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Chesters, Hadrians Wall & the Clayton Collection
Summary of Lecture delivered at Claremont by Frances McIntosh (English Heritage) 17th November 2012
This fluently delivered lecture to the Roman Section (17.11.12) was based on the on-going research undertaken by Frances for her PhD thesis. Her work has been so well received that she has already been appointed curator of the Roman Collection at Chesters Museum and of four sections of Hadrian’s Wall sites.

She began by detailing the life of John Clayton (1792-1890) whose amazing foresight and assiduous efforts to protect Hadrian’s Wall from stone robbers, souvenir hunters - even going so far as relocating farm houses built into the ruins – were far ahead of the ideas of the typical antiquarian of his era. One might even say he inspired many of the innovations only relatively recently incorporated into the curatorship of museums. (Author)

The son of Nathaniel Clayton, who in 1796 bought up the Chesters estate in the central area of the Wall, John, after receiving a classical education, eventually succeeded his father as town clerk of Newcastle. Along  with Richard Grainger and John Dobson, he invested in the modernising of Newcastle town centre, complete with its shopping arcades (cf. Leeds) besides the overseeing of proposals for the local railways, all of which added to his fortune,(contrary to his less fortunate colleagues). He was thus able to indulge in his archaeological passion. Having bought up further stretches of Hadrian’s Wall he carried out excavations every year between1843 and 1890 and set himself to interpreting the significance of the turrets and mile-castles along with the political and social impact of the Wall. Moreover, as mentioned above, he embarked on a determined policy of conservation.

He involved many scholars in researching his material such as John Collingwood Bruce, C R Smith, and Hubner. The collection contains material not excavated by Clayton much of which was brought into the collection by John. Material from Kirby Thore was given to him by his grandmother, Bridget Atkinson,      
whilst the building of a new rectory at Nether Denton led to the discovery of material which the vicar donated to Clayton. The Chesters Museum, founded in 1896 to house the Clayton collection, was set up jointly by John Clayton’s nephew and great nephew. It contains a large amount of material, including much of the sculpture and inscriptions.  

Amongst masonry is an inscription from an aquaduct – aqua aducta - erected by the cavalry unit ala II Asturum, dated to the governor of Britain, Ulpius Marcellus, AD178-84, and  a headless stone sculpture of the goddess Juno Regina standing on the back of a heifer.

The collection contains a wide range of material usually found on military sites however, due to the period when it was put together,there are items not present,. There is a lack of animal bone, coarse ware pottery and ceramic building material, but there are some stunning individual items such as a bronze grain measure, the only example of one found in Britain.

 The Chesters estate was sold in 1929 to Captain A M Keith and the Clayton Trustees was formed in that year in order to look after the collection. From 1953 the site at Chesters has been in state care, through the Ministry of Works, Department of Environment and now    English Heritage. The present Chesters Museum display was updated and opened in April 2008.

 Frances’s  work is still ongoing along with  much other research such as the significance of the militaria, the altars, the study of iron work, the brooches and the mortaria.

Maureen Berlin