Posts Tagged ‘Romans’

Week Five: Oswestry and the Roman Army

Oswestry’s spectacular Roman marching camp is yet another piece of local heritage we don’t celebrate enough. The excavations in 1977 unearthed the remains of a spectacularly well-preserved Roman military site, with evidence that the camp was used and reused throughout the Roman occupation of Britain. Features such as the ovens built into the early phases of one ditch, and the large wooden gateway – one side of which was blocked off – make the Rhyn Park marching camp both notable and worth making something of. There is some material from the excavation in the Oswestry Town Museum, and the excavation report is available online – but the original excitement of those 1977 excavations has long passed, and Rhyn Park’s archaeological past seems in danger of being forgotten.

There’s no pressing need to do more excavation at the site, so more archaeology perhaps isn’t the answer. But what about more heritage? What about a timber gateway (rather like the one at The Lunt Roman Fort) down at Park Hall? A Rhyn Park reconstruction there would make the connection between Oswestry’s ancient military heritage and its historical military heritage. It could become the focus for a whole range of educational and economic opportunities that would connect Oswestry with the rest of Roman Britain, tapping into the visitors that at the moment bypass Oswestry in favour of Wroxeter or Chester. A Rhyn Park replica could even become the home of a re-enactment Legio Oswestria!

Roman Britain is an important part of our history and archaeology, and it’s a shame that Oswestry doesn’t benefit more from its links with this period. There are few market towns in the country with such a wealth and diversity of heritage monuments and science; it’s one of the things that makes Oswestry unique. Their contribution to the educational, economic and cultural life of the town could be immense – but it’s local interest and enthusiasm that is the catalyst.

What would it take to bring Rhyn Park back into the limelight?

The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Adverizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Comics Invasion! Claudius (and his elephants) descend on Roman London - panel at the Museum of London (2014). Photo by Mary Canham.

Comics Invasion! Claudius (and his elephants) descend on Roman London – panel at the Museum of London (2014). Photo by Mary Canham.

I’ve been extremely busy over the past six weeks with a big – and I do mean BIG – commission for the Museum of London. I think it must be the single biggest piece of artwork I’ve ever produced. It’s certainly the largest comic I’ve ever produced. It was also not without its fair share of awkwardness into the bargain.

The piece was a ten metre by three-and-a-half metre panel to introduce their Roman gallery. The panel was to act as a lead-in to the gallery from the main museum entrance and reception area and the prehistoric gallery. The lead-in space is a long hallway-type area, with – as you walk from the main museum entrance – a wall on your right and a balcony on your left. This meant that the panel had to “read” right-to-left as you walked along the corridor. The panel also had to link between a video display about the heritage of the Thames and the Roman London exhibits.

The original brief was for the panel to cover the whole of the prehistory of London up until the Roman invasion, and for it to consequently have a much more “comic-y” feel to it. But the gallery curators eventually pulled back from this idea, first deciding to focus entirely on the Roman end of the story, and then to focus just on the invasion of Claudius in AD43. The brief also changed from being “more” of a comic – with a strong narrative and many panels, to being somewhat “less” of a comic – with only three panels, each one being a scene in the Claudian invasion story.

However, all this eventually meant that the finished piece had a real sense of scale to it, with a huge Roman-Briton battle scene at the end, complete with the elephants mentioned by Dio Cassius, life-size British warriors in the foreground, and a rather worried looking Claudius overseeing the clash.

Great fun to do, but… well, big.

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