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Discovering about Chester's bloody battle

Published date: 29 May 2014 |
Published by: Staff reporter
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THE bloody history of an Anglo Saxon battle as well as an in-depth study of a Roman settlement are included in the latest major exhibition at Chester’s Grosvenor Museum.

The archaeological site at Heronbridge was discovered in 1929, located to the south of Chester – halfway between Handbridge and Eccleston – with Eaton Road to the west and the River Dee to the east.

A new exhibition explores the excavations at the site and the secrets revealed in ‘Buildings, Battles and Bodies: A History of Heronbridge’, which runs until November 2.

The earliest evidence from Heronbridge is a Roman settlement established about AD 90. Rectangular buildings were laid out along Roman Watling Street, connecting Chester to Whitchurch, Wroxeter and London.

This settlement was rebuilt in the early 2nd century with new stone buildings laid out in blocks of three. These are associated with commercial activity and would have functioned as a shop, workshop and living quarters.

A natural inlet of the River Dee was also turned into a quay. Displayed in the exhibition are a large number of Roman objects excavated on the site, including tombstones and an altar.

A model of the Roman settlement has been created by students from Eccleston Primary School.

Archaeologists working at Heronbridge also found evidence of a later fort with a rampart and ditch and mass grave of battle casualties dated to the Anglo-Saxon period.

In c.616 AEthelfrith of Northumbria, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom to the east, marched on the British kingdoms to the west. The armies met and fought in a bloody battle, known as the Battle of Chester.

The exhibition explores evidence from Heronbridge, linking the fort and mass grave to this 7th century battle. Visitors can come face-to-face with skeletons of some Anglo-Saxon warriors who fought and died on the site and learn more about the battle.

Dodleston and Huntington councillor Mark Williams, whose ward includes Heronbridge, said: “I am sure this major exhibition will be of great interest to lovers of local history, both young and old. Heronbridge is an extremely important location and fills in many gaps in Chester’s long and illustrious history, including a major battle in Anglo-Saxon times, as well as the role it played during the earlier Roman occupation.

“Different aspects and events will appeal to a wide range of people including the exhibits, short films and list of lectures”.

Included in the exhibition are two films produced by year eight students from Queen’s Park High School. They worked with museum staff to look at the evidence from the Battle of Chester and its links to Heronbridge.

Matt Yeoman, director of learning, visual and performing arts at the school, said: “Providing context to the learning of our students is something we always strive to achieve, and working with the Grosvenor Museum has provided us the opportunity to extend student learning far beyond the classroom.”

Objects from the Heronbridge excavations have been loaned by the Chester Archaeological Society and Manchester Museum. Anglo-Saxon weapons and personal items from other areas have been loaned from the collections of National Museums Liverpool and Sheffield Museums.

Children can dress up as an Anglo-Saxon warrior, monk or woman and follow ‘explorer’ or ‘detective’ trails around the exhibition.

Holiday activities take place during half-term and the summer holiday, with two enactment days.

On August 6 visitors can ‘Discover the Romans’ with Roman Tours UK, while on August 13 the history re-enactment company Travellers Through Time will help visitors ‘Discover the Anglo-Saxons’. Details of all the activities are available from www.cheshirewestmuseums.org/.

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