Reporter: Anne Grimshaw
It is always a pleasure to listen to Ashley Cooper talking so passionately about his farm, his father, their mutual interest in history and their archaeological finds around the Roman villa on their land at Gestingthorpe.
Ashley illustrated his talk on November 28th with photos of the villa’s remains, the excavations, finds and artefacts but even more vivid were the beautiful watercolours by Benjamin Perkins of what had probably taken place on the site at certain dates throughout the centuries. These paintings were meticulous in detail and incorporated finds, discoveries and what was known from other sources in the context of the time and the villa.
It all began with Ashley’s father, Harold, in (I think) 1947 ploughing. Red (and some white) tiles came to the surface – what were they? Harold did not simply ignore them for, being of an enquiring mind, set about finding out what they were – they proved to be Roman roof tiles. His initial query snowballed into a full-blown archaeological excavation but without the sophisticated techniques of today.
The villa threw up lots of stylii (writing tools), a hypocaust heating system, pudding-stone querns for milling cereals, storage jars, weighing scales, horse harness decorations, tweezers, nail clippers – and many other items of everyday life in Roman Gestingthorpe. A painting showed a very elegant Roman lady wearing a locally found necklace, hairpins and a fish brooch. Was she an early Christian Romano-British woman?
Gestingthorpe was a market and settlement on a main road, the line of which can be followed but where was the road? There is no sign of it and so it may have been a ‘green road’ that would have left no trace.
The most exciting find was part of a mould. What had it been used for? Making bronze statuettes of the god of wine, Bacchus. At the time of discovery, the mould was the first evidence that the sophisticated lost-wax process had been used in Roman Britain.
Ashley’s last slide was a painting showing the villa in its last days: its roof had caved in, its walls were falling down, plants were growing all over it, a door hung on by one hinge. Ashley said that if he could go back in time he would love to speak to the last person who closed that door as he left Gestingthorpe Roman villa for the last time about 1,600 years ago…
Addendum: In 2014 Ashley was awarded the prestigious Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group’s ‘Silver Lapwing’ Farming and Conservation Award by His Grace The Duke of Westminster. The award, sponsored by Waitrose, recognises the extensive efforts Ashley makes to protect and enhance the countryside. The farm was chosen from a national shortlist of four farms, each selected for demonstrating outstanding commitment to good environmental practices, alongside the production of food.