“And did those feet…” Kelston vs Kelweston: calves or a church?

In part three of our conversation, Martin Palmer, director of the Alliance of Religion and Conservation, talks about how the Romans used local fossils, and interprets the Celtic origins of the name “Kelston”.

Behind me is this stone here, part of an ammonite, so probably about 150-200m years old. What’s interesting about it is that I think it was reused by the Romans: it has been clearly cut on this side. This has been clearly trimmed, and there was some cement here – Roman cement.

I think this was used as the rays of the sun behind the head of one of the Roman Gods, and was probably used in a Temple somewhere down here.



Martin Palmer and local ammonite fossil probably reused by the Romans.

This was found on a field in Kelston, and given that probably it would have tumbled down from Kelston Roundhill over the millennia. Most of the fossil strata is about half way up Kelston Hill. If you walk for example on the path going from North Stoke over to Weston where the path passes the hill as you look where the water rushes down you’ll find these everywhere. Or indeed if you come down past George’s farm, down the track leading to Kelston you can find those again.

So you’ve got this fantastic richness of the past. That has always raised for us questions about us as human beings: who are we if this is 140m years old, when all of this was under the sea? It does put the human obsession that the climate should be exactly as we want, rather than as Nature will actually have it, into some kind of perspective.

We have always taken what Nature has given us in evocative, in tantalising elements, and have read into it what we want to read. For example I love walking over the fields here and finding or walking down the hills or the lanes and finding these wonderful fossils – sea shells, again going back 140-200m years.

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Sea shell fossil found on Kelston Roundhill

What is interesting about these is we know that in Roman times these were considered to be auspicious, and would be put into coffins. And of course there was a series of Roman coffins found by the church here in Kelston – Roman coffins.

It also gives us a very interesting sight on the name of Kelston. Kelston was originally Kelweston in the Anglo-Saxon word, the “Weston” bit being that it was to the west of Bath.

North Stoke is to the north of Bath, South Stoke is to the South, Batheaston…. The “Kel” bit has traditionally been translated as “calf”: where the calves are kept, west of Bath. But I’m not so sure. Cows wander. Far more likely I think is that “Kel” comes from the Celtic word – and the Anglo-Saxon version of that – meaning a church. And that what you’ve actually got is a memory that there was a church here in the late Roman period.

That would explain why the late Roman burials here are Christian. But what is fascinating is that they fused the belief in Christ with a reverence and a respect for what the past and what the hill itself gave. So as it were you have the Holy Land of the Bible, and you have the holy land of this area.

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