THE earliest notice to be found of this parish is in A.D 778, when Offa, King of the Mercians, in his desire to carry the limits of his kingdom beyond the banks of the Thames and Cherwell, led an army across the boundaries of Souldern. To this period may be assigned the erection of the earthwork known as Aves-ditch (Offa's ditch), Wattlebank, or Ashbank, which half-a-mile southward from the village branches off 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 the ancient barrow called Ploughley Hill,* which has been within the last 60 years partially levelled. “The portions of the vallum which still exist are yet in places 5ft. in height and from 5 to 10 yards in breadth.” †
In levelling the ground on the line of the Portway in Aynho Park 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; and Mr. Beesley (Hist. of Banbury) mentions another skeleton, with a knife by its side, being found in 1849, at the declivity of the hill between Aynho and Souldern, probably Saxon. About 70 years ago, in the carpenter's yard at the western extremity of our village, some Roman coins and a bead necklace§ were dug up; and more recently, upon a farm the property of Mr. John Rowland Crook, were discovered the
* “Ploughley Hill, a curious Saxon barrow neatly turned like a bell, small and high.” — Stukeley. Supposed by some antiquarians of repute to have been a mere exploratory mound, but in 1845 three skeletons (one of large stature were found in the level of the ground beneath it; these bones were subsequently buried in a garden close by.—T. Beesley.
† Beesley's History of Banbury, pp. 37–38.
§ Possibly Anglo-Saxon. Roman coins are often found with such remains.—T. Beesley.
following coins :—Carausius, A.D. 289–293 (one of the thirty tyrants* of Britain); Valens, (son of Gratian) A.D. 364–378; Claudius Gothicus, A.D. 268–270 (probably Emperor after Gallienus, another of the 30 tyrants, who reigned in Britain and Gaul); Tetricus, A.D. 267–272 (a Roman senator, saluted Emperor in the reign of Aurelius); as well as some tesserae, and a small bronze figure. “There have also been found in the parish a bronze coin of the second size of the Emperor Probus, some Nuremberg tokens, and a groat of the reign of Henry VII.”—(M. Dolman.)
The following notice of sepulchral remains discovered in 1844, is abridged from an account by Sir Henry Dryden. Bart., which is printed in and to which we refer our readers for the full details:—
“ In 1844, having heard that remains had recently been found at Souldern, I visited the spot, which is a garden on the W. side of the narrow road leading out of the main street down the hill southwards. The ground falls from the garden on all sides but the west. A skeleton aud 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 a man's stature, judging from the teeth about 30 or 34 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, probably the remains of a hook, for suspension, perhaps, from the ear by another brass ring. About the head were many fragments of 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.† Nothing else, according to my informant, was found with the skeleton, but about seven feet N. of its head was 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-quarter inches high and eight and three-quarter inches in diameter. It is ornamented
* “Thirty tyrants,” a poetical rather than historical appellation.—T. Beesley.
† The supposed fastenings for the strap of a helmet are undoubtedly the fastenings of the handle of a bucket, an article often found in Anglo-Saxon and Danish graves. When the famous Danish antiquary, Worsaae, was in England he saw the Souldern remains (In Sir Henry Dryden's hands) and at once recognised them as Danish.—Id.
on the upper part 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 semicircular bands of ornament. 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,“ which contained fragments of bone and an infant's skull, too large to have been admitted through the mouth of the urn. “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, accompanied by pottery of this class, have 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.”