West Kington, Wiltshire, England.
Romano-British settlement in a small valley in the Cotswold hills, on the Fosse Way N of Bath
(Aqua Sulis). The small Broadmead brook forms the
ancient boundary between Nettleton and West Kington
A stone relief of Diana and her hound, now in the
Bristol City museum, was found here in 1911. Excavations in 1956-70 have uncovered a small Roman camp
built on the hillside when the Fosse Way was constructed
in A.D. 47 or soon after, and a small circular shrine dedicated to Apollo, dated a little later, on a knoll overlooking the river.
Before A.D. 230 a large building of basilican type was
erected on the river adjoining the circular shrine. This
probably accommodated the pilgrims attending anniversary feasts or a Brotherhood in connection with the
shrine. Soon after 230 a large octagonal podium was
constructed around the circular shrine, and the shrine was
enclosed by a precinct wall with an entrance. A shop and
a priest's house were also built within the precinct, and
nearby, beside the road approaching the shrine, a large
square hostelry with an internal courtyard provided accommodation for visiting pilgrims.
About A.D. 250 the circular shrine was destroyed by
fire, probably by Irish raiders who came by way of the
Bristol Channel. An elaborate octagonal shrine ca. 21 m
in diameter replaced it, built on the octagonal podium
which was strengthened for the purpose. The octagonal
shrine was surrounded by an ambulatory, which had a
pent roof supported by pillars with pilasters at each angle. Access to the shrine and ambulatory was by way of
a small vestibule on the E side. Inside the building eight
radial walls from each angle of the outer octagonal wall
converged towards the center, forming a central octagon
surrounded by eight arches which supported a central
vaulted roof. The eight chambers formed by the radial
walls were also vaulted. The walls and all the vaulted
roofs were plastered and painted in various colors; they
carried human representations, and floral and linear designs.
The central altar bore an inscription to the god Apollo,
as did a small votive bronze plaque. Towards the middle
of the 4th c. A.D. the shrine fell into disrepair, probably
because of the decline of the pagan religion, and evidence
suggests that the building was later used by Christians.
After A.D. 340 the settlement became industrialized:
iron and bronze smelting were introduced, and a pewter
casting industry for the production of paterae, dishes, and
plates. Towards the end of the 4th c. the settlement was
subjected to two devastating raids, presumably by Irish
raiders. The raiders may have settled at Nettleton Scrubb.
A small Christian cemetery lends support to this theory,
but other evidence suggests a temporary resurgence of
pagan rites in the former shrine.
The settlement came to an abrupt end when the inhabitants were massacred after A.D. 402. Many human
bones bearing sword marks and axis vertebrae indicating
decapitation, found within the former shrine, bear witness to the massacre. The many finds are an important part of the Romano-British gallery in the Bristol City museum.
“Roman Britain,” JRS
29 (1939); 52
(1962); 59 (1969).
W. J. WEDLAKE