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Guest Author Essay: Ariconium and Romano-British rural industry

Author: Dr. Keith Ray, County Archaeologist for Herefordshire (2004)

The Weston under Penyard/Bromsash complex

The concentration of iron-working activity in the Weston under Penyard/Bromsash area has long attracted comment. This activity has now been shown to extend back into later Iron Age times. However, it was during the Roman period that the scale of this activity increased, with the systematic exploitation of the Dean ore-bearing areas. The resulting complex of settlement and industrial activity has been characterised in interim reporting of the Ariconium study (Jackson, 2000).

It is clear that there was a focus of settlement activity on a ridge near Bromsash, some 6km east of Ross-on-Wye, and that this included several substantial buildings. However, it is also evident that the layout of roads and tracks linking the different settlement complexes in the vicinity was quite haphazard. In this way, the area involved appears to have possessed more the nature of a so-called "territorial oppidum" of the later pre-Roman Iron Age in southern Britain, with dispersed centres of activity within a loosely-defined precinct, than a narrowly-drawn and densely-set Roman town.

The industrial reason for this was well characterised by Stanford (1991, p. 101): "This open settlement, close to iron ore in the Forest of Dean, was devoted to industry requiring ample space for work and waste disposal". Besides building foundations and remains that included evidence for plastered walls and mortared floors, Bridgewater uncovered several areas with furnace remains and working hollows (Bridgewater, 1965). Meanwhile, considerable quantities of slag were found in two otherwise "domestic" enclosures 1km to the north of the main complex at The Great Woulding (Walters, 1999).

Robin Jackson has argued that the core area at Bromsash does constitute a "small town". He notes that "At the peak of the settlement in the 2nd and 3rd centuries several town houses occupied the western side of the hilltop where several roads converged". On slopes to the south and west, several small enclosures can be seen to extend alongside the roads, within and around which "a wide area was probably occupied by timber houses and other buildings with associated yards and pits" (Jackson, 2000, 13.2, p. 159).

At least four principal ironworking areas have been isolated in the Bromsash/Weston area (Jackson, ibid). The largest of these, excavated by Bridgewater, contained six furnaces together with slag pits and working hollows, and traces of timber buildings. One of these was identified as a charcoal store. Indications of iron smithing were also present. The site was in active use for a period of around a century from c. AD 135 before it appears to have been deliberately sealed, and was then covered by a domestic rubbish deposit.

Other ironworking and industrial locations

Further evidence of ironworking has come from sites that have otherwise been regarded as villas or farmsteads. An example is the claimed villa at Whitchurch, which produced considerable quantities of slag (Walters, 1908, p. 197). More dramatic still is the site at Cinders Grove, Peterstow, from which it is recorded that many tons of slag and ironworking waste were removed. Nearby, on Peterstow Common, Roman coins and pottery were found within a slag deposit over 4m deep (ibid, p. 193).

In contrast to ironworking, the evidence for pottery production within the confines of the historic county is thin. No certain kiln sites have been found, despite claims for them, for instance at Marley Hall, Ledbury. Here, Alfred Watkins had been shown pottery fragments that he believed must be wasters. However, Jack was of the opinion that instead, the pottery simply represented the site of another farmstead (Anon., Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, 1931, lxxiii). Other pottery production centres have been suggested at Cradley (near the known West Malvern kiln sites in Worcestershire), and at Grendon Green near Bromyard, but they have yet to be confirmed. The Severn Valley pottery industry is becoming better known, and the Malvernian kilns must have supplied a wide area, but it would be surprising if there were no kilns in Herefordshire.

© Dr. Keith Ray, 2004


Anon., "Winter Annual Meeting. Thursday, December 10th, 1931", Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, 1931, pp. lxix-lxxiv.

Bridgewater, N.P. (1965), "Romano-British ironworking near Ariconium", Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, 38, pp. 179-191.

Jackson, R. (2000), The Roman Settlement at Ariconium, near Weston-under-Penyard, Herefordshire: An Assessment and Synthesis of the Evidence. Archaeological Service, Worcestershire County Council, Report 833.

Stanford, S.C. (1991), The Archaeology of the Welsh Marches. (Second, revised, edition). Ludlow, privately published.

Walters, B. (1999), The Forest of Dean Iron Industry: 1st to 4th Centuries AD. Dean Archaeology Group Occ. Publ. 4.

Walters, H.B. (1908), "Romano-British Herefordshire", in William Page (ed.), The Victoria History of the County of Herefordshire, Volume I, 1908, pp. 167-199.