An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Huntingdonshire. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1926.
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17. CHESTERTON (B.b.).
(O.S. 6 in. (a)II S.W., (b)V N.W.)
Chesterton is a small parish on the S. bank of the Nene, 4 m. W. of Peterborough. The Roman station and the church are the principal monuments.
a(1). The Castles, an earthwork, in the N. angle of the parish, roughly hexagonal in plan and rather more than 45 acres in area, encloses and is surrounded by Romano-British structures, and may therefore be of Roman date. The work occupies very slightly rising ground in a loop of the River Nene, which bounds the site on the E. and, less closely, on the N. For much of its length on these sides the main defence, so far as visible, consists of an artificial escarpment, rising towards the S. and E. to a low bank some 70 ft. broad. Outside this are intermittent indications of a ditch or ditches, from 50 ft. to 100 ft. wide, best marked on the N., where the maximum depth below the top of the escarpment is 10 ft. Stukeley records the discovery of a S.E. gateway of stone by drainers in 1739 and states that the defences included a stone wall, but no trace of masonry can now be seen. At a distance of about 80 ft. from, and parallel to, the main eastern defences are remains of a small bank which may be contemporary with the work; if so, its purpose was presumably to hold back the flood-waters of the Nene rather than to provide an outer line of defence. (See Plans, Plate 1 and p. 35.)
Across the interior of the enclosure from S.E. to N.W. runs a broad low ridge which represents the Roman road (the Ermine Street) to Ancaster and Lincoln. This road can be seen approaching the site from the S.E., and is visible for a few yards immediately outside the N. escarpment. The ditch of the earthwork is here cut abruptly through the road in such a way as to suggest (without proving) the priority of the latter. At this point a milestone of Florianus (A.D. 276) was dug out of the ditch in 1785; it records the distance of "one mile" from a place which is not named but can only have been the Roman settlement at Castor, N. of the Nene, in Northamptonshire. Another milestone (Plate 2), of Victorinus (A.D. 265–7), was found here at the spot marked on the plan, and is now in the garden of Orton Longueville Hall. (Haverfield R. Britain in 1913. Br. Acad. Suppl. Papers ii, 1914, p. 32–3. Vict. Co. Hist. Hunts, i).
Approximately in the middle of the N.E. side of the earthwork, at the point where the defences change direction, is a gap which may represent a former gateway, and a less certain interruption at the corresponding point on the S.W. side may be the site of a fourth entrance. Near by, within the earthwork, are doubtful indications of a mound of unknown date and now of indeterminate extent (see Monument 3).
Within the defences the ill-recorded excavations of Artis in 1820–7 seem to have revealed the foundations of twenty-two Roman structures, but little is now known of their character or alignment. The buildings included hypocausts walled with herring-bone masonry and were, in at least one case, lined with slabs of local Alwalton marble and with white tesserae. From a wall "on the north side of the fortified ground" Artis records a stone inscribed Marto, and close by was found a fragmentary bas-relief of Hercules.
Outside the earthwork, other buildings, together with kilns and burials, have been found at various times. Near the N.W. gate Stukeley records the discovery of urn-burials, and Artis of stone coffins. A stone coffin still lies in a field ¼ m. S.W. of the site, and another in the parish churchyard. On the S.W. and S. sides, in making the turnpike road in 1739 and in digging for a foundation in 1754 near 'Kate's Cabin' workmen unearthed coffins of stone and lead, urns, glass "lackrymatories," "innumerable corpses," coins of all periods of the Roman occupation but "chiefly about the time of Constantine the Great and after," and fragments apparently of bone inscribed partly in Latin (VTERE FELIX) and partly, it seems, in Greek. Within 400 yards of the N. defences Artis noted the discovery of six or more structures which he (rightly or wrongly) identified as potters' kilns, and near by he indicated eight Roman buildings. These link up the fortified area with the main Roman settlement across the river at Castor.
The pottery from the site and its immediate neighbourhood extends in date from the end of the 1st to the end of the 4th centuries, and so coincides with the evidence of the coins. The latter are especially numerous from the middle of the 3rd century to Theodosius. The remains from both sides of the river indicate a prosperous town with extensive potteries and some iron-workings, but, in the absence of scientific excavation, offer little information of chronological value. Of the date of the earthwork all that can be said is that the disposition of the numerous inhumation-burials round its outskirts is consistent with its existence in the 4th century. Since Camden's day the site of Castor has been identified, perhaps correctly, with the Durobrivae of the Antonine Itinerary. It is likely enough that, in the Vth. Iter, Ancaster, as the first suitable Roman site S. of Lincoln, may be Causennae and that Castor, as the next station southwards, may therefore be Durobrivae; but this identification involves alterations in the mileages of the Itinerary, and cannot be regarded as proven.
[See Stukeley's Letters (Surtees Society's Publications 80), III, 59, etc.; E. T. Artis, The Durobrivae of Antoninus, 1828; K. Gibson, A comment upon part of the fifth journey of Antoninus through Britain (London 1819); Archdeacon Trollope, Archaeological Journal XXX (1873), 127–40; F. Haverfield, Victoria County History, Northants, I, 166 ff.]
b(2). Parish Church of St. Michael stands 200 yards N.W. of the Peterborough - Oundle road. The walls are of local stone with Barnack-stone dressings and the roofs are covered with lead. The Nave is probably of 12th-century date. The South Aisle was added early in the 13th century and the West Tower begun about the same time though the building of it probably continued until the middle of the century. About 1300 the chancel-arch and North Aisle were built and about thirty years later the clearstorey was added to the nave and a stone spire to the W. tower. In the 18th or early in the 19th century the Chancel was re-built, a South Porch added, new windows inserted in the walls of the aisles, the aisles-parapets re-built and the building was generally restored. A further restoration took place in 1841.
Architectural Description—The Chancel (22 ft. by 17½ ft.) has been entirely re-built but the lower parts of the E. and N. walls are mediæval and the old foundations also show below the S. wall. The chancel-arch, of c. 1300, is two-centred and of two chamfered orders, with a moulded label and mask-stops on the W. face. The arch has been filled in and is completely visible on the W. side only; on the E. side the flat ceiling to the chancel cuts across the arch just above the springers. An 18th-century screen extends across the full width of the chancel and completely covers the responds.
The Nave (48½ ft. by 19 ft.) has a N. arcade of c. 1300 of four bays with two-centred arches of two chamfered orders with a moulded label towards the nave with two head-stops; the piers are octagonal with moulded capitals and bases; the capital to the third pier has been partly broken off. The outer order is continued down the responds and the inner rests on moulded corbels. The S. arcade (Plate 6) is of early 13th-century date and of four bays with two-centred arches of two chamfered orders with stops above the first pier and E. respond; the label towards the nave has two foliated stops. The responds are half round, with moulded capitals, moulded semi-octagonal abaci and moulded bases; the E. capital is carved with 'stiff-leaf' foliage. The first pier is octagonal and has a capital carved with 'water-leaf' foliage, the second pier is round and has a capital carved with 'stiff-leaf' foliage and the third pier is octagonal with a moulded capital; all have moulded bases. Externally against the E. wall of the nave the line of the former roof to the chancel is visible.
The clearstorey was added c. 1330 and has in both the N. and S. walls a range of three windows, each of three trefoiled lights under a square head with a moulded label and mask-stops and at the E. end of the S. wall is a single ogee-headed trefoiled light which originally lighted the rood-loft. The walls are finished with an embattled parapet with a moulded string-course below, and 'ball-flower' ornament on the S. side.
The North Aisle (8½ ft. wide) has in the E. wall parts of the jambs of a blocked window. In the N. wall are three 18th-century windows; at the E. end of the wall is the E. part of an earlier blocked window and between the first and second windows the splays and inner head of another blocked window: further W. is a blocked doorway now partly destroyed by the second window; parts of the old string-course at the level of the sills of the original windows remain. In the S. wall, to the E. of the E. respond of the nave-arcade, is the W. jamb of the blocked upper doorway to the rood-loft. In the E. and W. walls are the angle-quoins of the N. angles of the original nave.
The South Aisle (6½ ft. wide) has in the S. wall two 18th-century windows; the first window is set in the blocking of an earlier window; the S. doorway is of early 13th-century date and has a two-centred head of three moulded orders with a moulded label; the inner order of the jambs is the same as that of the arch and the two outer orders of the arch are carried on detached shafts with much damaged capitals all carved with 'stiff-leaf' foliage except one to the E. jamb which is carved with a human head; the mouldings of the capital are continued round the inner order on the E., with foliage carving, but on the W. the necks moulding is absent; the inner shaft to both jambs has a moulded base but the outer shafts have the lower stones covered by the seats to the porch; on the inside, the wall over the doorway bulges considerably and is carried on a rough straight-sided arch, hollow-chamfered on the edge. On the E. side of the doorway the lower part of the E. wall of an earlier porch has been incorporated in the E. wall of the existing porch. In the W. wall the angle-quoins of the original nave remain.
The West Tower (10½ ft. square) is of two stages (Plate 37) of early to mid 13th-century date; it is surmounted by a 14th-century broach-spire of stone rising off a corbel-table with carved head-corbels; the tower stands on a plinth and has a stair-turret at the S.W. angle. The tower-arch is two-centred and of three chamfered orders, the outermost continuous and the two inner orders carried on half-round responds with moulded capitals and bases; on either side of the arch, projecting into the nave at the level of the sills to the clearstorey - windows is carved corbelling ornamented with mask-stops, carrying the eastern buttresses of the tower. In the S. wall is a tall lancet-window with wide splays and an external rebate; the sill is set high up in the wall and built into it are the bottom stones of a window with more acute splays; there is a break at the springing of the inner heads; below the window is a blocked 18th-century doorway. In the W. wall is a similar lancet-window. The top stage has in each wall a window of two pointed lights with a pierced spandrel in a two-centred head with a chamfered label; the head is of a single chamfered order and the jambs have detached shafts with moulded capitals and bases; between the lights is a similar shaft; the head of the light in the N. wall is modern. The spire has on each of its cardinal faces two stone gabled dormers, each with a window of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil in a two-centred head.
The Roof of the nave is perhaps of the 17th century and is of five bays with cambered tie-beams and shaped cantilever-beams; above is a flat plastered ceiling. The roof of the N. aisle has five curved and stop-chamfered tie-beams with wall-posts rising from them against the wall of the nave.
Fittings—Bells: three, 1st probably by Thomas Norris, 1621; 2nd probably by John Walgrave, first half of the 15th century, inscribed "Sancta Margareta ora pro nobis"; 3rd probably by John Mitchell, late 15th-century, inscribed "O Trinitas Sancta istam campanam conserva." Bell-frame, old. Chest: In N. aisle—of deal with cambered oak lid and wrought-iron angle-straps, probably 17th- or early 18th-century. Coffin: In churchyard —W. side, rectangular stone coffin and lid, probably Roman. Cross: In churchyard—S. of church, base only with moulded stops and splays of former octagonal shaft, and much worn circular sub-base, probably 15th-century. Monuments: In N. aisle—at E. end (1) of [Sir Robert Bevill and his son Sir Robert] large monument (Plate 38) of white freestone with figures of two men wearing ruffs and armour kneeling on either side of prayer-desk dated 1611; each man with his wife behind him, wearing turn-over head-dress, ruffs, stomacher, and farthingale; figures set in recess with twin round-headed arches above, carried in middle on carved console-bracket, and at sides on panelled responds and flanked by detached and fluted Composite columns standing on panelled pedestals and supporting the continuous entablature; above figures and under each arch is a plain tablet surrounded by scrolled ornament; base below principal figures carved on N. side with kneeling figures of two sons and seven daughters (fifth and sixth coupled together) and on S. side with similar figures of three sons and five daughters all in costume of the period, achievement and two shields-of-arms. In S. aisle at E. end (2) to John Driden, 1707–8, large white marble monument with inscription-panel flanked by fluted pilasters with carved acanthus-leaf caps with scrolls and fruit swags at sides and surmounted by entablature of the Doric order and curved pediment with fruit swags at sides and enclosing achievement-of-arms; flanking and surmounting pediment, vases, and, at bottom of monument, panelled base carved with drapery and at sides, panels carved with emblems of death; iron railing round monument, of same date. In N. aisle—in recess in N. wall (3) to William Beivele, 1483–4, low altar-tomb with original marginal inscription in 'black-letter' on slab. Piscinae: In S. aisle—with chamfered jambs, two-centred head and square drain, 13th-century. Plate: includes a cup of 1569 and a cover-paten of the same date inscribed "1569" in modern figures and with "Chesterton" engraved on bottom. Recess: In N. aisle—in N. wall, with shouldered triangular head, chamfered and with moulded label with carved head-stop above apex on moulded string-course to wall, over Monument (3).
a(3) Mound. Within 'The Castles' earthwork are faint traces of a mound, (see plan Plate 1), which has been found to contain human skeletons apparently representing at least twenty bodies thrown in haphazard at the same time. Three of the skeletons, including that of a child, had each a plain bronze bracelet upon the wrist. In the earth of the mound were a few sherds of late Roman pottery, and the burial is therefore of late Roman or post-Roman date. It suggests the clearance either during a "plague" or after a massacre; if the latter, the absence of orientation probably indicates the pagan Saxon period. [Information from G. Wyman Abbott, Esq., F.S.A.]
b(4). Mound, ½ m. S. of the church, is roughly circular, about 60 ft. in diameter and 9½ ft. high. It is surrounded by a shallow-ditch and has an inclined causeway on the N. side, running up to within 2 ft. of the top. (Plan p. 55.)