Walking with the Atrebates

Around 1700 years ago, the town of Calleva Atrebatum was a thriving little place. Streets in a grid, forum in the (roughly) middle, people coming and going from all over the empire. It was a major crossroads from London, leading out to Bath, Gloucester, Salisbury, etc. It grew out of an Iron Age fort where the French, Atrebates clan made their home.

Today, the town is a village called Silchester and is nothing more or less than a few scattered farmhouses, a pub, a church and a fair number of Roman walls. In fact, it’s boasted that Silchester has the most extant Roman walls in Britain.

It’s funny when people speak of being purely English. I generally ask them how far back they want to go. If they were to say pre-Roman then I’d now explain that they would probably be French.

The Atribates wasn’t the only Gaulish tribe to take up residence in Southern England. The place was settled by all sorts. And they built big ditches, using the removed earth to create banks for defence. These were Iron Age forts.

When the Roman’s arrived in 43AD, they were welcomed by the Atrebates. Together, they created the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum in Hampshire.

And we visited today.

It’s an odd thing that I have never been before, given I was an archaeologist and it’s not that far away. Obviously I’d heard about it and I’m sure I know people who dug there but, today was my first visit. A most enjoyable visit, planned by Mirinda and enjoyed by both of us as well as the girls.

Equally enjoyable, and a pleasant surprise, was the fact that the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin was open (for private prayer) so we went inside and gawped about a bit.

Laying inside one of the walls is Eleanor. Or, rather, it might be Eleanor. Eleanor Baynard, to give her her full name. She was the younger of two daughters born to Sir John Bluet, the Lord of the Manor of Silchester. His family had been Lords of the Manor of Silchester since Doomsday. He died in 1316, leaving no male heir. His daughter Margaret then died around 1348 leaving Eleanor as the only viable Bluet.

But, of course, being a woman she couldn’t become the Lord of the Manor so it fell to her husband, Edmund Baynard to take up the post. Which he gladly did. If the effigy is of Eleanor then she outlived Edmund because the outfit was worn by widows of the time.

Whoever the effigy represents, it’s a fine example of its type and, in particular, the clothes are beautifully sculptured.

Having walked through the centre of town, we then headed for the wall walk to the right for a very pleasant walk back to Max.

We really had a lovely wander about. This is one of those things that Mirinda thinks we need to do to endure the increasing stupidity that is the pandemic reaction. I couldn’t agree more. It was almost normal.

Back at home I made my first recipe from Sabrina Ghayour’s newest recipe book, Simply. I made her turmeric and black pepper lamb neck fillet. And it was absolutely delicious. One bite was enough for Mirinda to declare that it had to go on the Chez Gaz menu.

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