The History of Clevedon

Part 2: The Early Years

It now appears that far from being a wasteland flooded from one years end to the next, the moorland in and around Clevedon was densely occupied during the 2nd to 5th centuries of the Roman occupation.

The population explosion which occurred in the later period of this occupation led to an increased need for food production, which I believe was the reason for so much encroachment onto the moorlands, with as much cultivated land as possible being taken into use.

In Clevedon itself the main sites lie scattered along the southern facing slopes of the town. The Victoria County History records pottery and coins being found on the slopes running from Christ Church along to Hangstone Quarry in Old Church Road. A small scatter was found in the area of the Linden Road library. Pottery and stonework was found in her garden on Dial Hill, close to the cricket field by Petra Dowsett a schoolgirl member of the Research Group; pottery was also found in mains trenches dug during the development of Esmond Grove on Dial Hill.

At Clevedon Court skeletons and pottery were discovered in the ground adjacent to the tennis court in the immediate post-war period. Skeletons were also found during the building of Christ Church and the Wesleyan Chapel in the reign of Victoria. One inhumation was reported at the rear of houses in Coleridge Road in the 1870's. Within the last decade skeletons have been located in mains trenches and foundation work when the houses were built to the rear of Strode Farm near the Old Church and Victoria Road junctions.

In trenches cut for the gas mains on the line of Teignmouth Road & Kingston Avenue, scattered Roman Period rubbish pits were noticed. Little of value was discovered, but in one; part of the handle of a bronze spoon was found. In a garden in Meadow Road a brass coin forgery, of a gold coin of Magnentius was detected whilst the occupant was gardening. It is quite probable that this had been forged on a site located on Ken Moor. Other forged coins of the same period had turned up in sites on the moors.

Some small potsherds had been remarked in gardens of Old Street below the school. A rumour was heard at the time of building extension classrooms that a skeleton had been quietly disposed of for fear of holding up the work.

A study of Aerial Photographs, which showed circular shapes on the surface of a field near the Clevedon-Tickenham boundary, stimulated a trial dig in the field. As a result the floor stones of a crude Roman Period dwelling came to light, together with potsherds, many of which were from the *Congresbury Pottery Kilns. An examination of a site above the river on a higher level led to a substantial floor with a drainage ditch to the higher side to spread water around the building and shed it down the hill. Many samples of potsherds were found some of them; having been thrown into the drainage ditch survived as large fragments, half of a large hand millstone was found in the ditch also.

(*Excavated by the Research Group Junior Section in 1964-6. A total of five kilns were found in the Venus Street area of Congresbury in the period of three separate years digging. Three Kilns were in the paddock of Mrs & Mr Rex Rossiter at Yew Tree Farm, and two were discovered in the field in which the original waster heap was found.)

These finds which were originally deposited at St. Brandons school (some of the pupils having helped in the excavations) are now in the custody of Woodspring Museum. Also found were a small blue bead, a faceted rose quartz crystal, a bronze bracelet with a 'wheel of life' motif design and some boot nails. Test holes in the surrounding fields revealed a small scatter of pottery but nothing of great significance.

Walking the fields in the area after disturbances, -- ploughing, pipe draining, ditch throwing etc. resulted in pottery being discovered on a field surface to the north of the original test dig site. This was most interesting as the field was one of the lowest in the area with an O.D. of between 16 to 17 feet.

On the Ken to Yatton moors an extensive occupation site covering a length of over a mile had been sampled. Test holes had been dug to establish area limits, and where it was needed identification excavations had been undertaken.

The site types had varied from burials - rubbish pits to corn drying and coin forging. Location of these sites were sharply defined, and coincided in many of the instances with the traces of vanished river courses which abound on the flat lands of the moor. Some showing merely as meanders are evidence of the sump area of the inner moor; but others which have more definite lines, are all that is left to show where rivers drained our moors, and ran to the sea, at places other than the rivers and rhines, which are part of the present landscape.

In all instances the sites where Roman Period occupation was proved, were on the HIGH GROUND side of the traces of old river courses. One instance in particular showed an obvious artificial cutting with a contemporary drainage ditch cut across to it. A proof that the occupants of the site had been busily engaged in draining the area as well as illegally producing forged coins from old bronze ornaments.

It suggests that far from being a lonely moorland waste, the low lying areas were farmed as intensively as that generation of our countrymen were capable of. Possibly some of the areas were merely summer grazing meadowland, but the Wemberham Roman villa on the river Yeo is hardly higher than some of the land on the moor fringes. This would point to a system whereby on the higher ground of the moors, arable crops were raised; and during the retreat of any winter flooding grazing flocks were pushed out on to the water meadows.

The North Somerset Archaeological Research Group under the directors Messrs. C. M. Sykes, and Gray Usher succeeded in the discovery and identification of over 60 separate locations of occupational scatter in the close area of Clevedon during the time that the author was group recorder covering the period from 1960 to 1980. 

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