Ewell lies approximately 20 km (13 miles) south west of London on the edge of the North Downs with springs, the source of the Hogsmill river, at its centre.
Archaeological excavations between the 1930’s and 1950’s focused upon the route of the Chichester – London road, Stane Street, through the Ewell area. Since then and up to the present day, surface finds and then excavations led by the local society (now the Epsom & Ewell History & Archaeology Society), with the support of Bourne Hall Museum, have produced evidence of a Roman settlement of about 6 hectares along the Roman road.
It seems that the settlement did not have the regular Roman grid street plan, but was a ribbon development along both sides of the road, probably consisting of plots facing the road with mortared building foundations, chalk floors, cobbled floors and hearths in work areas. The roadside settlement of Ewell can be compared to those found at Westhawk Farm, Ashford, Kent and Heybridge Farm, Essex.
It is also thought that the road may have detoured into Ewell towards the Hogsmill springs, providing water for travellers and the settlement, but also to allow the deposition of votive religious offerings into the springs, evidenced by the coins and brooches found in the spring beds.
Following the transition, or continuity, of the Iron Age farming communities , the Roman settlement and economy begun soon after the conquest of AD43, with the construction of the road in the late 40’s/50’s AD. The settlement continued and lasted with changes until the Late Roman period.
Pottery vessels used in Ewell range from coarse ware and black burnished jars, bowls and dishes produced at the Alice Holt Farnham kilns, and flagons, mortars, and jars from the Verulamium (St Albans) industry. High quality wares such as fine red Samian bowls and cups imported from South West France (Gaul), with Oxfordshire red ware bowls and mortars, in use after the mid 3rd cent. AD, and Nene Valley drinking cups are also in evidence.
Small personal objects found include bow and crossbow brooches and bone pins to fasten garments, glass and jet necklace beads, armlets, and tweezers.
Recent analysis of animal bones from sites along the roadside has revealed that sheep and cattle were the most important animals ; pigs seem to be less important, which is unusual for a Roman settlement. A woollen industry in Roman Ewell is likely given the elderly ages of the sheep bones, and the older cattle population suggests they were retained for traction, probably for crop production nearby, rather than breeding or killing for a meat trade.
A developing picture of Roman Ewell is about to be revealed after many years of work processing finds and records of past excavations. Reports are in the offing, and they will provide synthesis of the extent, nature and changes over time in Roman Ewell.
Author -Frank Pemberton
EEHAS Archaeology Officer