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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The smallest thing can make the biggest difference

Tucked away in a corner at the entrance to the old Cadbury (formerly Fry’s) factory in Keynsham is a strange little thing. At first glance it looks like nothing more than an odd selection of stones, but take a closer look and what you will see is actually a major part of the archaeology of Keynsham.

Somerdale villa layout

These stones are actually the reconstructed remains of a Roman villa, the Somerdale villa to give it its proper name. This small villa along with two stone coffins was discovered in 1922 during construction of the factory. This discovery not only brought to light the archaeological potential of the factory site, but raised interest in another set of Roman remains inside the cemetery at Durley Hill.

The villa in the cemetery was slowly being destroyed by grave digging; however the discovery of Somerdale villa raised enough interest for an excavation of both villas. The excavation was carried out between 1922 and 1924 under the supervision of Dr Arthur Bulleid and Father Ethelbert Horne, largely funded by Fry’s who also paid around £600 to lift the mosaics.

After the excavation the foundations of Somerdale villa were moved to the entrance of the factory, where despite currently being fenced off they are still visible today. The mosaic panels, coffins and many other artefacts from the villas were displayed in what was known as Somerdale museum for around 60 years before its closure in 1988. Everything from the museum was then put into storage in Keynsham Town Hall, where they still remain.

Very little is actually known about Somerdale villa as unfortunately its excavation was not well documented.

So why is this little villa that hasn’t been well recorded and isn’t even in its original location anymore so important to Keynsham? Well if it hadn’t been discovered there is a great possibility that the cemetery villa might never have been excavated and the beautiful mosaics (already badly damaged at the time of the excavation) could easily have been completely destroyed. This little villa played a huge role not only in the history of the Cadbury/Fry’s factory but in the long term preservation of some truly beautiful archaeology that may otherwise have been lost.

Unfortunately now the factory has been closed and the future of the villa is uncertain, which I feel really is a sad ending for something that played a defining role in protecting the heritage of Keynsham.

So next time you are in Keynsham, why not pay the villa a visit?


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