Ancaster: A Roman Town

The parish of Ancaster has been the focus for permanent settlement since the Iron Age (700BC – 43AD) and almost certainly longer. R3emains of Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) activity in the form of scatters of flint tools have been found in the parish indicating an early human presence. Excavation in the 1960’s uncovered the remains of a substantial Middle Iron Age settlement on the Castle Quarry site and yet more evidence was uncovered under the modern cemetery for the Late Iron Age settlement. Therefore, when the Roman forces reached Ancaster in the early years after the invasion of AD43, they would have found an already thriving and possibly quite high status settlement in place.

There are a number of reasons why Ancaster was a good place to settle, there a number of water sources, which included natural springs and the Beck, a tributary of the River Slea, which until recently never dried up. Also, the silty loam soils of the area were fertile and drained easily, making it perfect for early farming techniques. But perhaps most important is that Ancaster is situated at the junction of a number of ancient trackways which gave it a strategic importance which was quickly recognised by the invaders as they pushed north along the route which was to become Ermine Street. Whoever controlled the Ancaster gap controlled the traffic that passed through it, no wonder the Roman army decided to build an early stronghold here. This decision to establish a military base was o see the start of a Roman influence at Ancaster which was to last for the duration of the occupation.

Unfortunately there are no written records from Roman times which tell us about Ancaster and the people who lived here. Until recently it was thought that Ancaster was the town Causennis referred to in the Antoine itenary, a document from Roman times, but recent research points to Saltersford, to the south of Grantham as being Causennis.

The Roman settlement of Ancaster actually developed in three stages. First there was the temporary encampment known as the Marching Camp which was constructed to the west of Ermine Street. This appears to have been succeeded by a more permanent Roman Fort which was situated a little to the south. In the later part of the first century the fort was abandoned, leaving behind a civilian settlement which was to become the defended Roman town. The remains of the Marching Camp, the Roman Town and the Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery are now protected as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

Much of Ancaster’s history still lies hidden beneath the ground. Excavations have taken place in the village in the 1960’s and 70’s which included investigation of the Roman cemetery and Roman defences which today can be seen in Castle Close.