Conservation set to begin on Gloucester’s most important archaeological find in decades

Published
19.01.2021

Conservation work is due to begin on two beautifully carved stone fragments thought to have been at the heart of Roman Gloucester and described as the city’s ‘most important discovery in decades’.

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The fragments, one of which is believed to have been from an important building in central Roman Gloucester and the other from a stone altar, both show exceptionally high quality carving.  

They were discovered in 2019 at the front of St Mary de Crypt church in Southgate Street while workers were undertaking groundworks as part of the ‘Discover DeCrypt’ restoration project.

Archaeologists from Avon Archaeology monitoring the work spotted them and set about recovering the fragments carved from Cotswold limestone and likely to have been quarried in the Painswick area.

The first fragment is part of a cornice, a projecting decorative band running the external face of a building. Decorated with beautiful curling leaf and perhaps floral designs, the workmanship is considered to be exceptionally high quality.

Measuring 90 cms by 40 cms, it appears to be broken which means the original stone was even larger and formed part of a very sizable Roman building possibly a temple or the forum basilica (Roman town hall).

The second fragment is the upper part of a Roman altar. While damaged it has the typical shape of such altars (a raised central ‘bump’ with carved scroll-like ornaments on either side). Sadly the front has been broken off ­­making it impossible to see any inscriptions while the back is roughly finished suggesting that it would have stood flush with a wall.

Andrew Armstrong, Archaeologist at Gloucester City Council, said: “These are the most important fragments of Roman stonework to be found in Gloucester for some decades and the fact that they were found so close to the city centre means they may have been associated with the Roman forum, a public space in the centre of the Roman city,  or large public buildings around the forum.” 

A conservation programme is now set to begin backed by the City Council, Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society and Discover Decrypt following which the stones will be kept at the Museum of Gloucester and later at Discover Decrypt.

Councillor Richard Cook, Leader of Gloucester City Council, said: “I’m delighted these important stones are going to be preserved and I hope before too long they’ll be on display for everyone to see and appreciate. They’re a beautiful and important part of the city’s history, they give a hint of the sheer scale and grandeur of Roman Gloucester. It’s also an important reminder of what else lies beneath our feet in this city, what we have yet to discover and why we should value it.”

Hellen O'Connor, Project Manager Operations, Discover Decrypt, said: “'The discovery of these stones so near to the church and schoolroom caused much excitement and speculation as to what Roman building was on the site of what is now the church. We hope to have them interpreted and on display here so that we can tell the story of 2000 years of history of the site. How wonderful that we live and work in such a fascinating and historic city.”

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