Wanborough (Durocornovium) Roman Settlement

Minor Settlement

The Wanborough settlement lay along the road between Silchester and Cirencester (Corinium Dobunnorum), from the crossing of the River Cole south-east towards the junction with the Roman road to Cunetio (Mildenhall). Extending for a length of over ¾ mile (c.1,300m), the settlement covered an area of 62 acres (c.25ha). The occupied area was about 1,000 ft (c.300 m) deep on the east side of the main road with parallel-streets possibly arranged in a grid pattern, whilst to the west buildings were confined to a narrow 100 foot (c.30m) wide strip alongside the main road, beyond which inhumation and cremation burials have been found.

Claudio-Neronian Samian-ware and glass artefacts, along with republican coins have been found on the site, a Roman fort is therefore suspected.

A large ditch 30 feet (c.9m) wide backed by a wide inner rampart of clay, extended from the west side of the main road to the south of the settlement. The rampart and ditch is thought to be defensive in nature and has been dated to the late second or early third century. It is not known whether these defences continued on the eastern side of the main road.

Excavations undertaken at various places within the site have unearthed a wide variety of buildings and evidence to suggest that the settlement was occupied from around the middle of the first century though to at least the fourth century.

History of the Roman settlement at Wanborough

  • Before AD 43, the area was occupied by a few farms with the people living in the valleys practicing a transhumance existence keeping their animals in the valleys over winter and moving them to the Downs in summer.
  • From AD 43 to 75, the Roman town of Wanborough was established possibly as a vicus to a fort at St Margarets which has yet to be found. At this time, field systems and settlements were established on the Downs. The shape of the fields suggests they were used for a combination of arable and pastoral farming. The evidence shows that this pattern of existence continued through Early and Late Roman periods (AD 75 to 260 and AD 260 to 410).
  • The Roman small town at Wanborough grew to have a significant urban population while on the Berkshire Downs, the field systems were extended to cover large areas of downland.

Classical Name of the Wanborough settlement?

The only classical source for the Roman name of the Wanborough settlement is the Antonine Itinerary of the late-2nd century, wherein appears a road station in Iter XIII named Durocornovio, listed some 14 miles from Glevum (Gloucester, Gloucestershire) and 15 miles from Spinis (nr. Newbury in Berkshire).

There is an obvious error in the Thirteenth Itinerary here. An unknown copyist seems to have missed out the entry for Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester, Gloucestershire), which lies 15 miles from both Gloucester and Wanborough; the multiple occurrences of the distance numerals XV in the text, very likely being the cause of the original omission.

Roman Sites in the Area

To the immediate west there were potteries at Whitehill Farm (SU1184) and stone quarries at Old Swindon Hill (SU1483), and villas at Swindon (SU1483), Badbury (SU1980) and Bishopstone Downs (SU2581), and a substantial Roman building at Stanton Fitzwarren (SU1790) to the north.

Various sites were discovered and examined during construction work on the M4 Motorway in 1970: an unused bath-house at Badbury (SU194810), small 1st/2nd C. roadside settlement at Finche’s Farm (SU286782), a corn-drier of chalk blocks at Baydon (SU290775), a rectangular building within a walled enclosure at Medbourne near Liddington (SU198808) and a roadside settlement at Wanborough Plain (SU240800).

References for Wanborough

  • Roadside Settlements in Lowland Roman Britain by Roger Finch Smith (B.A.R. British Series #157, 1987) pp.244-6; Britannia ii (1971) p.282 & graffiti p.302.
  • https://www.berksarch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Wanborough-essay-2021_01_13.pdf
Sites near Wanborough (Durocornovium) Roman Settlement