Roman villa complex and Anglo-Saxon cemetery, Southwell
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Location Description:
- centred at NGR SK7031753726
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Location Description:
- centred at NGR SK7031753726
- Newark and Sherwood (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
Southwell C1-C4 Roman villa complex and remains of an C8 Anglo-Saxon cemetery.
Reasons for Designation
Southwell Roman villa complex and Anglo-Saxon cemetery is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Survival: various excavations dating from the mid C20 onwards have demonstrated well-preserved remains of the main villa building as well as artefactual and ecofactual evidence relating to the continuity and change in the use of the monument and the wider Roman and later landscape;
* Potential: the potential for contexts preserving structural, ecofactual and environmental material has been proven to be high;
* Diversity: a diverse range of components relating to the villa complex survive; the dwelling house, hypocaust heating systems, bath suite; ancilliary buildings as well as later features have all been documented;
* Archaeological Documentation: The level of archaeological documentation resulting from research and excavation is high. Since the mid-C20 a detailed record of the villa complex has evolved, producing a partial ground plan of the main dwelling and ancillary buildings, and further supplementary information regarding building materials and techniques, and phases of occupation.
The Roman building east of the Minster, Southwell was first scheduled in 1960 following an excavation by C. M. Daniels (Daniels 1966), in advance of a proposed new grammar school being built. The site was interpreted as a villa that was first occupied in Hadrianic-Antonine times, with the possibility of demolition and rebuilding of the southern wing at some time before the C3, and with further alterations in the C4. In addition to the Roman material, some 30 Christian burials were uncovered, almost all over and into the mosaic floors of two rooms, indicating this area had at one time been consecrated ground.
Records of Roman finds from the area dating from 1787 clearly indicated the presence of Roman occupation prior to the 1959 excavation, and since the mid C20 numerous opportunities have enabled further archaeological investigative work. For example, in 1971 tesserae, painted wall plaster and sherds of Roman pottery including Samian ware were recorded, in addition to a further 225 Christian internments one containing a medieval buckle (Alvey 1975).
In 2004 Elliott carried out an archaeological watching brief for Severn Trent Water in a small area of land just north of Church Street, immediately east of the Grade II listed South Muskham Prebend (NHLE1374854). The test pits revealed what is believed to be the northern range to the large courtyard villa proposed by Daniels (1966) who had previously discovered the eastern and southern wings. The discovery of the northern wing indicates a building of some substance and provides a north-south dimension for the villa of 90m, putting Southwell firmly amongst the larger sized villas within the East Midlands. Mosaics and painted wall plaster put the villa on a scale of wealth above the usual regional type.
A BA dissertation by Alison Jayne Wilson (2001, University of Nottingham. Dept of Archaeology) summarises the work carried out by Daniels and later archaeological investigations, concluding that Southwell is probably larger than any other local villa. The mosaics reinforce the theory of improvement in the early C4, supporting the general national picture that wealthy villas grew up with improvements in agricultural techniques, tools and crops. Pottery is present up to late C4 when it is presumed that the villa fell into decay.
In 2008 a three-phase scheme of archaeological work was carried out on the site of the former Minster School on Church Lane (Rowe 2010). Its purpose was to determine the archaeological potential of the site in advance of proposed residential development as a condition of planning permission. The initial scheme involved the observation during the demolition of the former school buildings and a programme of trial excavations. A second phase of evaluation work was undertaken at the request of the senior Archaeological Officer with NCC with a third and final phase of evaluation following. Archaeological remains were encountered relatively close to existing ground level in most of the central and western evaluation trenches. By contrast the first archaeological horizon encountered within the eastern and northernmost trenches was reached at a considerably greater depth below existing ground level.
The earliest recognisable activity identified from this work was a large cut feature along the western edge, possibly a former clay-quarry working or a defensive ditch, probably originating in the C1-C2. This feature, over 45m long, c.13m wide and up to 2m deep, pre-dated the main period of use of the villa. The feature appears to have naturally silted up over the following century but was deliberately re-excavated and a large block wall constructed within it, initially this was thought to correspond with the aggrandisement of the adjacent villa in the late C3 to C4 but a radiocarbon date from a wooden stake believed to be a scaffolding post, implies a C1-C2 date for the construction of the wall. A number of more prosaic structures were constructed across the southern half of the site during the Roman period, although the dating and function of these remains unclear a direct relationship with the adjacent villa may be inferred.
Post-Roman activity on the site was less clear until the apparent re-use of the area as a cemetery during the C8 (based on a radio-carbon date from one inhumation). The large block wall appears to have remained exposed until at least the C12 and would have provided a distinct and physical barrier between burials on the east and west of the wall. Ceramic evidence recovered from ditches and gullies outside the scheduled area indicate a continued use of the area during the C10 and C11 although the nature of this activity is unclear. The laying of land drains suggests the area reverted to agricultural use during the post-medieval period.
Excavation of the entire site excluding the Roman wall and other previously recorded features by Pre-Construct Archaeological Services Ltd on behalf of the owner, was carried out in 2012. An interim report of the findings (Savage and Sleap 2012) highlights the principal discoveries as two stone buildings and a further portion of the known Anglo-Saxon cemetery. One rectangular stone building lies along the southern edge of the site, associated with the known villa, and a smaller square stone building in the north-east quadrant of the site both of which are identified as Roman. Another significant discovery was evidence of a substantial aisled building, indicated by 16 large post-holes. This is understood to be early-medieval in date, although dating remains ambiguous. The form of the building and its alignment with the villa could also suggest a late-Roman aisled building of a type readily paralleled at other villa sites. The aisled building has been fully excavated and is not therefore included in the scheduling. The provisional interpretation of the site suggests Roman occupation/activity increasing from the early-Roman phase to the mid-Roman phase and culminating in the construction of substantial stone buildings and extensive boundaries and/or water management features during the late-Roman phase. The domestic (and possibly agricultural) activities of the Roman period were succeeded by use of the site as a Christian cemetery during the later Anglo-Saxon period.
In addition to the principal discoveries, a palimpsest of archaeological deposits spanning from the early-Roman to the medieval period, with a low level of post-medieval activity at the northern edge of the site, have also been recorded but given the fragmentary survival of this evidence these areas are not included in the scheduling.
The whole town of Southwell appears to be rich in archaeological deposits including Roman, Saxon and Medieval deposits. Elliott for example recorded such deposits to the west of the Minster (1996) but these lie away from the main focus of the villa complex and have not been included in the scheduling.
Southwell sits on the western edge of the Trent valley within a gently undulating landscape. The monument is situated to the south-east of the town and slopes gently down to the south east towards Potwell Dyke. The site is surrounded by listed buildings; including the Grade II* listed The Residence and Vicars Court (NHLE 1211749); to the west of this is the Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin and the Bishops Manor both of which are listed at Grade I (NHLE 1374853 and NHLE 1211315). To the north are a series of Grade II listed buildings; Normanton Prebend (NHLE 1211643), South Muskham Prebend (NHLE 1374854), Ashleigh (31 Church St) (NHLE 1369908) and at the eastern end is the Grade II listed Old Rectory (NHLE 1046153).
The most recent excavation remains exposed (March 2013) provided the opportunity to view the extant archaeological deposits and the extent of excavation. The survival of the rich palimpsest of archaeological deposits has been dictated to some degree by the footprint of the Minster School, the negative impact of which is clearly visible across the site; many of the archaeological features have been truncated by the foundations. The depth of the archaeological horizons is variable across the site generally increasing in depth towards the east. This may in part be due to alluvial deposits from Potwell Dyke laid in times of flooding but some may also be due to ground levelling prior to the construction of the Minster school.
In addition to the principal villa building, other features within the monument include the large cut feature discovered in 2008, interpreted as a former clay-quarry working or a defensive ditch, probably originating in the C1-C2 which was respected and utilised when a large block wall was constructed within it, possibly corresponding with the aggrandisement of the adjacent villa in the late C3 – C4 century, although a radiocarbon date of a stake believed to be a scaffolding post from the construction of the wall has returned a convincing earlier date. Within the area of the currently (2013) exposed excavation the rectangular stone building aligned north-west to south-east, identified in the south west corner of the excavation, indicated at least one phase of redevelopment potentially commensurate with that noted during the excavation of the villa. Two internal dividing walls were observed, one with the remains of a floor surface on either side. The cemetery extended into this area and several burials took place within the footprint of the building, including one where the base of a grave was formed by the upper surface of the wall. The building was also disturbed by later ditches of probable early medieval and medieval date, a circular well cut through one of the robber trenches and the construction of the modern school. The decision was taken to preserve this building in situ, and excavation in this area ceased; inhumations already exposed were reburied and no further archaeological intervention took place. As a consequence this corner of the excavation retains the important stratigraphic relationship between the various phases of Roman, Medieval and Post medieval phases of activity on the site.
To the west and north-west of the exposed excavation site the monument lies mainly within public open space or within the gardens of The Residence. The construction of The Residence and Vicars Court in the C17 and later alterations in the C18 and C19 will have had some impact on the earlier buried archaeological deposits but the potential for a high level of survival of for example the currently unexcavated sections of the north and eastern wings of the villa is considerable. In 1787 Rooke noted remains of painted stucco, tesserae and pieces of Roman tile found at a depth of about 5ft, in the garden of Vicars Court (in Daniels 1966). The depth is certainly comparable to that recorded by Elliott (2004) just north of Church Street and contributes to the potential for the survival of archaeological deposits.
In the relatively small area of excavation to the north of Church Street (west of South Muskham Prebend) Elliott recorded box flue, pilae tiles as well as bipedalis brick suggesting the presence of hypocaust within the northern range of the villa. Further finds include tegulae roof tile, opus signinum, painted plaster fragments and red, white and greyish blue tesserae of a mosaic. Similar tesserae were used in mosaics in the south range, potentially dated to the mid-late C4 AD. Some C2 activity is also contemporary with C2 deposits in the south range and combined these suggest a widespread phase of demolition and rebuild during the life of the villa. Interestingly, the depth of deposits in the north and south are at variance; the north wing lies 2m below present ground level; the east wing of the bath house was found at a depth of 0.66m and 0.75m. The difference in level implies a degree of terracing may exist between the north and east ranges.
Extent of Scheduling
The monument is situated to the south-east of the town of Southwell and is bounded to the north primarily by the northern edge of Church Street, to the south by the northern edge of the playing fields and to the west by the western edge of The Residence and its garden. The eastern boundary of the scheduling is not clearly defined by a feature on the ground surface and has therefore been determined from the excavation plans. The scheduling includes all remains of the gully, large stone wall and the rectangular, stone built Roman building which was preserved in-situ.
The monument includes the site of the principal Roman villa building, surviving associated structures and the surviving remains of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery. The scheduled area lies mainly within the gardens of The Residence and an area of open public access to the south.
Vicars Court and The Residence are believed to be suitably protected under their Grade II* listed building status and are therefore excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath The Residence is included. All modern fencing, signage, lighting and path surfaces are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath all these is included.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- NT 138
- Legacy System:
- RSM - OCN
Books and journals
Alvey, R C 1975, 'Transactions of the Thoroton Society , Nottinghamshire, 79' in Archaeological Note on the Site of the Southwell Minster Grammar School Extension, 1971, (1975)
Daniels, C, 'Transactions of the Thoroton Society, Vol70' in Excavation on the Site of the Roman Villa at Southwell, 1959, (1966)
Elliot, L, 'Transactions of the Thoroton Society' in Roman and Medieval remains at Church Street, Southwell, Nottinghamshire, (2004)
Rowe, M, The Former School Site Church Street, Southwell, Nottinghamshire, 2010,
Samuels, J, Report on Archaeological evaluationat the Minster School, Southwell, Nottighamshire, 2003,
Savage, R. D. and Sleap, J, Proposed Residential Development, Church St, Southwell Nottinghamshire, 2012,
Wilson, A. J. 2001, Southwell Roman Villa, 2001,
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing