Friday, 29 January 2010

Jean Simmons Remembered

The Robe cinema posterJean Simmons has died at the age of 80.

The wonderful English actress, who came to Hollywood in the 1950s, starred in such memorable epics as The Robe (1953, with Richard Burton and Victor Mature), The Egyptian (1954, with Victor Mature), and Spartacus (1960, with Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier).

Reduced to television work in the 1970s and 1980s, redeemed only by her role in The Thorn Birds, she made a triumphant return to the big screen with How To Make An American Quilt (1995).

Obituaries: BBC | Daily Telegraph | Daily Telegraph (culture) | New York Times |

Monday, 4 January 2010

Roman Holiday

Happy New Year! During the holiday break, I came across a report in The Largs & Millport Weekly News, a major source of information for Cunninghame residents. The article was entitled "Was Largs a Roman Holiday Resort?". I'm pretty sure the answer is "No".

Romans on the Clyde Coast

Map of Roman Clyde Coast

As a venerable old emperor, I took the liberty of consulting the relevant OS map (pictured left, with modifications so as not to contravene the Crown Copyright). Here, you can see (top right) the very end of the Antonine Wall, as it runs down to the Clyde at Old Kilpatrick. You can also see the forts of Old Bishopton (on the grounds of Whitemoss Farm) and Barochan (on Barochan Hill). At Bishopton, no traces remain above ground, but finds of pottery excavated in the 1950s demonstrate that the fort belonged to the Antonine frontier system. By contrast, excavation in the 1980s at Barochan, where humps and bumps can be seen in some scrubby woodland, showed that the fort was from an earlier period (usually termed "Agricolan"), some 50 years before the Antonine Wall.

Moving left, you can see the fortlet at Lurg Moor, which was probably associated with the Bishopton fort. (Fragments of Antonine pottery were found during excavation in the 1950s.) And then, moving round the coast, we come to Outerwards, where another Antonine fortlet was excavated in 1970. And that's it. The Roman army left no further traces in Largs district.

The Largs newspaper report mentions "the days when the Romans resided by its shores", but sadly this is probably fantasy. The "old Roman coins and paving underneath the Post Office in Main Street", allegedly found in 1820, were never substantiated. Enquiries in the 1970s failed to turn up any sign of the coins, and it is anybody's guess what the paving tiles were. The "Roman well found in Nelson Street" is probably a half-remembered recollection of a roughly circular Bronze Age burial cist excavated there in the 1950s in advance of construction work. And the final piece of evidence, that "Knock Hill was a Roman fort", is -- unfortunately -- mistaken. Knockside Hill (or Knock Hill), just above Largs, has produced two small cairns, which are presumably prehistoric. There were no associated finds.

It is quite likely that Romans traversed the river valleys down to Irvine Bay, but we are a long way from imagining Romans promenading along the front at Largs.