Excavating the CA Archives – Gloucestershire

5 mins read

The county of Gloucestershire encompasses a wide variety of landscapes, from the mix of urban and traditional farming communities (now more often dormitory settlements) in the south, by way of the woodland and estuarine zones of the west, to the Cotswold hills of the north and east. It is hard to think of a definitive site or settlement that really sums up the county, and Current Archaeology’s coverage is similarly varied. This is, I should emphasise, a strength, not a weakness.


One of the county’s most famous sites lies just to the south-east of Cheltenham and Gloucester, and is well worth a visit. Mighty Crickley Hill is a well-known local landmark, rich in wildlife and archaeology, jointly owned by the National Trust and the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. CA 37 (March 1973) paid the first of many visits there when it was in the long process of being excavated by a team led by Philip Dixon, and CA 50 (May 1975) followed up on that first foray. CA 76 (May 1981), however, is the issue to home in on, when a full write-up placed the site in its wider prehistoric context, alongside Hambledon Hill in Dorset (see CA 406, January 2024, for my column on that county). CA 110 (July 1988) returned to the site, by which time its post-Roman history as the stronghold of a ‘petty chief’ had been uncovered and understood; and a full and fascinating take on 35 years of fieldwork there then comes in CA 200 (November 2005) – a paean to a project, and a life, well-spent in a wonderful place.

Crickley Hill is one of the most famous sites in Gloucestershire and has been covered in several issues of CA, including CA 200, which summed up 35 years of excavations of there.

The other ‘great’ site of north and west Gloucestershire is that of Lydney Park Roman temple, which lies just to the south-west of the town of the same name. CA 2 and 3 (May and July 1967) first mention this site, which had originally been excavated by the Wheelers in the late 1920s (see CA 216, March 2008, on Tessa Verney Wheeler’s work there). In the early 1980s, it was spectacularly re-excavated, as reported in CA 76 (May 1981), demonstrating that most of the buildings date from the late 3rd or early 4th century, rather than the late 4th century as previously thought. The site has a complex history, with the Temple of Nodens (Templvm Marti Nodentis), alongside its guest house and baths, all standing within a prehistoric promontory fort situated on a steep bluff overlooking the Severn Estuary. It was reoccupied in the Roman period, first by a community engaged in mining iron, before its later redevelopment as a ritual site. (Those of you interested in the mosaics there and their wider context in Romano-British art should see, too, CA 251, February 2011.) While in the vicinity, I should also flag a marvellous exploration of the Forest of Dean in CA 362 (May 2020), which is one of the only archaeological examinations of that fascinating part of the country, rich in folklore and archaeology alike, but which for some reason has rarely featured in the pages of the magazine. I, for one, would love to read more of any fieldwork from there, so if you are working in the area, please get in touch.

Moving back eastwards into the triangle formed by Gloucester, Cheltenham, and Tewkesbury, I can flag the potted history of Roman as well as early and later medieval settlement there, as told through the pages of Current Archaeology. CA 26 (May 1971) and CA 45 (July 1974), for example, explore Roman Gloucester; CA 56 (May 1976), the early medieval town; and CA 221 (August 2008) and CA 390 (September 2022), its later medieval communities. Similarly, there is much fun to be had examining the early research into Roman and medieval Tewkesbury in CA 32 (May 1972) and CA 45 (July 1974). More recently, CA 302 (May 2015) explored the tombs in its abbey, especially that linked to George, Duke of Clarence, elder brother of Richard III. And, while we are in this area, spare a thought for delightful Deerhurst priory church, a remarkable Anglo-Saxon survival that lies three miles south-west of the town on the banks of the Severn. CA 28 (September 1971) paid a visit there, a wonderful piece of fieldwork in an often-overlooked corner of the county.

CA 28 visited Deerhurst priory church – a remarkable Anglo-Saxon survival three miles south-west of Tewkesbury.

The Cotswolds these days have a reputation as a playground of the rich and famous, especially the ‘Soho Farmhouse’ set around Chipping Norton. The Roman occupation of this area certainly had its social high society too, something that Current Archaeology has focused a spotlight on in its visits to Chedworth Roman Villa, ten miles south-east of Cheltenham, to which I dedicated a column in CA 356 (November 2019). Ten miles further south lies Cirencester (Roman Corinium), the local town that in good part put in train the regional wool industry that survives, to some degree, to this day. CA 29 (November 1971) first visited the town with an in-depth review of its pre-, high-, and post-Roman history, and CA 42 (January 1974) and CA 45 (July 1974) followed up on that analysis with updates of additional fieldwork there, including the discovery of a well-preserved house on the eastern side of the town in Insula XII and works around the town’s forum, as well as updates on the then-newly opened museum. Forty years would pass with barely a whisper, until CA 281 (August 2013) visited fieldwork along the Tetbury Road on the city’s western outskirts, where – just outside the Roman walls – were found the remains of its cemetery: 71 inhumation burials and three cremations spanning the full history of the Roman settlement from the late 1st century to the early 4th century – a remarkable insight into life and death in this place across multiple generations, movements, and upheavals.

There is, however, a little bit more to the Cotswolds than the Romans. Down the years, fragments of both earlier and later communities have popped up in the pages of the magazine, including, in CA 177 (January 2002), a wonderful roundup of multi-period fieldwork from this time undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology; the Iron Age (and later Roman) settlement of Claydon/Clayden Pike near Lechlade in the far south-western corner of the county in CA 75 (February 1981), CA 86 (March 1983), and CA 121 (September 1990); a deserted medieval village at Upton near Tetbury, examined by no less a luminary than Philip Rahtz in CA 4 (September 1967); and a Cistercian abbey at Hailes near Winchcombe, examined in CA 331 (October 2017).

Sites in east Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds have featured several times in the magazine, including investigations at Chedworth in CA 305; the exploration of Cirencester’s post-Roman history in CA 45; the discovery of a Roman cemetery on the outskirts of Roman Corinium in CA 281; and the excavation of the Iron Age settlement of Clayden Pike, near Lechlade, in CA 86.


The final quarter of this column looks south and west to the lowland landscapes formed by the Severn floodplain. A good starting point is at Purton, near Sharpness, where a series of post-medieval vessels abandoned along the banks of the river made headlines at this time, in both the specialist and the popular press, including in CA 237 (December 2009) and CA 286 (January 2014). A particular favourite of mine from the CA archive is the discovery of a previously unknown Roman villa at Stoke Gifford, a few miles north-east of central Bristol, where CA 394 (January 2023) reported on fieldwork beneath the pitches of the marvellously named Dings Crusaders RFC. There is other good Roman content from this area to be had, too, in examinations of Roman Frocester in CA 88 (August 1983) and CA 169 (August 2000). To end on a high note of multi-periodic multiplicity, I turn finally to Berkeley Castle, three miles south-east of Sharpness, which has a history of continuous occupation from at least the early medieval to early modern periods. This was examined in CA 233 (August 2009) and CA 305 (August 2015).

Goodbye, then, to Gloucestershire. I will head, finally, to the only county in Britain I have yet to visit on my tour of the isles, ironically the one that I live in and am most terrified of reporting on: wild and wonderful Wiltshire.

Joe Flatman

About the author
Joe Flatman completed a PhD in medieval archaeology at the University of Southampton in 2003, and since then has held positions in universities, and local and – most recently – central government. Since March 2019, he has been a Consultancy Manager in the National Trust’s London and South-East Region, leading a team working on Trust sites across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. You can follow him on X: @joeflatman.

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