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Roman rural sanctuary on Groundwell Ridge, east of Lady Lane

A Scheduled Monument in Blunsdon St Andrew, Swindon

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.6036 / 51°36'13"N

Longitude: -1.7995 / 1°47'58"W

OS Eastings: 413979.30696

OS Northings: 189440.306969

OS Grid: SU139894

Mapcode National: GBR 4TV.FVF

Mapcode Global: VHB36.RYJJ

Entry Name: Roman rural sanctuary on Groundwell Ridge, east of Lady Lane

Scheduled Date: 2 April 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018496

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29664

County: Swindon

Civil Parish: Blunsdon St Andrew

Built-Up Area: Swindon

Traditional County: Wiltshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Wiltshire

Church of England Parish: North Swindon St Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Bristol

Details

The monument, which survives as a combination of earthworks and buried remains
recorded by survey and excavation, includes a number of Roman buildings
overlooked by a series of artificially created terraces and a sequence of
platforms one of which holds the remains of a stone-lined cistern. An east-
west aligned road of probable Roman date lies between two of the terraces and
further earthworks mark the probably original boundaries of the site on two
sides. The monument occupies a position on a steep south west facing scarp,
which lies on a Corallian limestone outcrop, at a point where the limestone
meets the Oxford Clay giving rise to a number of active springs. The terraces
and platforms occur on the slope of the scarp whilst the buildings are found
on level ground at its foot. The site is 1km south west of the A419 which
marks the course of the former Roman road from Calleva (Silchester) to
Corinium (Cirencester). Related features may also exist in areas surrounding
the known site, especially to the west or east.
A number of buildings have been shown by excavation and geophysical survey to
be present in an area about 120m square at the foot of the terraced scarp. At
least some of these buildings may have enclosed a courtyard but their southern
extent is not precisely known. The walls of these buildings where seen in
excavation are constructed of ragstone blocks which have been mortared.
Sandstone roofing tile, Roman fired clay tile fragments, and painted wall
plaster have been recovered from building debris above the walls. One of the
buildings on the eastern side of the scheduling has been interpreted by the
excavators as a bath house as it was found to contain a plunge bath.
Situated on the scarp to the north of the buildings are a series of visible
earthworks which have been the subject of archaeological survey. They cover an
area about 340m east-west by 120m north-south and include a series of five
platforms which dominate the site and which look down upon the buildings
below. The platforms, which extend for an overall length of 150m east-west,
are divided from each other by clearly defined linear features. The central
platform was found in excavation to be the site of a cistern made of limestone
blocks and served by a lead pipe; its siting suggests that it was perhaps part
of the furnishings of a water shrine (nymphaeum). Below the platforms are
situated a number of artificial terraces which run east-west and other clear
earthwork features which are the result of the modification and enhancement of
the natural slope. The terraces, some of which are in excess of 240m long,
extend no further eastward than a clear north-south bank and ditch which marks
the likely eastern boundary of the complex; likewise a length of ditch and a
bank provide a further likely boundary to the north. A 6m wide road running
parallel to the terrace alignment and below the sequence of platforms may be
seen in the form of an agger (raised road surface) flanked by side ditches; an
area of softer ground appears to mark its eastern limit. When seen as a whole
the plan of the earthworks reveal an extensive site incorporating water
features and walkways; marshy ground at the eastern end of the site located in
the geophysical survey demonstrates the likely presence of springs which have
probably been active since before historical times.
Examination of the archaeological remains of the buildings at the foot of the
scarp has demonstrated several phases of rebuild and modification and detailed
analysis of the coin and pottery finds has suggested a period of occupation
lasting from the middle of the second century AD to the fourth century AD. A
hoard of third century AD coins, a bullion hoard of silver plate of mid-fourth
century AD date, and a large number of coins dating from the 2nd-4th centuries
AD were found within the building complex. These finds testify to the former
richness of the monument which has received considerable attention and has
been subject to limited evaluation excavation since its discovery in 1996. The
excavators of the site (Phillips and Walters) have interpreted the area of
terraces and platforms as part of a formal garden enclosing at least one
nymphaeum with the buildings below providing bathing and other facilities for
visitors to a water cult sanctuary based around the springs issuing from the
hillside.
The name Old Conduit Field given to the area on a 19th century tithe map
preserves knowledge of a system of water courses at the time the field was
named.
All fences, gates and gate posts and all lamp posts are excluded from the
scheduling although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Roman water cult sanctuaries are known on the continent particularly from
Roman Gaul (France) but are very much rarer in Britain. The urban temple
and bathing complex dedicated to Sulis Minerva at Bath is the best known
example, while the nearest known parallel in a rural context is the shrine
to Apollo at Nettleton Scrubb on the Fosse Way between Cirencester and Bath.
The Roman rural sanctuary at Groundwell Ridge has a high survival of visible
earthwork remains which are interpreted as representing a formal garden
associated with religious water features such as nymphaea, shrines, altars,
and a sacred pool approached by a processional way. The suite of buildings at
the site has been shown to be well preserved at foundation level with a high
quality and range of buildings encountered. The large number of coins
recovered, together with a silver hoard, from a relatively small excavation
area, strongly suggests that further coins and perhaps votive offerings still
lie within the scheduling, while the waterlogged nature of part of the site
along the spring-line will lead to good preservation of organic material and
artefacts. The monument is located not far from a major Roman road which
linked the towns of Calleva (Silchester) and Corinium (Cirencester) and it may
have stood near the boundary of the Roman civitates of Atrebatum and
Dobunnorum for which these towns were their capitals.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Corney, M, Abbey Mead, Groundwell Ridge, Blunsdon St Andrew, Wiltshire, (1997)
Phillips, B, Walters, B, Blunsdon Ridge, 1997 (BR97), (1997)
Phillips, B, Walters, B, Blunsdon Ridge, 1997 (BR97), (1997)
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Report' in Colchester Archaeological Report 11: Camulodunum 2, (1995), 121-124
Webster, G, 'Transactions of the Bristol and Glos. Archaeological Society' in The Function of the Chedworth 'Villa', , Vol. 101, (1983), 15
Other
Report on the Geophysical Survey, Linford, P, Groundwell Ridge Roman Villa, Blunsdon St Andrew, Swindon, (1996)

Source: Historic England

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