Sunny days should be spent out and about under blue skies, not shopping for bathroom suites in Cannock. However, needs must and afterwards we made up for it by continuing the bath theme in much more pleasant surroundings, spending the afternoon at the Roman bath house at Wall. Although it’s only about three miles away from Leomansley, it’s a while since I’ve been to the ruins of the Roman settlement of Letocetum. My last visit was in 2011,during an open day organised by the Friends of Letocetum for the National Archaeology Festival. Another visitor on that day, who sadly I didn’t meet, was the late Mick Aston (wearing a stripy jumper of course!), who had one of his first experiences of archaeology at the site as a young man under the guidance of Jim Gould FSA.
Roman occupation at the site is thought to have begun with the establishment of a military site to protect this important route, later developing into a staging post where those travelling along Watling St could rest and recuperate at the guest house and bath house, (it is the remains of these buildings which are still visible) and eventually a small town. You can see another Roman road, running between the remains of the two buildings on the site, with some of the original cobbles still intact.
After looking around the ruins, we followed the Wall Heritage Walk (available from the museum) which took us along more ancient routes – the greenways and sunken lanes that surround the village, thought to be old drovers’ roads.
As well as enjoying the views and the wildlife of the hedgerows, I also couldn’t help looking out for buildings in the area that had used stone from the ready made quarry nearby!
One of the lanes runs past St John’s church. Built in the late 1830s, in comparison to the ruins it overlooks, it’s a young whippersnapper of a building. The architects were George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffat, who it seems were also working on Lichfield’s new workhouse at St Michael’s around the same time.
One of the questions that seems to be subject to much discussion here is, could earlier places of worship once have existed on the site? There has been speculation that there was once a shrine to Minerva here, based on an account of a man who worked draining the lands around Wall. Asked if he had ever found anything in the course of his work, he told how as well as finding lots of old coins, he once found an earthenware figure that he described as being as big as a man, but not a man due to having a bust, and also not a woman as it had a queer dress and a man’s cap like a soldier’s helmet. And what did he do with this amazing find? Prepare to weep – he used it to mend a drain.
However, before getting too upset we can perhaps take some comfort in the fact that Jim Gould (who as well as working extensively at Wall explored and wrote about the archaeology of many of the other sites around here) was not convinced that the statue ever existed, the story being “from an unknown source, of the finding of an impossible statue, by an un-named man, at an unknown spot and date (1). A good lesson that no matter how appealing some stories may seem, they should be taken cum grano salis.
Thanks to archaeologists like Mr Gould and others, a great deal of the history and significance of the site has already been discovered, although it seems there are still plenty of crop marks and questions out there (including the relationship between Letocetum and what was to become Lichfield) to keep future generations of archaeologists busy. However, just as sunny days ideally shouldn’t be spent shopping on retail parks, places such as Wall ideally shouldn’t be explored through words and photographs along, but physically instead. The museum even has a collection of objects you can touch! Instead of using this post to further summarise the history of the site (especially as others will have done a far superior job elsewhere!), I’d rather encourage you to go and have a look for yourself. In case you need any further convincing, entrance to the ruins and the museum is free and the heritage leaflet I picked up there was worth every one of the 20 pennies I paid for it.
Wall Heritage Walk