Alan Sorrell: creating visions of the past

Sorrell_RB_cov
2018

How do you interpret archaeological sites to make them understood by the public? This book looks at the influential work of Alan Sorrell: the subtitle, ‘The man who created Roman Britain’, perhaps indicates the impact of his work.

Roman Britain features prominently: Hadrian’s Wall (fig. 99; Cover), the Carrawburgh mithraeum (fig. 102a–b), Housesteads fort (fig. 110), Caerleon legionary fortress (figs. 1), 80, the forum at Leicester (fig. 25), London (figs. 87, 104a–c, 106), Caerwent (figs. 28, 84a–b, 86a–b), Wroxeter (fig. 118), Bath (fig. 119a–b), Llantwit Major villa (fig. 85), and Lullingstone villa (fig. 98c). Medieval structures in state guardianship appear: Harlech and Conwy Castles (fig. 54a–b), the Bishop’s Palace at St Davids (fig. 69), Tintern Abbey (fig. 65a) and Jedbergh Abbey (fig. 65b).

Looking to Greece there are reconstructions of the Palace of Nestor at Pylos (figs. 17, 105), excavated by Carl Blegen, and the Palace at Knossos on Crete (fig. 41a).

The section on his work for the National Museum of Wales was particularly helpful. The reconstruction of Maen Madoc in the Brecon Beacons was instructive (fig. 89). Sorrell’s work with William Francis Grimes was given prominence.

The commissioning of reconstructions for sites in state guardianship is presented in some detail. We are presented with the views of P.K. Baillie Reynolds, Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments: ‘They should have a good public appeal’. Yet at the same time Baillie Reynolds opposed the use of such reconstructions. This was in contrast with A.J. Taylor: ‘I should, personally, very much like to see in due course Sorrell drawings of all our North Wales Edwardian castles’. The use of Sorrell reconstructions in the Ministry’s ‘Blue Guides’ is itself constructive.

Sorrell, Julia, and Mark Sorrell. 2018. Alan Sorrell: the man who created Roman Britain. Oxford: Oxbow.

Roman roads in State Guardianship

IMG_9356
Wheeldale Moor Roman Road © David Gill

The construction of roads transformed the landscape of Britain. Yet only a limited number of fragments have been placed in State Guardianship. One of the most dramatic sections is a stretch that crosses Wheeldale Moor in North Yorkshire.

IMG_2279.JPG
Wheeldale Moor Roman Road © David Gill

A stretch of Dere Street near Soutra in Scotland has been preserved. This passed through Corbridge and Newstead.

IMG_2746
Dere Street © David Gill
IMG_2747-Edit
Dere Street near Soutra Aisle © David Gill

Further south Dere Street crossed the river Tees at Piercebridge and remains of the bridge have been found.

Piercebridge4
Piercebridge © David Gill

A Roman milestone on the Stanegate near the fort of Vindolanda was placed in Guardianship.

IMG_2366-Edit
Vindolanda, Roman milestone © David Gill

 

The West Row Roman Treasure from Suffolk

milden_0081
Mildenhall Dish © David Gill

A suggestion has been made that the Mildenhall Treasure be renamed as the West Row Treasure after the parish in which it was found (“Mildenhall Treasure: British Museum steps in to row over Roman hoard”, BBC News 22 February 2020).

Colchester Castle Museum: engaging with the past

IMG_4554
Colchester Castle Museum © David Gill

The collection within Colchester Castle contains one of the best presented collections of objects from Roman Britain. It is displayed in an imaginative and engaging way from the mosaics and (funerary) sculptures to the inscriptions and pottery.

In spite of this Colchester has, surprisingly, not featured as high in the list of museums for the RSA Heritage Index.

IMG_8323
Roman funerary monuments in Colchester Castle © David Gill

Hadrian’s Wall: official guides

HW_DOE_souvenir
1963 (1969)

A.R. Birley prepared ‘an illustrated guide’ to Hadrian’s Wall in 1963. This supplemented the guides to individual forts on the wall (Chesters, Housesteads) as well as the Stanegate (Corbridge). (See now the English Heritage guide to Birdoswald.) A foldout plan inside the card cover showed key locations between Wallsend and Bowness. There are some excellent reconstructions by Alan Sorrell (including one with an overlay to show the inside of the bath-house).

HW_card_MoW
1970

There was a fold-out MPBW guide to the Wall in 1970.

HW_souv_EH
1987 (3rd ed. 1996)

David J. Breeze prepared the Souvenir Guide to the Roman Wall, which is described inside the cover ass ‘The greatest monument to the Roman occupation of Britain’. Breeze has also prepared the Handbook to the Roman Wall. The guide includes South Shields and Vindolanda, as well as the Roman fort at Maryport on the Cumbrian coast.

HW_EH_red
2006

The souvenir guide was replaced by Breeze’s ‘Red Guide’ to Hadrian’s Wall. The tour goes from west to east and includes non English Heritage sites such as Maryport, Vindolanda, Wallsend and South Shields.

Brougham Castle: guidebooks

IMG_9827
Brougham Castle © David Gill

Brougham Castle in Cumbria was placed in State Guardianship in 1928. The first paper guidebook was written by John Charlton in 1950. It has a section on the history of the site, including the adjacent Roman fort. There is a separate section on the ‘periods of building’, followed by a description. A plan of the castle is provided on the centre pages.

Brougham_DOE
1950 (repr. 1976)

The Ministry guide evolved into an English Heritage guide (1985) and a second edition was prepared in 1988. This contains a Tour of the Castle followed by a History. The text is considerably expanded. There is a short separate section on the Roman fort with an illustration of an altar to Mars.

Brougham_EH_white
2nd ed. 1988 (repr. 1997)

This English Heritage guide is one of the ‘Gateway‘ sponsored guides.

Brougham_EH_rear
2nd ed. 1988 (repr. 1997)

The Charlton guide was replaced in 1999 by a joint guide with Brough Castle prepared by Henry Summerson. The histroy of each castle is presented followed by a tour. One of the sections is on ‘Wordsworth and Brougham’. Plans of both castles are placed inside the back cover.

Brough_Brougham_EH
1999 (rev. 2014)

Colchester: Roman walls

IMG_1728-Edit
Colchester © David Gill

There are still substantial remains of the Roman walls surrounding the colony at Colchester (Camulodunum). The more recent civic desire to protect the Roman heritage of the town is made clear in the signs discouraging exploration of the walls (‘by checking children … climbing upon or otherwise injuring it … any wilful damage to it’).

IMG_1729-Edit
Colchester, town wall © David Gill