Roman villa at Gayton Thorpe


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Approximately 500m south-west of Manor House, Gayton Thorpe.


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Approximately 500m south-west of Manor House, Gayton Thorpe.
King's Lynn and West Norfolk (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Gayton Thorpe Roman villa mid-C2 to early-C4 with evidence of Iron Age activity on the site prior to the villa.

Reasons for Designation

Gayton Thorpe Roman Villa dating from the mid-C2 to early-C4 is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Potential: with considerable archaeological potential in the form of buried deposits which, if subjected to excavation, scientific analysis or further detailed geophysics will contribute considerably to the understanding and interpretation of the villa itself, its wider social and economic context and the subsequent use of the landscape.

* Survival: confirmed through geophysical survey, fieldwalking and aerial photographic interpretation.

* Rarity: as a rare example of a villa not situated close to a major town, but considered to be a supplier of livestock for Brancaster, a collection and trans-shipment centre for state supplies of salted meat and perhaps leather from the late-C2.

* Group Value: as one of a rare group of seven villas along this stretch of Icknield Way.

* Documentation: for the collective archaeological documentation available for the site in the form of excavation reports, field-walking records, aerial photographic interpretation, and geophysical survey.


Romano-British villas were extensive rural estates at the focus of which were groups of domestic, agricultural and occasionally industrial buildings. The term "villa" is now commonly used to describe either the estate or the buildings themselves. Villas were constructed throughout the period of Roman occupation, from the first to the fourth centuries AD, are usually complex structures occupied over several hundred years and continually remodelled to fit changing circumstances. They are amongst the most characteristic settlements of the Roman period, distinguished by an adoption of Roman traits such as rectilinear building types, wall-paintings, mosaics, hypocausts (underfloor heating) and bath suites. Villa owners tended to be drawn from a limited elite section of Romano-British society. Although some villas belonged to immigrant Roman officials or entrepreneurs, the majority seem to have been in the hands of wealthy natives with a more-or-less Romanised lifestyle, and some were built directly on the sites of Iron Age farmsteads.

Gayton Thorpe Roman Villa dates from the mid-C2 to early-C4 with some artefactual evidence (metal work and pottery from systematic field walking (de Bootman 1998) of earlier, Iron-Age activity on the site. The site has been the subject of various archaeological investigations including excavation (Atkinson 1929), aerial photographic interpretation (Edwards 1977), systematic field walking (de Bootman 1998), and geophysical survey (de Bootman 2006 to present day (2016), unpublished).

The villa was first recorded in 1906 following the discovery of pottery on the surface of the field. In 1922 deep ploughing disturbed buried features resulting in tesserae and other Roman objects being brought to the surface. Consequently excavation of the main villa building was begun in 1922 but following the sudden death of the site director, W Charlton, work stopped. Mr (later Prof.) D Atkinson resumed and completed the excavation in 1923 at the request of Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society. Between 1940s and 1970s, unsystematic field walking was carried out retrieving pottery and metal objects to indicate the positions of further buildings. Systematic fieldwalking between 1983 and 1985 added further to the understanding of the site with subsequent geophysical survey providing clearer evidence of the extent of the complex.

The villa was first Scheduled in 1925 as Monument NF171 but was revised and extended in 1976 to incorporate the wider archaeological remains.


Gayton Thorpe is one of seven villas located along the western line of the Icknield Way, on the junction of the chalk and Greensand. It lies 500m from a tributary of the River Nar on a low, natural terrace, within a gently undulating landscape, currently (January 2016) under pasture.

The location of the main villa buildings has been confirmed through excavation since 1923 with subsequent research enhancing the understanding of the form and extent of the villa complex. The site consists of two conjoined winged-corridor buildings with a detached bath house immediately to the south. Of the two winged-corridor buildings, the northernmost is the better appointed, with tessellated floor in most rooms, a bath-suite at the northern end and two demolished hypocausts at the south. Finds from this building included painted wall-plaster and marble veneer. The simpler and plainer southern building is understood to be the later of the two while the joining room is understood to be later than both. Although dating of the phases of construction proved difficult during the excavation, the finds as a whole range from the late C2 to the C4, but without any real evidence for late C4 occupation.

Aerial photographic interpretation by the Norfolk Archaeological Unit revealed a complex of enclosures and linear features over an area of 100ha around the villa. Although these may, at least in part, be land divisions associated with an estate based around the villa, finds of late Saxon and Medieval pottery from two areas of the crop-marks leave this in some doubt. However, these later finds could represent a later reuse of the agricultural land. What the aerial photographs of 1974 did reveal was that the villa buildings were enclosed by a boundary ditch, with an entrance road leading to the west defined by flanking ditches.

Systematic field-walking over the site between 1983 and 1985, identified six main concentrations of finds including building materials, pottery of various types and quality, moulded mortar and tesserae. This substantiated aerial photographic evidence of a detached bath-house to the south of the main villa building, where the finds indicate mosaics and tessellated floors. Another building east of the villa was also evident on aerial photographs and field-walking here recovered large amounts of building material including red wall plaster indicating a highly decorated building. A further concentration of building material, east of the northern end of the villa, in direct alignment of its entrance verandas, suggested another building although the character of this was not discernible from the surface scatters. Pottery was evident across the site but with a distinct concentration found north-east of a pit to the east end of the field. The pottery dates from the mid-C2 to C4 and therefore correlates with the dates suggested by Atkinson during the excavations in 1923. Geophysical survey including resistivity, magnetometry and ground penetration radar survey has also been carried out across the site. This provides further evidence of the survival of buried archaeological features and has enabled an interpretation of the phasing of the site not previously recognised (de Bootman 2016 unpublished). Three clear phases of the villa building and bath house have been suggested with a possible construction phase predating the villa occupation. Linear features certainly reinforce the aerial photographic evidence that the villa buildings lie within an enclosure, although dating of these features is not possible. Enclosures defined by linear features extend both east and west of the villa buildings and may relate to the agricultural practices of the villa occupants but dating of these features has not been possible. Towards the eastern end of the field the number of features identified is greatly reduced and is understood to be a consequence of the depth of alluvium deposits following repeated flooding in this area. If archaeological remains survive here they are buried deep and undetectable using the methods currently available; the depth of alluvium has not yet been confirmed through excavation. A pipeline has been cut across the south-west corner of the field and will have disturbed any archaeological remains which may have been here.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING The area under assessment is defined along its southern boundary by a watercourse, a tributary of the River Nar. The northern boundary is defined by a post and wire fence field boundary. The east and west boundaries are not obvious in the field but that to the west runs north-north-east from the right angled bend in the watercourse. That to the east runs at the same angle across the field, approximately 85m west of the corner of the field and the B1153 road. The gas pipeline which cuts across the south-west corner of the scheduled site will have reduced the archaeological potential of this narrow section of the field but the areas both north and south of the pipe line do however retain potential and therefore remain included within the area of protection.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
NF 171
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Gregory, T, Romano-British Countryside: Studies in Rural Settlement and Economy, (1982), 351-376
de Bootman, M, 'Re-evaluation of the Romano-British villa at Gayton Thorpe, Norfolk' in Norfolk Archaeology, , Vol. 43.1, (1998), 133-142
Edwards, D, 'The Air Photographs Collection of the Norfolk Archaeological Unit' in East Anglia Archaeology, , Vol. 5, (1977), 225 - 237
Cotterill, J, 'Saxon Raiding and the Role of the Late Roman Coastal Forts' in Britannia, , Vol. 24, (1993), 227-239
Atkinson, R, 'Roman Villa at Gayton Thorpe' in Norfolk Archaeology, , Vol. XXIII, (1929), 166-209
de Bootman 2006-2016 various geophysics plots
de Bootman, M, MDB - 39 Earth Resistence Survey (2006)
de Bootman, M, MDB -38 Ground Penetrating Radar Survey Data Archive (2006)


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

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