Vernemeto (Willoughby On The Wolds)
Athough the crossing of the Fosse Way and Watling Street has been watched from the air for many years, little has been visible of the suspected settlement of Vernemetum aside from a small, ditched enclosure some 200 feet (c. m) square, situated some 600 feet (c. m) to the north-west of the crossroads, with its eastern corner-angle close to Watling Street (J.R.S. 1953 p.91); this may represent the outer precinct or temenos of a Romano-British temple.
The extent of the Roman settlement at Willoughby-on-the-Wolds is not known, but small finds of tile and building materials have been turned up around the site of the cross-road at Broughton Lodge for a number of years; unpublished excavations conducted in 1948, recovery operations during road construction in 1963 and further unpublished excavations between 1964-66 all uncovered limited finds including mid-2nd and 3rd century pottery from buildings, hearths and pits along the line of the Roman road (Finch-Smith p.288).
Other Roman Sites in the Area
A Roman milestone has been found at Thrussington (SK6420) in Leicestershire, about three miles to the south of the settlement along the Fosse Way, the text of which unfortunately tells us nothing (vide infra). The pillar was sited at the point where the Roman road is crossed by an ancient ridgeway, which was probably used to access Causennis (Ancaster) and the Metaris Aestuarium (the Wash) in the east. This same ancient path may also have been used to communicate with the Burgs of Letocetum (Wall, Staffordshire) and Manduessedum (Mancetter, Warwickshire) on the other side of the River Soar to the west. (O.S.)
RIB2245 - Fragmentary milestone
Classical References to Vernemetum – The Grove of Spring?
Of the four classical Romano-British geographies, the Roman posting-station at Willoughby is documented in only one, the Antonine Itinerary of the second century AD. The identification is absolute, however, and the name of the station occurs twice; in Iter VI Item a Londinio Lindo ‘the route from London to Lincoln’, and in Iter VIII Item ab Eburaco Londinium ‘the route from York to London’. In both of these itinera the entry for Willoughby occurs between the towns Ratae Coritanorum (Leicester, Leicestershire) and Margidunum (Castle Hill, Nottinghamshire), their order being reversed in the eighth itinerery. The itineraries differ, however, both in the precise spelling of the name of the station and in the reported distance from the neighbouring towns: Iter VI gives the name as Verometo, 13 miles from Leicester and 12 miles from Castle Hill, whereas in Iter VIII the name appears Vernemeto, and the distances are recorded as 14 miles from Castle Hill and 12 miles from the Coritani Civitas.
The commonly accepted name for the Roman station at Willoughby is Vernemetum, very likely a Latinised form of the native British place-name, possibly Vernemeton, the second part of which is a readily recognised word (Welsh/Gaelic), nemeton or ‘sacred grove’. The Ver- prefix is more difficult to translate, however.
Yr-Nemeton – ‘The Sacred Grove’?
The letter ‘V’ does not occur in Welsh, a single ‘F’ being substituted instead. Related words may include: fry above, aloft; fyny above, upwards; ffer fir trees; wber sky; or yr ‘the’. Of all these, I am inclined towards yr-nemeton ‘the sacred grove’, because fir trees are not native to Britain – the earliest being introduced in the early eighteenth century – and any of the others require the introduction of another consonant into the prefix.
Uir-Nemeton – ‘Earth Grove’?
Neither ‘V’ or ‘W’ are used in Gaelic, both being replaced by ‘U’ sounds. Possible Gaelic prefixes would be: uaine green; uir earth; ur new, fresh; all of which sound quite promising, but highly speculative.
Verno-Nemeton – ‘The Sacred Grove of Spring’?
We must not forget the alternate spelling of the Sixth Itinerary, Verometo, which may give a clue to the correct spelling of the name. It is clearly corrupted, probably with letters missing, but suggests that the original may perhaps have been verno-nemeto. If we accept this argument, the name is clearly an amalgam of Latin verno, vernus ‘spring, springtime, vernal’ and the Welsh/Gaelic for ‘sacred grove’, and it would mean that the Romano-British placename should be translated something along the lines ‘The Springtime Sacred Grove’. Although not substantiated by physical evidence, is is very likely that there was a Romano-British temple precinct or temenos in the vicinity of Willoughby-on-the-Wolds, perhaps of some considerable importance.
Further information on Vernemeton and other Nemeton groves is available on the RBO Nemeton page.
References for Vernemetvm
- Roadside Settlements in Lowland Roman Britain by Roger Finch Smith (B.A.R. British Series #157, 1987);
- Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xliii (1953) pp.81-97;
- The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
Roman Roads near Vernemetvm
Trackway: ENE (16) to Denton (Lincolnshire) Probable road: NW (19) to Littlechester (Littlechester, Derbyshire) Fosse Way: NNE (10) to Margidvnvm (Castle Hill, East Bridgeford, Nottinghamshire) Fosse Way: SSW (14) to Ratae (Leicester, Leicestershire)