Even we, who live close to the old city, can’t tell you why it happened.

It’s said that Arthur’s Camelot was built there when the Romans left, but I can’t tell you that for sure. All I know is that before the year 600 came the city was empty. Not one grand person stayed to be its guardian.

The city was left whole, and people may say we stole the stone, bricks and slate, but we know better. You ask anyone around these parts if they took so much as a speck. I’ll tell you their answer – “No”, they’ll say.

For what we can tell you is the sparrows took it. Great flocks of the birds came. They roosted all around, and more and more came.

Early evening brought clouds of them onto the roofs of the old city. They were pecking at the tiles, stabbing away at the mortar, you’d never believe it. By morning all that was left was that bit of old work you can see today.

We know it was them sparrows, we seen it with our own eyes.

en français

Même nous, qui vivons près de la vieille ville, ne pouvons vous dire pourquoi cela arriva.

On dit que le Camelot d’Arthur fut construit là au départ des Romains mais je ne peux vous l’assurer. Tout ce que je sais, c’est qu’avant l’arrivée de l’an 600 la ville était vide. Aucun notable n’y demeura pour la garder.

La ville tout entière était abandonnée et les gens peuvent dire que nous avons volé les pierres, les briques et les ardoises, mais nous, nous savons mieux. Demandez à quiconque dans les environs s’il a pris ne serait-ce qu’une miette. Je vais vous dire sa réponse – ‘Non’, dira-t-il.

Car ce que nous pouvons vous dire, c’est que les moineaux l’ont prise. Des oiseaux en grand nombre arrivèrent. Ils se perchèrent tout autour, il en vint de plus en plus.

Il en arriva des nuages au crépuscule, ils se posèrent sur les toits de la vieille ville. Ils becquetaient les tuiles, ruinant le mortier, c’était à ne pas croire. Au matin, tout ce qui restait, c’était ce morceau de vieille construction que vous pouvez voir aujourd’hui.

Nous savons que ce sont eux, les moineaux, nous les avons vus de nos propres yeux.

Translation: Euro Langues Assistance & Tradufrance

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Background facts

Viroconium

Wroxeter is the site of what used to be the fourth largest Roman town in Britain, Viroconium. The town was founded between 58AD and 75AD on the site of a legionary fortress, whose garrison eventually marched north to Chester. The town quite quickly grew into a large and bustling city.

copyright Gordon Dickins

The Old Work

The largest standing wall left remaining is called the “Old Work”. The Old Work was part of a covered exercise hall for bathers. The masonry has survived centuries of weathering and medieval pillaging. At ground level the remains of most of the bath complex can still be seen nearby.

Decline and Fall

From the 2nd century AD there was a gradual decline. The main baths ceased to be used around AD300, when smaller subsidiary ones would have been used instead. Gradually the city fell apart until, around AD400, there is some evidence of rebuilding works taking place. In the 5th century AD the Roman administration withdrew from Britain. British peoples probably stayed on in the city for some time. It is not known when the city was finally deserted, there is no evidence of a fire or other disaster. Sandstone blocks from the Roman foundations have been found in the earliest parts of nearby Wroxeter, Atcham and Upton Magna churches, so around the late 9th century the city seems to be just a resource for building materials. The Old work was probably incorporated into a field barn and so survived.

What remains today is only a very small area of the city complex. In its heyday the walls enclosing the city would have been 2 miles (3.7km) long.

More Sparrows

There is another story about the Sparrows at Wroxeter which is also told of other Roman cities.

Barbarians tried, unsuccessfully, to beseige the city until they had a bright idea. They set nets and caught all the local sparrows. They tied lighted spills to the poor birds’ tails and set them loose. The sparrows landed on the city, setting the buildings alight. While the defenders tried to put out the fires, the invaders took the city over.

On The Tiles

The tiles the sparrows are so adeptly carrying away are based on those the Romans would have used. They are thick and made of heavy red clay, all the more miraculous that sparrows can steal them!

They Couldn’t Do Without It

The Romans are famous for introducing the dormouse to Britain, which they brought over to eat. Dormice were a great delicacy. They were fattened up on grain, then killed and cooked soaked in honey.

The Romans introduced a great many other things too. There was the grape, of course. The Romans couldn’t do without their wine, even though they used to import it too. Other plants they brought to supplement the meagre British diet were cherry, walnut, mulberry and medlar trees. (medlars have small crab-apple like fruits, which surprisingly cannot be eaten until they have begun to decay). Ground Elder was brought as a pot herb, but someone must have broken the pot that kept it contained! Nowadays it is the bane of many a gardener’s life as it infests lawns and is very difficult to get rid of.

Vegetables that the Romans could not do without were Peas, Broad Beans, Radishes and Celery. They also introduced the Opium Poppy and Deadly Nightshade (Belladona) for medicinal uses. I wouldn’t try either if I were you though, Deadly Nightshade is more likely to kill than to cure.

Other plants came with the Romans too, but not necessarily because they wanted them. The seeds might well have come on soldiers’ clothing or in their packs. They could also have come as seedlings together with the plants introduced on purpose. These introductions included Great burdock, Corn Marigold, Tufted Vetch and Common mallow, all of which we take for granted as part of the British countryside.

If you were off to a foreign land, what would you like to take with you – customs officers permitting?

en français

Viroconium

Wroxeter est le site où se trouvait la quatrième plus grande ville romaine de Grande-Bretagne, Viroconium. La ville fut fondée entre l’an 58 et l’an 75 de notre ère, à l’emplacement d’une forteresse légionnaire dont la garnison marcha par la suite vers le nord, à Chester. Très rapidement, la ville s’agrandit pour devenir une grande cité animée.

copyright Gordon Dickins

La Vieille Construction

Le plus grand mur restant est appelé la ‘Vieille Construction’. La Vieille Construction faisait partie d’une salle de gymnastique couverte pour baigneurs. La maçonnerie a résisté aux siècles de désagrégation et de pillage médiéval. Au niveau du sol, on peut toujours voir ça et là les ruines de la majeure partie du complexe thermal.

Le déclin et la chute

A partir du 2ème siècle de notre ère, il y eut un déclin progressif. Les bains principaux cessèrent d’être utilisés autour de l’an 300, tandis que des bains subsidiaires plus petits étaient utilisés à leur place. Petit à petit, la ville se désintégra jusque vers 400 où il y a trace de travaux de reconstruction. Au 5ème siècle, les Romains se retirèrent de la Grande-Bretagne. Les Britanniques restèrent probablement dans la ville pendant quelques temps. On ne sait pas quand la ville fut définitivement abandonnée, il n’y a aucune trace d’un incendie ou d’une autre catastrophe. Des blocs en grès provenant des fondations romaines ont été trouvés dans les parties les plus anciennes de Wroxeter toute proche, les églises d’Atcham et d’Upton Magna. Ainsi, vers la fin du 9ème siècle, la ville semble n’être qu’une source pour les matériaux de construction. La Vieille Construction était probablement incorporée dans une grange agricole et c’est pourquoi elle a subsisté.

Ce qu’il reste aujourd’hui n’est qu’une partie très réduite du complexe de la ville. A son apogée, les murs entourant la ville devaient faire 3 km de long.

Encore des Moineaux

Il y a une autre histoire à propos des Moineaux de Wroxeter qui est aussi racontée dans d’autres villes romaines.

Les Barbares tentèrent en vain d’assiéger la ville jusqu’à ce que leur vienne une idée brillante. Ils installèrent des filets et attrapèrent tous les moineaux des environs. Ils attachèrent des allume-feu à la queue des pauvres oiseaux et les lâchèrent. Les moineaux atterrirent sur la ville, mettant les bâtiments en feu. Tandis que les défenseurs essayaient d’éteindre le feu, les envahisseurs prirent possession de la ville.

Sur les tuiles

Les tuiles que les moineaux sont tellement enclins à emporter sont inspirées de celles que les Romains auraient utilisées. Elles sont épaisses et fabriquées avec une argile rouge et lourde, c’est d’autant plus miraculeux que les moineaux puissent les voler!

Ils ne pouvaient pas s’en passer

Les Romains sont réputés pour avoir introduit le loir en Grande-Bretagne, qu’ils apportèrent comme nourriture. Les loirs étaient un mets très délicat. Ils étaient engraissés au grain, puis tués et cuisinés marinés dans du miel.

Les Romains introduisirent également beaucoup d’autres choses. Il y eut le raisin, bien sûr. Les Romains ne pouvaient se passer de leur vin, même s’ils en importaient également. Ils apportèrent d’autres plantes pour compléter la maigre alimentation britannique, les cerises, les noix, les mûres et les néfliers. (Les néfliers portent de petits fruits qui ressemblent à des pommes sauvages, qui, bizarrement sont immangeables avant qu’ils n’aient commencé à pourrir). Le sureau fut apporté comme herbe à pot, mais quelqu’un a dû casser le pot qui la contenait ! Aujourd’hui, il est la bête noire dans la vie de plus d’un jardinier, du fait qu’il infeste le gazon et qu’il est très difficile de s’en débarrasser.

Les légumes dont les Romains ne pouvaient se passer étaient les petits pois, les fèves, les radis et le céleri. Ils introduisirent également le pavot somnifère et la belladone pour utilisation médicinale. Cependant, je ne goûterais ni à l’un ni à l’autre si j’étais à votre place : la belladone est davantage susceptible de tuer que de guérir.

D’autres plantes arrivèrent avec les Romains, mais pas nécessairement volontairement. Les graines peuvent très bien être arrivées sur les vêtements des soldats ou dans leur paquetage. Elles auraient également très bien pu arriver alors qu’elles germaient avec les plantes introduites à dessein. Ces introductions comprenaient la bardane, le souci, la vesce et la mauve commune, toutes ces plantes que nous considérons comme partie intégrante du paysage britannique.

Si vous alliez dans un pays étranger, que rapporteriez-vous – avec l’autorisation des douaniers?

Translation: Euro Langues Assistance & Tradufrance

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Key Stage 2 Activities

Do You Speak Latin?

The Roman’s language was called Latin. There are Latin Roots still visible in our language today.

Below is a list of Latin job titles with a similar sounding english word as a clue in brackets.

Guess what the job title’s english translation must be. The solutions to these and the other puzzles on this post are to be found by clicking + at Answers to Activities at the foot of this post.

custos (custudy)
miles (military)
nauta (nautical)
sciber (scribe)
medicus (medical)
agricola (agriculture)

Time To Pick Up Your Wages…

In Roman times some people were paid in salt instead of money. The latin for salt is Sal, can you guess which english word for wages is derived from this peculiar Latin custom?

More Hard Work

Our word manufacture comes from two latin words, manus meaning hand and facere meaning to make. So you can see it literally means made by hand.

Some other english words come from these two latin words. See if you can guess these three below from the clues?

an instruction book
done by hand
things are made here

Was This Camelot?

This is an excerpt from ‘On The Trail of King Arthur in Shropshire’ – a leaflet published by Shropshire County Council.

Viroconium at Wroxeter was the fourth largest city in Roman Britain. Archaeological excavations reveal that shortly after the departure of the Romans, and while civilisation was collapsing elsewhere in Britain, Viroconium was rebuilt in a highly sophisticated fashion. On the site of the Roman baths complex, elaborate classical buildings surrounded a massive winged mansion. This remarkable fifth-century city may well have been the capital of Arthurian Britain, the classical mansion possibly the seat of King Arthur himself.

Lots of other places around the country claim to be the home of Arthurian legend. Are you convinced that Arthur lived in Shropshire? Why do so many places claim to be Arthur’s home?

Town Planning

Viroconium was a massive Roman City built on a typical square grid pattern of interlocking streets centred around the forum and the baths. What is the street plan of the place where you live? If you could design the perfect city, how would you arrange the roads?

Male/Female

All the birds in this painting are House Sparrows, but the two carrying the roof tiles look different from the two perched on the wall. Guess which are male and which female, now check your answer.

Ornithology

Bird watching can be fun. Here are instructions on how to make your own Bird Table and watch out for the visitors. Make drawings of the birds that come to feed.

How Do I Make It?

It’s easy to make a bird table. Take a good stout fence post, hammer it well into the ground (make sure it’s tall enough so cats can’t jump up). Then nail or screw a strong, square board to the top of the post.

In the picture I’ve fixed some lengths of roofing lath around the edges of the table top. These should stop the birds’ food from blowing away in the wind. Leave gaps at the corners so it’s easier to brush clean, and so rainwater can drain away.

If you treat all the timber with an environmentally friendly wood preservative you’ll give the table extra years of life.

If you have a problem with cats who decide to climb when they can’t jump onto the table, nail some chicken wire around the edges of the table to discourage them.

What Do I Feed Them?

You can buy bird food such as nuts, seeds, fat balls or bird cake at most pet shops or hardware stores. Also give the birds oats, raisins, wholemeal breadcrumbs, seed heads like dead sunflowers or apple cores. See which birds prefer each different food.

Siting the Table

Keep the table away from bushes and other places where cats can lurk. Make sure there is a tree nearby so birds can see if it’s safe to come to feed. Most importantly put the table in a good position so you can watch the birds from your window. If you haven’t got a suitable position for a table, hang strings of peanuts, coconut halves or feeders from a tree.

When Do I Feed Them?

All year, birds are getting rarer because there’s less natural food.

Put Some Food On The Ground Too!

Do remember that some birds are ground feeders and won’t eat off a bird table. Scatter enough food for a day on the ground (if you put too much down you’ll encourage vermin). Keep the table and surrounds clean, tidy up each evening.

The Derby Ram

A song and a vert tall story just like The Disappearing City. Look at the lyric of The Derby Ram and listen to the music file. See if you can sing along.

See lyric…

The Derby Ram

“As I went down to Derby, t’was on a market day,
I met the finest ram, Sir, that ever was fed upon hay.”
“It’s a lie, it’s a lie, it’s a lie, a lie, a lie.”

“This ram and I got drunk, Sir, as drunk as we could be,
And when we sobered up, Sir, we were far away to sea”
“It’s a lie, it’s a lie, it’s a lie, a lie, a lie.”

“This wonderful old ram, Sir, was playful as a kid,
He swallowed the Captain’s spy-glass, along with the Bosun’s lid”
“It’s a lie, it’s a lie, it’s a lie, a lie, a lie.”

“One morning on the poop-deck before eight bells was rung
He grabbed the Captain’s sextant, and took a shot at the sun”
“It’s a lie, it’s a lie, it’s a lie, a lie, a lie.”

“The night was wet and rough, Sir, the wind was sharp as steel,
He borrowed my suit of oilskins and took my trick at the wheel.”
“It’s a lie, it’s a lie, it’s a lie, a lie, a lie.”

“The people in this room, Sir, are handsome, brave and strong,
The finest group of singers ever to sing a song.”
“It’s a lie, it’s a lie, it’s a lie, a lie, a lie.”

Answers to Activities

Latin Job Titles

custos (custudy) Guard
miles (military) Soldier
nauta (nautical) Sailor
sciber (scribe) Writer
medicus (medical) Doctor
agricola (agriculture) Farmer

paid in salt

Salary

More Hard Work

an instruction book is a Manual
done by hand is Manually
things are made here in a Factory

Male/Female

The House Sparrows carrying the roof tiles are males, the two perched on the wall are females.

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