Roman St Sidwell’s

Following the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43, the Second Legion Augusta built a fortress here in about AD 55. The Romans surfaced the earlier trackway with compacted gravel and it became one of the main Roman routes into the city, especially for travellers coming from the North East along the Fosse Way, the Roman road which linked Lincoln to Exeter.

Shops and businesses catering to the needs of the travellers and the 6,000 resident Roman soldiers would have sprung up along the street. There would have been mills, markets, warehouses, meeting houses, brothels, metal-working and wood-working.

Spring water for the Roman military bathhouse

The Romans loved bathing and they constructed an elaborate military bathhouse – the only stone building in their 42 acre fortress. Thousands of gallons of the water which bubbled up from natural springs in the St Sidwell’s area were channelled into the city every day through the east gate of the fortress via an aqueduct.

St Sidwell’s and the Roman city of Exeter

After the Roman legion left their fortress in about AD75 (when the army was transferred to Wales) the former base became the regional capital Isca Dumnoniorum and began to acquire the buildings and walled defences of a fully-functioning Roman city.

The military bathhouse was converted into a basilica (an administration centre) while new public baths were constructed in South Street sometime before AD100. These baths were also supplied with water from St Sidwell’s via a new wooden aqueduct which crossed into the city at the top of the present-day Paul Street.

Although St Sidwell’s stood outside the walled city it would have been a thriving area throughout the Roman period until the end of Roman Britain in the early decades of the 5th Century.

Early burial site?

The burial of Roman adults was not allowed within the city walls and there may have been a Roman cemetery outside the wall in the St Sidwell’s area. A Roman urn containing burnt bone and ashes was found under a cellar at the junction of York Road and Well Street in 1835. Several more urns, containing what were thought to be human ashes, were found on a site adjoining Well Street. Could the tradition of burial here have started with the Romans?