Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the Newcastle University's online course, Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds So we’re here in Chesters Museum, which houses the Clayton collection– a vast amount of material, collected through excavation, mainly, by a man who you see, behind us, here– John Clayton. John Clayton, who was born 1798 and lived until 1890, was a very important man, in civic affairs. He was a town clerk of Newcastle. He was a lawyer of the biggest law firm in the northeast of England. But, importantly for Hadrian’s Wall, he was an antiquarian. When he was four, his father bought the fort of Chesters, where we are now. And then, by the time John Clayton died, he’d acquired huge stretches of the wall, which included five forts.

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 seconds The material on display, here, at Chesters, is from all of those excavations. So it’s a different museum. It’s not telling the story just of Chesters; it’s telling the story of work on Hadrian’s Wall in the 19th century and what was found at those different forts. There’s far, far too much to tell in two or three minutes, but one or two highlights, I’ll pick out, for us, now. So this item, here, in the case, is a modius, which is a corn measure. This one’s bronze, and it was found at the fort of Carvoran. It was found after John Clayton died– in 1915– but, because it was on land owned by him and his family, it was named after him.

Skip to 1 minute and 29 seconds And so it’s called– very snappily– the Modius Claytoniensus. It’s very interesting, because the measure that it’s supposed to hold– which it states, on the outside, in the inscription– is wrong. It actually holds more than it says it does. And people are arguing about whether that was a mistake, or whether it was somebody trying to swindle people. We don’t know. But it’s a very interesting piece, because of that, but also because of a process called “damnatio memoriae.” “Damnatio memoriae” is a process where, in the Roman period, somebody’s memory was damned. And by damning their memory, you would also try to erase them from history. So we see on inscriptions, sometimes, emperors’ names or gods’ names have been chiselled out.

Skip to 2 minutes and 17 seconds We also get it on other items. And this modius is a great example of that. It’s had the emperor’s name scrubbed out. So we’re now in the large gallery of the Clayton collection museum. And you can see, here, that it’s, really, a very different museum to some of the modern museums. This was originally built in 1895, and the cases that you can see, here, were purpose-built for that. So they’re very different to the modern cases that we see, nowadays. They almost look like furniture.

Skip to 2 minutes and 44 seconds But it’s been kept like that, because it’s part of the charm and part of the story, because it doesn’t just tell you the story of Chesters; as we said, it tells the story of Clayton the collector and all the sites. And there’s so, so much that we could talk about. But, I think, a couple of things we’ll pick out– the centurial stones, which are stones that were inscribed by the soldiers after they’d built a section of Hadrian’s Wall. And the Clayton collection has 53 of these, which is a very large number. And was really important, at the time, to explain how the wall was built and the processes that went along.

Skip to 3 minutes and 19 seconds And so we can see some, over here, but there’s also some in other sections of the museum. OK. So, one of the very important pieces, here, is this arch that we can see, behind me, which shows Mars. And it’s– we think– from a temple to Mars Thinscus, from Housesteads. And what it shows us is the hybridity of Roman gods and, also, the temples and the villagers’ complexes that would’ve been outside of the forts. It’s extremely well-known; extremely well-studied. And it links in to what was happening at Housesteads and all the forts with religious settlements and temples being set up, around the outside of the fort.

Profile: John Clayton

In this video, Frances McIntosh discusses the legacy of the antiquarian, John Clayton (1792-1890).

We have already seen something of Clayton’s legacy when we have looked at the Wall. He saved many parts from destruction, and as Ian explained in the first week, ‘restored’ sections of it – producing the box-like stretches of ‘Clayton Wall’ so familiar to many visitors.

Clayton was therefore important to the Wall as a land owner, excavator and collector. In common with many antiquarians, he had wide and broad ranging interests. He worked as town clerk of Newcastle Upon Tyne, and played a crucial role in the redevelopment of the city centre in neoclassical style. It is partly as a result of his interests and efforts, therefore, that Newcastle has such a rich collection of classical revivalist architecture. In this clip Frances focuses on Clayton’s Wall collections as she takes us through the museum at Chesters built between 1890 and 1896 to house this great antiquarian’s most notable discoveries.

For an excellent introduction to the study of the Wall, and the antiquarians who have laboured on it, see Richard Hingley 2012 Hadrian’s Wall: A life, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

Newcastle University

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: