Oxfordshire's Historic Archives

Historic Oxfordshire

Preserving and Enhancing Access to Historic Oxfordshire
Records of Archaeological Work held by the Ashmolean Museum

Site Name: Alchester Roman Site

Site Location: East Oxfordshire
Related Achive: Manning (and Myers) and Leeds

The first evidence for a Roman site at Alchester was mentioned by Camden in Britania in 1607, since then various excavations have taken place.

An excavation in 1766 by the landowner, Mr. Penrose, uncovered walls, doorways, tesserae and a hypocaust floor on the site, which was subsequently called the 'Castle'. This site was later interpreted as a bath house. In the 1800s stone was removed from the 'castle' site for road construction.

Another excavation by Hussey and Brown took place in the 1840s. A cemetery containing 28 skeletons was found in 1848, just outside the south-east corner of the town, when the construction of the railway began. In 1892 Percy Manning and John Myers reported finding walls and foundations. Excavations took place in 1926 and 1927 in the area of the east gate and in the north-east corner.

In 1974 the Department of the Environment with Oxfordshire Archaeological Committee and the External Studies Department of Oxford University excavated the site to determine the extent of plough damage. Further excavations took place in the late 1990s by a team from the Leicester University Archaeological Department, under the supervision of a member of Keble College.

Twentieth century excavations have proved the early antiquarians, mentioned above, were right, and that Alchester was probably one of the earliest Roman foundations in Britain, dating to the first part of the first century. The latest dated coins found in the 1920s are from Honorius and Arcadius (4th century). The earliest pottery is dated to the first century. Alchester is now interpreted as a depot, not a fort, as was previously thought. The site sits at the junction of two major roads, Watling Street (north/south) and Akeman Street (east/west). It is a square settlement, the sides being about 350 yards (320 metres) long, surrounded by a rampart and ditch.

The site suffered destruction when stone was taken under the instructions of Bishop Birinus in the seventh century for use in the building of his new foundation at Bicester (Priory).

'Lumps and bumps' would have been all anyone saw, even in the 17th century. The Davis map of 1797 shows the whole area under plough. There is also an engraving of the site by Stukeley dating to 1776.

The site lies in the former common fields of Wendlebury and was divided into 2 fields in the enclosure award of 1800. The southern field has not been ploughed since, and shows some ridge and furrow, though the northern one has continued to be cultivated until the present day. The site is now scheduled and lies within the parish of Wendlebury.


Vicitoria County History of Oxfordshire, Vol I, (1939) p281

C.J. Young (1975) "The Defences of Roman Alchester", Oxoniensia, Vol XL, 1975, p136-170

Site Photographs

Click on picture to see a larger image
Alchester Looking North

Alchester, looking north
(April 2006)

The 'Castle', Alchester
Alchester, showing the 'Castle'
(April 2006)
© Copyright University of Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, 2006. Last updated: June-2006
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