest at least three phases of occupation across this site prior to the Georgian period, and that during the Roman period Wickham was comparable in size to (if not larger than) the modern-day settlement, with a number of multi-roomed masonry footed buildings centered around the junction of the two roads and extending along Ermin Street in both directions. Metal detecting finds recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme from the same area date suggest the settlement was active from the 1st to 4th centuries AD, reaching its zenith in the late 4th century and most likely continuing into the Early Medieval period. The project team will continue to work over the winter months on writing up our survey results and planning possible next steps for the coming season to further investigate this fascinating corner of West Berkshire. 

2024 – project planned, details TBA

If you are interested in taking part, please send an email to Keith Abbott (keefandtrace(at)hotmail.com) outlining your availability. No experience is needed and carpooling will be arranged for those travelling from the Reading/Wokingham/Maidenhead end of the county. We are also looking to arrange surveying on weekends for those members who are busy during the week.

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Main image: BAS volunteers (Geoff, James, Tony and Peter) surveying near Wickham during September 2022

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