Reporter: Anne Grimshaw
The August outing to Ashley Cooper’s farm at Gestingthorpe was a delight. Ashley picked up threads from his talk to the Sudbury Society in November 2014 about the Roman villa which his father, Harold, had uncovered in the late 1940s soon after he bought the land.
The tour began in the museum which is overflowing with finds ranging from pots and cooking utensils to rings, brooches and necklaces, shoe nails and buckles, from ingenious keys and locks to moulds for statuettes made by the lost wax process – hitherto unknown in Britain at the period. The site had been a market and craftworkers’ village.
Not only were the finds on display but many were incorporated in the wonderful illustrations by Benjamin Perkins showing the site in pre-Roman times through to almost the present. The people in pictures are like re-enactors bringing the past to life. Ashley adds an ad hoc ‘soundtrack’ through imagined conversations of previous inhabitants.
From the museum we drove to the site of the Roman villa, its outline cut in the turf – it was about the size of St Peter’s church, Sudbury, with a curved room at one end containing a hypocaust and a plunge bath.
Here too Benjamin’s Perkins’ paintings were invaluable in depicting the scene, including plants and wildlife, as it would have been at various stages in its life until the last one showed the villa falling down: its roof caving in, weeds growing round it, no doors or windows. Ashley said he would have loved to meet the person who was last to leave the villa. When did he leave – and why?
How fortuitous it was that this land came into the ownership of Harold Cooper and later Ashley – men interested in the past, who realised the significance of the finds and the site, had the enthusiasm and ability to convey their passion to others, including, most important of all, children. The land could so easily have been bought by someone who did not know or care about archaeology, history and conservation – and we would all have been the poorer.
See also Sudbury Society Newsletter Spring 2015 www.sudburysociety.org.uk/eventreport/the-mysteries-of-gestingthorpe-roman-villa/