Reconstructing Caerwent

(1951) [1970]
Alan Sorrell’s reconstructions of archaeological sites are now well documented and formed an exhibition at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London (2013/14). He seems to have been working on the reconstruction of the Roman town of Caerwent in the 1930s. The ‘aerial’ reconstruction of the town was used in the 1951 MPBW ‘Blue’ Guide to Caerwent Roman City by O.E. Craster (8th impression 1970, 1s 9 d [9p]). This reconstruction, finished in 1937, was provided by the National Museum of Wales. It was clearly felt that providing a reconstruction for the settlement would help visitors to visualise the site where little was to be seen except for the substantial walls and the insula on Pound Lane.


Richard J. Brewer produced a new guide for CAW in 1993 entitled Caerwent Roman Town (note the subtle change of title). By this point remains of the forum-basilica and a nearby temple had been opened to the public, as well as a courtyard house in the western part of the settlement. The colour reconstruction of the town was included in the CADW guide although it notes:

A great deal of research has been undertaken on Roman towns since this painting was completed in 1937, and ideas and interpretations have changed. Nevertheless, Sorrell’s work still conveys well enough an impression of Caerwent as it may have appeared in the fourth century.

The inclusion of the reconstruction by Sorrell in the 1951 guide is a reminder that the MPBW were moving away from a straight description of a complex site with plans and photographs, to one that would capture the imagination of the visitor and help them to visualise how it would have appeared.

Maiden Castle


Sir Mortimer Wheeler wrote the Ministry of Works guide to Maiden Castle in 1951. This was replaced by a ‘blue’ DOE guide in 1972, with the 4th impression published in 1980 (for 60 p). [There is an unexpected typographical error on the imprint page, as the first date of publication is given as ‘1792’!]

Wheeler, who excavated the site, structured the guide with the following themes:

  • Neolithic Village
  • Bank-barrow and its burial
  • Bronze Age hiatus
  • First Maiden Caste of the Iron Age
  • Later Maiden Castle
  • Eve of the Roman Invasion
  • Battle at the East Gate
  • Romano-British Temple

There is a foldout plan at the back.

MPBW Guide to Hadrian’s Wall

HW_card_MoWOne of the guides to Hadrian’s Wall is “A short Ministry of Public Buildings and Works guide to the monuments in the care of the State situated in Northumberland and Cumberland”. The price is 1 s 6 d. There is no date but the code ‘5/70’ probably indicates May 1970, and therefore just before decimilisation in 1971.

There are six ‘panels’ on each side. The front (with the cover) includes a map of the wall over three panels; my copy has annotations with the milecastle and turret numbers. There are two panels on the history of Hadrian’s Wall with a reconstruction of Walltown Crags by Alan Sorrell. On the reverse are details of the three main sites: ‘Corbridge Roman Station’, ‘Housesteads Fort, and ‘Chesters Roman Fort’. (For guides to Corbridge.)

A similar guide was published by the DOE for the Antonine Wall.

Guides to Lullingstone Roman Villa

Chi-Rho from Lullingstone Roman Villa (now in the British Museum)
Chi-Rho from Lullingstone Roman Villa (now in the British Museum)

Lullingstone Roman Villa was excavated by Lt.-Col. G.W. Meates from 1949 to 1961 (see English Heritage for further details). Some of the finds were placed in the British Museum, and the site was placed in the care of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works.

Lullingstone (1969)
Lullingstone (1969)

Meates wrote a short paper paper guide for MPBW (HMSO 1958; reprinted, 1969; price 6 d). This consisted of 12 pages with a double-page plan in the centre (pp. 6-7) showing the chronological development of the villa. The main sections were:

  • Introduction
  • History and General Introduction
  • The Christian Establishment
  • The Mosaic Floors
  • The Bathing Establishment
  • The Finds
Lullingstone (1972)
Lullingstone (1972)

A booklet, also by Meates, appeared in 1963. My DOE 1972 reprint of the 1963 version uses an orange cover (rather than the usual blue). Cost: 20 p. The book is fully illustrated, with colour for the wall-paintings and the mosaics (pp. 13-14, 31-32). The Alan Sorrell reconstruction is reproduced in black-and-white in the centre. The plan folds out of the card cover.

The main sections (over 44 pages) are:

  • History and Description
  • Period I. The First Century AD
  • Period II. The Second Century AD
    • The Circular Temple
    • The Bathing Establishment
    • The Cult Rooms
    • The Kitchens
  • Period III. The Third Century AD
    • The Granary
  • Period IV. The Fourth Century AD.
    • The Mosaic Floors
    • The Christian Chapel
  • The Finds
    • Marble Portrait Busts
    • Painted Wall Plaster
    • Coins
    • Objects of Bronze, Bone and glass
    • Objects of Iron
    • Pottery
    • Skeletal Remains

The guide was using reconstructions, for example the Deep Room (p. 30) or the Ante-Chamber (p. 33), to help the visitor to visualise the space. Meates also included images of the excavations. One of the most striking includes the Roman portraits from the Deep Room (p. 38). It is also worth comparing the image of the fragmentary chi-rho wall-painting as it is reproduced in the book with the form it takes in the British Museum (and see online).

Heritage Signs: Commandant’s House

Chesters Roman Fort: Commandant’s House © David Gill

Foundations of buildings can be hard to understand and the Ministry of Works labelled individual buildings and features for visitors. This sign is placed on the east side of the ‘Commandant’s House’ at Chesters Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall (Northumberland).

Professor Eric Birley’s guide (Chesters Roman Fort, Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, 1960; sixth impression 1970) has a section on the ‘Commandant’s House and bath-house’ (p. 21). The building was excavated by John Clayton in 1843. The same terminology is also used on the fort plan.

Nick Hodgson’s guide (Chesters Roman Fort, English Heritage, 2011) has a section on the ‘Commanding officer’s house (Praetorium)’ (no. 4) and ‘Praetorium baths’ (no. 5). Indeed the sign ‘Commandant’s House’ is placed on what Hodgson defines as the ‘Praetorium baths’.

My 13th edition of Collingwood Bruce’s Handbook to the Roman Wall (1978) [ed. Charles Daniels] identifies the ‘House and baths of commandant’ (on the plan) but discusses ‘the commanding-officer’s house’ and ‘the commanding-officers’ [sic.] bath-house’ (p. 115). My 14th edition (2006; David J. Breeze) refers to the ‘commanding officer’s house’ (p. 203).

Guide to North Leigh Roman Villa


The Roman villa at North Leigh lies some 10 miles from Oxford (and is under the care of English Heritage). This was a site leased and excavated by Professor Francis Haverfield, and thus has plenty of resonances with the history of archaeology in Britain.

On my shelf is a 1973 Department of the Environment guide to the villa (cost 3p). It consists of a folded piece of A4 light card, with a plan on the inside. There is a detailed description of the remains.

The Antonine Wall at Rough Castle

One of the most surprising Roman monuments is the ‘turf’ Antonine Wall that stretches effectively from the Firth of Forth to the Clyde. One of the best preserved sections is at the Roman fort of Rough Castle (near Falkirk). As you look northwards you get a sense of the edge of empire (though, of course, the network of Roman forts stretches northwards).

Welwyn Roman Bath-house


The Welwyn Roman bath-house is preserved under a special vault under the A1(M) in Hertfordshire. Details about visiting times can be found here (along with pdf guides in English, French and German). Tony Rook produced a small folded card guide (for 10p) on behalf of the Welwyn Archaeological Society (1975). A notice about the “Dicket Mead” excavation (as it was known in 1972), conducted by the Lockleys Archaeological Trust, appeared in the reprint of J.B. Ward Parkins, ‘The Roman villa at Lockleys, Welwyn’, The Antiquaries Journal 18, 4 (October, 1938) 339-76 (my copy has a pencil price of 50 p). The reprint contains a short introduction by Rook. Lockleys is close to the bath-house.


Guides to Corbridge


Interpretation of sites is crucial. Guide books were produced to help visitors understand the sites. The ‘green’ guide to ‘Corbridge Roman Station (Corstopitum) Northumberland’ was prepared by Eric Birley in 1935 and the copy shown is the 3rd edition (1954; Fourth impression, 1958; 1 shilling) (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office / Ministry of Works: Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings). The guide has the following information:

I. The Site

II. The History of the Site

III. Description of the Remains

IV. The Museum

There are black and white plates, and a folding plan inside the back cover.


My 10th impression (1970) of the 3rd edition (1954) has the more traditional ‘blue’ cover (Ministry of Public Building and Works, Official Guidebook; 2 shillings and 6 d [helpfully with the new decimal currency, 12.5 p]. This follows the structure of the ‘green’ guide but with black and white images in the text at appropriate points. In the spirit of decimalisation there is a ‘Conversion Table’ at the end converting feet and inches into metres.


J.N. Dore’s ‘Corbridge Roman Site’ was published by English Heritage in 1989 (HMSO). Note the change from ‘Roman Station’ (£1). This has a fuller structure with the main themes:

a. Tour

b. History

c. The Museum

There are plans, reconstructions, and black and white images in text.


The Dore guide was revised in 2012 (with an image of the ‘Corbridge Lanx’) with a colour cover.

DOE Guide: The Antonine Wall


The Department of Environment published guides on behalf of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The one for the Roman frontier known as the Antonine Wall was published in 1973 with a second impression in 1974. The text is by David J. Breeze, with illustrations by Tom Borthwick. The guide is printed with the equivalent of 6 pages on each side of the folded strip. The cost was 10p.

Four pages have a colour map showing the line of the wall with ‘the best places to see the wall’.

The text sections have an introduction to the Antonine Wall, as well as the Roman army. The reverse covers four of the forts: Rough Castle, Castlecary, Croy Hill, and Bar Hill. There is a plan for each of the four forts, and there is an additional aerial photograph of Rough Castle. Local directions are provided for each fort.

There is a short reading list of three items that includes the OS Map of the Antonine Wall.

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