Preface Chapter II


Chapter I.

Early History.

The first notice we can find of our part of the county, viz., North Oxfordshire, is about A.D. 43, when the tribe of the Dobuni came under the sway and protection of Aulus Plautius, who had defeated first Cataractacus and then Togodumnus (?), both sons of the deceased chief, Cunobelin. In 778. Offa, King of the Mercians, in his desire to extend the boundaries of his kingdom to its ancient limits, i.e., beyond the banks of the Thames and Cherwell, led an army across the boundaries of the parish of Souldern immediately before he de­feated Kenwulph, King of Wessex, at Benson, or Bensington, on the south side of the county.* To this period may be assigned the erection of the earthwork known as Avesditch (corruption of Offa's ditch), Wattlebank or Ashbank, which is half-a-mile southward from the Portway. This Port­way—one of the nine so-called Roman roads in England—crossed Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, and can still be distinctly traced from Walton Grounds through Aynho Park to the turnpike gate, east of Souldern, whence it runs along the present road towards Fritwell, passing on its way thither the ancient Saxon barrow called Ploughley Hill† (within the last 60 years partially levelled) the site of extensive ancient remains. The portions of the vallum which still exist are yet in places five feet in height, and from five to ten yards in breadth.*

* See Hume.

† “Ploughley Hill, a curious Saxon barrow neatly turned like a bell small and high.”—Stukely.

‡ Beesley's History of Banuury, p. 37,38.

Ancient Remains

In levelling the ground on the line of the Portway, in Aynho Park, above mentioned, the workmen disinterred a skeleton (supposed to be British from its position, i.e., the knees being gathered up towards the breast). It was enclosed in a cistvaen composed of four stone slabs, placed at right angles. A little further southward another skeleton lying at full length was discovered at the declivity of the hill between Aynho and Souldern. About 70 years ago in the carpenters' yard at the western extremity of the village were found some Roman coins and a bead necklace, which were bought by the late P. Pigott Couant, Esq.; and still more recently, upon a farm the property of Mr. John Rowland Crook, were discovered the following coins: “Carausius,” A.D. 289-293 (one of the thirty tyrants of Great Britain); (Flavius) “Valens,” A.D. 364-378 (son of Gratian); “Claulius Gothicus,” A.D., 268-270 (probably Emperor after Gallienus, was another of the thirty tyrants who reigned in Britain and Gaul); “Tetricus,” 267-272 (a Roman senator, saluted Emperor in the reign of Aurelius); as well as some tesserie, and a small bronze figure, evidently a household god. It is probable that if further ex­cavations were made on this spot interesting antiquities would be discovered. The following account of remains found in 1844 is by Sir Henry Dryden:–

“Sepulchral remains found at Somldern. In January, 1844, having heard that remains had recently been discovered at Souldern, I visited the spot, which is on the west side of the narrow road leading out of the main street of Souldern down hill southwards. The ground falls from the garden on all sides but the west. A skeleton and urn were discovered by workmen who were digging stone, from whose information and a compass I made out their relative positions. The soil was about two feet thick on a deep rock of limestone. The skeleton, of man's stature, judging by the teeth about thirty or thirty-four years of age, stretched out at full length on its back W. by S. and E. by N., head to the former, rock hollowed out to receive it, the bones being three feet under the surface. On the right hand side of its head lay a pair of bone ornaments two inches long, in shape four-sided cones, having on each side nine small engraved circles. At the small end of each is inserted an iron rivet, which is probably the remains of a hook, for suspension perhaps, from the ear by another brass ring. About the head were many fragments of thin brass, which, when collected and put together, form parts of two bands, the first of which is seven inches long and three-fourths wide, and has encircled the lower part of a leathern skull cap. The cope of the leather and this brass band were held together by a thin concave brass binding, in the hollow of which fragments of leather are still to be seen. On each side of the helmet attached to the brass band was an ornamental hinge for a chinstrap. Of the other band about one foot five inches are existing, the whole of which is of equal width, and one-eighth narrower than the first. It was probably the binding of the edge of the helmet where there would be a seam, or intended to encircle the helmet close above the other binding. On both these bands are rivets which shew that the leather rivetted was three-sixteenths thick. Nothing else, according to my informant, was found with the skeleton. About seven feet north of its head was found an urn containing bones, about the same depth under the surface as the skeleton. The urn was in fragments when discovered, but has since been restored. It is of rather coarse black pottery, averaging about three-sixteenths of an inch in thickness, and imperfect in the lip. What remains is seven-and-three-quarters inches high, and eight-and-three-quarters inches in diameter. It is ornamented on the upperpart by two horizontal bands of dancetted pattern. At about two-thirds up the sides are four roundish projections at equal distances from each other, and between them semi-circular bands of ornament. About five feet E. by S. from the urn, and eleven feet from the head of the skeleton, they found a number of bones in a heap, which they thought had been moved before. These were probably the remainder of a body or bodies, of which parts were enclosed in one or all the three urns. The workmen soon stopped digg­ing but some months afterwards began again to get stone in the same garden, and found, about two-and-a-half feet below the surface, two more urns. The first contained fragments of bones. It is five-and-a-half inches high, and eight-and-a-half inches in the widest diameter; composed of light grey pottery, and very thin, and great part being only one eighth of an inch thick. The ornamental work on it is very slight, of which the chief part is dancetted pattern, each triangle being filled with from nine to thirteen small circular indentations. The other urn was im­perfect in the upper part, and probably was frac­tured when interred, for it contained the skull of an infant a few days old, which was too large to have been admitted through the mouth of the urn. Many sepulchral urns have been discovered, evi­dently fractured before interment, containing bones too large to have passed through the mouth, and occasionally the vessels have been joined together again, after the insertion of the hones. This urn is five-and-a-half inches high (the lip being lost) and six-and-a-half inches in its widest diameter. It is of black pottery, and about a quarter of an inch thick, and destitute of ornament. None of the urns were protected by stones or tiles from the pressure of thể carth. About twenty-five feet W. by N. of these was found another skeleton several years ago; and about 1840 ‘some things’ were found about thirty or forty feet N.E. of the skele­ton. I was unable to learn any further particulars of those discoveries. The skeletons discovered north of Aynho village lay N. and S. but we are not informed to which point the heads were laid.§ Most of the skeletons found in these parts, accom­with pottery of this class, have had the heads between S. and W. From the pottery found at Souldern I am inclined to attribute these remains to the Romanized Britons of the fifth or sixth century, but in the opinion of some anti­quaries they belong to the Saxons of the eighth century. The three urns, brass straps and one of the two bone ornaments, are now in my possession, having been given to me by the Rev. Dr. Stephenson and others.”—(H. Dryden, 1845.)

[For these notes the compilers are indebted to the kindness of Mr. J. R. Crook, and of the late Mr. Wing, of Steeple Aston, who lent the tract from which the description by Sir Henry Dryden is copied, and to Beesley's “History of Banbury,” published 1841.]

§ Baker's History of Northamptonshire. vol. 1, p. 558.

Preface Chapter II