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Some thoughts inspired by recent grave-digging finds in Ewell graveyard

1996/4 p6


Some thoughts inspired by recent grave-digging finds in Ewell graveyard


David Brooks’ detailed description of the Roman pottery from the grave dug at TQ 22146298 is very interesting, as is his reference to a flint cobbled yard and the fact graves are now being dug in the area of the NAS excavations carried out in advance of the extension of the consecrated area of the cemetery. I think this pottery, like many of the finds of the 1976 Pemberton excavation, was on the large cobbled area adjacent to Stane Street which had sites of fires on it and much debris arising from the use of Stane Street by hauliers who drew off the road and camped for the night. In distances Ewell would have been an intermediate way station between London and the first mansio (at Dorking?) where horses could be changed by the imperial postmen, and where a cold harbour (roadside camping site) for commercial use could be usefully sited. Some of the stray finds from this graveyard over the years are related to this cold harbour camp, and a few to material being transported. The museum has somewhere a complete boxtile (a central heating hot gas flue component for building into walls) which was found smashed in 1960 by Martin Morris on a grave excavation dump. He repaired it and it shows no signs of ever having been used. It obviously fell off a waggon carrying a consignment of such tiles (to London perhaps). The pattern on the boxtile has never, so far as I know, been identified, but it could of course be the Ashtead factory’s one – someone should check this.


My hope is that in the rearranged museum a display on Stane Street would, among other matters, illustrate this cold harbour. There are other features of great interest, such as the fact we have two long alignments – London to the Old Church Tower site, and Dorking to the Ewell Windmill site – and then a short alignment running from the Windmill mound to the tower site, also a little mound perhaps, which ensured the road ran through Ewell. And why do that? Because the springs at Ewell would ensure a cold harbour and a horse changing station would have a plentiful water supply.


There is little doubt in my mind that Stane Street and Roman Ewell must be looked at together, and this association carries on into the sub-Roman period when it became a garrison site of Germanic foederati guarding the approach to London via Stane Street.


The early Saxon name Ewell – ‘the welling up place of water’ – calls attention to the most notable characteristic of this site and takes us back far beyond Roman times and explains the large number of Mesolithic tools and tool-making debris found in the Spring area and along the Hogsmill River. The Mesolithic tribes wandered over a tribal territory as the Australian aborigines did and, in some remote areas, still did until recently. There would be camping places where the group stopped for a month or so in the wandering cycle (walkabout in pidgin Australian English). Doubtless Ewell was such a place on the itinerary of one such group in 6000 or 7000 BC. This is another theme I hope will be illustrated in the reorganised museum display.


Norman Nail

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