Updated: Mar 25, 2020
Shouldn’t that read Oxford? Actually, no. This is about a small (as in tiny) village in rural Berkshire, sixty miles or so due west of London. The village lies on the course of an ancient Roman road - a short stretch of can be seen in photos taken from the air - and its recent claim to fame is connected.
Over the years, local historians and archaeologists have uncovered plenty that was Roman there: a villa, a farmstead, a bracelet and coins, even a plunge pool. So much that you’d suppose they might have called it a day, packed up the trowels and the brushes and decided to find somewhere else to dig up.
Thank goodness they stayed on around Boxford. Because what they unearthed next was something really special: an extraordinary 4th century mosaic, ten meters square and mostly intact. The experts say it’s one of only three known mosaics of its kind in the world, and second to none for its imagery and iconography. From the photographs it looks stunning: a half-meter of red border, as if around the edge of a carpet, broken into by figures to give an illusionist effect. Inside the border there are action scenes and an all-star cast from Greek myth: Hercules, Cupid and especially Bellerophon, riding the winged horse Pegasus to slay a chimera breathing fire. It’s the basis, it’s thought, of the St George and dragon story.
And the crime? Well, the farmer who owns the land wants to get back to growing his crops. And the museums say the mosaic is too expensive to move and conserve, as well as too big to house. So after being on secret show for a single day only, it was given a protective layer and then reburied.
The location is hush-hush. The site is left unguarded. And with luck, no-one will sneak it away in the night. Either way, this ‘most delightful and charming pavement’ isn’t going to be seen again anytime soon!