Major Romano-British villa of Woodchester.
Reasons for Designation
Romano-British villas were extensive rural estates with groups of domestic, agricultural and occasionally industrial buildings at their focus. The term "villa" is now commonly used to describe either the estate or the buildings themselves. The buildings usually include a well-appointed dwelling house, the design of which varies considerably according to the needs, taste and prosperity of the occupier. Most of the houses were partly or wholly stone-built, many with a timber-framed superstructure on masonry footings. Roofs were generally tiled and the house could feature tiled or mosaic floors, under-floor heating, wall plaster, glazed windows and cellars. Many had integral or separate suites of heated baths. The house was usually accompanied by a range of buildings providing accommodation for farm labourers, workshops and storage for agricultural produce. These were arranged around or alongside a courtyard and were surrounded by a complex of paddocks, pens, yards and features such as vegetable plots, granaries, threshing floors, wells and hearths, all approached by tracks leading from the surrounding fields.
Villa buildings were constructed throughout the period of Roman occupation, from the first to the fourth centuries AD. They are usually complex structures occupied over several hundred years and continually remodelled to fit changing circumstances. They could serve a wide variety of uses alongside agricultural activities, including administrative, recreational and craft functions, and this is reflected in the considerable diversity in their plan. The least elaborate villas served as simple farmhouses whilst, for the most complex, the term "palace" is not inappropriate. 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. Roman villa buildings are widespread, with between 400 and 1000 examples recorded nationally. Of these less than 10 are examples of `major' villas. These were the largest, most substantial and opulent type of villa which were built and used by a small but extremely wealthy section of Romano-British society. Roman villas provide a valuable index of the rate, extent and degree to which native British society became Romanised, as well as indicating the sources of inspiration behind changes of taste and custom. In addition, they serve to illustrate the agrarian and economic history of the Roman province, allowing comparisons over wide areas both within and beyond Britain.
Much is already known about the major Romano-British villa of Woodchester, but further archaeological and environmental evidence relating to its construction, development, longevity, social, political and economic significance, agricultural practices, trade, industrial activity, domestic arrangements, abandonment and overall landscape context will survive.
This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 9 July 2015. The record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.
The monument includes a major Romano-British villa situated on sloping ground which forms the western valley side of the Nailsworth Stream. The villa survives as entirely buried structures, features and deposits with no visible surface remains. It is a well known villa which was discovered in 1693 and first partially exposed by Edmund Brown in 1712 and 1722 then excavated by Samuel Lysons in 1793 and found to contain at least 64 rooms grouped around both an inner and outer courtyard with a date range of 2nd to 4th century.
The villa included the famous ‘Orpheus Mosaic’ in part beneath the churchyard of the disused church. (A replica of this mosaic sold in June 2010 for approximately £75,000). The Orpheus Mosaic has been revealed approximately 7 times (usually once a decade (except during the Second World War) since 1880, with the last occasion being in 1973 when 141,000 visitors came to view it over a period of 50 days. These excavations also looked at the east range, west range, the area beneath the mosaic pavement and an area to the west of the villa.