Haslemere Educational Museum
Culture & Learning Since 1888
Romano-British Cemetery

Romano-British Cemetery in Haslemere

Residents along Beech Road in Haslemere might be surprised to find out that an Iron Age/Early Romano-British Cemetery was discovered near or within their properties at the turn of the last century. The cemetery was first identified as from the British Iron Age by the British Museum but, with advances in technology and the discovery of other similar cemeteries around southern Britain, the Beech Road Cemetery was re-evaluated in the late 1940's and classified as Romano-British.

Map of Sites 1903 and 1905
Plan of the Haslemere Urnfield

1903 Excavation in Beech Road

The Beech Road location became an area of interest when on the 5th of November 1903, a gardener working for Miss Harrison at Coombe Cottage, just north of the present Beech Road location, discovered ancient pottery near the railway line less than 2 feet below the ground's surface while planting fruit trees. An archaeological excavation, led by the Haslemere Educational Museum, was carried out soon after the discovery in 1903, and 13 ancient graves were discovered along what is now Beech Road. The grave items that were uncovered, mostly pottery, bone and flints, were taken to the British Museum in London where an expert identified the urns as Celtic Cremation Urns dating back to 200 B.C. (Early Iron Age). Later, in the late 1940's, further testing revealed the funerary items to be of a Romano-British age dating to between 43 A.D. and 80 A.D.

Excavation plan, 1903
Excavation plan, 1903
Excavation urns 1903
Excavation urns 1903
Grey ware dish, 1903
Grey ware dish, 1903

1905 Excavation in Beech Road

In 1905, during property building and road construction, several cremation urns were uncovered in the Beech Road area. Excavation of the site was carried out under the direction of Mr. Swanton, the curator of the Haslemere Educational Museum, and a total of 13 ancient grave sites were discovered on the land bordering what is now Beech Road. These urns were thought to be part of the 1903 Iron Age Cemetery at the time of discovery in 1905.

The urns were re-evaluated in the late 1940's and it was discovered that they were of a slightly later age (80 A.D. to 120 A.D.), with the exception of a small rough textured jug which was dated to be 45 A.D. to 65 A.D. The jug, which was found less than 0.5 metres from a cinerary urn, could have been a grave good associated with the person's life and buried with that person on their death. Due to the age of the urns found (80 A.D. to 120 A.D.), this part of the cemetery is thought to be the successor of the older section excavated in 1903, which dated back to 43 A.D to 80 A.D. Most of the urns and pottery shards from the 1903 and 1905 excavations are on exhibit in the Haslemere Educational Museum.

Excavation plan, 1905
Excavation plan, 1905
Excavation plate I, 1905
Excavation plate I, 1905
Excavation plate II, 1905
Excavation plate II, 1905
Beaker, 1905
Beaker, 1905

This is a cordoned beaker made of a fine, brick-red paste. It is a highly devolved version of earlier Belgic butt beakers, and dates from around AD 70-80, during the Flavian period. The beaker is approximately 13cm high and has a diameter of approximately 8cm at its widest point.

Reddish-brown ware jug, 1905
Reddish-brown ware jug, 1905

This is a small jug of thick, heavy, reddish-brown ware with a rough surface, with a square, unlipped top. The poorer quality of this jug may be due to it being an attempt by a potter to copy an unfamiliar form. The jug is approximately 10cm high and, at its widest point, has a diameter of approximately 9cm. the pot dates to AD 45-65, meaning it would have been many years old when it was put in the ground around AD 70.

Cinerary urn, 1905
Cinerary urn, 1905

This is a cinerary urn made of a hard, brittle, sandy ware and decorated with a cordon at the base of the neck and a band of burnished zig-zag ornament. The pot dates to AD 70-80, during the Flavian period. It stands at approximately 18cm high and has a diameter of approximately 18cm at its widest point. When the urn was found, it contained calcined human bone, charcoal sand, two rudely chipped flints and two fragments of bronze fibula.

Grey ware, 1905
Grey ware, 1905

This is a cup of hard, grey ware, made in the style of Ritterling form pottery, dating to around AD 40-50. The upper part of the cup has been burnished a darker grey. Dating to the Claudian period, this cup has a height of approximately 5cm and, at its widest point, a diameter of approximately 11cm.

Reddish-brown ware beaker, 1905
Reddish-brown ware beaker, 1905

This is a jar made of coarse, hard, reddish-brown ware, decorated with a pattern of large raised dots in sloping rows. It is a globular beaker, with a studded body, and is made of native ware that may have been fume fired. Made when Nero was Emperor in Rome, in the first century AD, this jar stands at approximately 14cm tall and is approximately 11cm in diameter at its widest point.

Dish, 1905
Dish, 1905

This is a dish, thought to be a native rendering of a Belgic plate, made of hard, dirty grey, flaky paste. The dish is rough surfaced and flat-bottomed, save the centre of the base which is raised into an abrupt cone. The dish dates to AD 50-100, during the Flavian period, and is approximately 11cm in diameter.

Reddish-brown ware beaker, 1905
Reddish-brown ware beaker, 1905

This is a developed carinated beaker, made of coarse, reddish-brown ware with a rough surface. The plain rim of the beaker has been roughly finished by flattening it. This type of beaker was common in Surrey in the first century AD, and this one dates around to AD 50-100, during the Claudian period. It stands at approximately 11cm high and, at its widest point, has a diameter of 10cm.

Cinerary urn, 1905
Cinerary urn, 1905

This is a cinerary urn of hard grey ware with traces of a black coating. It is a round shouldered pot with a cordon at the base of the neck, below which is a burnished pattern of wavy lines. When the urn was found, it contained bones, including a woman's mandible, sand and three flint chips. Dating to AD 69-90, during the Flavian period, this urn stands at approximately 20cm high and has a diameter of 18cm at its widest point.

Cinerary urn, 1905
Cinerary urn, 1905

This is a cinerary urn with a burnished pattern of wavy lines on it, separated by narrow incised grooves. The shoulder and the lower part of the jar have traces of a black coating. This type of urn is found on a number of sites in Surrey and London, but is rare elsewhere. This particular urn contained calcined human bones, and dates to around AD 70-100, during the Flavian period. The urn is approximately 20cm high and 20cm in diameter at its widest point.

Grey ware jar, 1905
Grey ware jar, 1905

This is a small jar of hard grey ware, ridged at the shoulder and with a cordon at the base of the neck. The jar dates to around AD 70-80, during the Flavian period, and appears to belong exclusively to West Surrey. The jar stands at approximately 8cm high and, at its widest point, has a diameter of 9cm.

Grey ware jar, 1905
Grey ware jar, 1905

This is a small jar of hard grey ware, similar to Pot 10, although it is wider. The jar has a carinated shoulder and, like Pot 10, appears to belong exclusively to West Surrey. This particular style has been found at other cremation sites in the county. The pot is of the Flavian period, and stands at approximately 8cm high, with a diameter of 11cm at the widest point.

Terra sigilata dish, 1905
Terra sigilata dish, 1905

This is a small, glazed, dish of terra sigilata of a good brick-red ware, although most of the glaze has now worn off. The dish is approximately 9cm in diameter, and stands at approximately 5cm. Similar items can be found elsewhere in Surrey, although these are usually imitations. The dish dates to around AD 55-80, during the Nero-Vespasian period.

Conclusion of Beech Road

One question that has plagued archaeologists for decades is why the cemetery was located here in the Haslemere area. Was this region occupied by the invading Roman army, or was it a homestead or farming community for Iron Age Britons?

If it is a true Romano-British Cemetery, and not just Iron Age locals adopting the Roman style of burial, then one would expect there to be archaeological evidence in the form of artefacts or building structures, indicating a Roman settlement, or roads leading to this area, but no such evidence has been uncovered to date. In a typical Roman style burial, you would expect the burial to be located within 200 metres of the settlement or along a road entering a community, so that people entering the settlement could be reminded of their loved ones. The only evidence of Roman presence in this region is: the Lynchmere hoard, which was deposited much later in the 3rd century A.D.; the Whitebeech Roman Villa in Chiddingfold, which is several miles away and dated around the mid second to the late third century A.D.; and the Roman Age tile kiln at Fernhurst (date unknown). As for Haslemere itself, except for the odd Roman coin or pottery shard found around Haslemere, there is a lack of evidence for Roman occupation. As well as this, flint tools were located in graves, or in association with graves, at the Beech Road cemetery, and one does not see flints associated with Roman burials at this age.

Therefore, the evidence we have surrounding the mystery of the Beech Road cemetery, strongly leans in the favour of it being a native Iron Age burial site. If it is an Iron Age cemetery created in the style of Rome, then the location could have been a sacred site which the Iron Age inhabitants, located on an elevated sandy ridge overlooking what was then a lake or mere in what is now the centre of the town of Haslemere. It is very possible that this area was occupied by farmstead or homestead families working the land during the Iron Age and through the Roman occupation and that due to their (being Atrebates, the local Celtic tribe) close association with the Roman Empire, dating back some 100 years, they may have adopted the Roman style of burial.

Currently, other than the Mesolithic flint sites found on Black Down and possible Bronze Age burials also on Black Down, there is no archaeological evidence of Roman settlements or any settlements in this area prior to the 12th/13th century. We may never know who occupies the graves that lie beneath the Beech Road area but what we do know is that these human remains were cremated and placed into urns and buried in the Romano-British style during the early occupation of Britain, 43 A.D. to 120 A.D. Only time will tell if we will be able to unlock the mystery of the occupants of the Beech Road cemetery and Haslemere's past. But, with advancements in archaeological and seismic techniques, there is a good possibility that the archaeologists of the future will be able to unravel the unknown secrets of Haslemere.