Possible Roman Site at Boscombe

The place-name, Boscombe, which first appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Boscumbe, very likely means ‘valley overgrown with spiky plants (Gorse?)’, from the Old English *bors + cumb.

Boscombe Down East – Bronze-Age Stockade (SU2337)

The late-Bronze-Age enclosure on Boscombe Down East was partially excavated by Stone and reported in 1936. This roughly rectangular ditch has a centrally placed causeway entrance in the north side with a pair of post-holes just over 3 feet (c. 1m) wide, which presumably defined the position of a gateway; another gap in the western side had no such features. The position of the post-holes, set back from the ditch, possibly indicates that there was an interior bank formed from the ditch upcast, which may have been surmounted by a wooden palisade. The area thus enclosed measures only ¼ acre (c. 0.1ha) and, although a scatter of early pottery was found within, there were no signs of habitation in the form of post-holes or storage pits. This has led archaeologists to classify the site as a ‘ranch boundary’, or a stockade for keeping livestock. The excavators claimed that ‘iron-working slag’ was found in the primary silt of the ditch, but this cannot be substantiated and it is far more likely that this was, in fact, a patch of naturally formed ‘iron-pan’. (Cunliffe)

Boscombe Down West – Iron-Age Settlement (SU1840)

The area of settlement on Boscombe Down West extends over 76 acres from which archaeological finds spanning the entire Iron-Age into the early-Roman period have been recorded. One area of over 20 acres (known as ‘Area Q’), which is unenclosed by any contemporary bank or ditch contained a great number of “Iron-Age ‘A'” pits. The enclosure at Little Woodbury in Wiltshire contains similar pits but only one-fifth the number, which has been taken to mean either that the Boscombe settlement originally covered an area over 5 times the size of Little Woodbury or that the site was occupied for five times as long, which does not correspond with the archaeological finds. On this basis, it has been suggested that a small settlement of perhaps four or five roundhouses existed on the Boscombe Downs site, although no traces were found when the site was excavated during the early 1950’s. (Rivet)

Towards the end of its occupation the Boscombe Down West site was provided with a bivallate earthwork which has been dated to the mid-1st Century A.D. , at the same time as similar earthworks appeared around many of the settlement sites of Southern and Western England. (Cunliffe)

Boscombe – Suspected Roman Villa (SU2038)

The 3rd edition of the O.S. Map of Roman Britain (1956) does not show the presence of a Roman Villa at Boscombe, neither does one appear on the latest Historical Map and Guide (5th ed., 2001), but the 4th edition (1994) [the version on which the web-site is based] inexplicably shows a villa Just to the south-east of Boscombe village.

This curious anomaly led me to delve into the Air Reconnaissance in Roman Britain articles published over a number of years in issues of the Journal of Roman Studies (covering the period 1955 to 1977) and the Britannia journal (covering 1977 to 1984) in search of any trace of a Roman site at Boscombe. This search proved irritatingly fruitless so I can only assume that findings made at Boscombe sometime after 1984 and which were presumed to be that of a Roman villa were later (i.e. after 1994 and before 2001) proven to be false.

I feel, however, that the siting of some sort of Romano-British habitation at or near Boscombe is, at least, plausible given the Roman road which passes through the village also the fact that there is documented continuous occupation in the area from the Bronze-Age and evidence of earthworks (at Boscombe Down West) dating to the Roman invasion of lowland Britain during A.D. 43.

References for Boscombe, Wiltshire

  • Map of Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd Edition, Southampton, 1956);
  • The Roman Villa In Britain by A.L.F. Rivet (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1969);
  • Iron Age Communities in Britain by Barry Cunliffe (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1974);
  • Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (4th Edition, Southampton, 1994);
  • Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (O.U.P., Oxford, 1998);
  • Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (5th Edition, Southampton, 2001);

Map References for Boscombe, Wiltshire

NGRef: SU2038 OSMap: LR184

Roman Roads near Boscombe, Wiltshire

NE (11) to East Anton (East Anton, Hampshire) SW (6) to Sorviodvnvm

Sites near Boscombe