A little piece of pottery with a very big history...

A little piece of pottery with a very big history...

By Antony Clay | 12/04/2021

A little piece of pottery with a very big history...


A PIECE of pottery picked up by two inquisitive schoolboys opened a fascinating window into the past.

The youngsters discovered part of a Roman bowl which caused a stir among archaeologists.

John Wigglesworth, who now lives in Durrington, Wiltshire, found the remarkable sherd of pottery close to the old Steel, Peech and Tozer site in 1953 along with school pal Keith Harding.

University experts were astonished to see the piece — which probably dated back 1,900 years — and even managed to identify its maker.

The schoolboys donated the relic to Clifton Park Museum — and it is still there.

John said that in his last year at South Grove School in Moorgate, a fellow pupil presented items he had found close to the steel plant.

John (82) said: “I was in the class with Mr Wales, he was a fantastic teacher, when Walter Shakespear, who I think was from Wellgate, showed his shoebox of stones.

“The class stopped and we were all talking about it. I said to Keith that we could have a go at that, and we did.”

The pair visited the site, which John remembers as a building development.

He said: “We literally walked straight through the gaps in the fence and started looking at stuff.

“The earth in parts was quite high, but it mainly was in trenches. The pottery was everywhere; you just had to pull it out. That we did, and put it into a shoebox.

“One piece stood out as it was a darkish cream colour and there were funny marks on one end. A box filled, we walked to my home on Lister Street, Clifton Park. We showed the pottery to two ladies who lived next door, sisters named Millward.

“They too were impressed and they told us to take it to a Miss Greene who lived opposite the opening of Parkgate Road. She was an authority on Roman pottery.

“Miss Greene lived in a huge house with her mother. We knocked and she came to the door.

“We went in and she said could she take some of the stuff to Sheffield University. As soon as Miss Greene, who was a curator at Clifton Park Museum, saw the piece, she flipped.

“When it came back, we were told the piece we thought was different had a potter’s mark on it. To them, it told a story.

“We then took it around to the Clifton Museum, and it was shown for many years later on.”

Dorothy Greene, the curator, received the Freedom of Rotherham award for her work promoting Rotherham’s archaeology and history.

The university archaeologists had identified the piece of pottery as being Roman. There was a Roman fort at Ickles near Templeborough, as well as settlements scattered around the area.

John said that the piece of pottery was “about twice the size of a business card” and had on it a Roman name and a reference to Lincolnshire.

He said that the experts had managed to identify the specific potter who made it, based on the distinctive maker’s mark, and told him that he had been working in Lincolnshire and that his products had been found at Hadrian’s Wall.

Karl Noble, collections officer with Rotherham Council, said that the piece was still in the museum’s collection.

He added: “It is a sherd from the rim of a Roman mortarium and is buff in colour. Mortariums were the rough-bottomed bowls, often with a spout, used to grind up food products and are the origin of our modern-day mortar and pestle.

“It does have a maker’s mark, which possibly reads as ‘Vordias’.

“Vordias was a potter based in South Carlton, Lincolnshire, and would have made wares for the IX legion Hispana, who were based in Lincoln, and associated auxiliary cohorts.

“The 800-strong IV Cohort of Gauls, raised in France, was probably one of these auxiliary units and came north alongside the legion in the mid-50s AD to put down a revolt by the Brigantes, a confederation of tribes north of the Don.

“After a successful campaign, a fort was built at Templeborough by the auxiliaries guarding a crossing point of the River Don, to protect the Roman border, and the legion went back to Lincoln.

“Twenty years later, the Brigantes revolted again and the legion with its auxiliary cohorts crossed the Don under General Agricola to stop the problem completely.”

Mr Noble said that at one time this area was the northern edge of the entire Roman Empire, which made finds of particular interest. People often presented interesting items dug up either in excavations or in their gardens, he added.

“As the piece was found in the settlement outside the fort at Templeborough, it is likely to have been used when it was a smaller policing unit in the fort,” said Mr Noble.

“Although the legion had moved on from Lincoln, the potteries in that area would have carried on producing.

“There were other potteries nearer, such as Doncaster, but they all made different wares for different purposes.

“Therefore in Rotherham there was Roman pottery from Doncaster, Lincolnshire and other places further south, Gaul and Spain.

“We have a number of pieces in the museum’s collection that have maker’s marks on but they are different potters.”

Mr Noble said that pottery was either for everyday use or made for special occasions.

He said the Roman exhibits at the museum — which he described as a “significant collection” — often attracted the attention of visitors, particularly children. He added that history experts such as PhD students have utilised the collection for their research.

Mr Wigglesworth’s find was an unusual one, said Mr Noble, who added: “Pieces that are stamped are rarer than the mass of pottery bits that are around.”

Mr Noble said that Mr Wigglesworth’s piece of pottery was probably made “during the 20 years between the two revolts when the IV Cohort of Gauls were based permanently at Templeborough”.