An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 4, Archaeological Sites in South-West Northamptonshire. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1982.

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'Towcester', An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 4, Archaeological Sites in South-West Northamptonshire, (London, 1982), pp. 149-160. British History Online [accessed 25 June 2024].

. "Towcester", in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 4, Archaeological Sites in South-West Northamptonshire, (London, 1982) 149-160. British History Online, accessed June 25, 2024,

. "Towcester", An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 4, Archaeological Sites in South-West Northamptonshire, (London, 1982). 149-160. British History Online. Web. 25 June 2024,

In this section


(OS 1:10000 a SP 64 NE, b SP 65 SE, c SP 74 NW)

The large parish, covering some 1500 hectares, lies on land between 135 m. and 85 m. above OD, sloping to the R. Tove which crosses its centre from W. to E. Most of the higher areas are covered by Boulder Clay but the down-cutting of the river, the Silverstone Brook and other small tributary streams has exposed large stretches of Upper Lias Clay in the valley bottoms and Oolite Limestone and Northampton Sand on the valley sides.

The major monument is the Roman town of Lactodurum (3), the site of which is occupied by modern Towcester. Though its Roman origins have long been recognized, only in recent years have excavations been carried out there and relatively little is known of its development. The extensive extramural occupation is better understood. A large number of Roman rural sites have been located in the parish, including two villas and a possible temple (5 and 7).

The shape of the present parish, that of an inverted Y, is the result of the inclusion of at least three separate medieval estates in addition to that of Towcester itself (Fig. 16). In the N. is the land and settlement of Caldecote (10); in the S.E. is the land and settlement of Wood Burcote (9), while the S.W. of the parish was once a medieval deer park, though it may have had earlier origins as a separate estate.

Little is recorded of medieval and later Towcester. The town was refortified by Edward the Elder in 917–8 and again in 1643 by Prince Rupert. Traces of both these works have been identified in excavations of the defences. The presumed 12th-century motte, Bury Mount (8) was also refortified in the 17th century but its present form is the result of later landscaping.

Prehistoric and Roman

A Palaeolithic hand-axe is said to have been found 'near Towcester' (PPS, 29 (1963), 383) and a Neolithic axe is also recorded from the parish (J. Evans, Ancient Stone Implements of Great Britain (2nd ed.) (1897), 104; VCH Northants., I (1902), 139). A stone axe of Group VI, Great Langdale type, has been found at Roman site ((5); NM Records) and another polished axe was found in 1978 (SP 68534754: NM; Northants. Archaeol., 14 (1979), 104). A barbed-and-tanged flint arrowhead 'from Towcester' is in the Ashmolean Museum.

Several coins have been recorded in addition to those listed under specific monuments below. These include an Iron Age bronze coin of the North Thames Group, Mack 273 (NM; S.S. Frere (ed.) Problems of the Iron Age in Southern Britian (1958), 190), a silver coin of Menander of Bactria (J. G. Milne, Finds of Greek Coins in the British Isles (1948), 40) and a coin of Carausius (Northants. N. and Q., I (1884), 99). A coin of Marcus Aurelius came from the vicinity of Rignall Farm (SP 678478); OS Record Cards). Coins of Septimius Severus, Salonina, Carausius and Magnentius are recorded from SP 698468 and two 3rd or 4th-century coins were found at an unknown date at SP 678491 (NM Records). Roman pottery found in the parish includes the following: part of a 2nd-century flagon (SP 68254825), a small number of 1st and 2nd-century sherds (SP 68554800), a thin scatter of Roman sherds together with a Bronze Age scraper and two struck flakes (SP 687479: Northants. Archaeol., 13 (1978), 184–5), an unknown quantity of 1st to 3rd-century Roman pottery (SP 68584713), and Roman pottery, including a complete pot found in the 1940s (at SP 69034986; inf. T. Shirley).

a(1) Flint-Working Site (SP 685469), beneath the Roman villa (7). Worked flints of Neolithic type including scrapers, points and cores were found during excavation of the villa; some of the small pits discovered probably date from this early period. A single flint arrowhead of Bronze Age type was also discovered (Northants. Archaeol., 12 (1977), 219).

a(2) Iron Age Settlement (SP 689481; Fig. 114), lay close to the Silverstone Brook and a little to the W. of the main Roman extra-mural settlement alongside the Alchester road, on Upper Lias Clay at 90 m. above OD. Observations during building development in the area in 1977 led to the discovery of ditches and gullies of a 3rd-century BC farmstead (Northants. Archaeol., 13 (1978), 184).

a(3) Roman Town of Lactodurum (SP 693487; Figs. 113 and 114), now occupied by modern Towcester, lies on the Roman Watling Street, within a broad N.E. projecting bend of the R. Tove, on a low clay spur between the river and the Silverstone Brook at about 90 m. above OD.

The following account has been prepared by Mr. A.E. Brown and is based on work at Towcester by him and by Dr. J. A. Alexander, Mrs. C. Woodfield, Mr. G. Lambrick, Mr. D. Mynard and others.

The site has long been known to be of Roman origin. Camden commented on the discovery of Roman coins; he considered the Roman name of the place to have been Tripontium (Britannia (1610), 430). Both Stukeley (Itinerarium Curiosum (1766), II, 40) and Bridges (Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 272) reported coins and remarked on the traces of the defences of the western side. Horsley (Britannia Romana (1732), 422) was the first to identify Towcester with the Lactodoro of Antonine Itinerary 470.6 and 476.11 and this is now universally accepted (Britannia, 1 (1970), 42, 49), together with the suggestion, first put forward by Richmond and Crawford (Archaeologia, 93 (1949), 35), that the Iaciodulma of Ravenna Cosmography 106.49 is a garbled version of it. It has also been shown that the correct form of the name should be Lactodurum, the -o- reflecting merely the Vulgar Latin of a Continental scribe: the first element appears to be British *Lacto-, meaning 'milk' (though the precise significance of this is obscure), the second is the very common British and Gaulish *-duro, which should imply some form of fortification (K. H. Jackson, Language and History in Early Britain (1953), 259– 60; Britannia, 1 (1970), 75; A. L. F. Rivet and C. Smith, The Place-Names of Roman Britain (1979), 382–3).

G. Baker produced a plan of the town's defences and a list of coins spanning the whole of the Roman period (Hist. of Northants., II (1836–41), 318, 320) and discoveries up to the beginning of this century were summarized by Haverfield in VCH Northants., I (1902), 184–6, but no systematic excavations were undertaken until 1954, when the creation of a playing field for the Sponne School led to a section being cut through the western defences by the then Ministry of Public Building and Works. The construction of large housing estates S.W. of the town prompted further excavations by the Ministry and by the Department of the Environment in 1967 and from 1974 to 1976. Excavations within the defended area were carried out in 1976 on behalf of the D.O.E. on a small area due for redevelopment in Park Street and a systematic watching brief was maintained in 1976–77 on trenches excavated within and outside the town during a major drainage scheme. The numerous casual finds reported over the years helped to augment the information derived from the excavations, most notably in the matter of the extent of occupation during the Roman period.

Historical Summary

There is no evidence of pre-Roman occupation, and certainly none of pre-Roman fortification, such as might explain the -durum element in the name, nor is there any hill fort in the locality from which the name might have been transferred. It has, however, been suggested (BAR, 15 (1975), 5) that there may have been an early Roman fort here, and the situation, well protected by streams, would be suitable, but no firm evidence for such a fort has yet been found. A thin scatter of early coins and pottery has been noted in the area of the town generally, but the only structures of the appropriate date consisted of slight traces of timber buildings found on the Park Street site, which also yielded an ornamental mount from the scabbard of a gladius. This remains the only definite piece of military equipment from Towcester so far known; a leaf-shaped bronze pendant (BM) is of a type which could be military but is not necessarily so.

Casual finds and excavation show that occupation intensified towards the end of the 1st century. Towcester's local importance is indicated by the fact that a large building with stone foundations, apparently public, was put up in the town at this time. Evidence of occupation in the 2nd century is abundant but the quality of construction varied. The public building was replaced by two new ones in stone, but in the N.W. of the town structures remained of timber and relatively insubstantial throughout the 2nd century. The defences were not constructed before the end of the 2nd century, obliterating some structures on the western side. There is evidence for a large timber house of the latter part of the 3rd century in the N.W. part of the town; in the 4th century this was replaced by a stone one which was finally destroyed at the end of that century or early in the 5th. Elsewhere within the town undisturbed levels belonging to the 4th century have not been discovered because of medieval and later activity, but coins and pottery have been found in residual contexts.

That there were buildings of considerable quality in Towcester or its environs is indicated by the number of architectural fragments and masonry recovered at various times from the area of the town (Northants. Archaeol., 13 (1978), 77, 81, 82, 85).

Settlement outside the area which came to be defended was extensive. To the S.E. of the town, casual finds of coins and pottery of all periods indicate occupation at various points along the general line of Watling Street for a distance of 500 m. S.W. of the defended area. Intensive occupation represented by slight, mainly industrial, structures has been shown to have extended some 700 m. along both sides of the road to Alchester; they had developed certainly by the Antonine period, with a marked peak in the early 4th century. On the W. of the town, Roman material has been found along both sides of the present Brackley road for a distance of 800 m. To the N. little has been recorded from the low-lying and marshy zone extending from the presumed north gate to the R. Tove, but beyond it, much material has been found in the general area of the former railway station as well as further N.W. No evidence of extra-mural settlement exists to the N.E. but here the permanent grassland of Easton Neston Park has prevented any discoveries being made.

Apart from the fine silver sword-mount picked up as a casual find S.W. of the town (SP 68974796: Northants. Archaeol., 14 (1979), 107), no material of the early Anglo-Saxon period has been recorded from Towcester. In 917 the town was occupied and fortified, almost certainly in timber, by Edward the Elder, as part of his programme of Burh construction; an attack by the Danes of Northampton and Leicester was successfully beaten off. In that year Edward provided Towcester with a stone wall (D. Whitelock (ed.), Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1961), 64–6).

Domesday Book indicates that Towcester was a rural manor and the entry suggests that in the later 11th century it was the centre of local administration; it continued to give its name to the Hundred of Towcester for centuries. This administrative function in all probability explains the presence of the motte known as Bury Mount (8). Its situation on a much frequented length of Watling Street gave the settlement a certain commercial importance, and a market and fair are recorded in the 14th century. The military significance of the town was briefly revived in November 1643, when it was garrisoned and fortified by Prince Rupert to act as a base of operations against the Parliamentarians of Northampton; it was evacuated and the work slighted in January 1644. Its continued local importance has however meant that the area of the Roman town has been completely built over, and most of the known suburbs have been destroyed by the recent housing developments.

Roman Roads (see also Appendix, p. 178)

Towcester stands at the junction of Watling Street and of the road to Alchester. On general grounds a road N.E. to Duston or Irchester could have been expected, but no traces of one have been recognized.

The general course of Watling Street is followed by the modern A5. On crossing the Silverstone Brook (SP 69444850) it alters its alignment towards the N.E. twelve degrees; it then runs for over 900 m. over the low ground on which Towcester is situated to cross the R. Tove (SP 68904923) where the alignment moves through fifteen degrees again towards the N.E. Within the town (SP 693487) at least three superimposed road surfaces were seen in 1950, although details of the construction are lacking (Oxoniensia, 15 (1950), 108). At the presumed northern gate-way (SP 69104895) a spread of orange gravel 30 cm. thick seen in 1977/8 probably represented the road. The edge of what was probably Watling Street was recorded near the southern gate (SP 69414855) in 1976; it consisted of a layer of heavy stone set in clay 28 cm. thick overlying compacted orange gravel. A series of superimposed road surfaces a little to the S.E. (SP 69434852) contained medieval pottery and were post-Roman (inf. Mrs. Woodfield).

The road to Alchester joined Watling Street within the town, just N. of the present junction of Park Street with Watling Street (SP 69254878). Within the defended area a stretch 11 m. long was uncovered on the S. side of Park Street (SP 69234872): it consisted of metalling 6 m. wide formed of large stones with gravel above, 15 cm. thick in all; above were several resurfacings. The earliest layers belonged to the last quarter of the 1st century (inf. G. Lambrick). Further S.W. (SP 69224865) the road surface was seen in 1954 (inf. J.A. Alexander).

The Defences (Fig. 113)

Only in the N.W. corner of the town do the defences survive in a recognizable form. To the S. of the present police station and running N.E. for 30 m. is a ditch 33 m. wide and 0.5 m. deep with a bank 1.5 m. high above the ditch bottom; running S.S.E. for 70 m. from the telephone exchange which sits on the presumed N.W. corner is a ditch 35 m. wide and 2 m. deep now occupied by allotments.

Information about the course of the defences elsewhere is supplied by Baker (op. cit.). His description and plan indicates that along the N.W. side the defences continued the line of the surviving fragment N.E.; recent observations confirm this. On the W., they ran along the present Queens Road, where the broad hollow in which the road sits probably represents the line of the ditch. To the S. of this, Baker's line then crossed the N.W. end of the present Richmond Road (formerly Sawpit Lane) and turned N.E. at a point S.W. of Sawpit Green to run for 190 m. to join Watling Street (SP 69404855), although his account makes it clear that the traces had been largely obliterated. From Watling Street his line ran along the southern side of the churchyard almost to the present mill leat (SP 69504870); the wall has been seen on this alignment in a water-mains trench (SP 69444864; OS Record Cards), and the ditch nearby (SP 69434857; inf. Mrs. C. Woodfield). Along the N.E. side Baker assumed that the defences coincided with the general line of the present mill leat, itself however of late 17th or 18th-century construction (J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 272). This conjecture is supported by a low scarp which can be seen running N.W. for 60 m. due E. of the church (SP 69494875). What has been interpreted as the tail of the rampart has been noted during drainage work near the N. corner (SP 69194896; inf. Mrs. C. Woodfield), and the rear of the rampart still exists in a much mutilated condition immediately to the N.W.

Fig. 113 Towcester (3) Roman town

Baker's account has been followed by most subsequent workers (e.g. a plan by Sir Henry Dryden in the Dryden Collection in the Northampton Public Library and Arch. J., 110 (1953), 211), but his version of the location of the S.W. corner can be challenged. Vertical air photographs taken in 1947 (CPE/UK/1994, 2078) show that the area S. of Sawpit Green was covered by ridge-and-furrow running N.W.-S.E. and that there were no definite traces of the defences. An alternative suggestion (OS Record Cards; A. L. F. Rivet, Town and Country in Roman Britain (1958), 85) would place the general line of the S.W. defences along Richmond Road. This makes better topographical sense, since this road marked the rearward termination of the medieval tenements of Towcester and the proposed line would better accommodate a gate for the Alchester road. There are a number of cracks in the brick and stone walls of properties running along the N. side of this road.

The area enclosed by the defences so defined is about 11.25 hectares. The defences have been sectioned in two places. On the N. side, just N.E. of Watling Street (SP 69174896; 'a' on Fig. 113) observation during a drainage scheme in 1977 showed a bank 10 m. wide of clay and gravel; part of the robber trench of the wall was seen but the relationship between the wall and bank could not be established. Separated from the wall by a berm 8 m. wide was a shallow flat-bottomed wet ditch at least 9 m. wide and 1.75 m.–2 m. deep. Material which had accumulated against the bank had been cut by a pit containing pottery of around 180. A straight sided wet ditch at least 12 m. wide and 3.5 m. deep cut the earlier ditch 8 m. from the outer edge of the berm; it produced largely medieval pottery. This could conceivably represent a 4th-century defensive ditch or be linked with the refortification by Edward the Elder in 917. This phase was probably represented by the rough herringbone foundations of a wall 1.3 m. wide in front of the Roman one. The shallow earlier Roman ditch was cut by another wet ditch, 4 m.–5 m. wide, V-sectioned and at least 2 m. deep; this could be attributed to Prince Rupert, who is said to have 'brought the water around the town' in 1643 (G. Baker, op. cit., 323; Northants. Archaeol., 13 (1978), 182–3; inf. Mrs. C. Woodfield).

On the W. side the excavations in 1954 (SP 69104879; 'b' on Fig. 113) sectioned the defences. The results matched those obtained in 1977. The Roman defences consisted of a bank 7.5 m. wide and 2 m. high, constructed on top of an earlier well and the beam-slot of a timber building. The wall, its limestone foundations 3 m. wide, was contemporary with the bank. The ditch, which could not have been more than 2 m. deep, had been largely removed by subsequent alterations to the defences, but the yellow clay obtained from it had been spread beyond over a series of insubstantial timber buildings with gravel floors. Material from these buildings and from within and below the rampart goes down to about 175. Later alterations to the defences involved the excavation of a ditch 25 m. wide and 2 m. deep which largely removed the earlier one, the fill of which contained much medieval pottery. As before, this could represent late Roman activity or be attributable to Edward the Elder. To him could also be assigned the construction of a second wall of sandstone and limestone, 2 m. wide, in front of the Roman one and possibly also the heightening of the bank with material containing Roman pottery going down to the late 4th century. A later phase involved the addition of further material to the bank and the excavation of a ditch of V-profile 6 m. wide and 3 m. deep, cutting through the surviving shallow ditch. This can be taken to represent the fortifications erected by Prince Rupert. The tumble of stone filling this ditch presumably represented the deliberate slighting of the defences when the Royalists evacuated Towcester in January 1644.

The defences have also been seen on the N.W. corner (SP 69044887; 'c' on Fig. 113) where observations during the building of a telephone exchange in 1967 suggested that there had been two periods of construction of the town wall, as has been noted elsewhere (BNFAS, 3 (1969), 18; inf. J. A. Alexander). At the S. end of the defended area (SP 69424852; 'd' on Fig. 113) what was probably the later of the wide shallow ditches was seen during drainage work in 1977 (Northants. Archaeol., 13 (1978), 183).

Casual observations suggest the existence of a substantial structure containing Roman tile on the N.E. side of Watling Street (SP 69144894); this could represent the N. gate (inf. T. Shirley). Stone foundations considered to belong to the S. gate have been seen at various times (SP 69394857; inf. J. A. Alexander; Northants. Archaeol., 13 (1978), 183; 'f' on Fig. 113). A third gate presumably existed on the S.W. side ('g' on Fig. 113).

Interior of the Town (Fig. 113)

Excavations at two points have established the existence of substantial buildings. Near the N.W. corner of the town (SP 69104879; 'b' on Fig. 113) the excavations of 1954 revealed some 1st-century material and the beam-slots of the S.W. corner of a late 3rd-century timber building, probably a house, at least 13 m. by 7 m. Parts of two rooms were uncovered. The structure was rebuilt once, slightly further to the N.E., away from the defences, before being replaced in the 4th century on the same alignment but further E. again by a building with limestone foundations 1 m. wide. This building had tessellated floors and walls with painted plaster; three rooms were identified. It was destroyed, possibly by fire, in the late 4th or early 5th century.

On the S. side of Park Street (SP 69234872; 'h' on Fig. 113), the foundations of a stone wall 60 cm. thick with buttresses or pilasters, were discovered. It probably belonged to a public building of uncertain purpose put up during the third quarter of the 1st century. Its W. side was aligned along the Alchester road. In the mid 2nd century it was enlarged, and then replaced by two buildings at least 7 m. by 4 m. and 5 m. by 2 m. respectively, with stone foundations 70 cm. wide, also aligned on the Alchester road. A stone-lined well belonged to this phase. Sometime in the 3rd or 4th century they were demolished to make way for a timber building represented by a row of postholes along the road frontage; this was replaced by the flimsy stone footings 40 cm. thick of a timber building, probably in the late Roman period (inf. G. Lambrick).

Elsewhere in the town the discovery of pottery and other debris in many places indicates occupation along both sides of Watling Street and the Alchester road. Stone walls were found in 1958 during excavations for a new fire station (SP 69114889; 'i' on Fig. 113) and others were recorded in the S. part of the town near Meeting Lane (SP 69314857; 'j' on Fig. 113) in the 1930s (inf. J. A. Alexander). In 1883 two pavements, one plain and the other herringbone, of tesserae cut from tiles, were found when a heating system was installed in the south aisle of the church; they lay on the same alignment as the church. A hypocaust is said to have been seen in 1937 on the S. side of the church under the porch (Ms notes by Sir Henry Dryden in Northampton Public Library; The Antiquary, 8 (1883), 87; inf. J. A. Alexander; 'k' on Fig. 113). Other discoveries include 1st and 4th-century material from the W. side of Kings Lane (SP 69144876), late 2nd-century pottery from a pit just inside the N. corner of the defences (SP 69194896), mid 2nd-century material from a pit on the N.E. side of Watling Street (SP 69254880) and pottery and tiles from a point just W. of Moat Lane (inf. Mrs. C. Woodfield; OS Record Cards). A marble vase was found in 1865 during the construction of The Corn Exchange (SP 69354865; illustrated in 'Broadsides', Northampton Public Library; lost). Unassociated material, including pottery of various dates as well as roofing tiles and a few coins have been recorded in a number of places. Other casual finds from the town include a hippo sandal, a bronze hand from a statue and an alabaster bottle (NM). Two small silver axes, only 4 cm. long, are recorded 'from Towcester' (private owner; BAR, 24 (1976), 178) while a stone female funerary head, also from the town is in the BM (BAR, op. cit., 112). A considerable amount of Roman pottery, all unlocated but 'from Towcester' is in the Ashmolean Museum and considerably more still remains in private hands.

Extra-mural Settlement (Fig. 114)

A large amount of Roman material has been found outside the walls of the Roman town, either as chance finds or during excavations. For convenience of presentation this has here been sub-divided arbitrarily into eight areas:

(1) Roman settlement in the area of the former railway station (SP 68924937). Several coins are said to have been found when the station was built in 1864 (inf. J. A. Alexander); many pottery fragments, including at least 100 'vessels', a few coins and pieces of glass were discovered during the excavation of the cutting to the N.E. (The Antiquary, 8 (1883), 87; Ms notes by Sir Henry Dryden in Northampton Public Library). A number of coins was recorded further N.W. along Watling Street (SP 68764960) in the 1950s, mainly of late 3rd and 4th centuries down to Magnentius (inf. J. A. Alexander). Skeletons, pottery, coins and a 1st-century bronze brooch were discovered on the S.W. side of Watling Street opposite the former station (SP 68774935) during the construction of a factory in 1975 (NM records).

(m) Road widening of Watling Street in the 1930s N.W. of (a) centred SP 685501; not on Fig. 114) revealed finds including pottery, two brooches and three coins of Nero, Nerva and Constantine I (JRS, 23 (1933), 198).

(n) Roman pottery was found during the construction of the police station, (SP 69064899) just outside the site of the presumed N. gate of the town (inf. J. A. Alexander). An 'urn' was found further N. some time between 1870 and 1880 (at SP 690492; OS Record Cards).

(o) Roman settlement, extending W. along the line of the present Brackley road (centred SP 690486). Many coins, mainly of the late 3rd and 4th centuries, and some pottery, including a vessel containing a cremation, have been found at various times on and around Sponne School (SP 68924865). Skeletons, pottery and a building were seen on the site of the school (SP 68984872) in 1919 (OS Record Cards). The former allotments N. of the Brackley road (SP 68704860) have long been noted as productive of coins, ranging in date from Tiberius to Constantine II. A few coins have been recorded on the S. side of the road at the N. end of Pomfret Road (SP 69014868).

(p) To the S.W. of the Cemetery on the Brackley road (SP 68544829) the erection of a housing estate in 1979 brought to light ditches, a few coins and pottery ranging from the 2nd to the 4th centuries. To the S., near the Silverstone Brook (SP 68554800), a quantity of 1st to 2nd-century pottery was discovered. Further W. (SP 68444838; not on Fig. 114), road works in 1967 uncovered stone surfaces (inf. J. A. Alexander, T. Shirley and Mrs. C. Woodfield; BNFAS, 3 (1969), 2; Northants. Archaeol., 13 (1978), 184; 14 (1979), 106; Britannia, 10 (1979), 302).

(q) Roman settlement, running along both sides of Alchester road to the S.W. of the town. The area S.W. of Towcester had been productive of Roman remains since the development of housing estates there in the 1950s. To the N. of the Silverstone Brook, pottery was found during the construction of a new bridge in 1953 (SP 69174837) and during flood-relief work in 1977/8 a large, probably 4th-century, ditch which cut through Antonine levels, was seen here. To the W. (SP 69154837) was a ditch containing pottery going down to the late 2nd century (inf. J. A. Alexander and Mrs. C. Woodfield). Further S.W. (around SP 690481) excavations on both sides of the Alchester road in 1967 uncovered several structures of the 4th century. At SP 69074822 was a spread of stone 10 m. by 12 m., with a smaller one to the E. of it overlying the W. ditch of the Roman road. Traces of a rectangular building, at least 6 m. by 7 m. with a sand floor containing hearths and stone post-pads, lay immediately N. of these spreads.

On the E. side of the road (SP 69084813) the stone foundations 50 cm. thick of a probably rectangular building at least 5 m. by 4 m. were discovered, cut by a ditch 50 cm. wide running parallel with the road (MOPBW, Ann. Ex. Rep. 1966 (1967), 16; inf. D. C. Mynard). More pottery, tiles, rubbish pits, areas of stone paving and mainly 4th-century coins were reported from the area of SP 69134817 in 1966 (NM Records).

A pottery kiln making coarse grey or black ware has been reported from the area of SP 69014820 and from SP 69074804 came pottery ranging in date from the Antonine period to the mid 4th century, opus signimun and a silver spoon (inf. Mrs. C. Woodfield).

Fig. 114 Towcester (3) Roman town

Further S. again, excavations in advance of housing development from 1974 to 1976 led to the discovery of more industrial structures aligned along the Roman road. On the W. side (SP 69004799) was a circular building 14 m. in diam., defined on its W. side by a gully; it contained a hearth. It was overlaid by a rectangular building with a stone floor, containing reused sculptured stones, two of which formed post bases in the interior. Facing it across the road (SP 69044798) was another circular building, defined by a gully 7 m. in diam, with opposed entrances. The E. entrance, which overlay a well-preserved wooden culvert, led via a wooden corduroy track of three phases to a pond fed by a series of ditches, likewise of three phases. The hut contained three hearths and the finds, which included a complete pewter dish, indicate lead and pewter working. Both structures were linked to the road by means of stone causeways. Further S., on the W. side of the road (SP 68984795), was another probably rectangular building with a stone floor, containing a furnace, also associated with lead working. To the N.E. of this was a large sand pit marked off from the road by a wooden fence. The abundant coins indicate a date of 315–360 for this industrial activity. Observation in 1977 during the construction of houses in this area noted further round and rectangular buildings, pits and ditches, with much pottery and many coins indicating a date range from the Antonine period to the 4th century. There was also evidence of iron-working (Northants. Archaeol., 10 (1975), 163; 11 (1976), 194; 12 (1977), 215; 13 (1978), 194; Britannia, 6 (1975), 255; 7 (1976), 355; 8 (1977), 399; inf. Mrs. C. Woodfield).

(r) Immediately outside the defences on the S. side of the town, coins, mostly 3rd and 4th-century, human bones and pottery including samian ware have been recorded at various times since the 19th century in the area of the former Brewery (SP 69504856; NM Records). A ditch parallel with the Silverstone Brook was seen at SP 69534856 in 1976/7 (inf. T. Shirley). Coins and pottery were found in 1938–9 when a car park was being constructed (SP 69434854; inf. J. A. Alexander).

(s) To the S. of the Silverstone Brook, intermittent traces of occupation in the form of coins and pottery ranging from the 1st to the 4th centuries have been found along Watling Street as far S. as Vernon Road (SP 69654832; inf. J. A. Alexander and Mrs. C. Woodfield; BNFAS, 3 (1969), 2).


In addition to the places mentioned above, burials, presumably indicative of cemeteries, have been found in a number of places outside the defended area of the town:

(t) At SP 68914876 skeletons were found when a bowling green was levelled in 1919 (NM Records).

(u) At SP 69044854 two skeletons were found during the construction of a car park in 1968 (inf. T. Shirley).

(v) A 'Roman urnfield' was reported as having been found when the Silverstone Brook was straightened, about 1870–80 (probably SP 69244836; NM Records; inf. J. A. Alexander).

(w) Immediately S.E. of the town a skeleton was seen in 1976/7 during the flood-relief scheme (SP 69384846); others were noted to the N.W. (SP 69564854). Two skull fragments were found in 1978 to the N. (SP 69594859; Northants. Archaeol., 13 (1978), 183; inf. T. Shirley).

a(4) Roman Settlement (?) (SP 67634855), N.E. of Costwell Farm, on Boulder Clay at 108 m. above OD. A Roman bronze ligula and sherds probably of 2nd-century date have been found. A mid 17th-century bone-handled knife was also discovered. (Northants. Archaeol., 13 (1978), 184)

Fig. 115 Towcester (5) Roman villa (based on plan of excavation)

a(5) Roman Villa and Temple (?) (SP 685469; Fig. 115), 1 km. W. of Wood Burcote, on limestones and clays at 107 m. above OD. Excavations between 1972 and 1976 revealed parts of a substantial villa and its outbuildings. Apart from some prehistoric activity on the site (1), the earliest occupation appears to have been a system of ditched enclosures and pottery kilns dating from about AD 40 to 60. No kilns have been found in situ but burnt clay debris includes a pedestal, kiln bars and a circular dome-plate with a central hole. The associated pottery included jars and bowls of late Belgic type.

The villa ('a' on plan) has not been completely excavated and parts of only six rooms and a portico have been exposed. It appears to have been built in the late 1st century, over earlier timber structures, and to have gone out of use by the 3rd century. Two of the rooms had painted wall-plaster. Adjacent to the villa on the N. lay a small rectangular stone building of two rooms ('b' on plan), erected just after AD 200. One room contained a T-shaped corndrying oven and a second oven had been inserted into the floor after the building had collapsed. To the N.E. of the villa there was a three-celled building with a portico on one side ('c' on plan). This was built originally as a single room probably in about AD 130–160 over 1st-century occupation debris and pits, and the two other rooms and the portico were added at a later date. Tesserae and wall-plaster were discovered around the building.

A late 1st-century rectangular stone building was discovered well to the N. of the villa, beside a small stream ('d' on plan). It had three later corn-drying ovens inside it and considerable areas of blackened soil and carbonised grain lay around it. The excavators suggested that this building might have been a watermill but there is no direct evidence for this. A Y-shaped corn-drying oven was excavated to the S. Other short lengths of walling were noted elsewhere.

Among the numerous finds from the excavation and from field-walking are stone mouldings, flue tiles and tesserae. A bronze scabbard-mount with Celtic decoration, associated with pottery of the second half of the 1st century AD, was discovered in the bottom of a ditch near the possible mill. A small capital of limestone, a column base and part of a shaft were also found. (Britannia, 5 (1974), 277–8; 6 (1975), 255; CBA Group 9, Newsletter, 5 (1975), 17; Northants. Archaeol., 12 (1977), 218–223; 13 (1978), 79– 81)

The land on the N. side of the site is occupied by a 19th-century pumping station. It is said that when this was constructed in about 1880 the remains of a Roman bathhouse were found. No details of this are known except for three sculptured heads, one of which is in the British Museum (OS Record Cards). This is described as an antefix but is more likely to be part of a funerary monument. It shows classical influence but its treatment and expression are entirely native (A. Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain (1967), 87). It has been suggested that these remains may be related to a temple on the site.

Numerous coins, described only as 'from Wood Burcote' but probably from this site, are recorded. These include a bronze coin of Cunobelinus, Mack 242 (NM; S. S. Frere (ed.), Problems of the Iron Age in S. Britain (1958), 234) and a specimen of British 'ring-money' (Brit. Num. J., 3 (1906), 388) as well as Roman coins of the 3rd and 4th centuries (NM; OS Record Cards).

a(6) Roman Settlement (SP 696459), in the S.E. of the parish, S.E. of Burcote Wood, on Boulder Clay at 135 m. above OD. Pottery of the 3rd and 4th centuries, tiles and iron slag were found here in 1965 (BNFAS, 1 (1966), 13; Wolverton and Dist. Arch. Soc. Newsletter, 10 (1966), 41).

Fig. 116 Towcester (7) Roman villa (based on plan of excavation)

a(7) Iron Age Settlement and Roman Villa (SP 669477; Fig. 116), in the W. of the parish, on Boulder Clay at 120 m. above OD. The site, sometimes known as the Foscote villa, was first discovered in 1846–8 when building material, pottery and a coin were found (VCH Northants., I (1902), 199), and was partly excavated in 1955–6. Evidence of early occupation consisted of numerous hearths and post-holes, and cobbling associated with late Iron Age pottery. The main phase of occupation was represented by a rectangular stone building, 40 m. by 16 m. with a corridor on each of the long sides and containing 12 rooms. At least one mosaic, a hypocaust and a cellar were found. It was constructed in AD 65–75 and remained apparently unaltered until AD 140–160 when it was demolished. An extensive scatter of Roman pottery and other occupation debris covers the whole area. (JRS, 46 (1956), 134; 47 (1957), 214; Northants. Archaeol., 13 (1978), 28–66)

For Roman Roads if and 1c, Watling Street, and 160a, see Appendix.

Medieval and Later

A small silver Saxon sword mount was found in 1974 (SP 68974796; NM; Northants. Archaeol., 14 (1979), 107).

The S.W. part of the parish, known as Handley, was occupied by a deer park in the medieval period (Northants. P. and P., 5 (1975), 225–6). The park is first recorded in 1220 and it had been abandoned before the 17th century. Although the general boundaries can be identified (Figs. 16 and 41) there is no evidence of a park pale on the ground.

For details of the late Saxon and 17th-century fortifications of the town of Towcester and a brief summary of its medieval and later history see (3). The only medieval discoveries made within the town have been part of a limestone floor and a fragment of walling associated with sherds of St. Neots ware, found in the Park Street excavation in 1954 (SP 69104879), and pottery of the 14th and 15th century, some associated with wall footings and a well, found in two places in the N.E. part of the town in 1974 (SP 692488; Northants. Archaeol., 10 (1975), 171; NM).

a(8) Motte (SP 69344881; Figs. 113 and 117), known as Bury Mount, lies on the N.E. side of the town on land sloping gently to the R. Tove, on Upper Lias Clay at 87 m. above OD. Nothing is known of its history but it was presumably constructed in the late 11th or 12th century, perhaps by the Crown, as the centre of the extensive royal estate in this area (VCH Northants., I (1902), 305). Its tactical purpose is unclear, but it is thought to have controlled the medieval road to Northampton which formerly continued the line of Church Lane across the R. Tove. This road was presumably abandoned in the 17th or 18th century when Easton Neston Park was laid out to the E. of the town (G. Baker, Hist. of Northants., II (1836– 41), 318, plan).

The motte was apparently altered during the Civil War by Prince Rupert, who refortified the town in 1643 and made it 'very strong and brought the water around the town' (Baker, op. cit., 322–4). In the 'Journal of Sir Samuel Luke' (Oxford Record Society, III (1952–3), 207, 219) it is recorded that 'They are making a mount on the further side of the town to plant ordnance on' and that 'There are 8 pieces of ordnance in Toster, 6 in the markett place and 2 planted on a hill towards Northampton'.

Fig. 117 Towcester (8) Motte

The present state of the motte may be the result of these events as much as of its later land use. The site was described by Bridges (Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 272) in the early 18th century, as being 'surrounded by a mote (sic) which is supplied with water from the brook'. The Tithe Map of Towcester (NRO, 1843) does not show the motte at all, but depicts the site of it completely surrounded by a broad water-filled ditch running off the adjacent mill stream. The area within this ditch is called Berry Hill Garden. A slightly later and perhaps more accurate plan of 1848–55 (NRO) shows the top of the motte as circular with two buildings set on the S. side of it. The surrounding ditch is shown as made up of four almost straight lengths and these are closer to the present property boundaries than the circular ditch depicted on the Tithe Map. By the late 19th century (OS 1:2500 plan, Northants. LVI 6, 1900), the ditch had been reduced to two arms extending S.W. from the mill stream. The S.W. of the ditch is not marked and a row of buildings which still stand occupied the W.

The motte now consists of a circular mound some 65 m.–75 m. in diam. The lower slopes are occupied by modern gardens. The gradient here is slight, rising to about 3 m. above the adjacent ground. On the S. side there is then a narrow ledge, backed by a near vertical face of gravel and clay up to 3 m. high which rises to the flat top of the mound. From the lowest point on the S.E. the ledge slopes gently upwards, reaching the summit on the W. The summit itself is rather uneven, but has no marked features except for a modern pit near its S.E. edge. Traces of the surrounding ditch survive on the N. and S.E., but only their N.E. ends are now water-filled.

The unusual profile of this motte is undoubtedly the result of later alterations. The upper part seems to have been cut back at some time after the original construction of a normal castle mound either to make the summit more difficult of access or to provide a gently sloping walkway to the top. This alteration may be contemporary with the surrounding water-filled ditch. The latter appears to have been cut into the N.W. side of the mound but lies a little distance from it on the S.E. These alterations may have been made in 1643 as part of the defensive improvements of Towcester but they are more likely to be the result of later gardening activities as the name given to the area in 1843 might indicate.

a(9) Settlement Remains (SP 695468; Figs. 41 and 118), formerly part of Wood Burcote, lie in and around the existing hamlet, on limestone at 122 m. above OD. Wood Burcote was formerly an independent hamlet, the lands of which seem to have occupied most of the S. part of what is now Towcester parish. The settlement is first mentioned in documents in 1200 (PN Northants., 95) but is perhaps included silently in Domesday Book under the large royal manor of Towcester (VCH Northants., I (1902), 305). In 1301 nine people in Wood Burcote paid the Lay Subsidy (PRO, E179/155/31) and the same number paid the tax of 1525 (PRO, E179/155/132). The Hearth Tax returns of 1673 list 12 people from the hamlet (PRO, E179/254/14) and Bridges, writing in about 1720 (Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 278), noted there were 25 families living there.

Wood Burcote now comprises a single street with houses and cottages lying mainly on its N.W. side. The situation was the same in the mid 19th century (NRO: map of Towcester, c. 1850; Tithe Map, 1843) but the field evidence indicates that at some time in the past the S.E. side of the street was also occupied by buildings and closes, the whole forming a small compact settlement. The surviving remains fall into three parts. At the extreme N.E. end of the hamlet the road from Towcester continues S.E. as a narrow hollow-way 2 m. deep at its N.W. end but fading out to a slight depression as it crosses the field towards Paulerspury. Within the present pasture field to the S.W., along the S.E. side of the main street, there are very slight earthworks, now almost ploughed out. These are difficult to interpret but include at least one quarry pit which has recently been filled in. Air photographs taken in 1947 before ploughing show ridge-and-furrow over part of the area (RAF VAP CPE/UK/1926, 3235–6). Nevertheless it is possible that these earthworks do include former housesites. A large depression at the S.W. end of this area, bounded on the E. by a scarp 1.5 m. high and on the N. by the footings of a stone wall and with a small rectangular building platform at one end, may be a quarry cut into an older close. A 19th-century map (NRO) shows a short length of road at right angles to the main street running into this area. Further S.W., immediately S.W. of the only surviving house on this side of the street, the 1947 air photographs show an area of uneven ground of about 0.5 hectare. This area is now arable land and no earthworks remain, but it contains stone-rubble with post-medieval brick and tiles and, at its E. end, large quantities of medieval pottery of 13th to 14th-century date.

Fig. 118 Towcester (9) Settlement remains at Wood Burcote

b(10) Settlement Remains (SP 687510; Fig. 41), formerly part of Caldecote, lie in and around the existing hamlet, on limestone between 115 m. and 122 m. above OD. Caldecote was formerly an independent settlement which occupied most of the N. part of the modern parish of Towcester. It is first mentioned in documents in 1203 (PN Northants., 95) but is probably included silently in Domesday Book within the large royal manor of Towcester (VCH Northants., I (1902), 305). In 1301 14 people paid the Lay Subsidy (PRO, E179/155/31) and 11 people paid the Subsidy of 1525 (PRO, E179/155/132). The Hearth Tax returns of 1673 list 14 people in Caldecote (PRO, E179/ 254/14). By the early 18th century there were about 20 houses there (J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 278) and by the mid 19th century (NRO, Tithe Map, 1843) only some 15 buildings are depicted, much as now.

The hamlet consists of a single street with houses and farms on each side but earthworks suggest that the hamlet once extended further N. On the E. side of the street, beyond the last farm, the ridge-and-furrow terminates just short of a low bank parallel to the street. The ground between this bank and the street is uneven. On the W. side of the street, N. of the last cottage, is an area of old quarries which appear to have been cut into an embanked close, and a long narrow field to the N. again, now under grass, may be the site of other former buildings. Elsewhere the remains of the close boundaries survive as low banks in the paddocks behind the houses. (RAF VAP CPE/UK/1926, 1037–8; air photographs in NMR)

b(11) Moat (SP 687509), lay around Home Farm, at the S.E. end of Caldecote hamlet, on clay at 115 m. above OD. The Tithe Map of 1843 (NRO) shows the present farm-house bounded on its E., S. and W. sides by a broad water-filled ditch, apparently part of a small rectangular moat which perhaps once encircled the building. From the S.E. corner of the moat a stream led to a large rectangular pond. On a slightly later map of c. 1850 (NRO) the pond is again depicted, but the N. end of the W. side is omitted.

Apart from a shallow depression which marks the former S.E. corner, the moat has now been entirely destroyed though part of the pond to the S.E. still survives.

(12) Cultivation Remains. The common fields of Towcester, together with those of Wood Burcote and Caldecote, were enclosed by an Act of Parliament of 1762; the exact arrangement of these fields is not known.

Ridge-and-furrow exists on the ground or can be traced on air photographs over large parts of the parish, arranged in end-on and interlocked furlongs, many of reversed-S form. It is particularly well marked along the small N.E.-flowing stream which crosses the centre of the parish (SP 681470–694485) where the furlongs are all arranged at right angles to the contours. The same feature is visible along the R. Tove and beside the streams flowing S. from Caldecote. Where ridge-and-furrow no longer exists, well-marked headlands, up to 10 m. wide and 0.25 m. high can still be traced on the ground (e.g. SP 693475).

Ridge-and-furrow also survives over a large part of Handley Park, again arranged in end-on and interlocked furlongs. As some of this ridge-and-furrow appears to underlie field boundaries which are known to have been laid out in the 16th century, it presumably dates from the medieval period but it is not possible to tell whether this ridge-and-furrow is earlier than the formation of the park itself. (RAF VAP CPE/UK/1926, 1034–6, 1230–6, 3234–7; F21 58/RAF/2316, 0065–6)