Edmund Tyrell Artis was born in the Suffolk village of Sweffling in 1789. In 1805, he left Suffolk to work for his Uncle, a London wine merchant, and by 1810 he was established as a successful confectioner with a shop in Dorset Street, Marylebone.
At some point during 1812, Artis attracted the attention of William, the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam and was empolyed on the Fitzwilliam household staff at Milton House. By 1816 he had risen to House Steward, with full control over all the other staff.
During his early years at Milton House Artis developed an interest in geology, and between 1816 and 1825 he amassed a collection of over 1,500 geological plant specimens. A book was published in 1825 and a genus of plants was named Artisia after him. His pioneering work in this field led to him being elected as a fellow of the Geological Society in 1825.
In 1821, whilst searching for fossils on the Fitzwilliam esdtate at Castor, he unearthed a large tesselated Roman pavement. This prompted him to conduct a series of excavations which lasted until 1827. It appears that he was given the full backing, and encouragement, of his employers, the Fitzwilliams. Some of the digs were vast, with large numbers of workers. It appears that labourers were released from their normal duties at slack times on the Fitzwilliam estate, and there is one report of fifteen diggers abandoning the excavation site one Christmas Eve as they were too cold, leaving Artis to work alone!
In 1821, he commenced work in Castor churchyard. He uncovered a Roman building on the site of what is now the Cedars.He excavated a Roman Mosaic floor of exceptional quality. Sadly it had been damaged due to a well being sunk through it at some point. This was repaired and now sits in the anti room to the dairy at Miltom House.
By November 1821, Artis had excavated a Roman Bath house with hypocaust. Every detail of this, and subsequent excavations, were recorded in a remarkable series of beautifully illustrated plates and maps. This was published in a book entitles "The Durobrivae of Antonius".
In 1822 he excavated Roman Kilns in Normanton Field Castor. He also discovered the remains of a Roman Villa at Mill Hill Castor, with tesselated floor and painted walls. This was 100 feet by 50 feet with views overlooking the Nene Valley and the Roman town of Durobrivae.
In 1823 Artis excavated at Water Newton, excavating more Roman Pottery kilns. He discovered that the area surrounding Durobrivae at Castor Normangate Fields, Water Newton, Sibsin and Stibbington were littered with kilns, with massive production capacity. This area could be likened to the Roman equivialent of Stoke On Trent. Artis, when reporting his findings to the British Archaological Association worked out that the kilns in this area must have employed upwards on 2,000 workers.
Work continued, and by the Spring of 1827 Artis was working in areas to the North and East of Castor church. By this time it was clear that he had found something special. The huge building that was being unearthed was of exceptional quality and was a palace (Preatorium) rather than just a villa. The overall site measures 900 feet by 400 feet with the structure being three storeys high. This must have been the residence of a very senior military or civilian responsible for the administration of Durobrivae and the surrounding area.
In 1827, Artis visited Doncaster and negotiated to Purchase Doncaster Race Course Club House, he was no longer in the employment of the Fitzwilliams by the end of that year.
We now come to a period when Artis temporarily withdrew from archaology. Nothing was recorded until 1841, when he investigated Roma Statues found at Kings Cliffe. Atris had been living in Doncaster but in 1844 he sold properties in Doncaster and Castor, with the capital in part being used to raise funds for further excavations on the Duke Of Bedford's lands at Sibson. By this time, as he was no longer in the employ of the Fitzwilliams, he had to fund his own labour for digs.
In 1844, Artis appears to have begun digging again in earnest. He became a regional committee member of the newly formed British Archaeological Association, and its Journal contains several reports on his findings. He concentrated his work at Sibson, encouraged by finds made during the building of the Northampton to Peterborough railway. Roman statuary was found in this area. He also found time that year to record wall paintings in churches at Castor, Orton Longueville, Peakirk and Yaxley
He continued his excavations at Sibson and Stibbington but site conditions deteriorated and the work did not go smoothly. In the cold Winter of 1846/47 his workers again deserted him but Artis remained, a tribute to his dedication.
In 1847 he became ill and was unable to complete a report entitles "Discoveries At And Near The Roman Station Of Durobrivae". In December of 1847 he travelled to Doncaster, where his condition worsened, and he passed away on Christmas Eve in his 59th year. Fittingly, his body was brought back to Castor and buried in the church grounds near to the porch, in the heart of the area where he made the discoveries for which he is best known.
Edmund Artis met famous local poet John Clare in 1820, whilst Artis was at Milton, and they apparantly became firm friends. They shared many common interests such as Archaeology, Geology and the flora and fauna of the area. At times, Artis allowed Clare to assist him on his digs. The following is an extract from a John Clare letter to a John Taylor in 1822
"I have been to Milton and spent three days with Mr Artis the Antiquary very pleasantly. He has discovered a multitude of fresh things and a fine Roman Bath is one of his latest discoveries. The painted plaster on the walls was very fresh and fine when I saw it and the flues of the furnaces was proof, without the least supposition of it being a bath. He has also found the Roman Road that led to the river and the pavement is as firm as when first laid down. Next Summer, when the water is low, he intends to try for the iron bridge, which is said to be sunk in the river. His plan of the Roman City is nearly completed. He has many drawings of curious things and his book, when published, will be very entertaining. He is to take a plaster bust of my head sometime for myself. His own he has taken himself and I think very like. He seems to me to be quite a clever man and everything but a poet"