Colin Baddeley very sadly never saw his history of Roman Mancetter reach the publication stage, coming out as it did in 2013, one year after his death.
But in compiling Roman Mancetter, he undoubtedly did us all a great service.
There is no other accessible and comprehensive account of this village over the four centuries of Roman occupation. His book stands out as valuable in having gathered this history within the covers of one single publication. As of today, in this it is unique. There is no other book that pulls together in one volume the Roman history of Mancetter.
You could acquire your own leather bound copy of Volume IV of the Victoria County Histories, which at 30cm X 22cm weighs close on four kilograms. [Mind you, you can bypass the athleticism that such a massive tome requires by going to British History Online.]
Over ten pages, pp 116-126, the Victoria County History does indeed give a detailed account of Mancetter’s historical buildings and landowners over the centuries. Even so, some of the more dramatic events are omitted, such as Mancetter’s proximity to Richard III’s battlefield, or the mid-sixteenth century martyrdoms of Robert Glover and Joyce Lewis, and the Civil War skirmish at Caldecote Hall.
However, …..and here we’re coming back to the theme of this website…..if you’re looking for the history of Roman Mancetter, those ten closely printed pages will sadly disappoint. They offer only one brief paragraph on the topic, opening with: “Within the old parish there are traces of Roman occupation”. It allows a couple of sentences to chart where Mancetter sits on the Watling Street, and mentions Roman quarrying nearby that was probably for the upkeep of the road. And another couple of sentences note a rectangular earthwork spanning Watling Street, suggesting it may have been a Roman posting station.
You’ll notice there is no mention of a Roman fort.
That is because the Victoria County History for Warwickshire was compiled in 1945. They didn’t know about the fort, then.
It is one of the strange and surprising and wonderful things about Mancetter that here and now in the early 21st century we are just beginning to celebrate and study the marvel of Roman Manduessedum. It’s only over the last 70 years that a thriving, bustling, significant settlement lasting close to 400 years has been, bit by bit, revealing itself. Realisation of the existence of a burgus – a small walled town sitting astride the Watling Street – came only through excavations in 1927. The first hint of a dawning realisation that Mancetter had a Roman Fort came from just an indication of what seemed like part of a fort’s defensive ditch; that was via a small excavation in 1955.
Then, in 1964 workmen repairing a water pipe near the Manor House steps found a little stash of carefully hidden Roman savings, presumably one military man’s salaries. From that point the ball was set rolling….. archaeological searches gathered pace, slowly creating our understanding of Mancetter’s Roman fort: 1967, 1968, 1976, 1978, four digs in 1980, 1984, 1989, 1990 -1993. Like from a one-time photographer’s developing tray, when pieces of a photograph would emerge bit by bit, our picture of the fort has been coming piece by piece more clearly into the light.
The burgus, meanwhile, also received attention. In 1964 it was excavated again, with Graham Webster in the seventies pursuing studies as to what its purpose might have been. Also, nearby Roman ribbon development along Watling Street was brought to our knowledge throughout 1993-4.
And if all this wasn’t enough, there was discovery throughout the mid-sixties and into the seventies of a flourishing pottery industry – a veritable ” Roman Stoke-on-Trent” – thoroughly documented from finds on lands between Watling Street and the A4111.
This is why, as said, Colin Baddeley did us all a service.
In a readable manner he takes the reader through the story of the Roman invasion, and the swift progress of those invaders into the territory we now call the Midlands, with Mancetter at its heart and an ideal site for the kind of fort built to “hold the line”. He discusses the Boudican battle theory, and adds interesting views on the use made of the Dee estuary by the Roman army to and from Anglesey. Of course, he was writing before our current Mancetter battle theory had been fully researched, so that’s something not discussed by him. But just like our current theory, his account is closely related to Webster’s. He includes information on the burgus, where his paragraph on Constantius hints at some possible defensive line being the motive for constructing the Mancetter burgus and the other four similar developments on Watling Street. His section on the pottery industry includes interesting line drawings. Additional chapters are enlightening, on pottery, currency and the structure and tactics of the Roman Army.
Colin’s involvement in Atherstone Archaeological and Historical Society, including getting his boots muddy on actual digs, means he was exceptionally well suited to select and discuss Mancetter’s many found Roman artefacts. They are woven into the story he tells in Roman Mancetter; they are yet another reason for us to acknowledge the service he has done us.
He was also an expert on wine-tasting. Take a sip from his book – and you’ll end up drinking deep !