The Romans make their mark
In more peaceful times, settlement flourished. A town,
Durobrivae (meaning 'fortress bridge') grew up on the banks of the
Nene - not on the site of the present city of Peterborough, but a
few miles upstream. The earthwork remains of the walled part of the
town may be traced in a large pasture just off the A1. Durobrivae
probably became a regional capital and market centre. There were
significant smaller towns at Casterton near Stamford, Ashton near
Oundle, and large villages and an administrative centre near
Rich villas and farmsteads were built in the productive
countryside around Peterborough. Many of these sites were
occupied in the Iron Age, but were rebuilt according to Roman
fashion as the native population adopted a Roman lifestyle.
In later Roman times, the Nene valley became the centre of a major pottery
industry. The distinctive white clay pots, which were given a grey
or reddish-brown 'slip' (or colour-coat), were traded widely across
Britain. They are now known as 'Castor Ware' or 'Nene Valley Ware'.
Iron ore was extracted from the limestone deposits surrounding the
Nene valley and worked in hearths fuelled by charcoal from local
The Fens, too, were very well developed in the Roman period,
perhaps under direct imperial control. Extensive settlements and
field systems were constructed on low islands, and many perched on
the exposed banks (or 'roddons') of the old prehistoric rivers.
Salt was extracted from tidal rivers which sometimes still ran far
inland. The Car Dyke, a massive ditch or canal of which
substantial lengths still survive, was constructed along the fen
edge east of Peterborough.
Something of the importance of the Peterborough area
to Roman Britain is reflected in the density and richness of the
archaeological remains found here. At Castor during the
1820s, Edmund Tyrell Artis investigated a series of substantial
Roman buildings adorned with mosaics and featuring all the
trappings of wealthy Roman society. Fragments of massive
Roman walls may still be seen in Stocks Hill and Church Hill at
Castor. This extraordinary complex has been interpreted as the
palace of a Roman dignitary, as yet unidentified - perhaps an
official involved with the administration of the pottery industry,
the town of Durobrivae, or the imperial estate in the Fens?