ENG­LAND: Dou­ble an­niver­sary for Ched­worth Ro­man Villa

One of the largest Ro­man Vil­las in Bri­tian cel­e­brates two an­niver­saries in one year. Matilda Hick­son finds out more

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

As al­ways, it is the un­ex­pected dis­cov­er­ies that are of­ten the best, and one hun­dred and fifty years ago, a fer­ret chas­ing a rab­bit down a hole led to the dis­cov­ery of one of the most sig­nif­i­cant Ro­man finds in Bri­tain to­day.

In 1864, an ev­ery­day fer­ret­ing ex­pe­di­tion led to the chance dis­cov­ery of one of the grand­est Ro­man vil­las in Ro­man Bri­tain, when game­keeper Thomas Mar­gett’s fer­ret was stuck down a rab­bit hole on the young Lord El­don’s es­tate in Glouces­ter­shire.

As he dug the fer­ret out, Thomas spied a patch of mo­saic pave­ment. Re­al­is­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of this, he re­ported it to Lord El­don’s un­cle and guardian, James Fa­reer, who was a keen an­ti­quar­ian and mem­ber of par­lia­ment for South Durham, who quickly or­gan­ised the ex­ca­va­tion of the site.

The Villa

Ched­worth’s Ro­man villa lies just 8 miles north of an­cient Corinium Dobun­no­rum (Cirences­ter) and just off the ma­jor Ro­man road known as the Fosse Way. It is si­t­u­ated near to a beau­ti­ful wooded coombe which over­looks the val­ley of the River Coln, where a nat­u­ral spring arises. There have been set­tle­ments here since the Iron Age, and the first house built here in Ro­man times dates to about 120 AD. The house was one of 50 Ro­man vil­las in the Cotswolds, and one of nine in a 5 mile ra­dius.

Over the course of nearly three cen­turies the villa evolved into the grand fourth cen­tury man­sion whose ru­ins can be seen to­day. The house be­gan as a mod­est set­tle­ment of three sep­a­rate build­ings to the south and west with a de­tached bath house to the north. In the third cen­tury, the south and west build­ings were re built fol­low­ing a fire and the bath house was en­larged to the east.

But it was in the fourth cen­tury that it ex­panded to be­come a sump­tu­ous dwelling. The ex­ist­ing build­ings were linked by a cov­ered por­tico, and an in­ner gar­den and outer court­yard were cre­ated. The north­ern half of the west wing was con­verted into baths, and the north­ern baths were con­verted to dry heat baths, so the house had both damp heat and dry heat­ing baths.

Eleven of the floors were dec­o­rated with fine mo­saics and a new din­ing room wing was added to the north build­ing. The villa is thought to have been de­stroyed in the fifth cen­tury.

The mo­saics

The mo­saics at the villa form one of the largest col­lec­tions in Bri­tain of Ro­man mo­saics still in their orig­i­nal po­si­tions. The tesserae (small cubes of coloured stone) were mostly sourced lo­cally from the Cotswolds (whites, off-whites, olive), Som­er­set (blues, greys) and the For­est of Dean and south east Wales (pur­ples, pur­ple browns) with bro­ken brick or tile for the reds. The work­man­ship varies widely, from the so­phis­ti­cated work that can be seen in the din­ing room mo­saics to the coarser gallery mo­saics.

Most of the sur­viv­ing mo­saics have geo­met­ric pat­ters, and this is a com­mon pat­tern seen at other vil­las in the Cotswolds, Som­er­set and Ox­ford­shire. Pop­u­lar pat­terns in­cluded the di­ag­o­nal cross pat­tern, and filler mo­tifs of tri­an­gles and lozenges. The scrolls of veg­e­ta­tion seen in the smaller din­ing room are very sim­i­lar to de­tails in the largest mo­saics of Ro­man Bri­tain found at the Wood­ch­ester Villa near Stroud.

Other re­mains at the site

A nym­phaeum was built at the site of the nat­u­ral spring, and the re­main­ing rear wall, two me­tres high, is the orig­i­nal ro­man wall. There is also a Chi Rho sym­bol scratched on the edge of the pool. This is one of the ear­li­est forms of Chris­tograms used. It is formed by us­ing the first two letters, chi and rho, of the word Christ, in cap­i­tals, to form the mono­gram. It is used to in­voke the cru­ci­fix­ion as well as sym­bol­is­ing his sta­tus as Christ.

Eight hun­dred me­ters to the south east of the villa, the re­mains of a Ro­manoBri­tish tem­ple has been found. It was a rec­tan­gu­lar build­ing, but only two corners of the build­ing re­main to­day. How­ever, al­ter pieces in the villa mu­seum are thought to come from here.

Another build­ing lay just 150 m north of the Villa in the woods, but this was de­stroyed when a rail­way was built in 1869. Coins, pil­lar frag­ments, glass tesserae and

hexag­o­nal tiles were found here. There is also a stone re­lief of a hunter with hound and deer, that came from one of these sites.

Past & present ex­ca­va­tions

The ex­ca­va­tions in 1864 took two years and were fi­nanced by Lord El­don. He also built a mock tu­dor lodge which houses the mu­seum and pro­vided ac­com­mo­da­tion for the cus­to­dian of the site. The idea to build a mu­seum on site, as well as to pro­vide pro­tec­tion for some of the struc­tures in the north and west ranges, makes Ched­worth stand out. It be­came one of the first ex­ca­vated Ro­man vil­las in Bri­tain not to be re-buried or just left to de­cay, but to have its re­mains con­served and laid open to view.

The Na­tional Trust ac­quired the site in 1924, af­ter a public ap­peal and sub­scrip­tion made it pos­si­ble. So 2014 is a dou­ble cel­e­bra­tion of one hun­dred and fifty years since the site was dis­cov­ered, and the 90 years that it has been owned by the Trust.

But work is still be­ing un­der­taken to pre­serve and record the site. In 2012 the site was re-opened fol­low­ing a ma­jor ren­o­va­tion pro­ject, with a new shel­ter build­ing pro­tect­ing the frag­ile re­mains of the West Range and al­low­ing in­ti­mate ac­cess to its mag­nif­i­cent mo­saics and new mu­seum dis­plays.

The new cover en­abled more rooms and cor­ri­dors of mo­saics to be dis­played to the public, ac­cessed on sus­pended walk­ways, with new in­ter­pre­ta­tion and con­ser­va­tion of the re­mains. The pro­ject was re­cently awarded one of the three Royal In­sti­tute of Bri­tish Ar­chi­tects (RIBA) awards for the South West and was one of the only two UK projects short listed for the pres­ti­gious World Ar­chi­tec­ture Awards.

On go­ing ar­chae­ol­ogy

An on­go­ing pro­gramme of ar­chae­ol­ogy and con­ser­va­tion means that the site and the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the re­mains are con­stantly evolv­ing. An im­pres­sive 34 m long cor­ri­dor mo­saic, pre­vi­ously hid­den un­der tar­mac, was ex­ca­vated in July 2012, mak­ing it the long­est in­tact mo­saic in the coun­try.

In 2012 a geo­physics sur­vey of the field be­low the villa re­vealed more ex­ten­sive re­mains than had pre­vi­ously been re­alised. It showed that both the north and south wings ex­tended east be­yond the present fence bound­ary, with a pos­si­ble grand ap­proach to the villa, and an eastern edge to the en­tire com­plex.

In 2013, ex­ca­va­tions in the North Wing re­vealed an ear­lier bath house next to the cur­rent one, thereby con­firm­ing that the villa res­i­dents car­ried out some home im­prove­ments.

In 2014, ra­dio car­bon dat­ing of grain found in a pit in the South Range in­di­cated that it was buried be­tween 420 - 460 CE. By this time, Bri­tain had been aban­doned by the Ro­man Em­pire and pro­vin­cial economies were in de­cline.

So the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work con­tin­ues from ground re­sis­tiv­ity sur­veys, to laser scans of the site, to us­ing ul­tra vi­o­let lamps to erad­i­cate al­gal growth. Dis­cov­er­ies are on­go­ing, al­low­ing visi­tors to be part of an ex­cit­ing story as it un­folds.

The Villa, c.380 CE

Re­con­struc­tion of the villa in the 4th cen­tury

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.