The Roman Pavement, Dorchester, Massachusetts

Roman Pavement Dorchester High School, Massachusetts, USA

The Roman Pavement in the entrance to the Dorchester High School , Massachusetts, USA © DCM

From the Massachusetts newspaper ‘THE ITEM’ February 1906, an article written by the A. W. H entitled ‘The Roman Pavement’

Rumors have lately been afloat that an old Roman pavement, discovered in Dorchester, England, is to be laid in the floor of our school. Since we are to see daily this relic of an empire which perished fifteen hundred years ago, it is fitting that we should know something of its history and by whose efforts we have come into possession of it.

Close up of the Roman Pavement in the Dorchester High School , Massachusetts, USA © DCM

Close up of the Roman Pavement in the Dorchester High School , Massachusetts, USA © DCM

In 1903 there appeared a notice in the Listener of the Boston Transcript saying, that, while making repairs in the crypt of All Saints’ Church, Dorchester, England, there had been discovered, beneath the foundations, a pavement laid by the Romans probably more than sixteen hundred years ago. The rector of All Saints’ parish, Mr. Filleul, expressed his willingness to present this pavement to the City of Boston, should it wish it. The paragraph was brought to the attention of Mr. Lincoln by Miss Hovey: and the former at once wrote to Mr. Filleul accepting his offer and suggesting that, since our Dorchester here is the namesake and offspring of the old English town, the pavement should be laid either in the floor of the Dorchester High School or in that of the proposed new public library, th place to be designated at the rector’s discretion. Soon Mr. Filleul replied, selecting the library as the more fitting place for the pavement to be laid. Mr. Lincoln at once consulted the architects of the building; but they thought best not to have it placed in the present library building.

Dorchester High School, Massachusetts, USA

Dorchester High School, Massachusetts, USA

When the circumstances were made known to Mr. Filleul, he consented to its being placed in the High School. Whereupon Mr. Lincoln consulted the schoolhouse commissioners about having it laid in the Dorchester High School. The commissioners voted at once, as soon as the matter was brought to their attention, to incur the expense of laying the pavement.

But, while a home for the “migrant floor” was being secured with more or less difficulty on this side of the Atlantic, the generous parson of Dorchester across the sea was putting himself to much trouble in our behalf, and enduring much unjust criticism on account of his kindness toward the people of the American Dorchester. We quote the following scathing lines taken from a Devonshire newspaper in regard to Mr. Filleul’s action:

“If vandalism of this kind is to be permitted, there is no knowing where it will stop. We shall next, perhaps, hear of a proposal to sell York Minster to New York, or St. Paul’s to the town of that name in Minnesota. * * * The excuse for selling the old Roman pavement is that the money to be paid for it will help to buy a new organ for the church. * * * The proper place for the Roman Pavement, if it cannot be left in situ, is the Dorchester museum.”

We are glad to add, however, that a Dorset paper, evidently better informed of the facts of the transaction, has valiantly defended Mr. Filleul’s position and generosity, and wrote in reply to the above article :

“There has been no act of vandalism, and to associate so good an antiquarian as Mr. Filleul with such an offence is grotesque. The facts have evidently been misunderstood. In the first place, there is no sale, and in the second, the fragment of pavement * * * is but one of a score of similar specimens that have been found in the borough. To make such a gift out of our bounty to the Dorchester across the sea seems to us an altogether gracious act, and entirely devoid of offence even to the most punctilious antiquary. The Standard, in an admirable leading article, regards the exchange of courtesies between the two Dorchesters as equally interesting and creditable to the Western county and Western state. “It was from Dorchester,” says the writer, “that the little Massachu¬setts town of the same name derived its origin, and not long ago it took the graceful opportunity of acknowledging its parentage by erecting memorials in two of the churches of the old Roman settlement to the Rev. John White, its virtual founder. The pres¬ent gift is no more than “making even” with American generosity; but the descendant is not to be outdone by the ancestor, and has determined to exhibit its gratitude by a “handsome donation ” towards a new organ for All Saints’ Church.”

The donation mentioned in these paragraphs is being made up, through the efforts of Mr. Lincoln and by citizens of Dorchester interested in the High School, and is no more than an acknowledgment of English courtesy.

About the genuineness of the pavement, there can be no question. The above quotations show that the people of Dorset have no doubt that it is the work of Romans: and Mr. Edwia D. Mead of Boston who saw it a few years ago as it lay in Dorchester, further corroborates the opinion by expressing his delight that so genuine a relic of Roman antiquity is to belong to Boston. He also adds that the owners of the pavement are to be congratulated on possessing a priceless treasure.

Roman Pavement discovered in Dorchester, Dorset similiar to  one Dorchester now in Dorchester, Massachusetts

Roman Pavement discovered in Dorchester, Dorset similiar to one Dorchester now in Dorchester, Massachusetts

The negotiations necessary to procure the relic took a great deal of time, so that the fragment itself did not reach us until this month, January 1906. Since we are to see it so soon, it will be of interest to know how and of what it is made. The section of pavement, which is to be laid in the lower corridor, is made of nine thousand tesserae, or little cubes about an inch.square, six thousand white, and three thousand red. The red tessene are made of some manufactured stone more compact than our brick; and the white are probably cut from the common white limestone which is so abundant in southern England. They are to be laid in the same patten as that of the pavement in the photograph Mr. Filleul has sent us, which is a picture of a pavement similar to ours, and gives a good idea of how deeply these traces of Roman civilization have lain buried beneath the dust of centuries. Each interior square is about eight inches on a side and contains about sixty-four cubes. Aside from the mere laying of the pavement, each tessera must have individual attention and be cleaned of caked dirt and stain before set in the cement.

We have at hand a letter from Mr. Filleul, from which we quote in part, telling something of the nature and former environment of the pavement and mentioning an interesting though rather gruesome historical incident in regard to it.

“This pavement, of course, is not one of the finer qualities of which several have be buried in Dorchester: but it is a sort that seems to have been used chiefly for inferior rooms, and passages, and courtyards. We traced this pavement, of which you are having the remains, for thirty-five feet without getting; to the end of it. so it was evidently a passage or pathway. It was covered by about three feet of earth.

“It might interest you to know the pavement lay on the flanks of an old road in the parish called formerly ‘Gallows Hill and underneath a building which was formerly part of the ‘Bell Inn’. At this inn criminals were allowed their last drink before being turned off on the gallows just by it.”

This, then, is the story of our Roman pavement. To the imaginative who pass by it may suggest the proud centurion, with his clanking broadsword and breastplate, who, perhaps, trod on those very stones before the great empire fell. It will serve to remind those of historical bent of the thoroughness with which the imperial race carried out their civic and military system even in the sombre wilds of Britain: and all of us will extend our thanks to Miss Hovey, Mr. Lincoln, and the Rev. Mr. Filleul for their kindness in procuring a relic of a mighty civilization for the people of Dorchester.

A. W. H., 1905

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