F. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) Darton.

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

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Iberian before them. There was thus the result of five
thousand years of purposeful work, undertaken not by
occontrie units but by communities, upon which Rome
could readily impose her greater order and peace.

Practically nothing is known of the real conquest in a.d. 43.
It is prett}' certain that the Durotriges — the real Ijorder
folk of the Celtic race in the south-west just as the Dorsaetas
later were the march folk of Saxondom — must have fought
stoutly. It may be conjectured, perhaps, that as Claudius'
army of occupation had the eastern end of Southampton
Water for its base, Dorset was entered from tlie south-east
rather than the north-east (the same problem arises in
connection with the Saxon invasion). One of the pitched
battles was in all probability fought on Hod Hill, a wonderful
eminence above the Stour, where a Roman camp of the
regulation square type has been cut in a corner of the much
larger British contour fort. Possibly another encounter
took place — the evidence suggests it — on Pilsdon Pen.
It must have needed all Rome's military efficiency and
startling rapidity of movement to subdue the sturdy people
of the green forts.

Consider now the lines of the proved Roman roads in
Dorset.* They enter the county from east-central England.
The main trunk road, which probably determines all the
rest, was that which ran from Sarum (Salisbury, as near as
no matter) through Badbury Rings to Dorchester, possibly
liridport, and Exeter. The direction of the vicinal roads
branching from it may be significant.

It is not known when, nor exactly why, this main road
was built. There are no records (»f strife (ir important
events in the West after the (irst con([uest, even when, with
a first-rate British heretic in I'elagius, and an emjxror (if

* Soo Codringlun'a lioman Uuada in Britain (3rd EU., 1U18 : ^.I'.C'.K.)


an enterprising and unusual type — the first British admiral —
in Carausius, and the death of a Roman Emperor, Con-
stantius, at York, England seemed to be well in the main
current of European history. The road was in all prob-
ability at once a precaution against risings, a direct route
to the Celtic frontier west of Exeter, and a commercial
necessity. The striking thing about it is that it follows the
line of a string of Celtic or British forts.

From Old Sarum (Celtic) it swings, after some miles in
a south-westerly direction, south-west of south at the county
border. It passes close by a cluster of Celtic and Iberian
tumuli on Handley Down, where there is a Roman British
farm and villa, just under the upstanding Celtic earthwork
of Pentridge (whence a very noble view of the road, and the
Bokerly Dyke, and Cranborne Chase, and Grim's Dyke, and
half Wiltshire, can be gained). It goes straight to Badbury
Rings, one of the most beautiful as well as most famous of
Celtic works. It swings again westwards to the Celtic
Crawford Castle (Spettisbury Rings). It keeps along the
ridge to the British village above Bere Regis. It passes
close under the earthworks and tumuli of Rainbarrow.
It goes direct to within half a mile of the greatest of all
forts, Dunium, and the Palaeolithic work at Maumbury
Rings. It runs then in an almost straight line westwards
to the splendid fort of Eggardon. And then

Well, then, according to the archaeologists, it becomes
non-Celtic. It drops to Bridport, and is no longer a ridge-
way track. It leaves Dorset, however, close by the Celtic
earthwork at Lambert's Castle : and so on to Exeter.
The evidence for the stretch from Eggardon westwards is
not strong.

If the good engineering of an easy road were the sole
aim of the road-makers, this latter non-Celtic stretch was
their most sensible effort. But if their object was either
to move troops to tribal centres or to link those centres up,
the portion up to Eggardon was the most successful, and
the remainder useless. For west of Eggardon the road


neglects the earthworks at Cattistock, ami the Dritish
vilhiges above Cerne, the camps above Beaminster and at
rilbdon Pen : and it docs not proceed, if the Brid])ort route
is correctly judged to be the main one, by that principle
of sight -survey which Mr. Belloe expounds so convincingly
in The Static Street. The view-points, the long glimpses
from peak to peak, are lost by the Bridport route. And some
portions at least of the Bridport route must have provided
very heavy going in damp weather, with rivers fuller than
now (the spring-level was 80 feet higher) : the present road
is not infrequently flooded.

There might be several explanations of this seeming
change of purpose in the road-builders. The track may even
have been wrongly mapped by modern experts. The last
effort of British resistance may have been on Eggardon,
though Pilsdon Pen's earthworks are so strong, and the
height so commanding, that it would seem almost essential
for Rome to be able to reach it by a good transport route.

The branch roads are also interesting. One runs from
Badbuiy Rings to near Hamworthy, on Poole Harbour.
It is believed that Rome had a port there. Another connects
Dorchester with Weymouth, which, from the Roman
remains found, was also probably a port even then. The
earthworks at Flowersbarrow and Bindon Hill, where,
apart from those two names, the Celtic name Arish Mell also
Burvives, are not linked up at all with the Roman road
system. There is evidence of a track running northwards
from Badbury to .Shaftesbury, along or near the line of
earthworks above the fStour valley. But there seems to be
no trace of a road along the real central ridge, west and
north of Bere Regis, where the noble camp of Rawlsbury
commands the Dorsetshire Gap. The road from Dorchester
to Hchester, on the other hand, runs through territory
clearly inhaljited and fortified by the Celts.

The position, therefore, seems to be that tho chief road in
the county, so far west as Eggardon Hill, was jilaimed to
fit existing British settlements ; and its chief local branch-


road was the cross-cut to the great west main road at
Ilchester. The cross-cuts to the ports of Hamworthy and
Weymouth— both, perhaps, non-Celtic — seem, however, to
show the new world-standpoint. If the Celts in Dorset
used a port at all, it was likely to be at Arish Mell Gap,
where the chalk in which they loved to build touches the
sea, and where their names and forts still live ; whereas
Rome, building with an economic outlook of European
scope, chose the natural harbours on Poole estuary and
Weymouth Bay, and linked them up artificially with a road-
system adapted to the tribal population. But she thought
it safe, apparently, to leave the minor Celtic centres in the
county unconnected with the main arteries.

The nature of the Roman settlement is probably seen
most accurately in Cranborne Chase, rather than in the
more highly and perhaps more artificially civilized town of
Dorchester. Gen. Pitt-Rivers excavated remains of an
extensive farm or farm-colony near Woodyates. His finds
are suggestively various. There are a few pieces of fine
pottery, good ornaments and trinkets, studs of blue and
yellow enamel on fibulae, decorated furniture of imported
Spanish wood, an elaborate system of central heating,* coins
covering the reigns of many emperors ; and alongside
these things, which a Roman colonist (say, a retired captain
or sergeant-major) would take care to possess in a so distant
and savage spot, many remains of farm tools, some well
finished and clearly imported, but others rough and primitive,
like native products. The farm might well be like an up-
country station in Rhodesia to-day.

" The people of these parts," says Gen. Pitt-Rivers, f
" in Roman times were much shorter than they are at
present, shorter than they afterwards became when the
Teutonic element was introduced. . . . They were not
hunters, but lived a peaceful agricultural life, surrounded

* The skeletons discovered show that the inhabitants suffered from
rheumatoid arthritis.

I Excacationa in Cranborne, Chase.


by theii* flocks and herds. . . . They spun thread, and wove
it on the spot, and sewed with iron needles." They kept
horses, oxen, sheep (all of small breeds), mastififs, terriers,
and dogs of a dachshund type, roedeer, red deer, swine.
They ate horse and dog, though not so much as beef. They
had ai)parently none of those snails which Rome is said
to have introduced into Britain. Their wheat was of
high quality, as might be expected wJien Britain was a
granary of the Empire. The labourers seem to have lived
in wattle and daub huts.

Dorchester, on the other hand, would be nearer akin to
the older Pretoria (it was not, however, a Colonia, nor the
seat of a legion, though very likely troops — companies or
even only a platoon — were stationed there from time to
time). It had its still-preserved walls, its fine amphitheatre,
a score or more villas of a good standard of provincial
luxury, its cemetery, its water supply from C'ompton
Valence. A little way off, at Weymouth, there was a temple.
And it may even have had, as has been said, devotees
of the new and eventually fashionable religion called

There are abundant tokens of the dead past in such a
place. I was at Maumbury Rings in one of the years during
which it was excavated. The chalk was cleanly cut into
tiers of seats. There was a trench between them and the
central ring, perhaps for safety. The socket-holes that must
have held barrier posts were still brown with the dye of
damp wood. The den at the far end had clearly contained
beasts. And two soldiers of Rome, disinterred once, lie
again at rest beneath one of the green curves.

So the Roman-British pursued, in the contentment
reared and strengthened through ten generations of man's
life, those arts of peace which an island with no enemies,
under the shield of a vast Enij)ir(', might enjoy. Doubtless,
as I have said, they heard of the doings that troul)l('d great
Rome — of wars upon distant and to them unimaginable
frontiers : of the new Eastern religion that Constantine,


whom ill Britain they knew so nearly, had thrust upon the
dominions won by the soldiers of older gods : of the heresies
and radical faiths that shook that young established
Church, and more particularly of that heresy of Pclagius
the Briton. There would come to them, slowly and un-
noticeably and with easy acceptance, as it came to us also,
the knowledge of little technical improvements of life : better
nails, a finer earthenware, a cheap imitation of the red
luxurious Samian, a new art in pot-shaping. There would
come also the alien splendours of the Roman official : the
fine stone houses he built, the delicate shining coins ho
decreed to be current over the rough native mintings,
the stoves that even poor settlers' houses might expect,
the intricate wonders of his mosaic pavements, the wide
paved causeways. They could gradually work their finer
artistic sensibility into the heavy Roman work.

There must have been strange memories in the Dorchester
of those days for men who had been young in the war with
Vespasian, and for their sons and grandsons. For a thousand
years their fathers had trodden the ancient tracks from
hill to hill, from fort to fort. They had walked upon the
path from Badbury to Mai Dun, from Mai Dun to Eggar
Dun : they had been wont to flee from the valleys into
those great strongholds where a whole tribe could live
securely. And now the narrow old footways upon the green
hills were paved and made wide and firm, and there was no
longer war, and the bright chalk trenches grew green with
disuse : in Mai Dun itself arose a rich man's house of lime
and stone. Warriors who before would have fought their
very kinsmen in that land of tribal wars sailed now to the
Oversea Dominions, to uphold there by their strength and
skill the power to which they had yielded, the peace in which
their houses were henceforth set. Upon the ancient wells
of generations too old even for folk-memory, the rulers had
traced the circle of a circus, for a spectacle in which Britons
fought, after the manner of men, with beasts which once
they had hunted precariously. The ships came trafficking


to Hamworthj- : news and niercliandise went to and fro
witli regularity. We to-da}^ have to conceive of a national
strike, or of utter severance from friends across many
seas, before we can imagine what augmentation of comfort
the establishment of routine government from an all-
powerful centre meant to these distant provinces.

Yet it is in the singular appeal of the great roads that
Rome seems nearest. I stood once, not long after Belgium
was first invadetl in 1914, above Cattistock, where the
road is inexorably straight and very lonely. Suddenly the
unique carillon at Cattistock began playing a hymn tune,
and I remembered that the thirty-two bells were cast at
Lou vain, then lately ravaged, and that one of the chief
of them bore the motto " Grant peace in our time, Lord."
Peace was Rome's gift to Celtic England. There was longer
peace in England then than at any time since : a peace
stretching as long as from the last of the Tudors to the House
of Windsor.

There are many wonderful stretches of these noble roads
in Dorset. The structure of the road itself is nowhere
better seen in England than where it enters the county from
the north-east. It runs, a broad high dark ridge, four or
five feet above the down-surface, as inflexibly and as en-
duringly as the fine modern coach-road from which at this
point it separates. The modern road goes to the rich little
valley towns. The old road makes straight for the hill
fortress of Badburj', whose trees can bo seen from many
other distant hills. The ridge of its actual formation is
visible also in the stretch a little east of Spettisbury Camp,
and again near the Milbornes. The road was strongly and
purposefully engineered : its purpose of peace is still

The portion just north of liadbury Rings, if one comes
(contrariwise) to it from the west, brings the ages before one
in a curious jumble. Ik-hind that fir-topped hill lies a wood.
The road curves past the green ramparts — hardly less, in
places, than the terrific defences of Maiden Castle — and,


almost invisible, across some cultivated land : and then
there opens suddenly a pathway among trees so fantastically
venerable that they seem older even than that ancient
trackway. Huge wych-elms they are, grey and twisted
with the deformity of naked time : year after year has
gripped them, and bent a fibre or turned a shoot, until their
old arms are the very emblems of unabated agony. Ivy
crawls upon them, and between grow thick brambles and
unpruned hawthorns that might guard a Sleeping Beauty
— if the strange awe of the place did not suggest rather a
sleeping dragon.

Chivalry, with its capricious romance, its heroism of
loneliness, was born in the welter of Rome's death. In this
little acre of meagre forest, where the old Rome's road
still runs, knights of the new Rome might well have ridden
on their first adventures. Here a man jingling on a clumsy
horse might have seen rough bearded knaves in ambush,
or a maiden tied to a tree : or lions or unicorns or dragons
or monstrous boars, wherein the world was then putatively
rich. Guy might meet here a three-headed giant, or
Arviragus encounter the wizard who could remove rocks
from the sea : or that student might wander who in a dream
saw his fellow killed in a stable. Among these trees any
legend might be true : and yet there is enough of reality
left in the road to make the sweat and the dirt as plain
as the romance. If men in the past did fare here upon
strange errands, nevertheless they hoped or feared as we
do. They saw the same world, the same incommunicable
life of other organisms : stepped in the same mud, stumbled
over the same tree-roots, startled the same race of squawk-
ing blackbirds. The old tracks are the very vehicle of
time : this grassy way has been trodden for a millennium
and a half, and every blade of grass in it, every twig, even
the very worm-cast mould, is of an ancestry as splendid
as man's. If it be preserved only by so little as one way-
farer's steps in a year, it is still the authentic and un-
diminished chronicle of stories that have become our minds.


It was here, I like to think (and not without some historical
wan-ant), that the last stand of Roman Britain against
the heathen Saxon was made. Badbury may \\ell be the
Mons Badonicus on which Arthur fought and died : for
the historians seem agreed that Arthur may really have
lived, that he checked the Saxons by his final victory, and
that " the last great battle in the West " took place either
here or near Bath.

From Badlniry onwards, if one goes eastwards through
tho enchanted forest, the road is like many another ancient
way for some distance — a path mamtained for no very
clear reason save its antiquity. It runs, as the Winchester
Pilgrim's Way often does, between high hedges, through
whose interstices there are sometimes views of a pleasant
spaciousness. Its line is straight : it has the directness
wliich popular scholarship ascribes to Rome's waj^s, though
it has not often the bare visible strength. It is, in fact,
a hedged track of no marked character. It crosses a few
lanes, and is joined by a few others. After many parasangs
it reaches, with an annoying deviation from its straightncss,
a hamlet populous and great which the Ordnance Map
shyly refuses to name, and which I decline to incriminate.
This place is very strange : it is like a loose end of, say,
Beckenham, cut off and transplanted. Its contents are :
( I ) a gabled, bow - windowed studio - villa - parish - room
(large enough and comprehensive enough for all those
functions), which, it is to be hoped, will crumble before
posterity labels it typical of any period of English
architecture (it suggests the soul of a retired advertisement
contractor, with a taste for Birket Foster and bad water
colours) : (2) a few long low stucco buildings hardly of the
decent proportions which stucco demands : (3) some
ordinary ugly cottages wiiich look like 1890 : (4) some
buildings which simply are 1890 suburban villas, and nothing
else. Quite a number of houses, no shops, no purpose,
no character : a phenomenon rare in Dorset.


The wayfarer must here continue along what, by the
straight-line method, is the obvious Roman way, past the
uninteresting cottages. At the top, in a wood, a gate
to the right bears a threatening notice about privacy.
The path beyond it leads . . . however, . . . Well,
at any rate . . . the fact is, it is quite possible here to
walk across the park without directly disregarding any
notice : and the Roman road (a path of decent ancestry,
after all : older even than a nineteenth-century peerage)
runs right through the park, close by the great house.

Its track continues thence undeviatingly, across the stream
at Gussage All Saints, up through tumuli over Gussage Down
— one of the alleged sites of Vindogladia, an imperfectly
identified Roman-British settlement — and over the crest
of Bottlebush Down, where it joins the modern road,
near a still greater host of tumuli, under Pentridge Hill ;
and so out of the county : in its way touching the Ox Drove
across the Wiltshire hills.

The Ancient Britons, our forefathers — not cut off sharp
from us either by Julius Caesar or by William the twentieth
or thirtieth Conqueror — were no doubt subject to the
emotions of joy, pity, and terror much as we are. Their
lives were less secure and more volatile than ours. They
lived in what are more like the lower portions of our base-
ment houses of the nineteenth century than anything else
since : half -buried huts, of which many traces remain on or
near this great road. They used successively stone, possibly
iron, and bronze. They secluded flocks and herds of sheep
and cattle in their vast citadels. They made linen, they
ate much the same food as, in our simpler moments, we eat.
They had an organized religion. They did not know the
potato, the hop, the cherry, root crops, or a hundred other
pleasant things familiar to us. They had in the course
of centuries exterminated the beaver, and had at last got
the better of the wolf, though he still existed in the woods.
The terrible semi-tropical beasts that Palaeolithic man had
to face were never their enemies. Our sheep and cattle of


( 0-day, like the valley sheep of the ballail, are fatter than
theirs, which must have been lean, strong, and nearer to a
wild type. " The number of cattle is very great," said
Caesar. The turf was infinitely less rich, and there were no
meadows or hedges. Very probably, in fact, a fastidious
modern venlict on the Britons would bo the familiar
" manners none, customs beastly."

That would be the application of a wrong standard.
Caesar thought Kent "the civillest place in all this isle."
We have not his opinion on Dorset, since he never visited
it ; nor have we Vespasian's. But at least this is tolerably
certain, that the Durotriges were not to Rome as the
Australian aborigines were to Captain Cook. Their vestiges
show a civilization nearly as high as that which Cfcsar
underestimated in Kent. They had long ceased to jabber
uncouthly, to struggle hard for a bare existence, to be un-
aware of other folk. On the other hand, they had tribal
wars. They had had torrents of invasion (frc-sh hordes of
Celts) unknown to us except by vague conjecture. They
knew a great civilization lay east of them.

Did the coming of Rome seem dilTcrent from their other
wars, except in that it was more higldy organized, more
permanent in effect ? As they hurried the herds along the
hidden way of the Ox Drove, or scuttled hastily, women,
children, cattle, and domestic implements all confused
(or periiaps marshalled orderly by preconceived plan), into
Badbury Rings or Maiden Castle, had they any sense of
destiny ? Pretty certainly not. They were just afraid and
angry. Very likely they did not even think they were being
wronged. But we cannot anyhow get back veritably into
their minds. That is the supreme defect of arclueology as
compared with dcKumented history. And we must leave
it at that. There is only the end of an immense epoch to
bo reconled : an end violent in its early stages, but not
ungentle in its results, not a catastruphie and final conclusion.
The settlement at W'oodyates (like that at Rockbourr.o
Down, a little way off, just over the pre.stiit iiampiihiro



border) means coalescence, not absorption, nor suppression ;
a few Romans, Roman law, Roman conveniences, greater
security, a number of small changes (for the good) in daily
habits, better houses, better tools, and life as before — birth,
love, marriage, death, with the old trees behind Arthur's
battlefield outlasting them all.

What did the incoming Roman think ? He must have
worked and made others work unceasingly to repair the
damage of his invasion and render life safe for himself and
the conquered. Merchants, missionaries of Empire, must
have come quickly for the fine British gladiators, the large
British dogs, the bursting British grain sacks. (We know
from Cicero's letters how in remote Cilicia Pompey and
Brutus, high financiers and low money-lenders, had swiftly
got greedy fingers into the work of Empire development).
Later, the feeling must have been to some extent reversed.
Priests and politicians and soldiers of fortune came from
the most distant outposts to disturb the central decadence
at Rome itself : as it might be a financier from South Africa
or Canada in London to-day.

But in the early days, when the first legionary stood
on Spettisbury Rings, what emotion was in his mind ?
Probably none, except a certain pride and sense of adventure.
He could not see, as we see now, the distant towers of
Wimborne Minster. Yet his Eternal City alone made the
Minster possible. He could not look out over the sunset,
and see the few twinkling lights of the village below, or
hear a train roaring through the cutting in the chalk walls
which he may have had to storm, and think (as we might
like him to have thought), " Here am I on the edge of the
world : all the universe is spinning round me in the twilight,
and it will change and die : I, Rome, alone am immortal,
because I am an idea."

Online LibraryF. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) DartonThe marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England → online text (page 5 of 28)