Wroxeter (Viroconium Cornoviorum) was the fourth largest town in Roman Britain and estimated to be about the size of Pompeii.
Now all that remains of this once bustling city is a small, excavated part of the public bath complex with everything else remaining undisturbed for almost two millennia underneath these unassuming Shropshire fields.
Situated on the edge of the River Severn when the Roman army moved into the Wroxeter area shortly after the invasion by Emperor Claudius, they found a landscape that was already extensively farmed and settled.
This was under the control of the local tribe, the Cornovii who most likely had their main settlement at the hill fort on the nearby Wrekin hill.
They initially built a legionary fort to hold around 500 men in the late 40s AD first for the 14th legion and then later for the 20th Legion.
A settlement grew up around the fort, and became a thriving city of great importance, perhaps numbering in excess of 10,000 inhabitants at its height.
Most of the population that swelled this new city came from the ranks of retired legionaries and tradesmen.
The city grew to cover an area of some 73 hectares and acted as the tribal capital of the Cornovii.
The civic areas were some of the largest in Britain, with the bath and forum occupying 2 entire insulae, or city blocks.
The most impressive remains include the municipal baths.
The Old Work, which is part of a seven metre high basilica wall is the largest piece of free standing Roman wall in the country.
“At Viricon today
The village anvil rests on Roman base“Wilfred Owen, Uriconium: An Ode, c.1913
As you pass through this into the area of the baths it is astonishing to think of the thousands of Roman citizens who once graced this place as part of their daily lives.
There are entrance slabs into some of the warm rooms which have been worn down by centuries of Roman feet entering these rooms.
Bathing was a large part of Roman life and would have been a focal point to people’s every day social lives. I love entering these rooms imaging the scenes from almost two millennia ago. People preparing to enter the steam room or cool off in a plunge pool before buying refreshments and carrying on the rest of their day, perhaps in offices around the Forum or perhaps at the cattle market at the edge of the city.
Unlike many other Roman cities, Wroxeter was not redeveloped as a Saxon or medieval centre, with the result that we can more easily see the Roman layout of the city.
The small road which intersects the site was once the great Roman road, Watling Street and would have been three times wider than it is today.
Aerial photographs have also revealed the existence of a Romano-British temple which is most likely now the site of the farm opposite the visitor centre.
In February 1859 workmen began excavating the baths complex, and by April much of the present site was exposed and thronged with fascinated visitors, including Charles Dickens.
Donated by the landowner for public viewing, Wroxeter thus became one of the first archaeological visitor attractions in Britain.
It is one of the most fascinating places I have visited, imagining the daily lives of the people who once visited these baths and shopped on these streets, buying their daily groceries and shopping for their evening meal.
You can almost feel the hustle and bustle of busy market traders and noise of the throughfare as people rushed about their days.
This was a place where for over five centuries civilian life thrived in these now silent, empty streets.
I am completely captivated and intrigued by the treasures and secrets that still lie buried beneath these surrounding, quiet unnassuming fields, echoing in the silence of everything that happened at this place and all those who were here before, almost two millennia ago.