Duston In Roman Times

The Roman town

The Roman settlement, on a site just south of the current Weedon Road at Duston, had its origins around 25 AD when a Belgic/Celtic tribe — the Catuvellaunii — expanded into the area between several other Celtic tribal areas: Trinovantes and Iceni (east), Coritani (north), and Dobunni (west). As such it was a frontier town, typically on a southern slope by a river crossing (where Duston Mill was later built).

The presence of the settlement was detected from the discovery of a number of pottery fragments, coins and burials recorded by Samuel Sharp during the extensive quarrying of the area for iron ore and limestone during the 1800's. Unfortunately the quarrying operations must have destroyed most of the physical evidence of the occupation. The site of the settlement lies between the 200 ft and 250 ft contours alongside the western arm of the River Nene, if St Luke's Archaeology group (SLA) findings are confirmed. The burials were of several different types. Many of the Romano-British burials were to the north of this area, and there were several Anglo-Saxon ones to the west. (See also Roman Finds in Duston.)

Some time after AD 43 the settlement was Romanised. We do not know its Celtic name, nor its Romanised name, and no references to the site have yet been found in the literature or inscriptions, so we shall refer to it as 'Duston'.

(Many towns took their name from a prominent local feature. A possibility here is gravel. There are millions of tonnes in the locality, which is extracted commercially. The nearby village name of Kislingbury has been interpreted by some authorities as the 'fort of the gravel dwellers' (from the Saxon). One hypothesis is that Kislingbury may have taken its Roman name from that of Duston, as both were situated on gravel. The name Kislingbury translated back into Latin, would give us 'Glareodunum' or 'Glareodurum'.)

The town developed from Celtic/British through Roman/British to Romano/Saxon/British throughout the whole period of occupation AD 43 to AD 410 (and presumably beyond) in what appears to have been a continuous evolution until its general abandonment in the late 5th or early 6th century.

The Roman roads

The road from Bannaventa (Whilton Lodge/Norton) on the Watling Street (A5) to Duston has been historically accepted as a Roman road, and is shown as such on Ordnance Survey maps. Its line suggests that it must have passed close to the north end of the Roman settlement at Duston.

The Roman road was built on the open heathland that originally existed above the 350 ft contour. St Luke's archaeology group (SLA) believe that in this terrain the Roman engineers could aim directly for their objective, unimpeded by valleys or streams. The Roman road and the roads crossing it were later used as parish boundaries in an otherwise featureless countryside. The Sandy Lane road junction is one such, bounding Upton, Harpole, and Duston. North and south, the crossroads identify the parish boundaries until streams are reached, which then take over that role.

The OS grid reference points SLA have picked out are, from the west:

  1. (SP 6909 6241) Near the water tower at Nobottle where the road emerges from woodland. There are sites of Roman villas in the wood, and behind the water tower. Further west the road line is lost in woodlands, valleys and following a narrow ridge.
  2. (SP 6977 6216) Rode Hill Harpole T-junction. Here the bridle path north leads to yet another villa site (reported by SLA recently).
  3. (SP 7054 6186) Sandy Lane crossroads. Heath Farm, Harpole, iron age site to the north.
  4. (SP 7187 6127) The back gardens of 5, 3, and 1 Berrywood Road, Old Duston, where limestone presumed to be from the surface of the Roman road has been found. Here the Main Road and Berrywood Road have been diverted from the line of the Roman road.
  5. (SP 7234 6102) The junction at Millway/Main Road, Old Duston. Road foundations 7 m wide and 30 cms deep were uncovered on 16/8/1996 in sewer workings, and comprised a double layer of shelly Upper Estuarine/Blisworth limestone with lime mortar infill on a rubble base.
The projection from this point appears to run south of 1 Church Way, but north (Weedon Road side) of the Express Lift tower. Readers may like to join these grid references and draw their own conclusions.

A second road of Roman construction was investigated by Dr J. Williams in the 1970's. This passes through the site in a direction 18 degrees east of north, and comes from the direction of Towcester.

For more information, see The Roman Road in Duston.

Roman water supply

The Romans were great users of water and the native population soon became converts to the consumer society and its benefits. Duston Roman town apparently had access to a spring on its eastern flank. Variously described as a stream by Bryant, and a spring on the 1886 OS series maps. Intriguingly, the earliest map (C. Price 1722) shows it as a square or rectangle. Haverfield, in the Victoria County History, 1902, decribes it as an artificial pond. However, given the nearby presence of St James' Abbey and the 19th century brickworks we may never know what it was really used for originally.

Apart from this supply the River Nene with its tributaries and springs would also be used by the population to supply reeds for thatching, fish, game, water for cattle, pigs and sheep, and for laundering needs, and the leather dressing, weaving and woollen industries. Furthermore, it is a flood plain river, and not particularly reliable as a source of drinking water. Besides, being well below the 200 ft contour, the water would have had to travel several kilometres by leat and aqueduct from a spot upriver high enough to provide sufficient head to come into the Roman town. SLA believe drinking water came from a location

The whole of Duston lies on a thick bed of Upper Lias clay, over which sand, sandstone and limestone have been deposited. In past ages this has worn away, leaving a ridge of clay exposed. As an example of the water-producing quality of the area, on the northern side in Port Road, the Duston Laundry pumped 10,000 gallons a day from one well at a constant temperature of 53 degrees F., with maximum capacity 1100 gallons per hour at a depth of 28 ft from a 13 ft sump in the clay. The water level never changed, despite the pumping, for the lifetime of the laundry. St Luke's Archaeology group (SLA) believe that the southern clay slope would provide a similar capacity from the watershed to the wells at Pond Farm Close. currently named 'Pond Farm Close' in Old Duston. Recently 10 to 12 wells have been found here 175 metres away from the start of a limestone culvert that runs underground for 100 m, and below the Roman road level, close to the war memorial.

The culvert itself is inaccessible, below ground, with a modern brickwork outlet where the Roman culvert was replaced at the end of the 20th century by a 20 inch concrete pipe, having served the Victorian engineers and later ones for some 150 years.

culvertApproximate dimensions of the culvert are 1.5 m wide x 10 cms thick slab top, walls of 5 courses of rough ashlar, estimated at 10 cm x 25 cms deep, and a paved stepped base 60–70 cms wide by 5 cms deep. If these approximations are anywhere near, then construction would have required 1 tonne of limestone per metre length (i.e. 100 tones, plus a further 175 tonnes to Pond Farm Close.

From its outlet the water entered an open leat, which still runs today across Millway playing fields. It originally followed the then contours (quarried out c. 1852–1909) to the north west corner of the town.

This article was kindly contributed by St Luke's Archaeology (SLA).

See Also

Roman Town in Duston

Map of Romano-British Town

Roman Road in Duston

Roman Finds in Duston



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