Skip to main content area


Cookie settings
Left Navigation
Main Content Area

Historical Descriptions

John Leland's description of Herefordshire in the 1550s

"Kenchester standeth a iii myles or more above Hereford... This towne is far more auncyent then Hereford, and was celebrated yn the Romaynes tyme, as apereth by many thinges, and especyally by antique mony of the Caesare, very often fownd withyn the towne, and yn plowghyng abowt; the which the people ther cawlleth Duarfes Mony. The cumpace of Kenchestre hath bene by estimation as much as Herford, excepting the castel... Peaces of the walles and turrests yet appere, prope fundamenta, and more should have appered if the people of Herford towne and other therabowt had not yn tymes paste pulled downe muche and pyked owt of the best for their buildinges. Of late one Mr. Brainton... dyd fetch much tayled stone there toward his buildings... The place wher the town was ys al overgrown with brambles, hasylles, and lyke shrubbes. Neverthelesse here and there yet appere ruines of buyldinges, of the which the folisch people cawlle on the King of Feyres Chayre. Ther hath been fownd a nostra memoria lateres Britanici; ex et eisdem canales, aquaeductus, tessellata pavimenta, fragmentum catenulae aureae, calcar ex [auro] by side other strawng thinges. To be short, of the decaye of Kenchestre Herford rose and florishyd."

Here is a modern English version:

"Kenchester stands three miles or more above Hereford... This town is far more ancient than Hereford and was celebrated in the Romans' time, as appears by many things, and especially by antique money of the Caesars, very often found within the town, and in ploughing about; which the people called Dwarves Money. The extent of Kenchester has been by estimation as much as Hereford, except the castle... Pieces of the walls and turret still appear, prope fundamenta, and more should have appeared if the people of Hereford town and others thereabout had not in times past pulled down much and pyked out (stolen) the best for their buildings. Of late one Mr. Brainton... did fetch much tooled stone there for his buildings... The place where the town was is all overgrown with brambles, hazels and like shrubs. Nevertheless here and there still appear ruins of buildings, of which the foolish people call on the King of Fairies' Chair. There has been found (a) widespread memorials of Britain; out of these drains, aqueducts, tessellated pavements, fragments of a gold chain (and) a spur of gold, beside other strange things. To be short, from the decay of Kenchester, Hereford rose and flourished."

William Camden, 1610

"The town is an irregular hexagon, higher than the surrounding lands, but without fosse or ditch. Nothing remains of its splendour except near the east end, a piece of what was probably a temple, with a niche which was five feet high and three broad within, built of rough stone, Roman brick and indissoluble mortar and called the chair."

John Aubrey, 1670

"Old Roman buildings of brick were discovered, on which oaks grew. Bricks of two sorts, some equilateral, eight inches square and one inch thick, some two feet square and three inches thick. About the same time a vault was opened with a tessellated pavement, and Sir John Hoskyns found a hypocaust about seven feet square, with leaden pipes entire, and some pipes of brick, a foot long and three inches square, let artificially into each other."

Roger Gale, 1719, visiting what he called "Ariconium"

Gale described the site as "oval, of 50 or 60 acres with four gates or openings, two on the West, two on the North side". He mentions traces of walls and a niche described by Camden, "also a vault from which urns were taken with bones and tesserae", and he obtained coins of Caracalla and Severus Alexander from Colonel Dantsey (of Brinsop Court). The coins were mostly found on the north side, which had two gates opening that way; two roads were visible here. Gale also mentions burnt wheat, as showing the destruction of the town by fire, and describes a room at Hampton Court as being "paved with red Roman tiles six inches square brought from here".

William Stukeley, 1722

"The city of Hereford probably sprung up from the ruins of the Roman Ariconium, now Kenchester [we now know the site was Roman Magna, not Ariconium which is near Ross-on-Wye], three miles off, higher up the Wye but not very near it; which may be a reason for its decay. Ariconium [Magna] stands on a little brook called the Ine, which thence encompassing the walls of Hereford, falls into the Wye, nothing remaining of its splendour, but a piece of temple, probably within a niche, which is five foot high and three broad within... There are many large foundations near it. A very fine mosaic floor a few years ago was found intire, soon torn to pieces by the ignorant and vulgar. I took up some remaining stones of different colours, and several bits of fine potters ware of red earth... In another place is a hollow where burnt wheat has been taken up: some time since Colonel Dantsey sent a little box full of it to the Antiquarian Society. All around the city you may easily trace the walls, some stones being left everywhere, though overgrown by hedges and timber trees. The ground of the city is higher that the level of the circumjacent country. There appears no sign of fosse or ditch around it. The site of the place is a gentle eminence of a squarish form; the earth black and rich, overgrown with brambles, oak-trees, full of stones, foundations and cavities, where they have been digging. Many coins and the like have been found. Mr. J. Hill, JC, has many coins found here, some of which he gave to the society [the Antiquarian Society?]."

Stukeley also says: "Colonel Dantsey has paved a cellar with square bricks dug up here; my Lord Coningsby has judiciously adorned the floor of his evidence room with them".

Mr. Hardwick, writing to the Archaeological Journal, Vol. XIV

"About 1810-20, the site, which was a complete wilderness of decaying walls and debris was cleared. The principal street runs in a direct line east and west and was 12-15ft in width, with a gutter along the centre to carry off refuse water, as is traceable by the difference in the growth of crops. The streets appear to have been gravelled. No doubt many of the houses were of timber, for along the lines of the streets at regular distances the plinths in which the timbers were inserted have been taken out, the wholes being cut 4 inches square. The plinths measured 2ft in each direction and lay 2ft below the present surface."

Mr. J.J. Reynolds

"The only trace of exposed Roman walls that my 50 years knowledge can recall was removed by my uncle, Mr. John Hardwick, about the year 1861, when the fences were thrown down. It then formed a raised fence with scrub growing about it. It occupied a small portion of the north side, and carried the Kenchester footpath. When the site was first cultivated, and afterwards for some years, numbers of Roman remains were turned up by the plough. Many coins, nearly all small brass. No gold coins and very few silver. Many coins of the Manapian pirate, the British usurper Carausius (AD 287-293), Allectus (AD 293-6), Constantine (AD 306-337). Many small bronzes - figures of animals, finger rings, brooches, bronze knife handle, keys, pins, beads, querns, pottery and glass."

Mr. T. Wright, in Wanderings of an Antiquary (1853)

"Till recently the area of the Roman Town at Kenchester could be distinctly traced by the remains of its walls. They formed a very irregular hexagon, including between 20 and 30 acres. At present very little of the wall remains, and that is found chiefly on the north-west side of the area. It is faced with small stones arranged in what is technically called herringbone work and cemented together with mortar which is inferior to that usually found in the town walls of the Romans. In this respect it resembles Silchester and some other Roman remains in the country. The ancient defences of the town are very strongly marked in the garden of a cottager at the side of the high road at the western extremity of the site.

"By the kind permission of Mr. Hardwick some gentlemen of Hereford assembled by Dean Merewether proceeded some 5 or 6 years ago to excavate the site of the ancient city of Kenchester, but they seem to have gone to work without any system and to have no particular reason for digging a hole in one place rather than another. They came, however, upon a coarse tessellated pavement, and it was determined to carry it off entire and deposit it in the museum of the Philosophical Institution at Hereford. But the Herefordshire peasantry have their own particular notions about such monuments, and confident that an immense treasure lay concealed beneath it, they determined to be beforehand with the the learned antiquaries in carrying off the prize. Accordingly during the night when it was left unprotected, a party of them came with pickaxes and other implements and broke it all to pieces. A few fragments only reached the museum. The other articles found during the diggings are said to have gone into the private collection of the Dean, with which they were eventually dispersed. The money collected for the purpose was soon expended, and the diggers somewhat unhandsomely left to Mr Hardwick the task of filing up the holes they had made."

The above descriptions were taken from G.H. Jack, Excavations on the site of the Romano-British town of Magna, Kenchester, 1912-3, Report of the Research Committee of the Woolhope Club, 1916.