The re-use of Roman stonework.
The Anglo-Saxon builders of churches needed stone in any form to build their churches, and certainly in the centuries prior to quarries being opened/reopened access to this material was not immediately available. This was especially so in areas deviod of natural stone such as chalk plains (albeit with flints). Some church sites were either close by existing Roman buildings, in some cases nearby Roman roads (with ready access to Roman sites), or in cases such as Rivenhall and Wimborne, the churches built were sited directly over Roman buildings.
With Roman walled city sites mostly abandoned (or taken by force, viz. Portchester fort), there was an abundant source of stonework to be had. The amount of stone removed depended upon the size and proximity of Anglo-Saxon settlements. At Reculver and Bradwell-on-Sea churches were built within the confines of the Roman forts. In areas with a dearth of stone, such as chalk with flints, then there was more likelihood of removal. Stonework was transported to the site, see Corbridge and Escomb churches. Roman cities which were occupied by the Anglo-Saxons and became cities in their own right then again stonework was readily available and required minimal transportation (York, Exeter, Lincoln). At St. Albans (Herts) licence was obtained by the Abbot to remove materials from the nearby Roman city for rebuilding the Saxon Minster church.
The inhabitants in Roman cities/civitas in the English landscape were to fall victim of the plague that arrived from continental Europe in the years 542 and 543; at this time the then inhabitants were obliged to flee the walled cities (to take their chance in the countryside) and those stone built public buildings would doubtless have remained unused and empty.
Upon the gradual spread of the Anglo-Saxons in the ensuing decades the cities would oft be shunned, there is archaeological evidence that the dead lay unburied in unswept streets. For perhaps the space of a hundred years there would be no need for an agricultural based people to find homes in empty cities particularly while the memory of the plague persisted. Some cities, as at Lincoln, Winchester, Chichester, York and Exeter, were (in time) to be colonised by the Saxons, but at St. Albans the site of the Anglo-Saxon town was to be located nearby, the adjacent Roman walled town remaining abandoned. The revival of Roman sites, such as (i)London, was doubtless due to the upsurge of trade, trade with the mainland as well as the continent via the facility of their rivers. Some of the Roman buildings were probably in good enough condition to be brought back into use until their demise. Certainly their (Roman) walls were to prove vital to security in the uncertain years to follow, and as at York and Exeter they were repaired by the Anglo-Saxons. Other abandoned and deserted civitas such as Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester), and Cunetio (near Marlborough) slipped into obscurity and 'slept' in quietude to be covered by pasture after being used as a "quarry" for materials.
*Photo (I) left. Tower archway St. Andrews church, Corbridge. A Roman arch lifted from the Roman fort at nearby Corstopitum.
Next *photo (II) below. Capital of tower arch (see photo I).
At the church of St. Peter, Britford, a mile south of Salisbury in Wiltshire, are two archways which originally led to porticus (see the photo file, via the menu). The archways reuse robbed Roman tiles (some of which are decorated), a curious arrangement and quite unlike any other I know of. They may have come from the Roman villa downstream at Downton, or maybe from another upstream (as yet undiscovered) nearer Salisbury.
There are almost too many churches to list here that incorporate robbed Roman stonework, but mention of this is to be found in the database (listing) of over 400 churches.
There follows some photographs of reused Roman stonework.
Photo III. (below) Roman carved stone built into the medieval (eastern) cathedral wall, facing Exeter Street, Salisbury (Wiltshire).
Photo IV (adjoining III). Another stone nearby to that seen in photo III.
For further photos of Roman stonework go to the "photo" menu page and click on the file relating to Wilfred's crypts at Ripon and Hexham churches. For a complete church consisting of Roman stonework including an arch lifted from a Roman fort and used as a chancel arch, see the photo file on Escomb church.
Any photos marked with an asterisk(*) appear in other photo files on this site.
i. The original settlement/trading port of Anglo-Saxon London (Lundenwic) was to be sited a mile distant from the Roman walled city and by the river Fleet.
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