Ivan D Margary FSA, His legacy to Roman History

Ivan D Margary FSA, His legacy to Roman History

Ivan Donald Margary was born in 1896, the son of Colonel Alfred Robert and Lillian Margary, and in 1900 they moved to the Margary family home of Chartham Park, East Grinstead. After finishing his education, Ivan Margary spent the duration of the First World War as a Lieutenant with the Royal Sussex Regiment, being wounded in action in Gallipoli. On returning to Chartham Park he set about constructing a two-acre Wild Garden within the grounds, perhaps as a means of coming to terms with effects of the war. In 1927, he inherited a substantial sum of money and the house called Yew Lodge from his uncle, Sydney Larnick. Yew Lodge was later to become his permanent residence from 1932, after his marriage to Miss Dorothy Jolly.

In 1927, Ivan Margary joined the Sussex Archaeological Society, and in 1932 he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. During his life he was President of the Sussex Records Society, and the East Grinstead Society. He was a generous man and much of his inheritance was donated as gifts to the Society of Antiquaries, the Royal Archaeological Institute, and Archaeological Societies of Sussex, Surrey and Kent. He also underwrote the Antiquity Trust; a fund set up to enable the continued publication of Antiquity. It was also largely due to him that the Margary Room at Barbican House, Lewes was reconstructed and refurbished, and the quadrangle at Exeter College, Oxford was built. Both he and his family were great benefactors of Felbridge, donating to the village the Felbridge Institute and land to the St John Ambulance Brigade on which they built their hall. They also held the Patronage of St John’s Church for many years after the sale and break up of the Felbridge Place estate.

Ivan Margary was the leading authority on Roman roads in this country, establishing the routes of many miles of roads and publishing ‘Roman Ways of the Weald’ in 1948, and two volumes of ‘Roman Roads of Britain’ in 1955 and 1957. He not only wrote about Roman history but also excavated many archaeological sites. It was due to him that the site of the Roman Palace of Fishbourne was secured and excavated enabling future generations to visit and understand high class living in Roman Britain. The following are but a few examples of the work of Ivan Margary.

Roman Roads

The greatest single feature of the work of Ivan Margary was the study of Roman roads. Margary devised a system of road numbering, in order of importance, somewhat like our modern A, B and C roads. Single figures were used for main roads, double figures for secondary roads and three figures for minor roads, eg, Watling Street, the Dover to London Way, No.1, the London to Lewes Way, No.14, the London to Brighton Way, No.150, and so on. In 1929, he made a chance discovery when he had photographed areas of Ashdown Forest from the air. Some of the photographs revealed lines, absolutely straight and parallel, which on the ground proved to be shallow ditches 62 feet apart and 4 feet wide, with a raised 18 foot causeway in the centre. Between the causeway and the ditches were unmetalled side strips, he had stumbled upon and recognised a remnant of a Roman road in a region where none were previously known to exist. He then set about trying to establish the route of the road and identified it as the London to Lewes Way, branching from Watling Street in Peckham and ending to the East of Lewes. Here it connected to a number of trackways leading over the downs, South West to Brighton, South to Seaford and South East to Eastbourne, where there is evidence of Roman settlements and possible port facilities to Gaul. The course of the road passed many iron working sites in Sussex and the surface was metalled with their cinder in these areas. In Margary’s opinion the road served two purposes, to link London with the rich corn-growing area of the South Downs and to open up the iron district for trade with London and the Continent.

In the 1930’s, Ivan Margary excavated a 100-yard stretch of the London to Lewes Way, near Holtye Common. Then in 1939, he bought a piece of the land where the line of the Roman road came through and left 40 yards of the excavations exposed. He then handed the area over to be preserved by the Sussex Archaeological Trust, with the express wish that the road remained visible to the public in perpetuity. His grounds staff at Chartham were used to annually weed the exposed section until they discovered weedkiller which they then applied without his knowledge. Margary then went on to establish the routes of many other roads in the Weald including the London to Brighton Way that passes through Felbridge. Eventually his work took in the entire Roman road system and he became the modern authority on Roman roads in Britain.

Long Man of Wilmington

The origin of the Wilmington Giant or Long Man of Wilmington, carved into the Northern side of Windover Hill on the South Downs near, Wilmington in Sussex has been the subject for speculation for several centuries. The figure is 226 feet tall making him the largest human representation in the world. In 1874, the Duke of Devonshire, who owned the site, handed it over to the Sussex Archaeological Trust. The 240-foot figure had by then grassed over and it was decided to mark the outline with white painted bricks before it disappeared completely. It was hoped that one day it would be restored down to the chalk bedrock. In 1937, it was noticed that the Giant was holding two symmetrically placed and vertical rods, similar to designs found on Roman denarius coins of the emperors Antonius Pius, 138-161 AD, Constantius, 337-361 AD and Vetranio who reigned for nine months in 350 AD. Initially there was little else to attribute the Giant to the Roman period.

By the 1960’s many of the bricks had disappeared so it was decided the replace them with white painted concrete blocks. In 1965, whilst work was being carried out on the Giant, Ivan Margary had the opportunity to study the area and detected a rectangular, grid-like arrangement in the fields surrounding the villages of Ripe and Chalvington on the South Downs, near the Giant. In his opinion they were reminiscent of the Roman centuriation, field systems based on squares, that survives in Southern Europe. His long experience of recognising Roman remains enabled him to identify the fields and their hedgerows as a survival of the Roman period. The standard Roman unit of length was the pes, 11.61 inches; 10 pedes made one pertica, 9.67 feet: 12 perticae made on actus, 116.1 feet and this was the major unit of land measurement. The standard unit of land area was the jugerum, being two square acti or a rectangular plot measuring 240 Roman feet by 120. Fields laid out under the Roman agricultural system therefore had boundaries that were multiples of 120 Roman feet. Margary found that the fields at Ripe and Chalvington corresponded closely with these Roman units.

Based on Margary’s findings, these measurements were later applied to the Long Man of Wilmington. It was found that the image had similar proportions to the double square of the Roman jugerum, if the extremities of the staves are taken as the points of the four corners of the rectangle. A theory was then put forward that the staves of the Long Man were used as a standard of land measurement, but this was later discounted. The re-bricking of the Giant was finished in 1969 and comprised of 770 kerb stones at a cost of £800, making it one of the least expensive monuments in Britain.

Roman Bloomery at Whalesbeech, Forest Row.

In 1928, Ivan Margary assisted Ernest Straker, who was a leading authority on iron workings in the Weald, with his excavations at Whalesbeech and Stone Field, Forest Row. Whalesbeech was a farm situated on the river Medway in what is now the basin of Weir Wood Reservoir. In 1928, the Reservoir had not been flooded therefore allowing an excavation to be carried out. The phrase beech or bergh is associated in Sussex with stony ground, or sometimes as having iron cinder, and Whalesbeech is derived from the large cinder mounds that were found there.

The manor of Waslebie, Whalesbeech, is listed in the Doomsday Book and in 1333 Richard de Walesbergh is listed in a taxation roll. It is believed that at one time there was a very large mound of cinder there and that over the years much had been dug away for alternative use. In the opinion of Straker and Margary the site was probably the ferraria or iron workings in East Grinstead that was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, although now, with more evidence available, it is generally believed to be associated with the manor of Lavertie, near Tablehurst in Forest Row.

During excavation work at Whalesbeech, Straker and Margary located the hearth and Roman pottery that helped to date the site to at least the 2nd century. The pottery they found included the neck of a flagon and Samian ware from Lezoux that dated from the mid 2nd century, with shards of another flagon, a bowl in pink ware and part of a tile that dated from the late 1st century. Unfortunately, the site of Stone Field, on a slope above Whalesbeech, only yielded a little cinder. Since the excavation work carried out by Straker and Margary the stream has been dammed to create Weir Wood Reservoir and the large cinder heap they observed is now lapped by water.

Roman Palace of Fishbourne

The Palace was discovered in 1960 when work began on the construction of a water pipe that ran through fields North of the village of Fishbourne towards the Chichester bypass, although many finds dating the Roman period had previously been located in the area. An exploratory excavation of the area, organised by the Chichester Civic Society, was carried out in 1961 that found the remains of a large well constructed masonry building with an early Roman date, and impressive mosaic floors. Meanwhile the area had been offered for sale as building land, so during 1962 negotiations took place to purchase the land on behalf of the Sussex Archaeological Trust and the area was finally secured, by the generosity of Ivan Margary. Excavation work continued and it was decided to cover the entire project with a contemporary wooden, aluminium and glass building to create a protective environment and act as a museum and visitors centre, again with a heavy involvement from Margary both in the excavations and financially. Finally, in 1968, the centre and replanted gardens were opened to the public.

The palace is believed to be the home of Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus, the client king of the Atrebates Regnenses who governed, on behalf of Rome, from Noviomagus Reginorum, ‘New Market of the Proud Ones’, now known as Chichester. Evidence suggests that he controlled the whole of Britain South of the Thames, this included part of Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey, and the whole of Kent and Sussex. He is also the only known Britain to be made a member of the senate. The palace was built between 75 and 80 AD on the site of a Roman military complex.

There were four wings, each about 100m long, surrounding a large formal garden, with more gardens to the south of the Palace leading to the harbour. The road from Noviomagus ran up to a large entrance hall that stood in the centre of the East wing. The Palace has some of the earliest known mosaic floors found in Britain, being of geometric design in black and white. It also has some fine examples of later mosaics using coloured tesserae. There was a bathhouse in the East wing and many of the rooms had a hypercaust (under floor heating). Sometime towards the end of the 3rd century part of the North wing was completely destroyed by fire and a decision was taken not to rebuild the Palace. Abandoned, the site became a quarry for the nearby expanding town of Chichester. The walls were systematically demolished, stones cleaned and stacked ready for transportation. During this time a layer of occupational rubbish accumulated on the floor and when the demolition team moved on they left behind them heaps of rubble in the process of being reclaimed by Mother Nature.

As the years passed Fishbourne became forgotten and the rubble of the once majestic Palace walls became just contours under the grass. At some later date, possibly early Saxon, the site was used as a cemetery for a group of four burials, but with time these too were forgotten and the area was used for agriculture to support the nearby medieval village of Fishbourne that developed. It was then in the 19th century that ploughing on the site ceased and the area became just a meadow, awaiting discovery during the 20th century.

Excavation work still continues at Fishbourne and has revealed the importance and extent of the site, the early beginnings and decline of the site and an appreciation of the Roman period in the area, with still much more to be discovered. Today the visitor can not only view the amazing discovery of the Roman Palace of Fishbourne but also a large stone plaque dedicated to Ivan Margary for his generosity towards the project, without whom the site may well have ended up as just another 20th century housing estate.

The Margary Legacy

The legacy that Ivan Margary left behind after his death in 1976, was a far greater understanding of the life and times of Roman Britain. The work on the Roman Roads of Britain, the area surrounding the Long Man of Wilmington, the Roman bloomery site at Whalesbeech and the Roman Palace of Fishbourne are just a few testimonies to the life and work of Ivan D Margary FSA.

Antiquity vol. L no. 198
East Grinstead Bulletins nos. 19 and 24
Roman Ways of the Weald by I D Margary
Roman Roads in Sussex by A Vincent
A New Roman Road: ‘The Iron Way’, article by SE Winbolt
Vanished Ways of the Weald, article by AS Lidiard
Wealden Iron by Ernest Straker
The Iron Industry of the Weald by H Cleere and D Crossley
Working Papers & Photographs of ID Margary, Sussex Archaeological Society
Roman Roads in Britain, www.rugbytown.co.uk
The Wilmington Giant by R Castleden
The Mystery of the Long Man by JB Sidgwick, Sussex county Magazine, June 1939
Fishbourne Roman Palace by B Cunliffe
Fishbourne Guide by B Cunliffe
Documented memoirs of A Turner, Estate Bailiff, Chartham Park