Discovering the Broughton Hoard and the Broughton Roman Villa.
We expected a good house for a talk by one of our members on these much-publicised pieces of local history, but in the event we were overwhelmed by a record attendance. Every seat was filled, we brought in extra chairs from the café and we had members and visitors standing at the back and sitting on the floor at the front.
Mr Westcott described how diving on the wreck of HMS Ramillies off the Devon coast was one of the events that sparked his interest in archaeology and led him to take up metal detecting. He admitted that metal detecting could be destructive, but argued that it was of real historical value if used responsibly. It was important that detectorists brought in the archeologists at the early stage of any significant discovery.
He emphasised the importance of doing your research before choosing a site for metal detecting. It was this approach that led him to wonder whether the area around the long-gone eastern bridge over the moat at Broughton Castle might bear fruit. In 1966, with the permission of Lord Saye and Sele he started to explore and almost immediately found some sixteenth and seventeenth coins within a very small area. He consulted the Ashmolean who gave their approval to him exploring further. In all he found 16 coins which were declared Treasure Trove at a coroner’s inquest in the following year. This collection was eventually acquired by the Ashmolean Museum where it is now on permanent display.
Moving on to the discovery of the Roman villa, Mr Westcott said that he had always been curious about the discovery in 1963 on the Broughton Estate of a lead-lined stone coffin containing the remains of a woman in her thirties who died in the third or fourth century. This was the key to his discovery of the Broughton Roman villa, one of the biggest ever found in Britain. It seemed to him unlikely that this high status burial was in the middle of nowhere; it was surely in the vicinity of a substantial settlement. With approval of the owners, he started explore the topography of the area of the burial and soon found evidence of terracing. He then found a piece of earthenware which, as a specialist heating engineer, he recognised as part of a hypocaust tile of the sort used carry hot pipes up the walls of high-status Roman buildings.
Geophysicists were then brought in to survey the whole area. Their scans revealed the outline of a terraced villa, not much smaller in area than Buckingham Palace. At the side of a large courtyard was the outline of a large aisled hall, probably used as a grain store. The next stage was a trial dig of five sites by Oxford Archaeology, in which Martin Fiennes was heavily involved. This dig produced a wealth of significant artefacts.
The five sites have now been filled in and crops are growing on top of them. Excavation of the whole site would cost about £2 million. The hope is that universities or the Heritage Lottery Fund might be willing to fund the project.