Fun and fabrics at the Roman pottery conference

In July, members of the Study Group for Roman pottery, students, researchers and others interested in Roman Britain and its ceramics came together for the study group’s annual conference, which this year was held at the Red Lion Hotel in Atherstone in Warwickshire. The location was a special one, as the neighbouring village of Mancetter was the site of a major pottery industry, whose products were distributed widely in the Roman province.

The three-day conference began with scene-setting talks about the archaeology of Mancetter and the wider region. Delegates then heard about pottery assemblages from recently excavated sites in Warwickshire and Leicestershire. These were followed by a pottery-viewing session, which gave attendees an opportunity to examine pottery from Mancetter, the Lunt cemetery and elsewhere.

Roman pottery laid out for viewing

The day ended with a wine reception. In the convivial surroundings of the Red Lion Hotel, Rob Perrin, President of the Study Group, welcomed the guest of honour to the conference, Mayor of Atherstone Carl Gurney, who in turn welcomed delegates to the town.

Mayor of Atherstone, Carl Gurney, speaking to conference attendees

On the second day, delegates learnt more about the Mancetter pottery industry. Renowned mortarium expert Kay Hartley spoke in detail about the Mancetter industry, its products and potters. This was a masterclass and everyone was busy taking notes! Attendees also heard about glass production at Mancetter, as well as a project to update the significant archive relating to past excavations in and around village and make it more accessible. The talks were followed by papers on the pottery of Roman Leicester, scientific analysis of mortaria from Castleford, and excavations at Roman Wall, the last being a useful introduction to the site ahead of the afternoon’s tour.

The conference location is in an area full of Roman archaeology, and consquently delegates had a packed afternoon seeing the sights. After a very welcome and enjoyable lunch at the Heritage Cafe in Mancetter church, we began inevitably with a visit to the site of the Mancetter kilns. Today there is nothing to see on the ground, but our guide, Mike Hodder, brought the past brilliantly to life. We then reboarded the coach and headed to Wall for a tour of the Roman town, parts of which are still standing. The small museum in the village was well worth a visit, too, and we were also treated to a cream tea in the village hall, as well as a talk on lids and ceramic plates.

A tour of Roman Wall, led by Mike Hodder

On the third and final day of the conference, delegates had an update on a project to digitise and catalogue thousands of mortarium stamps. They also heard about pottery production in the City of London and in the London Borough of Havering. There was also a paper about organic residue analysis of pottery from Lincolnshire (it turns out that so-called cheese-presses may not have been cheese-presses after all), and the conference closed with a personal view about current and future samian studies, which gave everyone pause for thought.

This was a fantastic, well-organised conference, with hugely interesting papers, a really enjoyable tour and a wonderful location and venue. Next year – Leicester. See you there!

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