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NEWS RELEASE No: 1457615 APRIL 2011

Forestry Commission joins forces with Time Team to unearth exceptional Roman ruins

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Time Team at bedford Purlieus

The ruins of an extremely rare Roman industrial area have been uncovered in a Forestry Commission woodland – thanks to help from TV’s Time Team.

Originally, the area in Bedford Purlieus Wood, off the A47 at Wansford, was thought to be the site of a Roman villa. But over three intensive days of excavation experts unearthed much more significant historical remains, including a large-scale network of assorted buildings, a furnace, tools and nails, all believed to be involved in iron working.

The Forestry Commission land near Peterborough is now thought to be one of the biggest archaeological sites in England.

Forestry Commission operations manager Hugh Mannall said:

“A find such as this emphasises the importance of protecting our ancient woodland and forests. The wood holds 2,000 years’ worth of history and it is essential the site is preserved for future generations.”

Experts from the Channel 4 series Time Team, including presenter Tony Robinson, visited the woodland in October 2009 but details of the find have been kept under wraps until the episode airs on Sunday 17 April at 5:30pm.

Dr Ben Robinson, formerly Peterborough City Council's museum historic environment officer but now with English Heritage, joined the crew. He said:

“For some time we knew that a significant archaeological site was hidden beneath the trees of Bedford Purlieus Wood.

“Working with Time Team was an incredible opportunity as they brought fantastic resources and technology to the area to support the biggest excavation that the site has seen.  Time Team’s sophisticated geophysical equipment was used to help ‘see’ what was under the ground and to help decipher where the best places to excavate would be. Therefore, there was no need to disturb the ancient woodland.”

The remains of a large-scale network of assorted buildings in a variety of sizes and styles were uncovered which featured brick work in the signature style of the Roman era. Some of the rooms studied would have been very luxurious, with evidence of heating and bathing facilities and more expensive pottery, suggesting they were the headquarters of the site’s foremen. Other rooms were more basic, suggesting they were the rooms of labourers.

Time Team presenter Tony Robinson said:

“A site within a wooded area has made a unique Time Team episode and the varied findings within this site have provided a fantastic example of the hierarchy of workers within an industrial setting. Evidence of patterned plaster and even under-floor heating has been found in some rooms which must have been the headquarters of the foreman of the site.”

It is thought that the site was used for iron working: evidence of a furnace was found within the site, as well as items such as tools and nails. Interestingly, there were no remains that suggested women or children had lived in the buildings, which further suggested the site was an industrial area.

The large size of the complex suggests that the site must have had a great deal of significance in the Roman era and greatly contributed to the Roman economy.  It is thought that the Romans lived and worked in Bedford Purlieus Wood for 250 years from 100AD to about 350AD; leaving once the supply of iron had been exhausted.

Tim Yarnell, the Forestry Commission’s archaeologist for England, said:

“The leaves and foliage falling from the surrounding trees means that there was no soil erosion – with the mould and decomposing of the leaves adding to the preservation of the walls. The remains are in an exceptionally good condition and a great deal of detail can still be seen, for example patterns and colours within the plaster of some of the rooms is still visible after 1900 years.”

Anthony Maul, senior project officer for Northants Archaeology, which assisted the dig, said:

“On a dig we are usually lucky to get one or two interesting finds but the quality of the archaeology evident within Bedford Purlieus Wood is exceptional. We discovered not just a building but a whole complex of buildings of various function and status. It is very rare to get such preserved walls.  Usually farming and ploughing breaks up the remains of buildings. I was gobsmacked to see that this has survived.”



  1. Photographs:
    • Time Team presenters Phil Harding and Tony Robinson within one of the trenches.
    • Time Team presenters Phil and Tony with Hugh Mannall and Forestry Commission Team members.
    • Filming of Peterborough and Time Team archaeologists working together on an area believed to be a Roman bath house.
    • Hugh Mannall, Northants Forestry Commission district operations manager and Tim Yarnell, Forestry Commission’s archaeologist for England.
    • Anthony Maul, senior project officer for Northants Archaeology with trench findings.

  2. About the Forestry Commission
    The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible in England for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests, and increasing their value to society and the environment.  Forestry makes a real contribution to sustainable development, providing social and environmental benefits arising from planting and managing attractive, as well as productive woodlands.  Further information about the Commission can be found at

  3. Northants Forest District runs from Grantham in Lincolnshire right down to Ampthill in Bedfordshire, taking in many beautiful and varied woodlands.

  4. Bedford Purlieus Wood 
    Bedford Purlieus is an historic ancient woodland near Peterborough. The wood was declared a National Nature Reserve by English Nature in 2000, in recognition of its importance as a species-rich semi-natural native woodland. The wood is home to more plant and insect species than most other woods in this country. Limited car parking facilities are available and the wood is open for quiet recreation.
    6. Bedford Purlieus National Nature Reserve is part of Rockingham Forest. Wansford in England is the nearest town or village. There is a car parking area on the farm track between the A47 and the Wansford to Kings Cliffe road, just off the A47, on the left hand side.

  5. For more information contact Cheryl Joyce on 01780 444920 or email