Excavations at Little London Roman Tile Kiln

During our long excavations at Insula IX, one enigmatic find in particular always raised questions whenever discovered. Roof tiles and bricks impressed with a distinct circular stamp bearing the Emperor Nero’s name hinted at some kind of building program funded by the notorious first-century ruler. Examples of the tiles were also found during the excavations of the Forum-Basilica complex in the 1980s as well as the Victorian campaign in the bath-houses in the 1903, perhaps suggesting a town-wide redevelopment.

Nero tiles. Four examples from Insula III and a drawing of the 1903 find from the bath-house.

Was Nero trying to buy the support of the Calleva locals with a lavish spending spree, or perhaps thanking them for their defence against the Boudiccan rebellion of 60/61AD? Our further excavations into Insula III in 2013-16 unearthed four more Nero tiles, but sadly no more explanations or evidence of the man himself. Made of a distinct yellowish clay, these tiles are unique to Silchester with every known example being found within the town walls…..except for one.

In the autumn of 1925, gentleman archaeologist Lt. Col. JBP Karslake noticed a concentration of Roman bricks and tiles in a field around two miles to the south-west of Calleva. Thinking that this may be the remains of a brick clamp or kiln he excavated a trench into the area and discovered amongst a mass of underfired and overfired wasters ‘…part of a tile of which sufficient remained to preserve a round stamp in the centre with the legend NER. CL. CAE. AUG. GR.’. A geophysical survey carried out by our team recently revealed a concentration of seven or eight anomalies surrounding a large, central disturbance within the field. Although hard to ascertain for definite, a number of the ‘blobs’ on the geophysics have the classic teardrop shape of single-chambered Roman tile kilns, some arranged in groups of two or three. And so, on Wednesday

Geophsyics of the field. A central quarry pit with a number of potential kilns to the southwest. How many can you see?

9th August we will be opening two trenches over a number of these features to find out whether or not these were the kilns used to supply Nero’s Calleva development and hoping to add to our collection of stamped tiles. Earlier this week we dug a couple of test pits in the middle of each of our trenches and things are looking positive already. We’ll be keeping you posted over the next few weeks with all our news and we’ll be revealing more information about how to come and visit us, as well as updates about our open day on Saturday 26th August.