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Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Frampton Mosaics, a 'long Regency' love affair with archaeology

Mosaics at Frampton

The humanist movement had started an interest in things classical, which led to the initial acquisitive nature of the antiquarian, nicking everything that wasn’t nailed down – and a few things that were – from Greece and Italy.  Interest in the Roman world was much fuelled by the discovery of Pompeii in 1748 and Herculaneum, where excavations had begun ten years previously.  By 1768 much had been brought to light.   It was possibly the discovery of towns preserved in this way that led to a more scholarly and less larcenous approach to the study of the hidden past, an approach founded by Johann Joachim Winckelmann.  However, the interest in the Romans remained a deep and abiding one for the British, who have always been proud to have been conquered by these successful Imperialists so like the British proto-empire of the 18th Century.  Roman finds in Britain were always therefore of great interest to the public.

The mosaics at Frampton, in Nunnery Meadows,  were discovered by labourers in 1794 and were subsequently presented to the Society of Antiquities in London in 1795 by James Engelheart.   Samuel Lysons FRS [17631819] carried out a fresh excavation in 1796-7 and produced a lithographic reproduction.  Unfortunately the mosaics were destroyed in 1850 due to troop movements [my comments here are unprintable].  There are mythical scenes and arguably some suggestion of early British Christianity [see PL Tite] 

The stir created by this, which must have been viewed almost as an English Pompei, and Samuel Lysons’ Lithograph of labourers digging was obviously a popular enough subject to be printed.  He was a noteworthy engraver and antiquarian, and one of the first archaeologists to study Roman sites in Britain, specialising in Mosaics.

Villas in Dorset appear to date from the late 3rd Century, with a [now] recognised school of Durnovarian mosacists based in Dorchester and Ilchester [now in Somerset] but originally part of the territory of the Durotriges, the people of Wessex.

So, intrepid writers, will your hero or heroine uncover a Roman mosaic in Dorset?  Will there be buried treasure and will that lead to skulduggery?  Will they dug some actual skulls and will they be Roman, or something more sinister and recent? 

Bibliography:    Philip L Tite    “’Reading’ and ‘rereading’ the Frampton mosaics: etc” [available online]



  1. Do we KNOW thats the remains were destroyed in 1850?

  2. I don't think that the writer of the article I used was likely to lie about that. Troop movements took little account of antiquities in those days, unfortunately. There might be remnants left of course, but not, I imagine, much.