Letters from Eve: Chedworth, the London Mithraeum and 1954

Published: 10 February 2021

Last update: 10 February 2021

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This blog post is written by Martin Papworth, Archaeologist Martin Papworth Archaeologist
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Martin Papworth is one of our archaeologists, based in the South West of England. In this blog, Martin revisits his research on Eve Rutter – later Harris – and her work at Chedworth Roman Villa, Gloucestershire, in 1954. Eve was a pioneer in archaeological excavation and publication at Chedworth.

In December 2014, I found letters in brown paper envelopes hidden within the archive of Sir Ian Richmond, professor and Roman era specialist, in the Sackler Library, Oxford. The letters were from newly-qualified graduate Eve Rutter. She was engaged by the National Trust on advice from the Ashmolean Museum to begin modern excavations at Chedworth Roman Villa after a research gap of 20 years.

Eve spent the late summer of 1954 at the villa before starting her new job with the Guildhall Museum in London, where she worked to record the archaeology of the post-war bomb-damaged city. At Chedworth, she initiated the programme of modern archaeological research, finding and archiving Roman artefacts which paint a picture of what life was like for our ancestors.

Her story is told below in letters she wrote and received during this pivotal time for Chedworth.

27 July 1954, Oxford

'Dear Mr Irvine (NT Custodian, Chedworth),

This is about the proposed excavation at Chedworth. I am unable to do it myself at that time of year, so we have the services of Miss Eve Rutter who has just taken her final exams here, and has already been on many excavations including one she has directed herself, so I think she will do it very well. Would you and Mrs Irvine be able to put Miss Rutter up during the excavation, as she has no means of transport?

Best wishes, yours sincerely, Mr D. Harden.' (Keeper, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

Plan of Chedworth before Eve Rutter’s excavation. The ‘Porter’s Lodge’ is the small room (IX) on the bottom left on the plan
Plan of Chedworth before Eve Rutter’s excavation. The ‘Porter’s Lodge’ is the small room (IX) bottom left on the plan protruding south of the south range
Plan of Chedworth before Eve Rutter’s excavation. The ‘Porter’s Lodge’ is the small room (IX) on the bottom left on the plan

13 August 1954, Long Crichel House, Wimborne Minster, Dorset

'Dear Miss Kirk (Assistant Keeper Ashmolean),

After getting your letter, I had a chat with Irvine who thinks that two men for a week might be enough. I hope you feel you can go ahead. Of course, if the dig reveals some wonderful finds, you may be tempted to go slow and then the labour problem will grow more serious.

Yours sincerely, Eardley Knollys.' (NT Regional Representative)

Plan and sections drawn by Eve Rutter of the 1954 excavation
Plan and sections drawn by Eve Rutter of the 1954 excavation
Plan and sections drawn by Eve Rutter of the 1954 excavation

28 September 1954, Chedworth

'Dear Mr Harden,

Herewith the plan of the excavation at Chedworth: any suggestion as to what the well-drained room is will be welcome. [...] Could this have been a scullery – old farms do have similar drains in their sculleries although not such a complicated trip up pattern!

I hope you have found all the things returned alright. Mr Ovenall was on duty when I came in on the Sunday. [...] The glass fragments, mainly from one vessel I think, although few seem to fit, came from the first trench and were associated with a Rhenish thumb indented jar. Is any result yet available on the bracelet?

[...] The National Trust (NT) has asked for a report and plan to be available for the annual general meeting on 12 October to liven up the members and if I could have a photograph or two to include, the dig might look a little better – the Mithraeum is setting a high standard of what the public expect!

I go to the Guildhall on Friday. The Mithraeum is very interesting, although I can’t help feeling that many of the thousands must have been disappointed at the rather wet stonework. Life there is very hectic, consisting chiefly in an attempt to avoid too many press reporters all seeking to see the latest head!

Please send the photographs to the Guildhall as time is running rather short.

With best wishes, yours sincerely, Eve'

Photograph from Eve’s excavations at Chedworth
Photograph from Eve’s excavations at Chedworth
Photograph from Eve’s excavations at Chedworth

9 October 1954, Ibthorpe, Hurstbourne Tarrant

'Dear Joan,

Thank you so much for your letter and help over the Chedworth stuff. I enclose what I hope will be an adequate report for the NT.

I am enjoying life at the Guildhall very much indeed, although it is extremely hectic there at the moment. The other morning, we were crowded out by the press (a usual event in the past Mithraeum statue-a-day week). The statuary is absolutely fantastic – Miss Toynbee says that the Serapis head is as good, if not better than anything in the Rome museums.

Best wishes to all, Eve'

Extract from Eve’s report on the Chedworth excavations, October 1954
Extract from Eve’s report on the Chedworth excavations, October 1954
Extract from Eve’s report on the Chedworth excavations, October 1954

18 October 1954, Queen Anne’s Gate, London

'Dear Miss Kirk,

I was delighted to get Miss Rutter’s fascinating report on the excavations. I should like you to know how grateful the Trust is to the Museum for undertaking this work on our behalf. As regards the possibility of further excavation next year, I am asking Mr R. Stewart-Jones, our representative for Gloucestershire, to get in touch with you.

Yours sincerely, R. Romilly Fedden' (later National Trust Deputy Director-General)

18 October 1954, Warwick Road, Earls Court, London

'Dear Joan,

[...] I sent the Chedworth photographs per express and hope they will arrive in time. I enclose the bill for the film and some drawing paper [...]

I am interested in Richard’s "C.I.D." investigations on the bracelet. It was not close by the coffin, at least not close enough to be part of the burial I shouldn’t think [...]

Life at the Guildhall has become less hectic this week. Mr Cook and Mr Merrifield are very kind and have made me feel very welcome. Mr Cook seems a little worried that I shall expect every excavation to produce marble heads! In the afternoon I went down to the site. The "reconstruction", if one can call the pile of Roman used debris so, is a pathetic affair and the way they are carving the original up with electric drills is tragic.

How is Oxford? it seems odd not to be pottering about it. Look after yourself and don’t catch any more peculiar diseases.

Love Eve'

6 November 1954, Warwick Road, Earls Court, London

'Dear Joan,

Re the Chedworth stuff, Mr Irvine asked if it were possible to have a short report for the Museum.

Secondly, were two coins amongst the stuff I brought back? Mr Ovenall said he would have them sent to Dr Sutherland. Only one is from the site, the other was given to Mr Irvine by a local forester. John Harris tells me that the "graffiti" "Samian" looks suspicious. I haven’t looked at it myself apart from giving it a hasty clean. It should be alright according to the level it came from. Has Dr Harden had a chance to look at it yet? I should be interested to know the date as it was found in connection with the Rhenish ware which is the only apparently early pottery amongst fourth century pie dishes etc...

Hope to see you fairly soon. Give my regards to Roper and Miss Carter.

Yours, Eve'

5 March, 1955

'Dear Miss Kirk

Thank you for sending me the Chedworth graffito for examination.

I read the graffito as ABCDEFGHI[…] It is not clear whether further letters were cut or whether the space after I marks the termination of the original text. The letter forms are of Roman type and unlike modern falsifications. This graffito may have been cut when the bowl was intact or on this sherd after the fracture of the bowl.

If space allows, I should like to include this in my next JRS (Journal of Roman Studies) report.

Yours sincerely, R. P. Wright'

Reconstruction of Chedworth Roman Villa in the 4th century, the ‘Porter’s Lodge’ is on the left
Reconstruction of Chedworth Roman Villa in the 4th century, the ‘Porter’s Lodge’ is on the left
Reconstruction of Chedworth Roman Villa in the 4th century, the ‘Porter’s Lodge’ is on the left

25 June 1956, Guildhall Museum, Royal Exchange, London

'Dear Dr Harden

Thank you very much for your letter which greeted my return home. As regards to Chedworth, I am interested to continue the excavation of the Porter’s Lodge area to see whether there is a definite clue as to what it is.

I don’t like to ask Mr Cook to "wangle" me the extra time off which Chedworth would probably involve. However, if it is a case of now or never with the National Trust I could ask him about the possibility. I have wondered whether anything should be due in the way of an interim report... should the local archaeological society at least have a note of what was found in their reports…

I hope you enjoy the conference and have good weather.

Best wishes, yours sincerely, Eve'

Eve Rutter on site at Coleman Street, London, 1955-6
Eve Rutter on site at Coleman Street, London, 1955-6
Eve Rutter on site at Coleman Street, London, 1955-6

What happened next?

Eve did indeed publish a short account of her discoveries at Chedworth in the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (Vol 76) in 1957. In it, she outlined the discovery of an infant burial in 1935 in the immediate vicinity of her excavations, the complicated construction sequence of the ‘Porter’s Lodge’ and its use as a latrine. She also wrote about the finds made during the work, which included a silver bracelet, glass and ceramic artefacts – such as the Samian fragment inscribed with part of the alphabet – which are discussed in her correspondence.

Bracelet found in 1954. Incomplete bronze bracelet. Flat strip with one end looped back upon itself. Outer surface is incised with zig-zag and notch design. It has been discoloured by fire.

Bracelet found in 1954

The outer surface of this bronze bracelet found at Chedworth in 1954 is incised with a zig-zag and notch design, and it's been discoloured by fire.

Chedworth pottery finds included fragments of the footing of a bowl base and a base of large beaker

Pottery fragments found at Chedworth

The pottery finds included these fragments of the footing of a bowl base and the base of a large beaker.

Although the letters suggest that Eve was keen to return to Chedworth, this never happened, and Sir Ian Richmond took over excavations at the site for the following 10 years. Eve meanwhile had arrived to work in London during the great excitement of the discovery of the temple of Mithras and its exotic statues.

Amid enormous press interest, thousands of people queued to visit the site and questions were asked in Parliament about the structure’s future. As Eve relates, the temple was ‘relocated’ during the construction of new office buildings. It has subsequently been moved again, and more sympathetically reconstructed, during recent works undertaken for the redevelopment of the Bloomberg site at Walbrook. 

Eve continued to work on London development sites during the late 1950s, including excavations at the City churches of All Hallows Gracechurch, St Stephen’s Coleman Street and St Martin Vintry (with Ivor Noel-Hume). She served as the principal Field Officer for the Guildhall Museum from 1957-61.

Through Mithras, Eve met her husband John Harris, and together they wrote a definitive work on eastern religions in Roman Britain, which was published in 1965. The Harrises left London in the early 1960s, were then based in Abingdon for a time and lived after that in Durham. 

I’d love to know about Eve’s later life and hope to find out more about her in the future. 

A version of this blog was originally published in 2014.

More about the Mithraeum discoveries

London Mithraeum Oral History Archive > 
View a sculpture of Serapis found there >

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