Brockley Hill Pottery

Fort, Minor Settlement and Pottery

This small settlement was placed roughly halfway between the Roman provincial capital and the old tribal capital of the Catuvellauni, and is thought to have been the site of a fort erected during the initial years of the Roman invasion. During its short occupation period, the fort seemingly attracted a small group of local Britons who settled beside the road leading from the main gates of the encampment. These people would have provided services to the soldiers of the garrison; apart from the obvious brothels, vintners, bakers and ale-houses, other, more mundane trades would also be represented, such as cobblers, blacksmiths, potters and tailors.

The rapid conquest of lowland Britain meant that the Roman auxiliary force were not stationed at Sulloniacis for very long, before the fort was demolished and the unit moved closer to the scene of military action. The Roman presence was maintained, however, by the building of a posting-station or mutationes, where official users of the Roman road would be cleansed, fed and quartered, before continuing refreshed upon their journey, supplied also with a change of horses. The establishment of the Mutatio perhaps pursuaded a number of the civilian population to remain behind after the garrison had moved on, to offer their services instead, to the numerous travellers who would have frequented the posting-station, placed as it was on the main military highway into the heart of the new Roman province.

Excavations in 1970

TQ174941 – Excavations conducted in 1970 within the grounds of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital to the south-west of the Watling Street found much evidence in confirmation of a flourishing pottery industry in Roman Brockley Hill. A number of clay-pits were dotted about the site, some of which contained pottery wasters of the late-1st century, very likely connected with the kilns to the immediate north, which were excavated in 1950/1. Two industrial quernstones were also found, set upon a tiled floor and associated with pottery and coins of the 4th century.

Classical References for Brockley Hill Pottery – Sulloniacis

The Roman name for this small industrial settlement astride the main military highway into Britain is contained in a single classical source but its identification is fairly secure. The Antonine Itinerary of the late second century contains the name Sulloniacis in Iter II, the longest road-route in Britain, some 9 miles from Verulamium (St. Alban’s, Hertfordshire) and 12 miles from Londinium (London); these figures match the measured distances to Brockley Hill fairly well. Roman remains found at Brockley Hill near Edgware in the London Borough of Barnet have been identified as those of Sulloniacis.

However, senior British archaeologist Harvey Sheldon, a specialist on Roman London from the Museum of London, has challenged the claim that the site found at Brockley Hill is Sulloniacis. Aside from the evidence of pottery production and some domestic buildings, modern excavations have failed to find any remains of mutationes (stations for changing horses) or mansiones (accommodation for official travellers). Sheldon suggested several alternative locations, particularly one further south in the vicinity of Edgeware Road in Burnt Oak Broadway, a location where the Hendon and District Archaeological Society has already found Roman remains nearby.

References for Svlloniacis

  • Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd, 4th & 5th eds., 1956, 1994 & 2001);
  • Britannia ii (1971) p.274.

Roman Roads near Svlloniacis

Iter II/Watling Street: SE (11) to Londinivm Itinera II, VI & VIII: Watling Street: NNW (8) to Vervlamivm (St. Albans, Hertfordshire)