Roman finds in Victorian Sidmouth

ONE of Sidmouth s most fascinating residents is the Victorian Peter Orlando Hutchinson, who lived in the town all his adult life

ONE of Sidmouth's most fascinating residents is the Victorian Peter Orlando Hutchinson, who lived in the town all his adult life.

As a man of adequate means, he was able to pursue many interests, from relating fishermen's tales to politics.

He was a man of many talents and an accomplished artist. Everything went into his diary - a copy of which is stored at Sidmouth Library - and not only accounts of what he saw and did, but some delightful sketches and paintings too.

He carried out pioneering geological and archaeological research, and meticulous records are a valuable account today, especially his mapping of Bronze Age burial mounds.

In Peter Orlando Hutchinson's Travels in Victorian Devon, compiled and edited by Jeremy Butler, we can read of finds that link Sidmouth to its Roman past.

The date is January 9, 1851.

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He writes: "Engraved in wood the obverse side of the Roman coin recently found near Mill Cross, Sidmouth, and which now belongs to Mr Heineken.

"The discovery of this coin is important when coupled with that of the centaur found in 1840, as going to establish the idea that the Romans at one time made use of the harbour formerly existing at the mouth of the River Sid.

"As it is also likely they occupied the camps on High Peak and Sidbury Castle Hills, and had a station at Sidmouth, the discovery of this coin adds much to the notion of their permanent occupancy of the shores round the harbour.

"The coin was found by William Sweet junior, rope maker, whilst digging to repair a pump about two feet below the surface, and I went yesterday to enquire the exact spot where it was turned up.

"...I was shown the place in the yard where the pavement had been taken up. The place where Mill Lane, that runs on the south side of All Saints Church, abuts onto the top of High Street is called Mill Cross.

"There was probably an ancient cross here, perhaps on the east side of High Street opposite the Lane.

"Forty or 50 yards below this, also on the east side, stood the old mill that belonged 600 years ago to Adam de Radway.

"This mill is in the recollection of persons now living, but it was falling into disuse, as the present mill down by the river was erected about 55 years ago."

January 1851 must have been a good year for turning up coins, because we read in the diaries of March 1855 that it was Mr Heineken's Bactrian coin, which POH carved on wood for an article in the Sidmouth Directory, that had been found on the beach "opposite Marine House near the chapel of the Independents, in or about January 1851."

It depicted the king's head, sceptre in hand, while on the reverse was the king on horseback.

POH writes: "Ancient Bactria was on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea and is now called Chorasan, Samarcand being the chief town."

He surmised either Phoenician or Greek traders may have brought the coin to England.

It was not only coins found in the beach. In 1853, he unearthed a silver plated dish, stolen in an earlier robbery, while walking at Chit Rocks.