Roman Maiden Newton

A ROMAN pavement was discovered at Throop in 1794 by Mr. Channing’s men who were digging for flints for building purposes about a foot below the surface. It is situated on the right hand bank of the River Frome, two miles south-east of St. Mary’s, Maiden Newton, in a field known as Nunnery Meadow (which might imply the existence of a religious house in the neighbourhood at one time) on the boundary of Frampton. A full account of this pavement has been given by several people and a picture of it is to be found in the Survey and Inventory of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. It is also fully described in the Dorset Year Book for 1947. H.M. George III, who was staying at Weymouth (Melcombe Regis) in 1796, visited the site to inspect the pavement accompanied by the Queen and the three Princesses, Augusta, Elizabeth and Mary. The King also arranged for a party of soldiers to assist in clearing the site. A drawing of the pavement was made by James Engleheart and exhibited to the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1795. The pavement is a mosaic and several details concur to suggest that the date of it is about A.D. 350, i.e., after the time of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor baptized at York in A.D. 312. These details are the prominence of Neptune, god of the sea, the similarities of the mosaic work and the decline in the quality of its execution compared with other works of art in this period, e.g. in the vaulted ceiling of the mausoleum of Constantine. The most notable detail, however is the addition of the Greek monogram XP meaning Christ. It is asserted by some people that the sign XP was used before Rome became Christian and so does not necessarily indicate the influence of Christian religion. The same sign has been found in a pavement discovered at Hinton St. Mary, Dorset, in 1963. Jane Toynbee in her pamphlet on this Christian pavement at Hinton St. Mary, refutes the suggestion that XP is not a specifically Christian monogram. It always refers to Christ after it was adopted by the Christians in the third century.

The Latin inscriptions on the Throop Pavement are imperfect but the general meaning is fairly clear: verses in praise of Neptune god of the sea. Other imaginary gods and goddesses are figured in this pavement – Venus, Adonis, Cupid, Paris, Mars, Apollo, Jupiter and Mercury. There are creatures of various kinds – dolphins, nymphs, nereids, cormorants, horses, lions, dogs, does, stags and male and female figures in the nude. It is decorated with leaves, medallions, lobster claws and guilloche work (plaited rope design).  There are other designs with technical architectural terms. Such terms with the Latin inscription are of interest only to scholars. The pavement has been re-covered to preserve it. It was the floor of the central room of a villa or maybe of a temple. Its size – 20 by 30 feet, with the foundations of the surrounding wall. Coins and pottery have been found near it.

In Wynford Eagle another Roman pavement was found which was the floor of a villa. It also has guilloche borders, foliage and dolphins, and is tessellated. Many coins have been found here and in Maiden Newton (of Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian) together with tile fragments, clay lamp and terra cotta bowl. The latter was found in Cow Bottom, Maiden Newton, where was evidently another villa. Coins found here are many of Constantine, Carausius and Maximus Magna.

A Roman urn of grey-coloured ware was found in a field called Court Close, on the north side of the church at Maiden Newton in 1857. It contained bones supposed tot be human. This was reported and exhibited in 1858 by Mr. J. Irvine at a meeting of the Archaeological Institute. The proceedings of this meeting are reported in the Archaeological Journal, volume 15, 1858.