The church of St Mary the Virgin is built within the Roman walls of Calleva Atrebatum, and its walls are constructed partly from Roman brick and tile. The present building dates from the mid thirteenth century, but it is probable that there was another, earlier church on the site (which was originally an enclosed pagan site).
It's a lovely little church, with some pretty Medieval wall-paintings (recently restored). The chancel screen dates from 1533, and there is a lovely effigy of one Eleanor Bayard, dating from the fourteenth century.
.............the Roman town, named for 'the town in the woods of the Atrebates' the local Iron Age tribe). Although the town within is covered in pasture (many of its treasures in Reading museum, although much remains to be excavated) the walls still stand, and create an intriguing and pleasant walk.
...............was built around 50 AD, not long after the Roman town was built. The ground level was lowered, and the earth removed was used to form the seating bank. It is remarkably large, there is an excellent view from the banks, and sound carries very clearly; one can imagine how it once was, with displays and plays and entertainments, the roar of the crowds, the snack-sellers, the loose ladies.................
The amphitheatre was rebuilt several times, with the flint wall being from the third century. There are two iches on wither side of the arena; it this thought that these may once have been shrines to the god Nemesis.
Both the north gate and the south gate of the Roman town were once impressive structures, with archways and (eventually, it is thought) battlements. Imagine how an Iron Age peasant might feel walking through such a gateway for the first time; the awe he or she must have felt at these massive stone structures, the wonder at the thriving township contained within...........
Unlike other Roman towns, Calleva was not built on after the Romans left, so the site is intact. That said, it has been put to the plough over many centuries. You can walk round the town walls, however, and inspect the amphitheatre, both of which demonstrate what a big and important place it was in Roman times.
The Archaeology Department at the University of Reading conduct digs during the summer (and take on volunteers), so the story of Calleva is gradually being reconstructed.
I am not sure how truthful the title of this tip is, but I did read that the Roman town walls at Silchester are the best preserved example in England. They are certainly impressive, although the town that they enclosed is long gone (see photo 4). To walk round the 2.8 kilometre distance of the walls and look at cows grazing peacefully within, it is difficult to believe that this was once Calleva Atrebatum, a hugely important Roman town controlling roads to what are now Chichester, Winchester Dorchester upon Thames, London and Salisbury.
So what of the name? Calleva Atrebatum means town in the woods of the Atrebates, the Atrebates being the tribe who had occupied the site since the first century B.C. After Roman occupation the site became important with the town boasting a bath house, temples and an amphitheatre seating 4,500.
As is the way with empires, the Romans declined in the 5th century A.D and the place fell into disuse, although it has never been built over, allowing archaeologists to understand the place remarkably well. For anyone interested in Roman history, this provides a great day out.
Admission is free and it is open at any reasonable hour. Due to the nature of the site it is not wheelchair friendly. The website provided is from Reading University and is very comprehensive.
If you're a bit tired and thirsty after a day tramping round the ruins of the Roman town, and feel in need of some refreshment, you oculd do a lot worse than pop into the Calleva Arms, a wonderful country pub facing the village green right in the middle of the village.
I stopped for a pint in the evening (be aware that the pub closes in the afternoon and only re-opens at 1730) and was greeted by a very friendly barmaid. As the place filled up I was engaged in conversation by the equally friendly locals who were a wide mix ranging from working men finishing a days work to green Wellington-booted, obviously affluent, retirees. the decor features all sorts of knick knacks on the wall in true English pub fashion.
Although I didn't have time to eat, the menu looked extensive and interesting.
Actually within the old Roman Town walls of Calleva Atrebatum (modern day Silchester) lies the wonderful old Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The first thing that surprised (and delighted) me wa that, although no-one was about, the Church was actually open. I know this might sound like an odd thing to say but, due to vandalism and theft, so many country churches are now locked.
It is uncertain when the Church was actually raised, although what is certain is that "robed" Roman stones were used in the construction. The first vicar is recorded in 1294, one John de Knovill (see photo for subsequent holders of the post).
The church then survived for many centuries, outlasting plague, civil war and all manner of natural and man-made disasters, sitting serenely on it's ancient site. Fast-forward to the middle 19th century when, in the manner of the day, the place was extensively re-modelled, principally by a man called Rector Fiennes. I particularly liked the wooden roof, apparently restored with £400 worth of timber from the Wellington estate (see photo). It is not, however, a complete restoration (as many were), and it is still possible on a quiet sumer afternoon to stand, imagine how it looked in de Knovill's day and wonder at all this lovely old Church has seen over eight or nine centuries.
Every English village has its memorial to the local dead of two 20th century wars, usually a rather clichéed cross. But this simple stone seems more impressive and more moving than most.