Dr. Anne Ross considered the remains identified in 1984 by Professor Barri Jones as a spring head water shrine was probably a cult shrine to the river goddess Sabrina, from whom the river was named. Bryn Walters of the Association for Roman Archaeology has always argued for the site being a huge British nymphaeum. Any serious academic who has visited the site has gone away with the view of the Severn horseshoe bend etched in their mind. Bryn Walters in 1985 considered the site “The most splendid location for a Roman monument in Lowland Britain.” Even today 35 years later he recalls the shivers that went down his spine when he first saw the view. Thanks to Bryn targetted excavations over the last few years have brought a better understanding of the site and the its significance in the Roman and prehistoric record of Britain.
Through the knowledge and experience of individuals not so readily accessible in 1985 we are now in a position to identify and re assess the remains with greater confidence. A nymphaeum is well defined by Wikipedia as “a monument consecrated to the nymphs, especially those of springs”. The extraordinary Temple of Minerva Medici is in fact a nymphaeum of Imperial Rome and the magnificent nymphaeum of Jerash sometimes referred to as the nymphaeum temple demonstrate the confusion in terms. At Littledean we now have growing evidence for another nymphaeum pool in the outer north wall of the temple. Analysis of the west end with its aedicula located in the apse is intriguing. Evidence found in 1986 for an underground water course leading into the apse but no sign of it carrying through may be a feed to another nymphaeum pool in the apse. The large central pool was fed from outlying springs through a system of conduits, settling tanks and leaden pipes. The well preserved stone drain is now recognised as the method by which the pool was seasonally cleaned and not the overflow. The water outfall was probably directed to other water features. A picture is slowly emerging therefore for a nymphaeum of considerable complexity consecrated to the nymph Sabrina and her attendants.