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Frome Times Past- All roads lead to Frome

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Ask the question ‘What did the Romans ever do for Frome?’ and the answer you will likely receive is ‘nothing!’

This response is mainly due to the fact Frome didn’t traditionally exist as a place until more than two and a half centuries after the Romans left Britain.

Despite this, evidence of the Roman’s occupation is bound up in the pre-town’s history, albeit for the most part on the peripheries of its present-day boundaries.

To the south-west is Whatley and it was here during the nineteenth century that the remains of a Roman Villa – complete with mosaic floor – was uncovered. 

But like a lot of Frome’s historic past – the Neolithic barrow at Fromefield being a prime example – it was discovered before the discipline of archaeology existed.  

This fine example of a Roman mosaic was uncovered by workmen in 1837 and by all accounts covered at least two rooms of this upmarket residential villa.

Primitively excavated by the site’s owner, and then superficially protected, it was gradually eroded by souvenir hunters and finally destroyed by a herd of cows.  

When the site was properly excavated, much later, by Eunice Overend of Frome Society for Local Studies, among the finds were the skeletons of three children. 

On the other side of Frome, so to speak, at Clink Road and Styles Hill, Romano-British pottery has been discovered, giving rise to a possible settlement there. 

More likely though, the pieces were discarded, accidently or otherwise, whilst their owners were travelling on what is today known as the ‘lost’ Roman road. 

The fact a link from Bath to Poole existed is beyond doubt, as it is marked on the OS Map of Roman Britain, at least extending out from the two connected places.

Travelling up from the south coast and on through Badbury Rings, the road peters out somewhere below Cold Kitchen Hill, close to Kingston Deverill.

It reappears on the OS Map to the south of Bath, leaving around 18 miles between unaccounted for and so giving rise to various theories to its exact route.

Most theorists agree, however, that the road passed somewhere to the east of Frome, although how near or far this was exactly, depends on who you read. 

One location seems certain though and that was it passed through Clink, as in addition to the pottery, a small section of road surface was discovered in the area. 

Other places nearby perhaps reveal other stretches, with the clue being in their suffixed name: Street being attached to Friggle, Dog, Pig, White and Pottle. 

In Roman terms, the word ‘Street’ is derived from ‘Strada’, meaning metalled or paved way, and thus when located outside urban areas normally refers to a road. 

Two discoveries at one time assigned to the era remain a mystery though; a stone coffin at Fromefield in 1797 and the North Hill skeleton found 134 years later.

The first, discarded at the roadside by workmen but never actually verified as Roman, nevertheless gave rise to the temporary name Coffin Spring Lane.  

While the second, detailed in our last column, although initially identified as Roman, was likely a centuries later suicide buried in non-consecrated ground.  

This brings us, however, to probably the most significant Roman connection with the area and that is what is now known universally as the ‘Frome Hoard’.

Discovered in a Witham Friary field by metal detectorist Dave Crisp almost a decade ago, it proved to be one of the largest finds of Roman coins in history. 

Initially given the moniker ‘Frome’ to hide the exact location of the discovery, the name has now become permanently affixed to that blue pot and its contents.

And so, despite the 275 years that separated the Roman’s farewell and Aldhelm’s fateful rest-stop, Frome is now forever intrinsically linked with both.

But apart from several bits of pottery, a possible coffin, a piece of road, a villa, and a huge pot full of coins, what have the Romans ever done for Frome?

Mick Davis and David Lassman

 

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