18th June - A Member Outing
12 society members visited the site of roman villa at Hill Farm in Gestingthorpe, the Home of Ashley Cooper and his father Harold
In 1947 Harold began deep ploughing the fields, during the course of which he began bringing up red tile, which, after approaching experts at Colchester, were discovered to be Roman. As this was 1945, there was little money around and nothing to spare on archaeological digs, so Mr Cooper was advised to go it alone. Thankfully he did, and so began an interest that continues to this day two lifetimes later, as Ashley also shares this interest.
After a comprehensive run through many of the Roman artefacts collected and now held in a small museum, we were led up the hill to the site of the villa, which is situated in a slight dip but with views across miles of wonderful open countryside - a truly evocative and special place indeed.
The outline of the villa is clearly marked by grassed areas to show the extent of the walls, and it was obviously pretty important given its size, which is roughly equivalent to that of St Peter's church in Sudbury. With the aid of many pictures Ashley has commissioned over the years from a local artist, the extent of the settlement, including the artisan areas, became evident.
Ashley has a natural talent for explaining how the villa was built and occupied, and with the use of visitors standing in for the owners and servants during the Roman times, the various jobs needed to keep the whole setup running smoothly were made clearly understandable to all; apparently artisans made many items for sale at the side of the main Roman road running from Chelmsford north east to Bury and beyond.
We then went to the barn museum which has an amazing collection of old farm tools, implements and vehicles, following which tea and biscuits were served whilst we could all peruse and purchase from the many cards and books designed / written by Ashley at very reasonable prices.
All in all, everyone agreed they had had a fantastic three hours, and the Society will most certainly be returning next year for a repeat visit.
Introduction by Ashley Cooper
Beginning the talk with tile samples
Roman dog paw prints - some things never change
Driving up to the site of the villa - in a beautiful open landscape that even now could be miles from anywhere
Approaching the villa site itself
Bringing Roman history to life
A band of happy wanderers return