Down my way: The Roman aqueduct at Dorchester
Murray Rose charts the possible course of an 11km man-made waterway
Published in April ’13
There is little information about the Roman aqueduct at Dorchester; the Ordinance Survey Explorer map mentions the aqueduct in a number of places along the Frome valley and when the 80m contour is followed it is clear the path is tortuous. With a slope of 1:1750 and an eleven kilometre length, the fall over its length must be about six metres.
This contour defines the route that the aqueduct must have taken fairly precisely beyond Muckleford, where all physical remains have been obliterated. Walking down to Southover and westwards towards the 80m contour leads to a very flat area with references to a Roman villa in Nunnery Mead. It’s a square about 30m across, looking like a 1m high overgrown wall.
Moving towards the river one comes to a footbridge, and a 2m-high weir, with two distinct outlets: one a small channel, the other the River Frome. Logic dictates this must be the start of the aqueduct; the height is right, it is just before a two-metre drop in the river level so beyond it would mean a lot of digging to get very little height gain.
At Southover there is a row of houses, with a string of ponds, at the right contour height that could very well be the track of the aqueduct. There are no visible traces of its route, but it is mentioned on the OS map. Following this there is a second valley where one can well see one of the land ripples as the aqueduct. Then there is a small wood with a reasonably clear trace of the aqueduct going into it – a cutting going through the wood with no other obvious purpose. Proceeding further towards Dorchester leads us to Bradford Peverell, under which all trace of the aqueduct is lost. Continuing along the Roman road from Dorchester to Ilchester, one can clearly see a huge furrow crossing the field on the right. There is a second furrow, – a double-back of the aqueduct to follow the 80m level, coming from the left side of the road, having made an excursion along the 80m level at the far edge of the valley, and close to the railway line.
From the bridge over the Dorchester bypass at Fordington Bottom, one can see part of the aqueduct as it goes up to the right of the road and comes back on the left. After crossing the bridge one can now walk along the aqueduct, clearly seen as a 4ft-wide track, as it skirts Poundbury Fort, and followed until the border to the industrial estate, near the railway tunnel, where all trace is lost.