The Roman site at Shenstone lies a little over half a mile south-east of the crossing of the Watling and Rycknield Street Roman roads east of the Roman fortified town of Letocetum (Wall, Staffordshire), now situated in fields just north of the Crane Brook and equidistant from both the modern A5127 road and the L.M. & S. Railway line. The site was discovered by the farmer and landowner Mr. Foden and his son in 1929, who noticed three sides of a double-ditched enclosure plainly marked-out by the differential growth in a crop of swedes, the remaining (eastern) side of the enclosure lay under a crop of sugar-beet at the time and did not show any discernable growth differences. The discovery was brought to the attention of the Birmingham Archaeological Society in early-1930, whereupon the field was inspected in February the same year but with nothing positive to report, however, a crop of ripening oats that July allowed the site to be viewed from the air by H.T. Testar, who was unable to obtain photographic confirmation at the time. The site was sytematically excavated by the Society over a period of 45 working days during the summers of 1931, 32, 33 and 36, the results being published in their 1944 Transactions, from which the majority of this report has been extracted.
The site is defined by a double-ditch system, roughly square in outline with rounded corners, bowed-out sides on the north and west, and an entrance on the east defined by a staggered break in the defensive ditches; the gap in the inner ditch being displaced to the south, that in the outer ditch to the north. The enclosure measures 285 feet from north to south by 260 ft. east-west (c.87 x 79 m) within the ditches, giving an occupation area of almost 1¾ acres (c.0.7 ha). No trace of a rampart was found in position. The ditches were found upon excavation to be of regular V-profile but varying somewhat in both width and depth; the inner ditch varied between 14½ to 8 feet in width (c.4.1 to 2.4 m) and between 6 to 4½ feet in depth (c.1.8 to 1.4 m), the outer between 9 to 6 feet in width (c.2.7 – 1.8 m) and 4 to 2 feet (c.1.2 – 0.6 m) in depth.
Pottery found during the course of the 1930’s excavations included a “large quantity” recovered mainly from the filling of the inner ditch and a blackened area within the enclosure, which spanned from the late-1st/early-2nd to the fourth centuries. Decorated Samian ware included a complete though broken Form 37 bowl decorated with an alternating cock and hare motif, possibly the work of Cerialis of Lezoux A.D. 115-125, also fragments of many more Form 37 decorated bowls, some of which bore Lezoux potters stamps: CIN[NAM] ‘Cinnamus’, Antonine; ADVOCI[SI] ‘Advocisius’, Hadrian-Antonine; also the monogram of DOECCVS, another Antonine potter. Plain Samian stamps include: CINTV[GENI] ‘Cintugenus’ of Lubie, Trajan-Hadrian; [JANV]ARIS, Domitianic; OF MAMI ‘the Officina of Mammius’ of Lezoux, Trajan-Antonine; SIIDATI M ‘by the hand of Sedatius?’ of Lezoux, Hadrian; [PATR]ICI ‘Patricius’, Nero-Domitian.
In addition to pottery, miscellaneous finds included fragments of glass vessels and window panes, bronze pieces including a goat’s head relief, pins and a “bunch of toilet instruments,” five rough-cast ingots or ‘pigs’ of lead, varying in weight between 14 and 34 lb (c.6.3 – 15.4 kg), along with several pieces of lead and lead-sheeting, also part of a much-corroded iron scythe-blade and many iron nails. In addition, chunky pieces of several rotary quern stones, part of a shale bracelet, a bone gaming counter and a small whetstone were recovered, and, within a stone-lined well in the northern half of the interior, were the skulls of two oxen (Bos longifrons), the skull of a small horse or pony, “the tibia of an ungulate,” and the complete skeleton of a small feline. Various teeth and bones of horse, ox, sheep, and pig were recovered throughout many parts of the interior.
The Nature of the Shenstone Roman Site
The original excavators classified this site “as a fort rather than a semi-permanent camp” (BAS Trans. 1944 p.12), in view of its double, V-profile ditches and approximately rectangular outline. This was a reasonable assumption for the time, but now, however, as more and more examples of Roman military works have come to light, the site is known to display quite un-military characteristics; bowed-out or irregularly-proportioned defences are sometimes seen in the larger temporary camps but are very rarely seen in permanent works, the ‘staggered’ entrance is also very rare in the earlier works but are known in the 3rd century on the Devon coast (e.g. at Countisbury), the great variations in construction quality of the defensive ditches is not suggestive of the Roman military mindset, and the finds, particularly the metalwork, also seem more indicative of a domestic rather than a military occupation. Conclusions such as these have led to the site being reclassified as a ‘Country House’ or villa enclosure (JRS 1953 p.94).
References for Shenstone
- Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. XLIII (1953) pp.81-97;
- The Roman Site at Shenstone, Staffordshire by H.R. Hodgkinson & P.B. Chatwin in Trans. Birmingham Arch. Soc. LXIII (1944) pp.1-32;
Map References for Shenstone
NGRef: SK1105 OSMap: LR139
Roman Roads near Shenstone