The Place of the Three Bridges Roman Burg
One of the earliest examples of settlement in the Lutterworth District was the small Roman town of Tripontium, which was in existence between the 1st and 4th centuries AD and probably had its heyday in the 2nd century AD. Situated 1km south-west of Shawell, excavations have taken place at the site since the 1960s.
The Civilian Settlement
Excavation established that the Roman settlement of Tripontium extended around 230 feet (70m) either side of Watling Street for a length of c.1.1 miles (1.80km). The site lies in farmland between the villages of Churchover, Shawell, Catthorpe and Newton and is crossed by a disused railway-line which is now a nature trail. It stretched roughly from the south side of the current M6 motorway bridge north-westwards over the bridge and along the modern A5 trunk road past the turn-off south, to Coton Farm and Newton, to a point halfway between that junction and the Gibbet Hill (A426) roundabout.
Earliest occupation is likely to have been late 1st century, indicated by Flavian Samian pottery, and the site continued to be occupied into the late fourth century. The latest coin is of Valentinian I (A.D.365-375). Direct evidence for on-site iron-smelting has been recovered from at least one excavated site, and iron slag has been found in several more areas within the settlement.
A rectangular area lying astride Watling Street and measuring about 455 x 375 feet (139 x 114 metres) was enclosed by a defensive ditch 23 feet (7m) wide and 10 feet (3m) deep having a varying V or U-shaped profile. It is possible that the ditch was surmounted by a clay-rampart. The exact construction date of this enclosure can’t be determined, although it is thought to date from the late third century to the middle of the fourth, so towards the end of Tripontium’s useful existence.
Over the years, at least thirty human burials have been recovered from the site and the immediate surrounding area, mostly lying outside the defences to the north, west and east, although three have been recovered from within the enclosure to the west of Watling Street.
A Lead Ingot was also found at Tripontium, (a copy of which is held in the Lutterworth and District Museum) along with a belt-buckle of late Roman military type which can be dated to the late-4th and early-5th centuries. In addition, around 40 coins from the time of Emperor Constantine were also discovered. Following excavations as a result of the widening of the A5 (Watling Street), remains of a 3rd-century bath-house were discovered, and a model of this is also on display in the museum.
Tripontium, translated from Latin, means “Three Bridges” – these Three Bridges would presumably be:
- Over the River Swift about 2 miles (c.3km) north-west of the settlement.
- A light bridge across an unnamed tributary stream of the River Avon, immediately outside the settlement’s south-east defences.
- Across the River Avon itself at Dow Bridge, about a mile to the south-east of the town beyond Catthorpe Ridge.
Tripontium was probably the most important Roman settlement in the area. The town is some 8 miles south of Venonae (High Cross), the point at which Watling Street crosses the Fosse Way. The large size of the bathhouses and inn have led historians to conclude that Tripontium is likely to have been an important stopping-place for travellers, both military and civilian. It was probably also an administrative centre for the surrounding area. The town was mentioned as a stopping place in the Antonine Itineraries, a third century document which recorded the places the Roman Emperors stopped and those they passed through.
The site is a scheduled ancient monument. It has been placed on the Heritage at Risk Register due to the risks from unlicensed metal detecting and its condition is declining. The site is not open to the public, but many of the finds from the excavations are on display at the Rugby Art Gallery and Museum.