The Mystery of Morbio - Scaftworth Revisited.

It was a beautiful late summer afternoon, as we gazed across the open fields towards the site of the Roman fort at Scaftworth. Drawing near, it was disappointing to see that no visible sign of the walls remained; we could have been looking at a grassy meadow anywhere in Nottinghamshire.

Nevertheless, here we were, and we now began to eagerly survey our surroundings. Unfortunately, a drainage channel has been cut through the site and upon an open bank, where the ground has been disturbed, there were some large pieces of stone. It was easy to imagine that these had once formed part of a wall. Strangely a jemmy lay in the grass and we speculated that treasure hunters or metal detectorists may have been sifting through the earth? However, there was nothing else to be seen other than some animal burrows, cowpats, and a smattering of modern brick.

With so little to see, we tried to judge the lie of the road which is known to have run parallel to the north-west corner of the fort. Archaeological excavations have revealed that a timber raft was constructed to carry this highway across the marshy ground in front of the fort. Today, much of this land has been drained, but in the Roman period the area between the fort and the River Idle would have been a boggy morass. Looking towards the west, we wondered if a bridge had once crossed the river, although there was no evidence in the landscape to suggest its existence.

At this point I felt as if I had gleaned no additional knowledge from my visit. However, at Scaftworth it is hard to feel downhearted. You can sense the presence of the Romans around you and you can begin to understand how they may have viewed their surroundings. Still enthused, we made our way back to the nearby town of Bawtry, hoping to spot an ancient artefact or to uncover some interesting historical titbit. Unfortunately, we were again frustrated and could only speculate that some of the stones in the base of the market cross or in the lower courses of the church walls, may have been robbed from the fort?


So, after visiting Scaftworth, I haven't changed my mind. Indeed, I am even more certain than before that Scaftworth cannot be linked with Morbio. The site is just too small to have garrisoned a regiment of cataphractarii. Furthermore, you can see that in the Roman period the undrained terrain would have been unsuitable for heavy cavalry. I suspect that the fort was probably built to guard access to the villa-based economy which lay to the south and to protect a port near to Bawtry, which marked the end of an important trade route. The intention was to deter raiders and to safeguard the embarkation of goods. The inescapable conclusion is that Scaftworth played only a minor role in whatever grand design existed to defend the north of Roman Britain.


Next stop.....Piercebridge!


Sources:

Martin Dearne: Excavation of the Timber Causewayed Roman Road at Scaftworth 1991, Interim Report; https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-1352-1/dissemination/pdf/Nottinghamshire/GL26018.pdf