Opinion: Can Keynsham's past be a part of its future?

Published on: 04 Apr 2013

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Opinion: Can Keynsham's past be a part of its future?

With a new centre and hundreds of homes set to dramatically change Keynsham over the next few years, Richard Wyatt poses the question whether it’s also the ideal opportunity for the town’s hidden ancient history to help shape its future, too Richard Wyatt

It's a little while now since they finally locked the factory door at Somerdale and brought to an end nearly one hundred years of chocolate making and major employment in Keynsham. A lot of people said the community lost its identity at that point. Its reason for being nothing more than a little ex-market commuter town –  squeezed between expansionist Bristol and stately Bath.

All the talk now – of course – is not of closure but regeneration. Central town  office blocks are being replaced with new office blocks and that old Fry’s/Cadbury's/Kraft complex down on the Hams is also up for re-development. Contributing to the future of Keynsham as a site for housing, a school, care home and new Fry's Club with lots of sporting facilities and a link with the River Avon that meanders around it.

However, there is more distant history locked in that land which could also add to Keynsham's long-term prospects and help give townspeople pride in their past and maybe an income for their future.

An archaeological assessment carried out by the developer Taylor Wimpey has found convincing evidence for this being the site of the missing Roman town of Trajectus – a staging post along the Roman road which passed through Aquae Sulis (now Bath) and on to the port of Abona – at Bristol’s modern-day Sea Mills.
People have known about a Romano British domestic presence in these parts for some time. Roads, railways, the new Fry's factory and town cemetery have all unlocked exciting secrets. High-status mosaics of outstanding beauty from villas big and small, stone coffins, statue plinths and items of jewellery.Much of it was displayed within a museum, set up at the new factory by Messrs Fry and Sons, and open to the public for years.

It has gone now of course – its contents stored and almost forgotten in the basement of the old town hall. Only for the mosaics to be briefly glimpsed as a  Millennium-marking display at St John's Church.

The new archaeological assessment used ground radar – the geophysics often seen on Channel Four's Time Team – to locate the outlines of 15 buildings and a possible temple – all set out along a Roman road. The site – dating to around 200 to 400 AD – will be scheduled by English Heritage as an ancient monument and protected beneath the new playing fields for some future generation to explore.

But what about this generation and its hopes for the future? Wouldn't it be great if the money could be found to at least do a “trial” dig? Something might be uncovered that Keynsham could both protect and use to promote a Roman tourist attraction of its own.

Although the new civic development will provide space for some of the stunning mosaics to come out into the light again – wouldn't it be nicer still if the town had its long-held dream fulfilled and some generous benefactor came up with the money for a proper museum. It's not just somewhere to display Keynsham’s important  Roman past but its mediaeval glories, too. The town could boast a fine abbey – destroyed first by Henry VIII and then the Keynsham bypass.

Just inside the gates of the old Somerdale factory lie the reconstructed remains of one of those Roman villas and scattered among the stones are pieces of tracery from the window frames of that Augustinian Abbey of old.

The earth still holds your past, Keynsham, but how much of it will be part of your future?

  • Richard Wyatt has been a journalist for more than 40 years, working as a newsreader, presenter and producer with the BBC and ITV. He is director of the Virtual Museum of Bath, an online blog on history and heritage in the Bath area. Visit http://virtualmuseumofbath.com.

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