Item of the Month

Roman Storage Jar – A link to a lost town

One of the oldest objects in the collections for Wirksworth Heritage Centre links back all the way to the possible origins of the town. A Roman storage jar that was found close to Wirksworth is this month’s object of the month.

The Romans arrived in Wirksworth in around 70 A.D, about 30 years after their invasion in 43 A.D. They were drawn to Wirksworth due to deposits of lead-bearing rocks found close to the surface in great abundance. Expanding on the previous small-scale extraction of this ore, the Romans exporting Wirksworth lead across their empire. With the expansion of the lead mining activities there was increased road building to allow large bars of refined lead, known as ‘pigs’ (and each weighing nearly 60 kg) to be transported out of the valley. To manage the lead mining in the area, the settlement of ‘Lutudarum’ grew in the area surrounding, or possibly under, modern day Wirksworth.


Above: The Roman storage pot.

Along with the expansion of the lead mining industry the Romans also established other industries within the area of Wirksworth and the Ecclesbourne river valley. During the early 1930s a discovery of Roman pottery kilns was made at Hazelwood, near Belper, and these would have used local materials found close to the site.  Known as Derbyshire Ware, this pottery can vary in colour from a pale buff colour to brown, caused by the iron compounds in the clay being chemically altered in the heat and conditions of the kiln.  The surfaces of these pots have a rough almost gritty texture and can be incredibly hard in resisting scratching. This variation, like the changes in colours, is due to small changes in the composition of the clays.

The jar we are featuring is approximately 30 cm (12 inches) high and would have been used to store a variety of either dry or liquid foodstuffs. The top would have been sealed with a greased cloth to provide a seal to prevent the contents from spoiling.  This example was found during excavations with the base intact, but the upper part broken, which has since been repaired.

Similar Roman pottery kilns to the ones at Hazelwood were also discovered at Holbrook approximately 8 miles (12.9 Km) south east of Wirksworth. These produced similar Derbyshire Ware pottery to the examples found at Hazelwood. After the Roman period manufacture of ceramics continued in the area to the present day, the prime local example being at Denby Pottery.

Above and Left – The variation of colour across the jar have been caused by it being unevenly heated in the kiln. this caused chemicals within the clay to turn a different colour in the effected areas. 

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