Miss Glassbrook, trowel in hand, at the gravel pit on the Skirmett Road where she uncovered the very first evidence of the Yewden Roman Villa. © From the collections of Buckinghamshire County Museum.

Sometimes a great trowelblazer is resurrected by serendipity – and a curious mind.

Between 1910 and 1914, artefacts were collected from a Roman Villa at Yewden, Hambleden, in Bucks. One hundred years later, in 2010, the Romans in the Hambleden Valley project returned to re-examine the finds (now stored at Buckinghamshire County Museum, aka the BCM).

This project included the re-discovery of around 97 newborn babies. This horrific find suggested the infants had been killed at birth, and one theory was that the site may have been a local Roman brothel. Curiously the team also noticed that many of the objects had small labels referring to a ‘Miss G’.

It was clear that Miss G had found many of the artefacts, but there was little further information– who was she? The Romans in the Hambleden Valley project team were determined to find out.

Although most of the artefacts were collected by Mr Alfred Heneage Cocks (the curator of the BCM) during his 1912 excavation of the site. As curators do today, Mr Cocks made many notes from the excavations and had filed the 1921 monograph along with letters. These revealed the identity of the mysterious Miss G: she was the person who had discovered the villa, and her full name was Miss Janet Glassbrook.

Miss Glassbrook (1870 – ???) had moved around a lot in her early life; born in Wigton, Cumberland, she then moved with her parents down south to Dorset. There is a hiatus in her whereabouts from 1891-1901, but she turns up in Hambleden, Buckinghamshire, in 1901 to live with her recently widowed mother.

Here Miss Glassbrook had free time where she explored the local area. She had an expert eye for spotting worked stone, and collected lots of stone tools around the Hambleden Valley in the Chilterns. In 1911, in a field at Hambleden she discovered several pieces of Roman pottery which turned out to be the site of a Roman Villa! Paid for by Lord Hambleden, the site was fully excavated in 1912.

Miss Glassbrook remained in Hambleden for the rest of life, a stalwart of the local community. She never married, and is remembered as a very stern and active woman who frightened and delighted local children in equal measure at her Sunday tea parties. In the words of one local resident: “she had a very good life – her last days were spent happily walking her many dogs, placing bets on many horses and drinking many bottles of whiskey.” She was quite the TrowelBlazer – Miss G, we raise a wee dram and our trowels to you.

Written by Dr Jill Eyers (Chiltern Archaeology) and @janfreedman

The Romans in the Hambledon Valley project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and led by Dr Jill Eyers (who co-wrote this post).

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