Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lunt Roman Fort (about 12 miles round trip)

Students who have studied Unit 3 of the Cambridge Latin Course will be familiar with life in a Roman fort in Britain during the dangerous late first century C.E. The story in the CLC is set in 83 C.E., the year of Agricola’s major victory over the Caledonii in the north. Lunt Roman Fort (excavated between 1965 and 1973) was constructed shortly after the Boudiccan rebellion in 60 C.E. A cohors equitata (cavalry) was probably stationed at Lunt; the evidence for this is the gyrus (the reconstruction is seen at the right in this photograph), a small circular arena used for cavalry training. On the left of the photograph is the reconstructed granary (horreum), similar to the one under which Modestus and Strythio conceal themselves in Stage 27: Modestus et Strythio, e carcere egressi, ad horreum fugerunt. per aditum angustum repserunt et sub horreo celati manebant. The granary was raised off the ground to keep out rats and dampness.

The Lunt is actually rather disappointing, since (apart from the earthworks) it is entirely a reconstruction. The defensive earthworks are on the eastern side of the fort. The modern timber reconstruction of the eastern gate makes use of the actual Roman post holes. The small museum inside the granary has an interesting model of the entire fort as it may have looked in the first century, along with artifacts excavated on or near the site. The most interesting artifact, I thought, was a burial urn containing gray ashes and fragments of bone. Unfortunately, we arrived on a slow day at the end of the season, so there were no reenactors in Roman costume marching around the site or training in the gyrus (which, incidentally, appears to be unique in Britain). The modern chainlink fence in this photograph spoils the effect of reconstruction.

The Lunt is in the village of Baginton, which also has a small 13th-century church (dedicated to St. John the Baptist). Next to the church is the site of Baginton Castle, also dating to the 13th century. Now only fragments of the foundations remain, and English Heritage has fenced these off (admission is £2.50 by special arrangement). Excavations around Baginton have also revealed an Anglo-Saxon burial site and remains of an Iron Age settlement. Baginton is also the location of the Coventry Airport, which was a Royal Air Force base in World War II (one of the reasons, no doubt, that the Germans bombed Coventry).

There is a good footpath to Baginton along the eastern bank of the River Sowe from the attractive little village of Stoneleigh. These almshouses were built in Stoneleigh in the late sixteenth century by Alice, Duchess Dudley (née Leigh), and are mentioned in passing by Jane Austen in Mansfield Park, chapter 8: “Those alms-houses, built by some of the family.” One well-known feature of Stoneleigh is the mid-nineteenth century blacksmith’s shop on the village green, which stands under a “spreading chestnut tree.” Unfortunately, the tree is now a victim of the chestnut blight. There are also several thatched-roofed, half-timbered cottages in Stoneleigh, and a fine church (dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin) with Norman arches and the lovely alabaster funerary monuments of Duchess Dudley (d. 1668) and Baron Chandos Leigh (poet, friend of Lord Byron, and founder of the Stoneleigh Cricket Club).

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