Posted: 14.02.20 at 17:43 by Nick Hudson
Painstaking research over many decades finally may have identified Mancetter as the exact location where a famous warrior ‘queen’ fought Britain’s most important battle before Hastings.
Tomorrow, a new book by Atherstone Civic Society secretary Margaret Hughes is to be unveiled – making the most definitive claim yet for the village being the site of the last titanic struggle of East Anglian Iceni tribe leader Boudica.
The area around the modern-day Mancetter traffic island on the A5, next to its physical boundary with Atherstone, would have been the epicentre of arguably the biggest conflagration on British soil.
The local historian will launch her labour of love as she officially opens a permanent exhibition displaying, for the first time, archeological finds from Roman history – and highlighting the front-line strategic importance of Mancetter during the early years after Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain.
The exhibition and visitors’ centre will be housed in one of the aisles of St Peter’s Church on The Green at Mancetter – the holy place being the original site of a Roman fort which was built in 48 AD to protect the workers who were creating the old Watling Street.
Some 12 years later Boudica – known to older generations at Bodecia – gathered an army of 230,000 men, women and children to take on the crack 10,000-strong Roman 14th Legion.
Despite the overwhelming numbers, Boudica’s warriors had no protective armour and were no match for the disciplined Roman soldiers, led by by Gaius Suetonius Paulinus.
Boudica’s last stand in 60 AD was just that – as she died following the battle. It also marked the end of resistance to Roman rule in Britain in the southern half of the island, a period that lasted until 410 AD.
The actual spot where Boudica’s great defeat took place – the estimated numbers far outweighing the 50,000 who fought in a snowstorm in the Battle of Towton in Yorkshire in March 1461 – has been the subject of claims over the centuries.
Recently experts have matched the claims of eight candidates against the archaeological, archival and circumstantial evidence as well as military suitability.
But, according to the Martin Saunders – curator of the new Roman Mancetter & Boudica Heritage Centre in the church – the answer is in the Hartshill-based historian's book.
Thumbing through the manuscript titled Boudica at Mancetter, Mr Saunders said: “It did happen here. We believe that.”
And academics on Boudica’s trail back up the theory, suggesting the claim for Manduessesdum (Mancetter’s Roman name) had gained “well-founded support” and “holds up strongly” against several other sites.
Boudica had won decisive victories against the Romans in Colchester, London and St Albans – sacking and burning all before her. She then turned north towards Mancetter to engage Paulinus’s army, fresh from his own triumph in Anglesey.
The night before the fateful clash saw the Romans camp at Hartshill Hayes. Paulinus inflicted terrible losses on the Iceni army.
Fast forward to the 21st century – and 18 months ago to be more specific – as interested parties got together to keep alive two millennia of history and bring the Romans back to Mancetter.
The church exhibition and visitors’ centre has been planned around a timeline theme of the Romans’ stay in Britain, telling the impact on the local area.
It tells the story of life in the Roman fort which sat where St Peter’s Church is today and the Burgus across the Watling Street at the site of the Bull Inn at Witherley. The fort was erected in 48 AD and dismantled three years later, having served it purpose protecting the builders of what would later become one of Britain’s finest roads – the A5 Watling Street.
Brought to life by professional designers Spooky Nook, they have produced a fully functioning exhibition displaying Roman artefacts aided by audio visual facilities in a slick and stylish presentation.
The project committee comprises members from Atherstone Civic Society and the church’s parish council with added support impetus from The Friends of Atherstone Heritage and Warwickshire County Council.
When the committee was first formed to discuss the project, the main hurdle was obtaining funding for the project.
“It was no easy task and tight deadlines and accurate submissions had to be made,” the project committee told Nub News.
Some months down the line North Warwickshire Borough Council agreed to sponsor the project with a grant and then main funding arrived from EU body Liaison entre actions de developpement de l’economie (LEADER) – an organisation which support the rural environment.
Unofficially the exhibition has been quietly going about its business since November. Various gusts speakers have already started to paint an historic picture of life in the village under the Romans.
But the exhibition opening proper – with Margaret Hughes cutting the ribbon tomorrow morning – will see the start of a five-year plan to put Mancetter well and truly on the map of Roman history.
In the first 12 months the centre will open up to local groups and schools with packages which include a visit, talk and walk, teas and even a two-course meal.
“We are here to create an interest to visit here and will be happy to forge links with other historic sites in the area like Bosworth Battlefield,” added Mr Saunders.
The exhibition can be viewed every Saturday from 10.30am-2.30pm with Wednesday being earmarked as a potential second front for additional opening.
Mancetter is a village proud of its 2,000-year heritage and the birth of the visitors’ centre is being seen as “just the beginning” with plans to turn the the site into something “far more significant” with the present day’s thirst for Roman history, Mr Saunders added.
*Some 750 copies of the Hartshill-based historian’s book ‘Boudica at Mancetter’ will be available tomorrow.
To see the other images of the exhibition, click on the white dots inside the main picture.