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Roman Burials around Bradford on Avon

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

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Roman stone sarcophagus

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The Romans buried their dead a little distance away from settlements, usually close to the course of roads.

Well-off Romans were buried in coffins that had been cut from stone- a monolith (a single block) for the body and others for the lid. They would have been costly to make and to transport from the quarry to the burial site.

These coffins were known as sarcophagi, from Greek words meaning “flesh-eater” in the belief, before knowledge of decay processes, that the coffin itself destroyed the body. Often the dead person was accompanied by items that would be of use in a presumed after-life.

The bodies of the poor Romano-British peasants would have been buried with less expense and so have left fewer traces.

Several stone sarcophagi have been found around the Bradford Hundred area, five of them in the town itself. They have been carved from blocks of fine-grained limestone (“Bath Stone”) that could have been quarried and worked nearby.

The coffin in the photograph above was found in a field near Winsley and had been damaged by ploughing. It is fairly small and had contained the bones of a child who must have lived in a nearby house that has not yet been discovered. Its broken pieces have been fitted together and it can now be seen in Bradford on Avon Museum.
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coffin excavation.

A Roman stone sarcophagus containing a skeleton, seen in a photograph that was taken by Richard Christopher, the chemist whose shop is now in the Museum, at the time when it was excavated in Bradford in 1938.
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Tithe Barn coffin

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The coffin was donated to the Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Society and went to Bradford’s Tithe Barn, which was then cared for by the Society. It is still to be seen there, but the three stone slabs that covered the burial are lost.

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St Laurence School coffin
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Another coffin of a Romano-British child, found at Down View, is at St Laurence School, where it can be seen in the entrance hall with interpretation that has been provided by the Museum.
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Saxon Church coffin

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Not so fortunate is this adult’s stone sarcophagus that is subjected to all weathers in the grounds of the Saxon Church in Bradford.

Another one that was also suffering from the elements in the open at St Laurence School has now been donated to the Museum by the school and is currently under cover in the Museum’s care. It was discovered by a bulldozer in 1955 while developing the Churches housing estate and contained a male and a female skeleton, some animal bones (dog?) and pottery dated to the late 3rd or early 4th century. The associated finds are in the Wiltshire Museum, Devizes.

Another sarcophagus was found above Iford in Westwood in 1906 and was associated with Roman pottery and building debris; it was given to the Roman Baths Museum in Bath.