Lopen is usually a small dot on the map of Somerset in the South
West of England, but in October 2001 it caught the imagination of
the world when one of the largest and most important Romano-British
mosaic pavements to be discovered was found there.
No one had guessed that in this small village of about 250 people,
there had been a community of some importance long before Domesday
book was completed in 1085-6 AD. One man with a mechanical digger
and a sharp eye changed knowledge of the origins of our village
pushing it back in time almost 1000 years, when this part of England
was a province of the vast Roman Empire.
A new access road was needed to be put in to the back of Mill
House and the previous farm from which the Osborne family ran their
vegetable business. The field had been an orchard. Working with
his digger late one evening, George Caton noticed small cubes of
stone in the earth he was removing. He immediately recognised the
significance of what he had seen and immediately stopped work. Next
day in daylight, George and the family cleaned up a small area of
the mosaic, confirming what they had thought; there it was, a large,
elaborate and well preserved Roman mosaic pavement under the land
that they had farmed for years.
George Caton who discovered the mosaic
The Osbornes contacted Bob Croft, Archaeologist at Somerset County
Council and a local archaeologist from a nearby village to look
at what had been found. The importance of the discovery was immediately
evident and negotiations began at once to allow time for the exposure
of the mosaic floor and its subsequent recording, and to raise the
funds to do this. Time was short. Frosts and winter weather break
up soil surfaces and mosaics; it was already late autumn and the
Osborne family needed their new access road, so all of the work
would have to be done in three weeks (they were happy to have it
Thanks to the support of David Miles, Chief Archaeologist at English
Heritage ( 1 )
who helped with financing the project prepared by Somerset County
Council, and archaeological contractors Terrain Archaeology, a three
week excavation was possible.
The priority was to expose, clean and record the mosaic pavement,
and by careful cleaning of the surrounding area, to understand something
of the building in which it lay. In three weeks of intensive work
these objectives were achieved. It had been agreed that none of
the remains would be damaged and more detailed excavation was not
There was no clear reason to assume that there had been an important
Romano British Settlement on that site. It is just under 1km south
of the Fosse Way, an important Roman Highway running about 400 miles
across the Roman province (
2 ) . It linked Exeter (Isca), Ilchester (Lindinus)
3 ), Bath (Aquae Sulis), Cirencester (Corinium),
Leicester (Ratae) and Lincoln (Lindum). Then linking
with Ermine Street to York.
Until recently no other buildings were known in the area, though South
Somerset soils are some of the most fertile in England and must always
have attracted settlement (
4 ) . A Roman
villa had been found at Crimbleford Knap, some 3kms to the north west
where excavations were carried out in (19 Century) and some more recently
in the early 1990’s (
Map of Somerset showing Roman finds.
Somerset Historic Environment Record
In those precious days of mercifully fine weather, experts and volunteers
on hands and knees, with spades, trowels, buckets, wheel barrows,
and brushes carefully ‘turned back’ the protective carpet
of turf and soil and revealed foundations of walls and mosaic floors.
There was no time for deeper or more extensive excavation.
Early stage of excavation showing
part of old mill buildings. Photo A M Naunton Davies
The mill first recorded on the
site in seventeenth century, and until boundary changes in 1982
was in the Parish of Hinton St. George, and on the Hinton Tithe
map of 1841 shows the field as Hinton Mills. Since 1974 this
is in the parish of Lopen.
A mill stream ran into the mill from the south. The remains
of the Roman building lay between this and Lopen Brook, and
probably extended under the existing buildings. The older buildings
of the mill have walls that contain worked Ham Hill stone and
rubble that may have been reused from earlier buildings, probably
even from the villa.
The Mill buildings and neighbouring
houses and looking towards Merriott to the south east.
Photo Mike Thurston Cloud 9 Photography ( 6 )
Excavators at work, some of
the 6 professional archaeologists trowelling away.
Photo A M Naunton Davies
During the third week news of the find was released to the press.
It was covered on television, in local newspapers, national newspapers
(broadsheet and tabloid), in the American Time Magazine for kids
and some national newspapers across the globe.
Bob Croft, centre, Archaeologist,
Somerset County Council talks to some of the approximately
three thousand visitors during the last weekend. Photo A M
The effect on our local roads
was clear to see, the road was finally closed to through
traffic by the police. Photo P Watkinson
Each one wanting to spent a little
time looking down and back to our Roman past.
Photo A M Naunton Davies