1815 – Human remains found in grounds of Oddington Rectory

The following is an extract from “An account of the Roman Road from Alchester to Dorchester” by the Rev. Robert Hussey, B.D., Student of Christ Church, Oxford. The Ashmolean Society, 1841.

At Oddington some very curious relics were found about the year 1815, at the building of the present Rectory house. In digging up the ground to make the garden, several skeletons were uncovered. At first many bones were taken up piecemeal, but after orders had been given to clear away the earth from them carefully, six or seven were laid bare in a whole state as they had been buried. There were many things remarkable in their condition: they were very slightly covered with earth, not being more than from one to two feet beneath the surface. They were not altogether, but dispersed about the ground; and they were not laid in any order or uniform position, but with heads and feet pointing in all directions, as might happen. Some of them had helmets on, and I have heard it said that the mouldering remains of some weapons were found by the side of them. One of them had the head of a spear fixed in his body between the lower rib and hip. It is also said (but for this the man who saw them could not trust his memory with certainty), that another had a spear head under his shoulder.

They seemed to be the skeletons of very tall and large men: and was said to have measured more than six feet from his head to his toes. They were found in no large space of ground in the garden of the Rectory: one of them was lying where the hedge now stands; and it seems very probable that there may be more still in the ground in the field without the garden beyond the hedge to the south-west. Some portions of the arms found with the bodies were sent to be examined by competent antiquarians authority at the time when they were dug up, and were judged to be Roman. There can be little doubt that the Romans traversed the ground for besides the great road to Dorchester, about a mile distant, and the pottery about twice that distance (not to mention the possibility of another nearer line of road) a Roman copper coin was picked up in a field near the place in 1838. But from the manner in which the bodies were buried it seems plain that they belonged to a party, which, if not defeated and flying, yet thought it most prudent not to stay very long in the neighbourhood of the enemy, to whose courage they had been the victims.

For the slight depth at which they were laid would seem to be owing to the want of time to dig deeper. (The ground where they lay had often been ploughed before they were found, and the workmen who dug them up calculated – and it seemed to be a point which interested them – that the plough must have gone within four or five inches of the bodies). The irregularity of their position would lead to the same conclusion, the natural method would have been, we may suppose, to make one pit, or a few large receptacles for them, or, at least, to have laid them out in some kind of order: but these seem to have been just “dug in” as they might chance to lie. Again, their helmets, and all their arms would surely have been taken away and kept by the army to which they belonged unless they had been pressed. If therefore these were Roman soldiers, it seems probable that they might have met with a successful resistance at Oddington, which not only caused them the loss of so many men, but also embarrassed the movements of the body to which they belonged, and forced them to make a hasty retreat.

Whether the enemy here was the native Briton or some opposing party of Romans, as that of Allectus or Carausius, must be a matter of conjecture at present. Other remains also have been found near this spot. The place called “Brismere” is said to be covered with the debris of Roman pottery, extending from the Rectory of Oddington to Charlton. A fragment of an urn from this place, and a piece of a leaden vessel are now in the Ashmolean Museum.*

*See Catalogue of Ashm. Mus. Antiq. 164 (Rev. P. Serle, Trinity Coll.)