Hurworth Grange / Locations / News & Updates / United Kingdom

Roman Sarcophagus at Hurworth Grange


Roman sarcophagus unearthed at The Grange. Photo by Andy Martin

The Grange may be located on land that was at one time part of the Roman Villa complex at Dalton on Tees, which would explain the Roman Sarcophagus. Evidence has also been found to suggest that there was a Roman fort at Hurworth. There was also a Roman Fort at nearby Piercebridge.

The famous poet, Rudyard Kipling, once paid a visit to The Grange in the 1890’s. During that time the Roman sarcophagus was still on the property. Some believe that the Backhouse family may have acquired it when the railway to York was built, while others claim that it was unearthed when The Grange was being built. The sarcophagus was later housed at St. Cuthbert’s Hospital in their archives room. The Middlesbrough Football Club now uses this land. This old stone coffin inspired Rudyard Kipling to write a poem entitled ‘The Roman Centurion’s Song.’ I have included it below.

‘The Roman Centurion’s Song’

By Rudyard Kipling

LEGATE, I had the news last night—my cohort ordered home
By ship to Portus Itius and thence by road to Rome.
I’ve marched the companies aboard, the arms are stowed below:
Now let another take my sword. Command me not to go!

I’ve served in Britain forty years, from Vectis to the Wall
I have none other home than this, nor any life at all.
Last night I did not understand, but, now the hour draws near
That calls me to my native land, I feel that land is here.

Here where men say my name was made, here where my work was done,
Here where my dearest dead are laid—my wife—my wife and son;
Here where time, custom, grief and toil, age, memory, service, love,
Have rooted me in British soil. Ah, how can I remove?

For me this land, that sea, these airs, those folk and fields suffice.
What purple Southern pomp can match our changeful Northern skies,
Black with December snows unshed or pearled with August haze—
The clanging arch of steel-grey March, or June’s long-lighted days?

You’ll follow widening Rhodanus till vine and olive lean
Aslant before the sunny breeze that sweeps Nemausus clean
To Arelate’s triple gate; but let me linger on,
Here where our stiff-necked British oaks confront Euroclydon !

You’ll take the old Aurelian Road through shore-descending pines
Where, blue as any peacock’s neck, the Tyrrhene Ocean shines.
You’ll go where laurel crowns are won, but—will you e’er forget
The scent of hawthorn in the sun, or bracken in the wet?

Let me work here for Britain’s sake—at any task you will—
A marsh to drain, a road to make or native troops to drill.
Some Western camp (I know the Pict) or granite Border keep,
Mid seas of heather derelict, where our old messmates sleep.

Legate, I come to you in tears—My cohort ordered home!
I’ve served in Britain forty years. What should I do in Rome?
Here is my heart, my soul, my mind—the only life I know.
I cannot leave it all behind. Command me not to go!

2 thoughts on “Roman Sarcophagus at Hurworth Grange

    • Great questions, Malcolm. Backhouse family lore is that Kipling visited in 1890. I have not personally found any hard evidence for this. Kipling traveled… a lot! He would have had only a very narrow time frame to have made a visit to the North of England. I know that he was briefly in Liverpool in October 1889. The Backhouse family had homes in London as well, so he could have made their acquaintance and then visited Hurworth on a personal invite.


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