Headington history: Miscellaneous

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Roman Headington

An important Roman road in Oxfordshire passed through Barton and the eastern side of Headington on its way from Alchester near Bicester southwards via Roman Way in Cowley to Dorchester-on-Thames (full details below).

Pottery site at Churchill Hospital

In Roman times the Headington/Cowley area was one of the most important pottery sites in Britain, and pieces of Roman pottery are still found in the Lye Valley.

Reproduced by kind permission of the Museum of Oxford

A man who inscribed Tamesubugus fe[cit] on a piece of pottery that he made on the Churchill site (shown above) is the first person known by name who worked and probably lived in Headington. The following report by the East Oxford Archaeology Project explains the interpretation of the inscription (where the letter E is represented by II)

In 1971–4 excavations took place at the south-eastern corner of the Churchill Hospital site (bounded to the south-east by the gorge of the Lye Valley), and the remains of two periods of potting activity were discovered. The first dated to the late third century and comprised a workshop, well, stone platform, and four kilns; the second period dated from the fourth-century. A large kiln of uncertain date but probably fourth-century (formerly on display in the Museum of Oxford) was excavated.

Roman Villa to north-west of Wick Farm, discovered in Spring 1849

View from Roman villaThe above photograph was taken from beside the footpath leading down from College Pond
and shows the approximate site of the Roman villa. It lies in a field in Elsfield parish that
belongs to Christ Church, but is usually described as being in Headington

Llewellyn Jewitt (who was a wood engraver and the brother of the more famous Orlando Jewitt) lived in St Andrew’s Lane in Old Headington and was a member of the council of the British Archaeological Association. In the spring of 1849 he discovered a Roman villa on field just on the Elsfield side of the border between Beckley and Elsfield and very close to Headington and the Bayswater Brook.The Victoria County History of Oxfordshire, Volume 1 has a report on the villa here (item 24), and describes its situation thus:

Headington. A fragment of a Roman house with 'massive walls of solid masonry', but much robbed, was excavated in the spring of 1849 by Llewellyn Jewitt in two fields on the bounds of Headington and Elsfield parishes, 500 yds. NW. of Wick Farm and ¾ mile west of the Alchester–Dorchester Roman road. It is a typical Roman site, on ground which slopes southwards to the Bayswater Brook

Jewitt himself described its situation thus in 1849:

The fields in which the remains were discovered are situated in the parishes of Headington and Elsfield; the hedge dividing the fields (and which grows on portions of the Roman buildings), also forming the line of division of the two parishes. The situation is one of the most desirable in the neighbourhood, commanding as it does one of the finest and most extensive prospects which that part of the county affords. Immediately in front, on the opposite side of the valley, is seen the village of Headington, embosomed in majestic trees; to the right, on another hill, is the picturesque and wooded village of Elsfield….

The villa had “massive walls of solid masonry” and stood on a typical Roman site, on ground sloping southwards to the brook. Coins found on this site include those of Constantius Chlorus (Constantine I, the father of Constantine the Great), who died in July AD 306, and Gratian, who was Roman emperor from AD 367 to 383.

Roman pottery

Roman pots found near Wick Farm



The illustrations (above and right), which appeared in The Illustrated London News of 14 April 1849, show reconstructions of some of the pottery fragments from this villa.

See the full published text that accompanied these photographs transcribed at the foot of this webpage



A fuller description of the site and the finds can be found here:

Llewellynn Jewitt, “On Roman remains, recently discovered at Headington, near Oxford”, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, Vol. VI (1851)
(large PDF here: see pp.55ff)

In 1892 some labourers digging close to Wick Farm found a skeleton of a Roman inhumation at grid reference SP 554 089 near Wick Farm (HER number 3840).

Roman remains on other Headington sites

The Oxford Archaeological Resource Assessment: Roman Oxford (produced by the Heritage and Specialist Services Team of Oxford City Council) lists many other sites in Headington where Roman remains have been found, including:

  • Barton Park: Early Roman evidence
    See Toby F. Martin and Carl Champness, “Cultivating the margins: The Roman and early medieval rural landscape of Barton Park, Oxford”, Oxoniensia 84 (2019), 217
  • Bayswater Brook: Three intact Romano-British pots were recovered from the brook in 1952
  • Bayswater Hill: A Roman burial and/or occupation site was recorded during development in the late 1940s. A substantial amount of third–fourth century Oxford colour-coated ware and coarse wares were noted
  • Bayswater Road: A Roman burial and pottery were found at 102 Bayswater Road in 1994. See Thames Valley Archaeological Services' desk-based report, “Land at Bayswater Farm, off Waynflete Road, Barton, Oxford”.
  • Bernwood First School: An early Roman burial pit was found here in 2005 and was scientifically dated to AD 20–240
  • Churchill Hospital site: Kilns were found in the nineteenth century but destroyed. Large quantities of Roman pottery were recovered in 1953 during building work for the Regional Blood Transfusion Unit, but one kiln was destroyed during building work. A second kiln was revealed and preserved in situ. Excavations in 1971–3 revealed three more kilns and some evidence of first-century pottery production
  • Dunstan Road: Many potsherds, including mortaria and other kitchen vessels of the late third and fourth centuries, were discovered during house-building in 1935, possibly suggesting another kiln site
  • Harry Bear's Pit (at the south-east end of the Slade): several possible kiln sites were recorded during quarrying in the nineteenth century
  • Headington School: Roman boundaries forming part of a rectilinear plan and dating from the first century were found in 2008 on the site of the new music building. The site appears to have been abandoned in the early second century
  • Headley Way: A large quantity of kiln debris was found in 1960
  • Manor Ground: Mortaria of the late third–fourth centuries found in 2003 suggesting mortaria production nearby
  • Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre: Evidence of possible kiln site from a scatter of pottery sherds found in 1963
  • Ruskin College (Rookery): Quantities of Roman pottery found in 1964, and again in 2008, possibly suggesting another kiln site
  • Stowford Road: small excavation pointing to third-century activity of low-level rural character: sherds of Baetican Dressel amphorae found
  • Windmill Primary School: Three sherds of Roman pottery were found in 2005
  • Warneford Meadow: Several ditches and some Roman pottery have been found

See also:

The Roman road running north–south through Headington

An important Roman road in Oxfordshire passed through the eastern side of Headington on its way from the military camp at Alchester near Bicester southwards to the vicus (settlement) of Dorchester-on-Thames, sixteen miles to the south. The Roman road is almost perfectly straight and is 16½ miles long, compared with 21 miles by road today..

Below is a summary of the whole Roman route. The map links below are to the Ordnance Survey map of 1900 shown beside a modern satellite view. Either click on individual maps, or start here at Alchester camp, close the pop-up box, and just keep dragging the map upwards to see the whole route (both maps will move at the same time). Large sections of the Roman road are indicated by two dashed lines on the older map.

The Roman road started at Alchester camp and proceeded due south (map) through the countryside on the west side of Merton (map), then across Street Hill (named after the Roman Road: map) and the west side of Fencott (map).

It then continued through Otmoor (map) down to Beckley, where after running to the west of Otmoor Lane it emerged at the east side of the Abingdon Arms pub (map).

It then followed the road opposite that is still called Roman Way and continued along the present Sandpath up to the present New Inn Road (map).

It then continued straight on along the line of the footpath that leads to the present B4027 (map).

The route becomes less certain on the other side of the B4027. It seems likely that it at first it continued along the line of the footpath opposite the Royal Oak that today leads down to Barton, but at the point when that path approaches Sydlings Copse and turns south-west, the Roman road probably continued straight on, along the line of a footpath running almost due south that no longer exists (map).

It then probably met the present Bayswater Road just to the north of the Stanton St John road.

It probably followed the present Bayswater Road fairly closely for about half a mile, crossing the Bayswater Brook near the same point as today but then taking a route slightly to the east up Bayswater Hill, through the eastern side of the present Barton estate. After crossing the present Waynflete Road it cut through the grounds of the present Bayards Hill Primary School up to the present A40 (map).

On the other side of the A40 it roughly followed the line of the present Ridgeway Road as far as the curve to the right, at which point it continued in a straight line (map).

It then roughly followed the Eastern Bypass as far as Old Road (map)

It continued following the route of the eastern bypass through the Open Magdalen (now Magdalen Woods) (map). (The suggested line on the 1900 map is slightly out.)

Instead of curving right as the bypass does, the Roman road continued due south, passing through the present Slade Meadow and running to the east of Brasenose Farm and reaching the present Horspath Road just to the west of the Horspath Athletics & Sports Ground (map).

It crossed the present Horspath Road and continued into the present Roman Way in Cowley (a route to the Watlington Road closed by BMW) (map).

The Roman road continued due south, crossing the present Watlington Road over to Blackbird Leys. It followed the line of the present Blackberry Lane (crossing Grenoble Road) down past Cowley substation, turning into a footpath leadington down to Baldon Lane to to the west of Toot Baldon (map).

It continued through fields on the east side of Marsh Baldon (map).

It then followed roughly the route of the footpath through the middle of Berinsfield (map).

It crossed the line of the present A4074 and entered Dorchester-on-Thames roughly on the line of the present Oxford Road (map).

A substantial section of the Roman road was found in the Open Magdalen Wood (now deemed to be part of Brasenose Woods) during the construction of the eastern bypass, but was destroyed during the construction work. The route has also been found at Bayards Hill Primary School. A section also survived until recently at the west side of Ridgeway Road near the London Road.

For more detailed information about this road, see:

  • Victoria County History Vol. 1: A History of the County of Oxford (1939), “Romano-British remains: Roads”:
    The north-south road
  • Oxoniensia Vol. XXIV (1959), Notes and News: “The Roman road from Alchester to Dorchester”,
    reporting on the findings when the eastern bypass was constructed the previous year
  • Robert Hussey, An Account of the Roman Road from Alchester to Dorchester, and Other Roman Remains in the Neighbourhood: Being the Substance of a Paper Read to the Ashmolean Society, Nov. 9, 1840 (available to purchase for the Kindle, but scan is poor)
Other minor Roman roads in Headington

A road leading from Frilford near Abingdon passed just to the south of the Churchill Hospital (a Roman pottery site) and joined up with the above road at the Open Magdalen.

An excavation at Stowford Road in Barton identified a fourth-century metalled trackway running south–north towards the Bayswater Brook.

There may also have been a Roman route down to Oxford from Headington. Peshall (writing in the eighteenth century) believed that the road running down Headington Hill was created by the Romans, but it could in fact be a natural hollow way. Others think that the Cuckoo Lane path running down to the Marston Road behind Headington Hill Hall follows the line of a Roman way that was used instead of the present route up the hill.

Text in the Illustrated London News of 14 April 1849 that
accompanied the Wick Farm finds illustrated above


The remains of a Roman Villa, &c., which have recently been discovered near the above place, by Mr. Llewellyn Jewitt, local member of council of the British Archaeological Association, are situated at a distance of about three-quarters of a mile to the west of the Roman road leading from Alcester to Dorchester; and the foundations at present excavated lie in the two parishes of Headington and Elsfield. From the earthworks and foundations the remains appear to be a considerable extent; and in the partial excavations which have at present been carried on, some massive walls of solid masonry, a small bath lined with a red-dish-coloured plaster, and a room measuring fourteen feet by ten feet six inches, likewise plastered, and having a concrete floor, have been laid bare, and many interesting relics brought to light. Amongst these are a beautiful little globular bell of bronze, highly ornamented; the umbo of a shield, in an excellent state of preservation; two bone pins; some implements of iron; several iron nails of various forms and sizes; a few coins; fragments of glass vessels and window-glass; some horns and bones; flue, drain, and other tiles; stone roofing slates; pottery, &c.

Of pottery, the variety both of form and material is very great, and the fragments exhibit examples of most of the known varieties – from the fine red glazed ware, usually called Samian, down to the coarser descriptions of the home manufactured vessels. Our illustrations exhibit some of the forms restored from fragments in Mr. Jewitt’s possession. In the larger engraving, the centre vessel is of a coarse red ware; and fragments of several other nearly similar pots have been found. The indented vase to the right is formed of a very thin, fine, light grey material, and is of an elegant shape. The one to the left is of a coarsish black material; while the lower vessels, ornamented with intersecting surface lines, are also black, but the material is quite fine. In the front, at the right-hand corner, is a Samian patera. The vessel lying down to the left is coarse, and but slightly baked.

In the smaller engraving, the front vessel (No. 1) has the inside studded with fragments of quartz. Of this description of pottery, portions of upwards of forty vessels have already been found, of various forms and colours, ranging in sizes from nine or ten inches to nearly two feet in diameter. Behind this, No. 2 is made of a fine black clay, with ornamental surface lines. Of the same form as No. 3, which is of a fine red ware, many fragments have been found, including one or two of the fine glazed variety. No. 4 is coarse red. No. 5, with the indented circles, is brown, on a coarse red body; and the neck of No. 6 is stone-coloured.

Of the varieties of pottery found, are fragments of elegant vessels, having on highly glazed metallic surfaces embossed and white scrolls and other ornaments; portions of light buff-coloured ware, painted in various patterns with a red colour; one fragment of a drinking-cup, with raised figures, of the kind described in No. 1 of the “Journal of the British Archaeological Association,” as found by Mr. Artis in the Durobrivian Potteries; and several other interesting examples of fictile art.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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