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The 1912-13 Excavations

These excavations were conducted by G.H. Jack. The full report can be found in G.H. Jack, Excavations on the Site of the Romano-British Town of Magna, Kenchester, Herefordshire, during the Years 1912-13, Report of the Research Committee of the Woolhope Club, 1916.

The Road

At this time the lines of the walls of the town were said to be still distinct, and at one point on the north-west corner the crumbling masonry was still visible. The outer walls appeared to be about 7-9ft thick and built of roughly squared blocks of local sandstone.

By this time there was no above-ground indication of the position of the town gates, but it was expected that the gates on the east and west sides would fall in line with the direction of the main road through the town. To uncover the main road two openings were made: one near the east gate and another nearer the middle of the site.

When the road surface was uncovered it was found to be 30ft wide with stone drains running along either side. The structure of the road was described as being of coarse gravel at the base, faced with finer gravel, the whole being 3ft thick. The road foundation material, 2ft 6in thick, being kept in place by slabs of rough masonry.

Down the centre of the road ran an open channel, which effectively split the road into two strips. The channel was found to be 2ft wide and 1ft deep, widening out towards the east wall to 4ft wide and 2ft deep. The channel would have been an obstruction to traffic and the exact purpose of it is unclear as the two side drains would have been more than sufficient for carrying away surface and refuse water. The walls of the side drains were constructed of roughly worked sandstone slabs, up to 5½ft. The bottom was paved with flat stones and the top covered (at least in some places) with slabs. The internal size of the drain was 12 inches square and the bottom was 1ft 9in below the road surface.

The Buildings

Very little walling above floor level existed by this time, and what remained varied from rough rubble work to squared stones laid in courses. Moulded stones were scarce, but five fragments of worked Bath stone were found during excavation. In Credenhill column heads and bases, which probably came from Kenchester, were seen surmounting the gate pillars of a farmhouse.

In one of the trenches there was some evidence of buildings, including two flagstone floors about 8 inches beneath the surface, along with the remains of a furnace. There was no trace of walls around the stone floor, and it is likely that the walls of these buildings were made of wattle and daub with a thatched roof. On the floor iron fragments, nails, lead (which had been molten) and fragments of plaster were found.

In further trenches other remains of buildings were uncovered, including a T-shaped section with an almost intact black jar alongside a stone altar and square pillar with plinth. In the eastern area of the site the trenches revealed the foundations of a series of buildings containing some fine pavements and several hypocausts (under-floor heating systems). It appears that this house bordered the main street, with a row of morticed stones suggesting an open verandah with wooden supports. The arrangement of houses is very similar to that at Wroxeter in Shropshire. The houses at Kenchester were long and narrow with alleys between, probably gravelled. The roofs of at least some of these buildings were covered with either stone or brick tiles. Many stone tiles of various sizes were found, some with nails still remaining in the holes. They were sandstone, diamond shaped and up to 2ft long and 1ft 4in wide and 1in thick. Each tile had two nail holes by which it was fixed to the wooden rafters of the house.

At a point 40yds from the supposed position of the east gate and bordering the north side of the road, a building 71ft x 24ft with rubble walls 2ft thick was traced. Inside this building a series of curbstones marked out the hearth, and burnt soil was found within. The flooring near the hearth was flagstones, whilst to the north it was concrete, which suggests that it was split into two apartments.

Forty feet to the west of this building and parallel to it was found another wall. Between the walls of this building but 60ft from the roadway was discovered a mosaic pavement 20ft long and 12ft 6in wide, made from quite large red, white, blue and brown tesserae (tiles). About three-quarters of the mosaic was intact; the remainder most probably having been damaged at the time the orchard (shown on Stukeley's 1721 plan) was uprooted. The design consists of two octagons with geometrical centres surrounded by a circle of scrollwork. Inside a plain blue outer edge is an ornamental border of scrollwork, similar to designs found at Silchester. Adjoining the pavement on the south side further mosaic remains were found as if in a corridor. All traces of walls adjoining the floor had disappeared. The remains of  a hypocaust system were also found in this area.

At a spot 60ft from the above mosaic pavement and at a level 5ft below it another larger and finer pavement was uncovered. It measured 25ft square. The design is an elaborate geometrical one, with interlacing curved bands and fret border. The pavement was made of red, blue, white and green tesserae of smaller size than the first pavement. This pavement can now be seen on display on the staircase of Hereford Museum, which is in the City Library building in Broad Street. On removing the pavement the following objects were found underneath it: pottery, including decorated Samian ware and coarse ware; a fragment of mortarium (the bowl from a mortar and pestle); iron nails; a snail shell; and a fragment of oyster shell.

On the extreme west of the excavations undertaken by Jack, two buildings with well-built structures were found. The masonry was squared and laid in neat and regular courses, 5in deep. The larger of the two was roughly 35ft square and was divided into two equal parts by a wall. The east wall contained a tile course - the first example of this noted on the site. The smaller building was 14ft by 10ft but contained nothing of particular interest. Near the south-eastern outer angle of this building a female skeleton was discovered, with bone pins, a bone button, a coin of Carausius and some small fragments of bronze. The position of the bones seemed to suggest that the body had been unceremoniously dumped into the hole dug for it. At a short distance away a lower jawbone was found.

During excavations another building was uncovered that Jack says "which I take to be a bath, and a deep, well constructed drain". The "bath" building measures 15ft by 6ft inside and the floor was paved with flagstones on a concrete foundation. The thick walls were plastered, and the angles both horizontal and vertical were thickened out with cement fillets. The position of this building was very close to the spot where an altar nicknamed "The Chair" (HER 21015) by Stukeley in 1721 was found. Jack suggests that the altar may have formed a niche in one of the walls of the bath house. 

From the ruins of one of the hypocaust systems many fragments of pink plaster or fine concrete were recovered, retaining traces of decoration on the face. Fragments of plaster painted indigo, green, red, yellow ochre, pink and blue were also found on the site. Some of the painting was quite elaborate, with one example displaying a leaf and dot design in indigo blue, green and white.  

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2004]