Uncovering the secrets of Roman Buxton going back thousands of years
The Buxton Roman Society may spend its time looking at the past but has grand plans for the future to ensure the town’s Roman heritage is not forgotten.
The group, which was formed by Leslie Oldfield and Brian Shepherd in 2018, has met for the first time in eight months following the pandemic and is hitting the ground running with plans for an archeological dig and new street signs honouring Buxton’s Roman past.
Leslie said: “I have always been interested in Roman history and was fascinated to learn years ago that Buxton was the most northerly spa or Aquae in the entire Roman Empire.
"Indeed, along with Bath we were the only two Aquaes in Roman Britain which gives us kudos over rival spas like Harrogate and Tunbridge Wells which were founded much later.”
Buxton’s history dates back several millennia with the Celts considering the warm mineral spring waters a sacred shrine and they were in the town possibly a thousand years or more before the Roman occupation.
One of the ways in which the Romans integrated into the local cultures that became part of the Empire, was by the adoption of local gods into the pantheon of Rome. The Iron Age Celts largely worshipped at open air sites, most often associated with water, such as lakes, bogs, rivers and sacred springs.
One of the most famous watery sites in the Peak District is the thermal spring at Buxton, then known as Aquae Arnemetiae, meaning ‘the Waters of the goddess Arnemetia’.
The Roman baths, Aqua Arnemetiae, were situated where the Old Hall Hotel is now.
Leslie, 63, from Fairfield said: “In my book, The Man on The Walkway, I set one of my stories, Three Seconds, in Roman Buxton as I wanted to encourage interest in Buxton's Roman past and the main aim of the Roman Society is to do just that as its Roman past has played second fiddle to its Georgian and Victorian heritage.”
The town has lots of Roman treasures to be proud of and in 1862 a Roman milestone was discovered in the Silverlands district of Buxton.
It is the oldest inscribed milestone found in Derbyshire. The inscription is ‘TRIB POT COS II P P A NAVIONE M P XI’ which means ‘With the tribune's power, twice consul, father of this country. From Navio 11 miles.'
The site of the Navio Roman fort is by the present day village of Brough.
In 1903, excavations by local archaeologist Micah Salt in the Silverlands area found various Roman artefacts including a silver coin, tiles, leather sandals, gritstone hearths, glassware and many fragments of fine Samian pottery. Pottery inscriptions indicate that they were made in 60-100 AD and from Verulamium, modern St Albans.
The milestone and the other Roman items are on display in the Buxton Museum.
Speaking of the discoveries Leslie said: “I have been most surprised to find out about the Roman jewellery workshop that has been discovered in the town's Poole's Cavern and the items that were made there.”
But items have been found across the town showing the Roman settlement.
Numerous Roman remains were also discovered in 1811 on the site of Buxton's Town Hall, when it was built at the north end of the market place. Close to the Town Hall, Roman floor slabs were found in the cellar of 3 Hall Bank in 2006 and large Roman masonry is exposed in 8A Hall Bank.
A gritstone altar dedicated to Arnemetia Arnomecta was found in 1903 in the strong room of Navio fort's Principia, headquarters building. The inscription on the altar says "To the goddess Arnomecta, Aelius Motio gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
The altar is also on display in the Buxton Museum.
In the three years since the group was formed the 16 members have made trips to several other Roman towns across the country and Leslie said they have visited Chester and Glossop where Mike Brown,who has done much archaeological work on the Roman fort there, showed them around the Melandra fort.
The society’s achievements have already seen them put a plaque where a roman milestone was found in Hardwick Square in the 19th century.
Like many other groups they have been hit by Covid social restrictions and had to suspend meetings and activities during the pandemic.
A school project to encourage pupils to submit any form of art work to describe some aspect of our Roman history was put on hold at the start of 2020 and it is hoped to be resurrected as is the group’s ultimate aim to organise an archaeological dig in the town.
However Leslie said: “We intend to bounce back strongly and continue with our plans which are to invite Sheffield University's Archeological Field Officer to do geophysical on possible Roman sites in Buxton.
"We also intend to visit towns of Roman heritage and are working on putting Buxton's Roman Aquae Arnemetiae, on all four Roman entrances to Buxton.”
Earlier in the month, six members of the Buxton Roman Society met in the Pavilion Gardens eager to promote and enjoy Buxton’s Roman history.
Leslie added: “To potential new members I would say that Buxton's Roman past is still very much a mystery and and you will find it fascinating to play a part in solving that mystery.”
All these projects need money so it was agreed to bring Roman life to Buxton at a stall at the Rotary Fair in September.
The next Buxton Roman Society meeting is on June 28 and anyone who is interested in becoming involved should should contact Leslie Oldfield by email at [email protected]