There is a scene in Monty Python’s film “Life of Brian” where the John Cleese character asks “what have the Romans ever done for us?” and the participants proceed to list all the good things that had been provided during their occupation (sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health). Well, they may have done a lot of similar things when they came to Norfolk in the AD60s but one thing we do know is that they didn’t install enough kissing gates when building the Roman town of Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmunds. So it has been up to our Volunteers to put this right and build yet another kissing gate in addition to those we built back in 2017 (see our previous blogs on Caistor Roman Town here) on behalf of The Norfolk Archaeological Trust (NAT) and South Norfolk District Council (SNDC).
On an overcast and dank Friday (17th May) a small group of Volunteers gathered in the car park at Caistor St Edmunds and walked the half-Kilometre to our work location at the river end of the site. Matt H was leading today, and Helen from SNDC and Caroline from the NAT were on hand to get us started and ensure that we were aware of the sensitivity of the site. We were here to build a new kissing gate next to a field gate to provide improved access for the many walkers who visit Caistor throughout the year.
The plan was to hang the kissing gate on the existing gate post which would save a lot of digging and thus less disturbance of the ground at this historical site. But we still had other post holes to dig. The first job was to remove the old stock fence to provide access for the new gate. Whoever put up the stock fence must have had a surplus of staples and decided to use them up as it took us some time to remove all these so we could peel back the wire. We also decided to lift off the field gate for better access to the work area. With the fence and gate removed the nettles and other stuff were cleared with the brush cutter so that we could assess the area and plan how to site the new gate. The was also a low bank along the fence line which we dug out to provide a level surface for the new gate.
The starting point was to hang the new gate on the existing post. The hinge pins were bolted to the post with the bottom hinge slightly off-set to help the gate close by itself. With the gate in place and the position of the other posts agreed the holes were drilled in the soil using an auger – a tool like a large corkscrew. The auger is withdrawn regularly to clear the soil from the spirals, and we examined each pile expecting to find some ancient treasure or a piece of gold or jewellery but all we found were lumps of red brick, which were clearly Roman, and the occasional oyster shell. The auger can’t handle large stones so someone with long arms (Matt H on this occasion) had to reach into the hole to pull these out. With posts in and the levels sorted it was time for lunch accompanied by a spot of drizzle which set in for the afternoon.
After lunch all the side rails were fitted, and the spring closure attached to the gate. The area is grazed by sheep who keep the grass under control but are notorious for trying to escape so we wrapped the stock fence around the kissing gate enclosure and also stapled a section onto the gate itself. While we were working some of the sheep gradually made their way towards the removed field gate entrance looking for a chance to escape but we shooed them away. The field gate was, of course, replaced before we finished.
At tea break we had tasty chocolate cupcakes with thick icing made by the future Mrs Matt H. A productive day by our small team of Liz, Alan, Robert, Paul, Matt H and myself. The new kissing gate will be appreciated by walkers and will give them another option for their circular walks around the site.