Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

Maumbury Rings & Roman Villa, Dorchester, Dorset

I visited these sites back in 1996 with the A-level Archaeology class that I belonged to, and didn't get around to developing the film at the time. Having since lost the facilities of a darkroom, a photographer friend recently processed it for me and scanned it to my computer.  There were only a few photos from each site, therefore I've put both in the same album, and subsequently on one Site Visit page. I'll split them into two if I make another visit, as I didn't make a lot of my opportunity at the time (I recall being freezing cold because I was without a jacket, and rather unwell due to an exceptionally bad hangover!) and I've also seen changes to the Roman Villa on the appropriate websites.

However, the two places work well together, as although Maumbury Rings began life as a Neolithic site, it was later altered and used by the Romans as an ampitheatre for performance and gladiatorial sports. A Neolithic Henge consisting of a large, circular earthwork with a single bank and inside ditch, with one entrance at the north east end. The ditch was made by a continuous line of deep shafts, in which were found fragments of human and deer skulls.

During Roman occupation, when the nearby Maiden Castle had been captured, the settlement at Dorchester became the Roman town of Durnovaria in AD70; the henge subsequently adapted as an ampitheatre for its citizens. An inner enclosure was added in the south west, thought to be for the performers, and the inside was lowered.

Other uses have been made of it since. In Medaieval times the entertainment consisted of bear-baiting. During the Civil War it was used as an artillary fort to guard the southern approach to Dorchester, modified to contain a large ramp opposite the entrance. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries it was again used for the public, but for a far grislier reason...public executions. Eighty of the Monmouth Rebels were ordered to be executed here by Judge Jeffries in 1685 and other, more prosaic criminals were hung or burned at the stake.

Now a public space, it is used once again for entertainment...but of a much gentler nature than it's previous incarnations, and open-air concerts, festivals and re-enactments can be enjoyed here throughout the year.

Next stop was the Villa via a look at several other interesting artefacts around the town. If I remember correctly, the photo below shows the remains of a Roman wall with an infill of rubble seen from the inner, unimportant side. I may be wrong about this, and will correct it if I find out differently. However, they did build their permanent forts in that way, the outer side with pointed brickwork, the other left rough with no facing.

The Villa or, to be more accurate Town House, is in Colliton Park and excavations during the 20th century revealed several mosaic floors, a bathroom and a covered verandah. I recall seeing the underfloor remains of a hypocaust, but I don't seem to have any photos of it. Some of the mosaics are now in the Dorchester Museum, but there was one covered by a lean-to construction, to keep it safe from the elements, and could be viewed through glass. The cover can be seen in the photo below but sadly no close-ups of it or it's contents.

A couple more pics can be seen in the Photo Gallery album. Further will be added if and when I can make a return visit.

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