The Evidence for Roman Sandy

Introduction

The origin of Sandy as a Roman town has been recognised since the 17th century. It was described as a source for Roman artifacts in John Aubrey's Monumenta Britannica as far back as 1666. Prior to that we have the evidence of local place names such as Chesterfield (deriving from Saxon words for forts or ruins) and sites such as Caesar's Camp which is an Iron Age camp to give pointers to the ancient origins of the town.

It was in the 19th century, with the coming of the railway and subsequent quarrying of land around the train line and station, that the first major finds of Roman artifacts from the area are recorded. These included coins, pottery, iron work including a Roman sword and a Roman cemetery on the site of the present day railway station.

Further Roman finds have continued to be made this century - a collection of bronze objects, coins and pottery fragments was recovered from the Town cemetery and a small excavation was carried out in Chesterfield in the late 1950s.

Much of this material has now been lost. It was not until work in a new area of the cemetery revealed the remains of a Roman skull, that modern archaeological recording of Roman Sandy began, with excavations carried out in the cemetery between 1988 and 1991 by the Bedfordshire Archaeology Service.

 

Before the Romans

There is evidence of settlement in the Sandy area from at least the middle Iron Age with pottery being recovered from the Iron Age hillforts at Sandy Lodge and Caesar's Camp.

Early Sandy was a self sufficient farming settlement, taking advantage of the light easy to work soils and plentiful water supply along the river valley. Excavations in the area of the cemetery and allotments have revealed the remains of an Iron Age round house and a nearly complete burial urn.

By the late 1st century BC, not long before the Roman invasion, Sandy may have become a political centre for the Catuvellauni, striking Iron Age coins and importing Roman pottery from the continent.


Further Reading
Cunliffe B W, 1996 Iron Age Communities in Britain RKP



The Start of Roman Sandy

Roman Sandy grew up around a mansio or imperial posting station on the Roman road that ran from Baldock to Godmanchester. The settlement developed to meet the needs of the Roman imperial post system.

The new Roman town was probably formally laid out with streets running south, away from the main road. Houses were built facing onto these streets, with many having workshop areas behind or to one side of them. These houses and workshop areas were interspersed with small gardens.

The growth of Roman Sandy would also have had an effect on the wider landscape and settlement of the area, with development of farming estates managed from large Roman style houses (usually called villas).

 


Further Reading
Black E W, 1995 Cursus Publicus: The Infrastructure of government in Roman Britain BAR 241 Oxford