Monday, 8 April 2013


When people are asked about the history of Bedminster, it is likely that for many the image is of an industrial working-class suburb dominated by two large employers in the shape of WD & HO Wills (tobacco) and E S A Robinson (paper bags) who moved into the area in the 1880s. They might also be aware of the Bedminster coalmining industry dating back to the 17th century.

However, Bedminster can trace its history back much further than this.  It has long been suspected that East Street and West Street had origins from at least the Roman period.  Roman coins found when the foundations for the Bedminster Hippodrome were dug in East Street in 1911 indicated that this might indeed be the case and the more recent discovery of a Romano-British settlement during excavations at the Mail Marketing Building in West Street confirm that indeed there was some form of settlement in the Bedminster area during the Roman period.

Bedminster was also a site of major importance during the early Anglo-Saxon period.  Its very name indicates that it was the site of a minster church or monasterium whilst Bedminster is recorded in the Somerset Domesday as one of a very select group of just twelve royal vills or estates that are believed to be amongst the most ancient in the county.

To try and establish what sort of settlement might have existed at Bedminster, we need to step back and look at the context of Bedminster in the wider area and its place in the Roman occupation and exploitation of Britain.

So this series of articles will look at how Bedminster fitted into the Roman and early Saxon landscape, it’s probable role in the transportation of lead and silver extracted from the mines on the Mendip Hills, its position in the Roman transport network and how that linked to the Chew Valley and the Mendips, it’s role in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex as an ancient royal manor, the likelihood of it being a centre for early Christian worship, and how it and other neighbouring territories in the Chew Valley and on the Mendips might provide clues to how the Saxons implemented their takeover of the Romano-British lands to the south of the Bristol Avon.

Part one looks at the natural resources that Britain was famous for throughout the classical world – precious metals, and, in particular the Lead and Silver mined on the Mendips.

Part two looks at the Roman road from the Mendips down into the Chew Valley, and the proposed Roman Road linking the Chew Park villa estate with Bedminster.

Part three finishes by looking at Bedminster itself, its possible role in Roman Britain, and its importance in the Early Saxon administration.

Bedminster; Roman and Saxon

It has long been suggested that Bedminster had ancient origins but until the discovery of archaeological finds for a Romano-British settlement at the Mail Marketing building in West Street, evidence had been hard to find.

It is not until you look at the context of Bedminster as part of a Roman transport network set up to support the valuable lead and silver mines on the Mendips that you realise how a Roman settlement at Bedminster fitted into the Roman economy.

Likewise, it is not until you look at the context of the Anglo-Saxon takeover of the Somerset area and the assessment for tax of cultivated land by hidation that you begin to understand how important a place Bedminster was in the early Anglo-Saxon period.

To the south of Dundry it is possible to identify two “estates” each centred on Roman roads, one estate was on the northern slopes of the Mendips at Ubley-Harptree, the other in the valley of River Chew.  This Roman road network was used to transport goods, and in particular lead ingots (such as those found in 1865 in the river Frome on the other side of the river Avon from Bedminster), from the Mendips to the wider Roman world. This same road network continued to Bedminster.

The two north Somerset estates, each with links back into the pre-Roman Iron Age, one possibly controlled from a major mining settlement, the other managed from a Roman villa site, appear to have continued into the Anglo-Saxon period where their cultivated land was assessed as a rounded up block of hides (35 hides in the case of the Ubley-Harptree Estate, 30 in the case of the core Chew Estate) for the purpose of tax collection.

In the case of a putative Bedminster Estate, the boundaries of a similar type of estate to those south of Dundry are relatively easy to identify, and continued, in one form or another, to be used well into the 19th century and can still be traced in modern boundaries today.

The southern boundary abutted onto the Chew Estate and ran along the bottom of the northern slopes of Dundry Hill. To the west, the boundary was directed by the “Highridge” of land from Dundry down towards Colliter’s Brook and then along this brook and Longmoor Brook to the River Avon just before that river entered the Avon Gorge.

The northern boundary was the river Avon itself as it flowed through its then largely undrained marshes and swamps.

The eastern boundary left the river near about 200m east of the modern Totterdown Bridge before following the slope of Arno’s Vale round to the valley of the Brislington Brook and then skirted to the west of the Iron Age settlement at Filwood Park before running across Croix Top to the Pigeonhouse Stream. It then followed the Pigeonhouse stream back to Dundry Hill.

Included within this territory were the Domesday manors at Bishopsworth and Knowle.  By the time of Domesday, these had been separated from the manor of Bedminster (but not the Hundred) and had been subjected to hidation (see below).

Running south to north through the middle of this territory were two features, the naturally created Malago and the entirely man-made Roman road identified by Tratman.

Both of these features are critical to understanding Roman Bedminster.

As mentioned before, Edgar Tratman had first been alerted to the possibility of as yet undiscovered Roman roads in the Bristol and North Somerset area by a combination of the destruction of a villa site at Bedminster Down and the undoubted straightness of the road that ran through Bishopsworth towards Bristol.

The likely course of the Roman road is deviated from in several places along the present Bishopsworth Road/Queens Road alignment, although in some cases the original alignment can be identified in verges and hedgerows. 

Before the road begins its descent from Bedminster Down it passes within 200m of the site where a probable Roman villa was discovered.  As well as offering excellent access to the road system, the villa site would have also offered its occupants a wonderful view across Ashton Vale and other estate lands to the west of the Malago towards the Avon Gorge and the heights of Clifton beyond.

The course of the Roman road itself as it ran down the slope towards West Street has now been lost, at least partly due the construction of the Bristol to Exeter railway line.  However the suggestive name of Chessel Street (the field name “Chessel” is often associated with Roman archaeological deposits and appears to be derived from the tesserae used to create Roman mosaics) appears to indicate that we are on or near the right alignment as we follow West Street itself.

Passing the recently discovered Romano-British settlement on the Mail Marketing site to our right, we reach the point where West Street deviates to the left and then right again as it continues on as East Street.

On Ashmead’s 1828 town plan of Bristol, East Street appears to continue to Bright Bow Bridge after which the thoroughfare becomes Bedminster Parade. 

Bright Bow Bridge was constructed in the medieval period to carry the road over the Malago. However, given that Brigstowe already had a bridge across the Avon by the late Saxon period, it would be expected that a bridge across the Malago at this point would have been in place to provide access to Bristol Bridge by the time it was built.

Whether or not the Roman road continued as East Street across the Malago is of secondary importance as to the main purpose behind a settlement at Bedminster.

The main purpose of Bedminster may have been to act as a terminus of the Roman road network where the transportation would switch from land-based to waterborne transport. In short, Bedminster was likely to have been a trajectus.

A trajectus could simply provide a ferry crossing of the river Avon to provide access to the road network to the north. However, depending on the facilities available at Bedminster, there may also have been a link to the well attested Roman sea-port of Abona at Sea Mills.

Unfortunately we do not know for certain the capacity of the Malago for providing waterborne transport at Bedminster. In the mid-12th century, the Abbots of St Augustine (now Bristol Cathedral) were granted the right to build a mill at the point where the Malago joined the Avon – this would have been in addition to the Mill that already existed on the Malago and was recorded in Domesday.  The mill constructed for St Augustine’s Abbey obviously closed the Malago to any river traffic and we have no documentary evidence for how the river was used before this.

In 1219, the Hospital of St Katharine was established on land west of East Street close to the course of the Malago and this is the most probable site for any Roman jetty or quayside facilitating the loading of barges for transport across or along the Avon.

It would certainly have been within the capability of the Romans to modify the lower reaches of the Malago to accommodate a ferry crossing.  We know that the lower reaches of the Trym, a river of similar stature to the Malago, were used to provide harbourage facilities for Abona.

The alternative would have been for the East Street Roman Road to continue over the Malago to the higher land at Redcliffe with direct access to the Avon itself.

Whether the barges were loaded on the Malago at Bedminster itself or on the Avon at Redcliffe, it may well be that the Lead Ingots found in the river Frome in 1865 were there not as a result of a road accident during transportation along the Bath to Sea Mills Roman Road but as a result of a river accident involving a barge from Bedminster transporting lead up the Frome to some destination unknown.


“The king holds Beiminstre, 'Betministra'[Bedminster]. King Edward held it. It never paid geld, nor is it known how many hides are there. There is land for 26 ploughs. In demesne there are 3 ploughs and 3 serfs, and (there are) 25 villeins and 22 bordars with 10 ploughs. 'There are 1 riding-horse and 9 beasts and 22 swine and 115 sheep.' There is a mill paying 5 shillings, and 34 acres of meadow. Wood(land) 2 leagues in length and1 league in breadth. It pays 21 pounds and 2½ pence at 20 pence to the ounce.

The priest (presbiter) of this manor holds land for 1 plough, and it is worth 20 shillings. Of this manor 'Geoffrey' the Bishop of Coutances holds 112 acres of meadow and wood(land).”

From: 'Text of the Somerset Domesday: Part 1', A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 1 (1906).

By the time of Domesday in 1086, the Roman villa at Bedminster Down and the economic system it was part of had long disappeared.  Nevertheless, there are still hints from the Domesday book that Bedminster had once been one of the most important settlements in Somerset.

For a start Bedminster was, like Chew to its south, listed as a Hundred in its own right in the Geld Inquest associated with the Domesday Survey, although linked to the Hundred of Hartcliffe in the survey itself.  The Hundred of Bedminster in the Geld Inquest includes Bedminster, Bishopsworth, Knowle and Abbots Leigh.  Unlike the other Bedminster Hundred manors, Abbots Leigh was listed as part of Portbury Hundred rather than as part of Hartcliffe with Bedminster Hundred in the Domesday Survey itself.

Even more interesting was that Bedminster was one of a very select group of Royal manors or “ancient demesnes” in Somerset that “never paid geld, nor is it known how many hides are there”.

The process of assessing the various land units in terms of hides for each landholding or estate was a process that began soon after the Anglo-Saxons of Wessex penetrated the great wood (Selwood to the Anglo-Saxons, Coed Mawr to the Ancient Cornish) that once separated Somerset from Wiltshire in the middle of the seventh century and took control of most of Somerset east of the river Parrett.

Already, in the seventh century, charters were being issued in Somerset referring to land in terms of number of hides (or cassatti or mansi or some similar Latin terminology). Therefore any landholding that had never been hidated must have been identified from a very early date for exemption from hidation.

The only reason why an estate might not be assessed in terms of hides is if the estate already rendered a service to the new ruler that was considered so valuable that there was no need to levy a tax via hidation.

Before the creation of the hundredal system in Anglo-Saxon England, the early Kings of Wessex regularly visited their most important Royal centres or ancient demesnes where dues and services were rendered and justice done.

Instead of paying tax, the small group of ancient demesnes that included Bedminster were responsible for providing banquets to feed the King and his entourage which may also include overnight accommodation as the King travelled around the shire.  

Later, with the introduction of the hundredal system and the appointment of Royal officials to act on behalf of the King, these food rents were usually commuted to a monetary value.

In Somerset, several of these ancient demesnes had their food-rents combined to provide “one night’s fee” and in most cases the ancient demesnes so grouped are geographically adjacent.

Thus, of the ancient demesnes closest to Bedminster, Cheddar is paired with Somerton to provide one night’s fee, and Frome is combined with Bruton in the same way.  Meanwhile, further south, Williton, Carhampton and Callington are combined as are North Petherton, South Petherton and Curry Rivel.

Only Bedminster and Milborne Port, two ancient demesnes that are geographically distant from each other are left separate despite the combined monetary value of their food-rent being equivalent to one night’s fee.

There may be a relatively simple explanation for this.

Bedminster is within one day’s travel on horseback to either Frome or Bruton. In turn both are within one day’s travel to either Cheddar or Somerton.  Williton, Cannington and Carhampton are next, and are similarly within one day’s travel of Cheddar or Somerton although Carhampton is on the limits of what could be travelled in one day.  Next, both the Pethertons and Curry Rivel are within a day’s travel of Williton and Cannington although Carhampton to South Petherton is close to the limit of a day’s travel.  Finally South Petherton and Curry Rivel although possibly not North Petherton can reach the final ancient demesnes at Milborne Port within one day.

What perhaps distinguishes Bedminster and Milborne Port from the other ancient demesnes is that each can be easily accessed from other parts of Wessex.  Milborne Port lies close to Dorset, whilst Bedminster would have been reachable from Wiltshire via the River Avon.

Perhaps what we have here is a remnant  of when Bedminster was either the first or last port of call for early Anglo-Saxon Kings as they completed their circuit of ancient demesnes dispensing justice and receiving the dues and services from the peoples over which they ruled.

In Domesday, Bedminster only accounted for one quarter of a night’s fee, whereas Milborne Port provided three-quarters of a night’s fee. Perhaps what we see here is the very earliest example of Bed and Breakfast versus Full Board?

In short, Bedminster may have been the entry point for the earliest West Saxon kings to enter their newly acquired lands as they toured their exclusive “ancient demesnes” to confirm their royal authority over what would later become Somerset.



"Bedminster Church, dedicated to St John Baptist, is very ancient; on the north-west abutment of the tower is a stone with a date 1003 upon it; so that it must have been built in the reign of King Ethelred. It is a vicarage, is mother Church to Redcliff and St Thomas in Bristol and Abbots-Leigh; the parish is of large extent and gives name to a hundred. …. This Church has the appearance of great antiquity, and stands in a very pleasant and rural Church-yard.”

One other indicator of the antiquity of Bedminster is implied within its name.  Minster churches or monasteria were religious communities that catered for a wide area.  There was a great surge in the creation of minster churches by the Anglo-Saxons in the late 7th century to mid-8th century. We certainly know that an Anglo-Saxon church existed in Bedminster by 1003.

However, it was already accepted that when St Augustine met the British (i.e Welsh) Bishops in 603 AD, an event that may have taken place on College Green in Bristol, the Welsh west of the Severn were already largely Christian and had been for some time.

Presumably if the unconquered Welsh west of the Severn had already been Christian in 603 AD, then it seems probable that the unconquered Welsh (soon to be Cornish) west of Selwood and south of the Bristol Avon were also Christian as well and remained so when they were conquered by the Anglo-Saxons of Wessex half a century or so later.

If Bedminster had indeed been a traiectus during the Roman era then it would have been a suitable site for an early Christian religious shrine that could be used by the faithful – both those who lived in the settlement itself and also those who travelled through the traiectus whilst they waited, perhaps overnight, for the next ferry.

This is supported by the suggestion by local historian Anton Bantock that Bedminster’s name includes a reference to “Beydd” the ancient British or Welsh word for baptism.

There may even be a nearby religious significance to the site that predated Christianity and the Romans.

I recently wrote about the possible correlation between the many sites known as Mutton Tump (including Brandon Hill in central Bristol, Maes Knoll on Dundry Hill, and The Netham in Barton Hill) and the possibility of the name being a derivation from the term “Nemeton” signifying the sacred groves of pre-Christian religious belief.

It is with this in mind that I note that, with the churchyard of the now demolished St John’s Church possibly marking the site of the earliest Minster church, and next to it the river Malago which may have been the site of early Christian baptisms, we find on the directly opposite bank of the Malago the hill now usually referred to as Windmill Hill, but whose southern end is clearly marked on the 1880’s County Series map as Mutton Hill.

The Stratford Lane Roman Road

Back in 1906, a Roman origin for the 3-4 mile long Stratford Lane which ran down the northern slopes of the Mendips to the River Chew was postulated by Haverfield due to the road’s “straightness, its coincidence with the parish boundary between Compton Martin and West Harptree and by the name Stratford Bridge”. He also felt that the road continued south westwards on to the Mendip plateau until it met the Charterhouse to Old Sarum Roman Road thus linking to the ancient lead and silver mines.

Possibly influenced by the discovery of the lead ingots in central Bristol and the presumed trajectus at Bitton, Ordnance Survey maps of Roman Britain produced in the 1920’s showed the Stratford Lane Roman Road continuing north east via Pensford to Keynsham (the presumed southern terminus of the Bitton trajectus.

However, an early 1950’s examination of the Stratford Lane Roman Road by Rahtz and Greenfield cast doubt on the proposed road link to Keynsham.  Their findings were that the road was well attested between the Charterhouse-Old Sarum road and the River Chew at Stratford Mill, and that there was a continuation (although less substantial) passing close to the Chew Park Roman villa (now under Chew Valley Lake) beyond Hollow Brook and on to the Roman site at Gold’s Cross, however they found no evidence for any further extension of the Roman Road beyond Gold’s Cross.

Rahtz and Greenfield also suggested that the Stratford Lane Roman Road served a dual purpose. One was to carry produce from the valley farms up to the Mendips  for the use of the miners and, in the opposite direction, to carry lead the short distance to the River Chew for transportation downstream to the Avon at Keynsham and then on to Bath or to Sea Mills.

With no evidence of the Stratford Lane Roman Road continuing beyond Gold’s Cross, is the suggestion that barges were loaded at or near Stratford Mill near where the road reached the Chew tenable?

In a 1992 article for the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society on the Stratford Lane Roman Road, R G J Williams highlighted the considerable drop of the Chew – in the 16km from Stratford Bridge to the Avon at Keynsham the Chew drops 43m. This can be compared to the Avon which in the 22km between Keynsham and Sea Mills (Abona) only drops 9m. 

Williams considers that as a result of this relatively steep drop in height, the discharge rate of the water would have made the Chew very shallow and without manmade structures to maintain a suitable depth of water it would be unsuitable for transporting barges laden down with lead and/or silver.

To date no evidence for such Roman era structures have been found. This, combined with the large variance in the flow of water (from 3 million gallons per day in Summer up to 250 million gallons per day after heavy rain) as well as the tortuous course of the river itself (it has been suggested that the name Chew means “winding water”) leads Williams to suggest that the Chew was not used to transport lead ingots from the Mendips to the river Avon.

Thus lead ingots from the Roman mines near Charterhouse were transported by road down the northern slopes of the Mendips into the Chew Valley but the river was did not provide a viable means of transportation.

With no signs of the Stratford Lane Roman Road continuing on from the Chew onto Keynsham beyond Gold’s Cross, and with the river itself not suitable for carrying lead laden barges from the Stratford Lane Roman Road down to the Avon, we now need to look for alternative transport routes from the Chew Valley to the River Avon.

The Chew Park Villa Estate and Tratman’s Roman Road.

In 1963 Edgar Tratman proposed the theory that there must have been transport links between Roman settlements and the main Roman road system via a network of minor roads in the Bristol and North Somerset areas.

In 1926 Tratman had recorded the final destruction of “a major Roman building, probably a villa” on Bedminster Down.  At the same time the “remarkable straightness” of the road that led from Bedminster through Bishopsworth to the top of Dundry Hill was remarked upon.

Using this as his starting point, Tratman went on to identify a Roman road leading from Dundry Hill to Chew Hill, then across the River Chew to Bishop Sutton, Hinton Blewitt and Farrington Gurney before joining up with the strategically important Fosse Way Roman Road near Radstock.

After leaving Hinton Blewitt, the proposed Roman road enters the Chew Magna area and runs past White Cross at the eastern end of Burledge Hill.  Burledge Iron Age Fort lies at the western edge of the hill and excavations have shown evidence of occupation and iron smelting up to the first century BC.

It has been suggested that Burledge formed the focus for Iron Age communities along the River Chew in this area during the late Iron Age such as that at Herriot’s Bridge. 

The Iron Age occupation phases at Burledge were also found at the Chew Park Villa site where occupation continued into the Roman period with a rectangular building replacing Iron Age circular houses.  Both sites also show signs of planned drainage systems bringing more land under cultivation.

Between Bishop Sutton and the River Chew, Tratman’s proposed Roman road passes over Hollow Brook and near this point it forms a junction with the Stratford Lane Roman Road which runs past the Chew Park Villa site.  There also appears to be a short extension north to the Gold’s Cross Roman settlement site which may include a smaller villa.  

From Hollow Brook, the projected Roman road ran along the west side of Knowle Hill where there was a Roman settlement and then along Pitt’s Lane where signs of another Roman settlement were found by Rahtz.

After crossing the ford on the River Chew at the end of Pitt’s Lane, the road appears to have continued up Battle Lane onto Chew Hill and then on up to Dundry Hill with its Roman quarries providing oolitic freestone for building.

As well as the junction with the Stratford lane Roman Road, Tratman has also identified possible routes linking up with the Roman temple site at Pagan’s Hill, and also with the important Roman site at Gatcombe.

In the same way that there was a Ubley-Harptree estate running from the Mendips down to the river Chew and centred on a Roman road, the Chew Magna area appears to be similar estate to the east of the river Chew and also centred on a Roman road. 

This projected estate may well have been managed from the Chew Park Roman Villa site with a subsidiary role for the smaller villa at Gold’s Cross.  There is evidence of lead-smelting at the Chew Park site and also at Herriot’s Bridge near Burledge Fort along with evidence of de-silvering.

As well as smelting of lead, and quarrying of building stone, the Chew Estate also appears to have seen pewter-ware production, leather-working, corn production, soft fruit cultivation, cattle grazing and horse breaking.

Some of the activities on the “Chew Estate” may have been in support of the mineworking operations on the Mendips, and thus continuing the farming tradition from the Iron Age of lowland cultivation of corn and other foodstuffs that needed to be transported to uplands which were restricted to sheep and cattle grazing with no cultivated land to grow crops. 

Following the collapse of the Roman economic system, it is likely that the Chew Estate’s value as a key element in the transport network declined as the post-Roman economy moved into an era which required greater self-sufficiency.  The leadworking industry for example appears to have seen a considerable decline and the villa at Chew Park was abandoned in the 4th century as the Roman economic system and the trade and landowning structures associated with it collapsed.

Nevertheless, the Chew Estate appears to have remained important, and under the Anglo-Saxons, it formed the core of the Chew Hundred, one of the major subdivisions of the Anglo-Saxon system of local government.

This Hundredal status was recorded in Domesday where the settlement of Chiwe (later called Chew Episcopi or Bishop Chew to reflect its ownership by the Bishops of Wells, before adopting its present name of Chew Magna) was quite clearly the centre of an important administrative area in Anglo-Saxon times with a number of subsidiary settlements named in relation to it.

In Domesday, Chiwe itself was assessed at 30 hides of land, whilst the larger hundred which also included Chew Stoke, Norton Malreward, Timsbury and Clutton was more than double this amount.

We thus have another ancient estate, with probable links back not only to the Roman era but also into the Iron Age.  Like the Ubley-Harptree estate, Chew was also centred on a probable Roman road providing the means for the transportation of vitally important lead ingots from the Mendips into the wider Roman period economy.

Lead ingots duly inscribed with the mark of the appropriate emperor, have been transported from the lead mines above the Ubley-Harptree estate along the Stratford Lane Roman Road and over the river into the Chew Estate.  They have now made their way north along Tratman’s Roman Road where they have now reached the top of the great hill or “mai-dun” which the Anglo-Saxons knew as Dundry.

As the road passes its highest point and begins its descent, the men driving the wagon with its load of lead ingots may well take the opportunity to give their draught animals water from the nearby well to refresh them after the climb up from the Chew valley floor almost 500 feet below.

As the oxen drink, the drivers might look north into the valley below in anticipation of the last leg of the journey to come - across the Roman villa estate that we know today as Bedminster.

Part Three - Roman and Saxon Bedminster can be found here;

The Lead and Silver Mines of the Mendips

One of the major drivers for the Roman conquest of Britain was to gain access to its famed natural resources of metal ores including iron, tin, copper and, of particular relevance to our area, lead and silver.

Throughout the late Iron Age, a steady supply of lead and silver mined on the Mendips had been exported to the continent via trading centres such as that at Hengistbury Head near Christchurch on the Dorset/Hampshire border.

The mined lead and silver would almost certainly have been transported along river routes such as the Bristol Avon and the Somerset Frome and then via a short land portage to either the Wiltshire Avon or Wylye to then be carried downstream by river again to Hengistbury Head for shipment across the channel.

When the Romans expanded their conquest of Britain into what is now modern day Somerset they quickly established direct control of the lead and silver mines on the Mendips both for the lead itself (in ever greater demand to line the aqueducts and water pipes of Rome and other Imperial cities) and also for its high silver content (increasingly needed to exchange for silks and other goods from the Orient). 

The Imperial mines on the Mendips exported the lead in ingots, and a number of these ingots have been found on the continent, at Hengistbury Head, on the Mendips themselves, and even in London such as the three pictured below found in a Roman warehouse building on the banks of the River Thames during excavations in 1995.

The three ingots shown above are about 2 Roman feet in length (60cm) and weigh just over 80kg.

The ingots have markings on the top which say IMP VESPASIAN AVG or IMP VESPASIANI AVG which indicates they were produced under the authority of the EMPEROR VESPASIAN AUGUSTUS who ruled from AD69-79.  On their side, the ingots are further marked BRIT EX ARG VEB which means they are British lead, from which the silver content has been extracted, produced by the imperial mines at Veb… or Ueb… (U and V are interchangeable on Roman inscriptions as you can see from the AVG for Augustus in the previous inscription). 

Rivet and Smith have suggested that the full name of Veb… (or Ueb…) might be something like Vebriacum (or Uebriacum).

The ingots were created by casting molten lead into moulds which would also produce the inscriptions.  It is possible to match the moulds used to create at least two of the ingots above with the very same moulds used to create ingots that have been found at the lead-silver mines at Charterhouse-on-Mendip.

Immediately to the north of Charterhouse is the parish of Ubley which still contains the remains of the Ubley Wood, presumably left in place  after the Anglo-Saxons planted a farming settlement in a clearing (“leagh”)  of the large wood near the Roman mines at Ueb[riacum].  Over time, Ueb[riacum]-leagh became Ubley.

But what have Roman lead ingots from the Mendips found in London and Anglo-Saxons naming their farming settlements after Roman mining operations got to do with a Roman settlement at Bedminster?

Well part of the answer lies in the following extract from the Victoria County History for Somerset noting a Victorian discovery in Bristol;
“Two pigs of lead found in 1865 in Bristol, in making excavations on the old bank of the river Frome, in Wade Street. One measuring on its inscribed face, 19 by 2¾ inches and weighing 76 lb., is in the British Museum. The other, weighing 89 lb., was at first in the collection of Mr. Edkins and is now in the Bristol Museum. Both pigs are imperfect in the first half of the name Antoninus, and probably came from the same mould.”
From: 'Romano-British Somerset: Part 3, Other Locations', A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 1 (1906), pp. 289-356.

A drawing of one of the lead ingots found in the Bristol Frome is shown above. The inscription says;


Which refers to 'Emperor Caesar Antoninus Augustus Pius, father of his country' who reigned AD139–161.  In 1873, another lead ingot with the inscription IMP CAES ANTONINI AVG PII P P was found near Charterhouse-on-Mendip.

If we seek to answer the question of how two lead ingots from the Roman lead-silver mines on the Mendips managed to find their way into central Bristol, that might help us to understand the transport network that existed in 2nd century Roman Britain and what role Bedminster may have played in it.

The Roman Road from Bath to Sea Mills and the Traiectus at Bitton

We know that the Romans built a road connecting Bath with the Roman sea-port at Sea Mills. Our understanding of the exact course of this Roman road is, however, limited.

Part of the road has been excavated on the Downs whilst an Anglo-Saxon charter for Stoke Bishop dated AD984 refers to the ealdan hearpathe (old military road) which appears to be a reference to the Roman road as it leaves the Roman port at Abona (Sea Mills).

Meanwhile to the east of Bristol, it is believed that the road roughly followed the line of the modern A431 between Bitton and St George.  Bitton is usually assumed to be the Trajectus or “crossing” referred to in the Antonine Itinerary, a document originally created in the 3rd century AD (although the earliest surviving copy was produced in the 13th century).

Extract from the Antonine intinerary with English translation

Item alio itinere ab Isca Calleva                -              -              -              mpm ciii sic

(An alternate route from Caerleon to Silchester 103,000 paces thus)

Venta Silurum (Caerwent)-         -              -              -              mpm viiii  (9,000 paces or 9 Roman miles)

Abone  (Sea Mills)-         -              -              -              -              mpm xiiii  (14 Roman miles)

Traiectus (Bitton?)-        -              -              -              -              mpm viiii  (9 Roman miles)

Aquis Solis (Bath)-          -              -              -              -              mpm vi  (6 Roman miles)

Verlucione (Sandy Lane, Wilts) -              -              -              mpm xv  (15 Roman miles)

Cunetione (Mildenhall, Wilts)   -              -              -              mpm xx  (20 Roman miles)

Spinis (Speen, Berks)     -              -              -              -              mpm xv  (15 Roman miles)

Calleva (Silchester)-       -              -              -              -              mpm xv  (15 Roman miles)


William Coxe, the churchman and historian, wrote in 1801 of the road continuing from Bitton to St George  and on to Durdham Down by way of south of Redland Down.  It is usually assumed that the road runs close to the line of Elm Lane-Lower Redland Road-Redland Road.

The finding of the lead ingots in the river Frome near Wade Street led to the belief that the Roman road from Bath crossed the Frome at, or near, the modern Wade Street bridge via a now lost Roman bridge, although no archaeological evidence of a Roman bridge has been found to date.

However, if the lead ingots were being transported by road along the Bath to Sea Mills road when some unknown accident caused them to be tipped over the bridge into the river below, this still doesn’t answer the question of how the lead ingots were transported from the Mendips and across the Avon to be on the Bath to Sea Mills Roman road in the first place.

The obvious assumption is that the lead ingots had reached the Bath to Sea Mills road having being transported across the Avon via the Trajectus at Bitton. 

Obviously this also assumes that the Trajectus at Bitton does not simply refer to a crossing of the River Boyd, a minor tributary of the Avon, but instead refers to a crossing of the Avon itself.

 As a Trajectus can also mean a ferry crossing not just a bridge, this does not constitute a major problem. The natural place for a terminus on the southern side of the Avon would be at Keynsham, where the river Chew joins the Avon. 

Indeed there is evidence of Roman settlement in the Keynsham era with villa complexes at Somerford and Durley Hill – the latter being one of the most impressive in the country.  There was also once a ford across the Avon.

This however is only part of the journey for the lead ingots. There is still some distance to be travelled between the lead mines on the Mendips and a projected Trajectus at Keynsham – almost 14 Roman miles in fact.

Let’s start at the beginning of the journey – the lead mines themselves.

Ueb-leagh and the Herepathe(Military Road) on the Mendips.

The possibility of a Roman road running from the lead-silver mines on the Mendips down its northern slope into the Chew Valley was first recognised back in 1906;

A fragment of Roman road—not, I think, hitherto noticed—can be traced on the north side of Mendip. It is only three or four miles long, and runs north-east and south-west, dividing the parishes of West Harptree and Compton Martin. It is attested by its straightness, its coincidence with parish boundaries, and the name Stratford Bridge. It was, I imagine, connected in some way with the Mendip lead mines.”

From: 'Romano-British Somerset: Part 3, Other Locations', A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 1 (1906), pp. 289-356.

The road follows a straight boundary between the later parishes of Compton Martin and West Harptree. In fact, Compton Martin and West Harptree themselves appear to be part of a much larger early estate that may well have its origins in the Roman settlement of the area.

It is worth remembering that the Anglo-Saxons don’t appear to have taken control of what would later become Somerset until, at the earliest, the middle of the 7th century.   Whatever may have happened in terms of population replacement in the east of Britain, it certainly appears that the Anglo-Saxon conquest of the Somerset area may have much more akin to the later Norman Conquest.

In other words, from the point of view of the majority of the population, new elites speaking a foreign language (Old English) largely replaced existing elites speaking the same language (Old Cornish). 

Romano-British estate owners had evolved into Post-Roman lords only to be replaced by Anglo-Saxon lords in the 7th century just as Norman lords would, in turn replace the Anglo-Saxons in the 11th.

As with the Norman Conquest, many of the existing land units may have been retained – meanwhile the bulk of the population continued as before, eking out a subsistence living as best as they could.  

Leach, writing in 1982, suggests that some Somerset parishes represent estates reordered under an emerging “villa” system towards the end of the first century AD, and that there is also considerable evidence of continuity into the medieval period.

Meanwhile the conquest of new territories offered those at the very top (William the Conqueror in the 11th century, the Saxon kings of Wessex in the 7th century), an opportunity to assess or reassess land values and thus the taxes that should be paid by the new landholders.

In the Anglo-Saxon period this involved assessing the arable land on each estate in terms of hides (sometimes Latinised as mansi or cassati in land charters) which in turn determined the amount of tax to be paid.

When it came to the hidation of landholdings in north Somerset, there appears to have been a large “estate” stretching from the mineworking area on the top of the Mendips northwards and down the slope into the valley of the River Chew. It’s western end appears to be the same Ueb-leagh (Ubley) mentioned previously, with the rest of the estate stretching east along the Roman road, the Ad Axium, that ran along the crest of the Mendips from Charterhouse east towards the Salisbury area. 

As mentioned earlier, the Roman road at Sea Mills was referred to in an Anglo-Saxon charter as the old “hearepathe” or old military road.  A similar such reference may comprise the root of the placename Harptree, given that East Harptree forms the eastern end of this proposed estate and that both it and West Harptree abut the Roman road or “hearepathe”.

The estate, which may have been a pre-existing Romano-British creation designed to serve the mining operations nearby, had been sub-divided by the time of Domesday into several separate holdings each neatly divided into units of five hides. 

These holdings comprise the modern settlements of Ubley, Compton Martin, Moreton plus two five hide units in each of West Harptree and East Harptree, altogether creating a 35 hide block of land.

Frances Neale has pointed out that the subsequent four parishes of Ubley, Compton Martin, West Harptree and East Harptree form a classic block of “strip” layout familiar in the Saxon period. Neale also notes that four of the five parish boundaries down the hillside utilise stream gullies on the lower slope.

The fifth parish boundary, the central one of the group, follows the Stratford Lane Roman Road.  This will be the topic of the next article.

To read about the Stratford Lane Roman Road click here;

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Today (25th July 2012), on the Bristol 24-7 website, I have an article published regarding Bristol City Council's plans to charge some as yet indeterminate amount but estimated at somewhere around £2,000 (but potentially higher) to candidates for the right to be included in the Election Address Booklet that the Council is, by law, required to send out to every voter in the city.

This proposal by Bristol City Council to charge Mayoral candidates 3 or 4 times as much as was charged by Liverpool, Salford or Leicester to be included in the Booklet demonstrates what happens when we reduce discussions about the democratic process to one essentially based on costs to the taxpayer rather than benefits to the voter.

There is a democratic tradition in this country, going back well over a century, of funding at least one free delivery of a campaign leaflet for candidates in a General Election. This was and remains an attempt to both create a more informed electorate, and to alleviate some of the negative effects of funding disparities between candidates.

The system used in the General Election process is flexible, allowing a candidate to have almost total control over the printing and production of their campaign leaflet (so they can choose between, say an A4 full colour leaflet at, maybe, 2p per leaflet or perhaps an A5 black and white leaflet at 0.5p per leaflet) but also allows them to choose whether to have a leaflet delivered to every voter in the constituency (say 85,000) or, alternatively, to every household (40-50,000).

As a result, a candidate can spend £1,700 on an A4 leaflet to every voter, or £200 on an A5 to every household thus offering a wider range of cost options to a candidate.

However, even the cheaper option might be beyond the reach of some candidates.

In which case you can still hand-deliver to a smaller, possibly more focused group of households and still have some hope of competing with your better funded rivals.

Nevertheless, as far as the receiving household is concerned your campaign leaflet landing on the doormat has as much potential impact as the one delivered by freepost.

Compare this to the Election Booklet for the Mayoral election. The Returning Officer decides on the costs and whether to use full colour or not, A4 size or A5, even if you choose to use black and white there will be no financial benefit in doing so because, in Bristol, your costs are simply based on the amount of space you have.

Further, if you cannot afford to be included in the Election Booklet you are at a further disadvantage because even if you do deliver your own campaign leaflet there is now a subtle but important distinction between your election address and those from other candidates.

The Election Booklet, by its very nature, is the “official” book of election addresses – any election address outside of this context is likely to be seen as somehow less official because it is not in the official election booklet.

The concept of equality of candidate's election addresses when they hit the doormat of any single household has been compromised and the candidates have been divided into "official" candidates and "fringe" candidates.

On the other hand, there are also benefits to the Election Booklet system, and these benefits are largely in terms of costs to the taxpayer. It is only the production and printing costs that the candidate is expected to contribute to, not the delivery costs -these are entirely borne by the taxpayer.

Delivery to every voter in Bristol costs about £88k, delivery to every household about £43k. Thus, if all the election addresses are in a single booklet delivered once to every voter then the cost to the taxpayer will be £88k. On the other hand, if the freepost system was used this delivery cost will increase considerably.

In assessing the options for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, the government calculated that delivery costs using the Freepost system as opposed to the single booklet used in Mayoral elections would be three times as high (£35m vs £12m) - applying that ratio to the Bristol Mayor elections implies a delivery cost under Freepost of £257k, all of which would have to be paid by the Bristol taxpayer.

In other words, the use of a single booklet is a cost saving exercise for the taxpayer, and it is with this in mind that the cities of Liverpool, Salford, Leicester, London and so on decided that they would ask for only a relatively nominal contribution from candidates towards the cost of producing and printing the booklet.

This constitutes a passing on to the candidates of a small proportion of the much larger cost savings to the taxpayer of this method of delivering an election address to every voter, and recognises the importance of ensuring that this cost-saving method is able to fulfill its role of informing the electorate about ALL of the candidates.

It is Bristol, and Bristol alone, that has decided to interpret the legislation in such a way as to try to recoup all of the production and printing costs applicable to each candidate and by doing so potentially undermine a process that offers benefits to both voter and taxpayer alike.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Bristol's most and least deprived neighbourhoods

The 32 Bristol neighbourhoods* that, according to national statistics, are amongst the 10% of most deprived neighbourhoods in the entire country;

Hareclive Whitchurch Park
Easton Road Lawrence Hill
Southmead Central Southmead
Ilminster Avenue West Filwood
Fulford Road South Whitchurch Park
Filwood Broadway Filwood
Throgmorton Road Filwood
Inns Court Filwood
Fulford Road North Hartcliffe
Old Market and the Dings Lawrence Hill
Stapleton Road Lawrence Hill
Whitchurch Lane Hartcliffe
Crow Lane Henbury
St Pauls Ashley
Leinster Avenue Filwood
Barton Hill Road Lawrence Hill
Bishport Avenue East Whitchurch Park
Filton Avenue North Lockleaze
Lawrence Weston South Kingsweston
Four Acres Bishopsworth
St Agnes Ashley
Fair Furlong Hartcliffe
Bishport Avenue West Hartcliffe
Lawrence Weston Parade Kingsweston
St Philips Lawrence Hill
Bedminster Southville
St James Barton Cabot
Gill Avenue Frome Vale
Lockleaze South Lockleaze
St Judes Lawrence Hill
Trymside Southmead
Ilminster Avenue East Knowle

And the 10 Bristol neighbourhoods that are ranked amongst the least deprived in the entire country;

Golden Hill Henleaze
University Halls Stoke Bishop
Canford Park Westbury-on-Trym
West Broadway Henleaze
Canford Lane Westbury-on-Trym
Stoke Bishop North Stoke Bishop
Rockleaze Stoke Bishop
Elmlea Westbury-on-Trym
Henbury Hill Westbury-on-Trym
Henleaze North Henleaze

* neighbourhood here is defined in terms of Lower Level Super Output Areas (LLSOA). An explanation and a list of the Bristol LLSOAs can be found on the Bristol City Council website here A map of LLSOAs by ward can be accessed by clicking on the name of a ward on the Bristol City Council website.

Sourece for data; Indices of Multiple Deprivation 2010