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‘As the Romans’: Celebrating our historic foundations at King’s High School

The much-anticipated artwork by sculptor, Liz Middleton, commemorating the Roman presence on the King’s High School site with a stunning ‘Poem on the Wall’, was finally unveiled this half-term. Cut in steel, the sculpture features an extract from a poem by King’s High student, Rose, entitled ‘As the Romans.’

The sculpture was commissioned in 2018 by Foundation Principal, Richard Nicholson after the remarkable discovery of a 30ft Roman barn, as well as other artefacts, during the construction of Project One Campus.  This is when the first seeds were sown for a site-specific sculpture that would allow our pupils, staff and guests to connect to the barn’s foundation stones carefully preserved beneath our campus. 

Rose originally wrote the poem ‘As the Romans’ for the Roman Barn Competition, which was run by our History Society and called for creative entries linked to the barn. Rose says, ‘The Inspiration for the poem came partly from visiting the site back in Year 7 and my memories of that experience, where I was also lucky enough to interview the site archaeologists for the Landor Journalism Club. The idea was prompted by the fact that the Roman barn was found hidden underneath our school and therefore, one day, our school too could become hidden underground. If the archaeologists and people of the future were to find it one day, would they know that beneath was something even older? That they were standing on the same ground as the Romans’.

It has been a delight to work closely with Liz Middleton now on two very special projects, ‘As the Romans’ and of course, the ambitious ‘Spirit of King’s’ sculpture marking the entrance to our school. Right from the outset of this commission, Liz Middleton has engaged pupils at King’s High on how best to celebrate the fascinating history of our school site. She consulted the students to explore their thoughts on the connections between ourselves and our Roman ancestors and used the ‘Barn Guidebook’ produced by the girls after their archaeology workshop to better understand the inhabitants that once lived on the Banbury Road site. Our pupils also chose the wonderful silver tone of the sculpture which links meaningfully with ‘The Spirt of King’s’ just around the corner.

The finished sculpture has been inspired by Roman ink and reed handwriting. Liz Middleton chose to use the Roman artform of capital letters to stylize Rose’s poem extract in a nod to the barn’s presence. The poem itself was selected from the wonderful anthology, ‘A Growing World’, which was produced by Professor Gregory Leadbetter during his poetry residency at King’s High. Rose recalls submitting the poem for the anthology at the time but says, ‘I was as surprised as everyone else when I learned it was going to be put on the school wall!’

For Liz Middleton the choice of poem was incredibly fitting; she has said that ‘Rose’s poem has really captured the specificity of the moment of the barn’s discovery and has made a vivid connection between the school today and its ancient inhabitants.’ We wholeheartedly agree. The sculpture perfectly bridges the two thousand years between the Romans who once inhabited our site and our pupils here today. The excavation of the Roman barn in 2018 has been consigned to the King’s High history books, and we are honoured to be able to celebrate and commemorate this.