The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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Meetings, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations. For details of our activities, and for more information on recent events and current programme, please contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787 281434.

Visit to the site of Roman Villa at Hill Farm, Gestingthorpe: Saturday 12th June 2021

In perfect weather on Saturday 12th June, a group of History Society members & friends held a visit to Ashley Cooper’s farm, as a “Grand Re-opening” of our programme.


Ashley’s father Harold, had moved to Hill Farm, Gestingthorpe, after the Second World War. In 1948 an extra deep plough, pulled by a tractor, was needed on one field. It brought a mass of red tile to the surface--which were confirmed as Roman by experts at Colchester Castle, Following guidance from professional archaeologists Harold began excavations, gradually uncovering the site of a Roman Villa and craftsman’s settlement. The site was close to a major Roman Road running from Braintree to Long Melford.

Before taking us to the site, Ashley spoke about the artefacts found on the site and showed photos of the dig.

He recounted an occasion when as a teenager he watched his father uncover a lidded cooking pot, before a Sunday lunch interruption. They had to wait to discover if it held anything significant. Sadly not, but he was hooked on a lifelong interest in history that he is keen to share.

The villa measured some 36 meters in length and was 18 meters wide. The walls are clearly marked out in the field, which is now grassed-over and set in open countryside with beautiful views. Only skylarks competed with Ashley’s thorough and enthusiastic explanation of the findings. He brought the site to life with local artist Benjamin Perkins’s paintings, whilst also asking some of us to enact the roles of villa owner and slave! Evidence has been found of the use of rooms within the villa, and the trades carried on outside.

English Heritage listed the site as an ancient monument in 1975--which led to a full report being written, with contributions from any archaeological specialists.

In addition to the villa, the barns at Hill Farm house a sizeable Farming, local history and geology museum. We browsed this before leaving, and all agreed it would be worth another visit in its own right - something we plan to arrange before too long!

 


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