Wroxeter

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.

The Old Work, the seven metre high basilica is the largest piece of free standing Roman wall in the country. The fields surrounding these ancient walls disguise the original extent of the Roman City.

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.

Map showing Wroxeter to the south and the routes up to Chesterton in Stoke on Trent and Rochester to the East.

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.

The Basilica, built around 150 AD
Base of a column which would have held up the roof of the huge Basilica

Most of the population that swelled this new city came from the ranks of retired legionaries and tradesmen.

Remains of the small excavated part of the city from the old Roman Watling Street. Though much still remains below ground, today the most impressive features are the 2nd century municipal baths, and the remains of the huge wall dividing them from the exercise hall in the heart of the city (the Old Work)

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.

Reconstruction of the settlement with the circle in the centre illustrating the context excavated remains seen today

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.

The Old Work, constructed in around 150 AD. The holes were where wooden poles were inserted as it was being built. The bands of orange-red tiles helped strengthen the wall while the mortar set
Toward the Old work over the Hot steam room and warm room. Visible remains of the Hypocaust columns (underfloor heating systems) for both of these areas is still visible
Looking toward the Old Work from the first unheated room that would’ve been entered (the frigidarium)

At Viricon today

The village anvil rests on Roman base

Wilfred Owen, Uriconium: An Ode, c.1913
Main entrance to the Forum. The bottom of these columns would have been street level

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.

Ancient steps from one of the furnaces

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.

Recreation of a Roman town house with original pillar bases in the foreground built on the site of the original Forum

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.

Wonderful view over the excavated site toward the reconstruction of the Roman villa on the site of the Forum
The impressive inscription that had been located above the main entrance to the forum survives and gives us the date of its completion: AD 129–30, in the reign of Hadrian

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.

Remains of the market hall with the steps down to the Main Street. This market complex would’ve been two stories tall and had small shops with everything centred on an open square in the middle. Hundreds of thousands of feet have passed over these stones over the decades and centuries

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.

The Market (macellum)
The view today from the illustration above. This would have been the main thoroughfare of Watling Street with the entrance to the market on the left

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.

The site sits on the River Severn with the Wrekin in the background

Donated by the landowner for public viewing, Wroxeter thus became one of the first archaeological visitor attractions in Britain.

Inside the outdoor Plunge pool (natatio)

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.

Looking over toward the Basilica over the warm room and Hot dry room (sauna) on the right and the anointing room toward the centre
This was all once part of the city. Many buildings and thousands of artefacts and secrets still lie under these fields

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.

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