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The Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society Excavations

Previous page: Tessellated Pavements

The Roman city in course of time spread some distance beyond the old walls of the Station on the south-west side. This has been proven by discoveries in what was called the "Cherry Orchard" near the upper end of the present King Richard's Road, formerly known as "Watts's Causeway".

Here, while digging among the cherry-tree roots in 1783, part of a Roman tessellated floor was found, but covered up again and the position lost sight of, although a drawing of the pavement was made and preserved.

In 1850 the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society took an interest in the antiquities of the town, and undertook to search for the traditional mosaic. A party of the Council met at the Cherry Orchard, with the promise from Dr Noble, the owner, living at Danet's Hall close by, that if it could be found and safely removed, he would present it to the Town Museum.

After much consultation as to the best spot in which to excavate beneath this orchard of ten or twelve acres extent, the iron probe used as a preliminary guide encountered resistance at several points beneath the surface of a small area. On removing the earth a fine Roman pavement was found, but of altogether different pattern from that preserved in the drawing.

This discovery greatly stimulated the interest of the searching party, but owing to the lateness of the season and the probability that more yet remained to be found, it was agreed to abandon all further excavation until the following year.

When Spring arrived, the Society having voted funds for the purpose, the investigation was proceeded with. Starting from the newly found pavement, trenches were dug in several directions with a successful result; and gradually, amid the almost breathless interest of those engaged in the work, the site of an entire Roman villa was, room by room, laid bare.

The floors were mostly covered with mosaics, none however showing the pattern of the particular pavement for which the search had been instituted until, when the plan of the villa lay almost entirely revealed, this was at last discovered, exact to the original drawing, in the floor of a terrace running along the whole of the front, at least 120 feet in length and 11 feet in width. The appearance of the long-lost mosaic was hailed with delight, followed by the mutual congratulation of the workers that their perseverance had led to such a result.

Great care was taken against any untoward accident or damage, and policemen guarded the spot day and night until, when the necessary arrangements had been completed for its safe transit, the finest portion of the pavement, i.e. the semi-circular mosaic later housed in the Museum Annexe, was triumphantly carted in a single piece through the streets of the town, to form one of the most beautiful and interesting objects in its storehouse of antiquities.

Tesserae from some of the other floors of the villa, were also deposited in the Museum and a plan of the whole was carefully made, and put on display in the Curator's room. The rest of the mosaics forming the floors of the Roman villa were abandoned to their fate, as it was impossible to transfer the whole to the Museum, and the site was too valuable to remain unoccupied.

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