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The West Berkshire Historic Environment Record (HER) is the primary index of the physical remains of past human activity in the unitary authority of West Berkshire Council. Limited elements of the West Berkshire HER are available online via the Heritage Gateway, therefore it is not suitable for use in desk-based studies associated with development, planning and land-use changes, and does not meet the requirements of paragraph 194 of the National Planning Policy Framework (2021: 56). Please read the important guidance on the use of the West Berkshire HER data. For these purposes and all other commercial enquiries, please contact the Archaeology team and complete our online HER enquiry form.

HER Number MWB5406
Record Type Monument
Name Newbury Station goods yard - Roman cemetery

Grid Reference SU 475 668
Map Sheet SU46NE
Parish Newbury, West Berkshire
Map:Show location on Streetmap


About a hundred skeletons, Roman grave goods and evidence of cremation found during gravel extraction in 1856

Other Statuses and Cross-References

  • Berkshire SMR No. (pre 2000): 04021.00.000
  • National Monuments Record No.: SU 46 NE 16
    SU 4753 6684
  • Primary Reference Number: 1468
    Reference from handwritten note by Museum

Monument Type(s):

Full Description

The earliest documentation of the discovery in 1856 of the Roman cemetery near the railway station in Newbury comes from contemporary newspaper reports <1><2><3>. Labourers were digging gravel for ballast when they discovered a large quantity of human bones, initially said to be three perfect skeletons <1>, then nine <2> and a fortnight later nearly 100 individuals <3>. They had been 'regularly buried' though not in coffins, and it was first thought that the remains might be some of the slain from one of the battles of Newbury <1>. However 'in most instances there was found a flower pot and saucer of an ancient description' <2>, and the artefacts were soon identified as 'memorials of the usual decorations of a family sepulchre of the Romans' <3>. There were also vessels which had contained calcined bones and ashes, showing that some individuals had been cremated. Archaeological observations were made by an unnamed visitor, perhaps Silas Palmer; the gravel was noted as dry and light in colour, the top being one foot or more below the ground surface and appearing undisturbed except where there were streaks downwards of one to five feet of black earth. These appeared to have been the burial places, as it was chiefly from the black earth that the skeletons were exhumed.

The principal and most complete artefacts were described in 1856 and again in 1860 <4> and in the 1870s <5>, when they were in Newbury Museum. The specimens included a small terracotta amphora, several cinerary vases, a glass bottle with the initials S P S on the bottom, several perfect examples of Samian ware and other vases and bottles. A 1st or 2nd century AD date was suggested. None of the skeletons appeared to have been retained or examined closely.

The station Goods Shed is shown on the late 19th century Town Plan, and the site of the cemetery is marked to the north of this building and adjacent railway sidings on historic epochs of Ordnance Survey mapping <9><10>. The existence of the cemetery is cited as the most importance evidence of Roman occupation close to the centre of Newbury <6><7>.

In 1928 there was a major track re-alignment at the station, involving an extension to the north-east and the removal of the corner of Gordon Road. Material from this gravel bank was taken away and dumped in the western arm of the canal basin in Newbury to fill it in (information from John Gould). It is possible that sub-surface deposits from the cemetery could have ended up in this part of the basin <12>.

Although a few isolated Roman finds have been discovered nearby, archaeological investigations in advance of redevelopment in the late 20th century did not reveal any further evidence of the cemetery <13><14>. There had been a substantial reduction in the former ground level.

Detailed research undertaken by Peacock in 2018 <15> aimed to document the discovery and definitively record the dispersed finds from the site, including imported pottery and glass phials. Peacock also estimated that there were one hundred cremations. Based on the pottery evidence and burial practices in other Roman cemeteries in south-east England, he suggests that the cremations would have mainly dated from the first and second centuries, and the inhumations from the third and fourth centuries <15>. In a personal communication to him from Professor Michael Fulford at the University of Reading, Fulford suggested that the cemetery may have been associated with the unlocated Roman settlement of Spinis <16>.

Sources and further reading

<01>14/02/1856. Newbury Journal 14th February 1856. [Article in serial / SWB149136]
<02>16/02/1856. Reading Mercury 16th February 1856. [Article in serial / SWB149134]
<03>01/03/1856. Reading Mercury 1st March 1856. [Article in serial / SWB149135]
<04>1860. JBAA 1860 16. XVI. online. p34 (Illust opp) in On the History and Antiquities of Berkshire by T J Pettigrew. [Article in serial / SWB10466]
https://archive.org/details/journalofbritish16brit (Accessed 12/04/2016)
<05>Newbury District Field Club. 1872-75. TRANS NEWBURY DISTRICT FIELD CLUB 1872-75 VOL 2. 2. P126 in On the Antiquities found in the peat of Newbury, by the late Dr Silas Palmer. [Article in serial / SWB10336]
<06>Money, W. 1905 & 1972. A Popular History of Newbury (also Walter Money's History of Newbury). [Monograph / SWB11278]
<07>Ditchfield and Page (eds). 1906. Victoria County History (VCH) Berks I 1906. Vol 1. P214. [Monograph / SWB10017]
https://archive.org/details/victoriahistoryo01ditcuoft (Accessed on 22/12/2021)
<08>Peake, H. 1931. The Archaeology of Berkshire. P100, 124. [Monograph / SWB10018]
<09>Landmark. 1880-81. Digital OS Mapping Epoch 1, 1:500 - Newbury Town Plan. Digital. 1:500. Marked 'Site of Cemetery'. [Map / SWB146990]
<10>Archaeology Branch of Ordnance Survey & Newbury Museum staff. 1938 onwards. Newbury Museum Archaeology Map XLIII NW. 43NW. 6 inch. Annotated 'R.B.at Goods Station...'. [Map / SWB11450]
<11>Ordnance Survey. 1960s-70s. Ordnance Survey Field Investigators Comments. F1 JP 21-OCT-63. [Personal observation / SWB14640]
<12>1990s. Information for Berks County Sites & Monuments Record from Newbury District Museum - Generic Source. SMR 4021.00. [Unpublished document / SWB12709]
<13>Wessex Archaeology. 1994. J SAINSBURY PLC, KINGS ROAD, NEWBURY, BERKS: ARCH RECORDING, ANALYSIS AND PUBLICATION. W617c. 2017 WBC Network. [Unpublished document / SWB12218]
<14>Wessex Archaeology. 1996. Gowrings Site, Greenham Road, Newbury, Berkshire: archaeological evaluation. 38644. WBC Network. [Unpublished document / SWB12651]
<15>Peacock, D. 2018. Newbury Roman Cemetery. [Monograph / SWB149480]
<16>Fulford, M.. 2018. Letter from M Fulford to D Peacock 19 October 2018. [Personal observation / SWB149543]

Related Monuments

MWB6441Sainsbury's Supermarket site, Kings Road, Newbury (Monument)
MWB21432Near Newbury goods station cemetery - unknown exact location (Find Spot)
MWB17758Near site of Roman cemetery, Kings Road, Newbury (Find Spot)
MWB20200Site of Newbury goods shed (Monument)

Associated Excavations and Fieldwork

EWB194J Sainsbury plc, Kings Road, Newbury: Evaluation (Ref: W617b)
EWB1548J Sainsbury plc, Winchcombe Road (sic), Newbury - Excavation, Sampling and Archaeological Watching Brief (Ref: RJCS/RSI/6/32/36555)