Monday, 22 April 2013

Chedworth Roman Villa

Chedworth Roman Villa

I know how my US writer friends always like to hear about historic houses and ancient sites in England I visit, so this is for them.  This Roman villa was built just off the Fosse Way, about eight miles north Cirencester [Corinium Dobunnorum] overlooking the River Coln in the Cotswolds 

There were about fifty Roman villas built in the Cotswold area, this one was begun at around 120 AD, evolving over a period of two hundred years into a substantial dwelling set round three sides of a courtyard.

We don’t know what it’s original name was, but included in the structure is a heated and furnished west wing containing a dining-room (triclinium) with a mosaic floor, as well as two separate bathing suites – one for damp-heat and one for dry-heat, a water-shrine and latrine. The owners built an apsidal shrine [a hemispherical vault or semi-dome, with Doric columns on a base] over the spring to the water-nymphs, where a Christian chi-rho monogram was discovered scratched on the rim of the pool.

It is assumed that the site was chosen because of this natural spring, which ran from the hills and fed the entire site, providing water for drinking, washing and also fed the under floor heating system by gravity.

Discovered by accident in 1864 by a gamekeeper who found fragments of paving and pottery in a bank of soil, it remains one of the largest Romano-British villas in England. It’s pretty impressive even in it’s ‘ruined’ state and so large, it must have been built and occupied by a very rich Roman, but of course no records exist as to who he might have been.

The Victorian owner of the land, the Earl of Eldon, recognised the importance of the find, and set a team of fifty men to excavate the site. They unearthed mosaic floors in eleven principal rooms, which also had under floor heating systems and hot and cold bathhouses.

Detail of the Triclinium mosaic showing the spirit of winter
In 1924 the site was bought for The National Trust and a child's coffin was found in 1935, as well as several further rooms which show how extensive the original villa was.

A stone carving of a hunter with a dog and stag was unearthed, and another bearing part of an inscription believed to refer to the healing god Mars Lenus, a deity of the Treveri tribe in Gaul.

What I found puzzling, and what may never be known now, is was what was the villa intended for? A rich man’s private house, a garrison, or a meeting place for politically important people?- Cirencester was one of the major Roman centres at the time. 

Apparently the Romans brought with them a species of snail which they regarded as a delicacy, and legend has it that these snails still breed in the area  - There are signs saying ‘Mind the Roman snails’.

In 2011 construction work was carried out to provide a new cover building for the mosaics to ensure their lasting quality. The villa has it’s own blog which features an account of the excavations which make fascinating reading Click here


Petrea Burchard said...

So well researched! I used a book about post-Roman Britain in my research for Camelot & Vine, and there were many aerial drawings in it like the top picture here. It was extremely useful in helping me to envision what life was like in southern Britain in 500AD.

Martin Lake said...

I really enjoyed reading this and learned a lot from it. I visited the site many years ago and thought it wonderful.

Martin Lake