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Roman Sandy

Sandy seems to have been quite a significant settlement in the late Iron Age and the Romano-British period and sites and finds from this era dominate the archaeology locally. The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record records all known sites of historic, and prehistoric, interest in the county. It is now on-line as part of the Heritage Gateway website.

The Historic Environment Record contains a general entry for Roman Sandy [HER 1897] which reads as follows: "Roman occupation at Sandy has been known from stray finds since the 17th century. The Roman settlement at Sandy was based around a major road intersection and has produced high status finds, but seems to have been a relatively small and diffuse settlement, but apparently of distinct local importance. The main focus of the settlement seems to have been on the site of the modern cemetery (HER11313), the adjoining area known as the Chesterfield [in Stratford] (HER444) and the railway station and marshalling yard (HER11318). Tower Hill, which was quarried between 1850 and 1911, was the location of the cemetery (HER11318) [see below]".

"The settlement has no planned outline. No substantial buildings have been found, although this may be in part due to the fragmentary nature of the archaeological investigations, but it has also been noted that no plaster or tessarae [small clay cubes used to make up mosaics] have been found, and only one flue tile. The location at a junction, and the range of imported goods found, suggest a function as a centre of consumption and redistribution, and it may also have been a centre for pottery manufacture, iron working and bronze working. It has also been suggested that it may have been a site of religious significance"

The Viatores, a group dedicated to finding Roman roads in the modern landscape, has identified a road running from Sandy, through Stratford, to Godmanchester [Cambridgeshire] [HER 505]. The road ran through Little Barford, Tempsford, Everton, Sandy, Biggleswade and Stotfold. The southern part of this running through Stratford, Biggleswade and Stotfold was an extension running on to Baldock [Hertfordshire]. The Baldock road enters Bedfordshire at Radwell and is marked by modern roads as far as Biggleswade. North of Biggleswade the line is more conjectural. At Sandy the line of the road is traced as a series of hedgelines, partly on aggers [Roman roads with ditches at either side].

The Viatores have tentatively identified another road, running from Sandy to Irchester in Northamptonshire [HER 728]. From Sandy it ran through Mogerhanger, Blunham, Great Barford, Renhold, Wilden, Ravensden, Thurleigh, Bletsoe, Sharnbrook, Knotting and Podington. This road was conjecturally placed in 1953 at the site later occupied by Sandy Fire Station [HER 10803] and when the fire station was built in 1954 a continuation of this road was identified [HER 11312].

A very large Roman cemetery has been identified at Tower Hill [HER 11318], producing large numbers of finds discovered from the 18th century onwards. From c.1850, emphasis shifted to the line of the Great Northern Railway, then under construction, and to a gravel pit at Tower Hill to the west, which provided ballast for the track. The main finds were cremation urns and inhumation burials, indicating that the small gravel knoll had served as a cemetery for the settlement to the east. The presence of both cremation and inhumation burials suggests a long life for the cemetery, with cremation in the earlier period being replaced by inhumation in the later. Two of the inhumations were in lead coffins and one was found with a pewter bowl.

A number of finds were reported to have come from the branch railway between Sandy and Potton [HER 11319]. This line was linked into the main line as it passed through Sandy, so these discoveries may well have come from the same general area as the rest of the 19th century finds relating to the cemetery. The most notable is a group of three bronze bowls, thought to be of late Roman date, which was probably deposited as a hoard. A fourth bowl from Sandy was purchased by the British Museum in 1900. A steatite stamp, used by an oculist [eye doctor] to mark different products, was found at either Sandy or Biggleswade railway station in 1873. It probably came from the Tower Hill Roman cemetery in Sandy [HER 462].

A Saxon cemetery was also found in 1850 during railway construction at Sandy [HER 432]. Inhumations and cremations of Anglo-Saxon date have been found over a long period at Sandy, mainly to the north and east of the Roman cemetery. A large urn was found before 1745, but the majority of the finds were made in the 1850s during excavations for the railway. The finds are generally early-mid 5th century to 6th century in date and include black, decorated cremation urns. The proximity of the finds to the Roman cemetery led to confusion as to which burials were Saxon and which were Roman. There is a clear possibility of the Roman settlement of Sandy thus continuing into the Anglo-Saxon period and then on through to the present day. An Anglo-Saxon urn was also found on the Sandy to Potton railway [HER 9821].

Other evidence of Roman activity in and around Sandy comes from find spots. At Warren Farm Cottages, close to the boundary with Potton, a ring was found which may be Roman and may come from a horse harness [HER 15972]. Roman cremations were found at Warren Farm Cottages [HER 14045] during construction of a greenhouse. The cemetery dates to the late 1st-2nd century. The cremations are a mix of urned and un-urned and were placed in individual pits. Several of the cremations did contain accessory vessels and some contained grave goods, such as a knife.

A Roman bronze bow brooch was found at the Sandy gravel works. It is a 1st century Aucissa type with the pin still present, but one terminal of the pin attachment area is missing [HER 16008]. A Roman coin, an orichalcum dupondius probably of Trajan was found near Girtford Bridge [HER 14815]. Three coins were brought into Bedford Museum for identification from Sandhills between Sand Lane and Swaden [HER 11317]. The coins were of the British usurper Carausius (286-293), the Gallic usurper Victorinus (268-270) and the Emperor Claudius II Gothicus (268-70). They were retained by owner. Roman coins were found east of the River Ivel near the boundary with Tempsford [HER 15906]. They date to the 3rd and 4th centuries including Carausius and Constantine II (337-340).

A coin of British usurper Magnus Maximus (383-388) and a bronze toilet implement were found during house construction and taken to Bedford Museum for identification in 1975 [HER 6612] and in 1981 2nd century pottery was discovered along with human bones. In the garden of number 13 The Avenue a human skeleton was uncovered when foundation trenches were being dug for an extension. It is possibly of Roman date but this is not certain [HER 16116].

Many other finds have been reported which probably came from the area of the main settlement at Sandy, but for which the find spots were not recorded or are uncertain [HER 11324]. These largely consist of coins and pottery, but also include some brooches, a lead ingot, the lower part of a rotary quern, a bronze handle with Medusa head and part of an iron plough. A hoard of ironwork was found in the late 19th century; it comprises mainly cart fittings, but also other objects, such as a farrier's buttress, a mower's anvil and a cobbler's last, these objects have been assigned a 4th century date. In analysing the coins there may have been a Theodosian hoard of AD 400 which has strayed into the list of general finds; this confirms the general air of unrest at the end of the 4th century - the Roman army leaving Britain in 410 AD.