2004/5 Interim report on the Piddington villa &
Iron Age settlement and Romano-British villa.
By R.M. & D.E. Friendship-Taylor
Site location (SP 7965 5400)
Piddington villa, situated within gently undulating countryside on an east facing slope, lies 6 miles (9.65kms) south-east of Duston, the important late Iron Age settlement and Roman precursor of modern Northampton. The site is located on well-drained light boulder clay, with underlying Oolitic limestone, in places close to the surface, together with nearby deposits of tufa (often used for bathhouse roofs) and fissile limestone (used for general roofing particularly to the rear of the Piddington villa). Both are attested by the extensive use of the material in the building of the villa and the well and by later quarrying operations in the area at least until 1921 and deep trenching by Anglian Water in 1980. The site is close to the Wootton Brook, a small tributary of the River Nene.
There is no obvious watercourse close by, but water is to be found in the deeper soils towards the lower slopes of the valley, at only 2 metres or so below the surface. Therefore, ideal conditions for settlement are to be found in the immediate area of this occupation.
Originally found in 1781 by limestone quarrymen, “a frantic treasure hunt” (Friendship-Taylor, in Rollo, 1994, 2) ensued, following the discovery of a skeleton with a spear and a nearby gold ring, which concluded with “the wholesale destruction” (Friendship-Taylor, 1989, 1) of a reputed 50ft square mosaic - actually 8.75m x 10m (28ft x 32ft.), with an underlying channelled hypocaust.
Several threats confronted the practically forgotten site in 1979, including a proposed new water main, a vicar armed with a metal detector and deep ploughing,. To avoid further destruction, the pipeline was relocated to the west of the site, where it was hoped that it would be clear of all known Roman features. Thanks to the co-operation and continued support of the landowner, the now late Mr Joseph Chambers, the rescue excavation has now developed into a long-term research project. As a result, the Piddington excavations have provided a rare opportunity to study various aspects of the late Iron Age and succeeding Romano-British period in detail. Over the years, it has become one of the best-explored Roman villas in the country (Selkirk (ed.), 1996, 57).
Early prehistoric occupation
Tantalising evidence, suggesting early origins/occupation of the Piddington site, is intimated by the large number of prehistoric worked flints accumulated through excavation and field walking in the fields surrounding the site of the villa. Mesolithic (c 8000 BC) microliths, Neolithic c 4000 to 2000 BC, leaf-shaped arrowheads scrapers and blades, Bronze Age tanged and barbed arrowheads, blades, scrapers, cores and flakes (c 2000 – c 600 BC), all attest to intensive prehistoric activity in the vicinity. Related prehistoric structures or features remain enigmatic however, and “no significant pattern can be ascribed to the scatter” (Friendship-Taylor, in Rollo, 1994, 2). It is perhaps not unreasonable to assume that ploughing and later use of the site would have destroyed or masked earlier flimsier structures, but nonetheless, the finds remain an important aspect of the use of the area surrounding the site.