The buried remains of a second to fifth century AD Romano-British villa which retains evidence for iron production, overlooking the River Severn. In the northern part of the site is a World War Two pill box.
Reasons for Designation
The Romano-British villa at Woolaston is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Archaeological interest: a Romano-British villa associated with the processing and smelting of iron on a relatively large scale;
* Association: with two other scheduled villas that are located close to the River Severn and which retain evidence for iron production;
* Potential: partial excavation has demonstrated that the site will contain further important archaeological and metallurgical information concerning both the occupation of the villa and its associated industrial activities.
Romano-British villas were extensive rural settlements of domestic, agricultural and occasionally industrial buildings that were constructed throughout the Roman period, from the first to the fourth centuries AD. One of the key criteria in identifying a villa is that it was a rural establishment, independent of larger settlements. They seem to have been a fundamental part of the model of Romanisation, with the spread of a villa-owning elite typically at the centre of an agricultural estate. Villas are often thought of as high-status buildings, with hypocausts, architectural ornamentation and baths as common features. Interestingly though, most excavated sites in Britain appear to have developed from simpler, perhaps ‘lower status’, to ‘higher status’ or more substantial buildings. The term 'villa' is now commonly used to describe either the estate or the buildings themselves.
Villas are found throughout lowland Britain and occasionally beyond. The least elaborate served as simple farmhouses whilst, for the most complex, the term 'palace' is not inappropriate. Most 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, underfloor heating, wall plaster, glazed windows and cellars. Ancillary buildings may include workshops, storage for agricultural produce and accommodation for farm labourers and were typically arranged around or alongside a courtyard, surrounded by paddocks, pens, yards and features such as granaries, threshing floors, wells and hearths.
The Roman villa at Woolaston is located on a ridge of land alongside the River Severn. It is one of three villas located along the river, the other two being Park Farm, Lydney and Boughspring, Tidenham, which retain evidence for iron production, using ore from the Forest of Dean.
The site is mostly located within a field known as Lower Chesters and was excavated between 1932 and 1935 by Scott Garrett and Harris who uncovered the remains of a large building thought to be a villa of the tripartite corridor-type with wings. Analysis of the pottery and coins recovered during the excavation indicates that it had two phases of occupation: the second to the beginning of the fourth century AD, and the fourth century to the fifth century AD or possibly later. The excavation also located the remains of a small, square building close to the south-east corner of the villa enclosure which has been interpreted as a lighthouse, and a flagstone platform, possibly for a beacon, to the north of the main villa building. Both are considered to date from the villa's second period of occupation and may have functioned as guides to shipping within the estuary. The break in occupation has been attributed to a catastrophic event such as a raid by the Irish Irish who at this time were making attacks on Roman settlements in South Wales, which were readily accessible by water.
Further fieldwork between 1987 and 1991, including a resistivity survey and excavations, confirmed the location of a timber-framed building on padstones and two furnaces to the south-west of the villa. This phase dates from the mid-third century to the late fourth century and is associated with the production of iron. The phase of iron-making is contemporary with the occupation of the villa and appears to have played a vital role in its economy. It is likely that the iron was exported and some sources claim that it is likely that there was a harbour or quay associated with the villa with a light guide-line provided by the lighthouse and beacon. Although there is currently no evidence to indicate its location, the harbour would have allowed the iron to be transported by boat to other parts of the country.
Due to the site's prominent location above the River Severn and adjacent to the railway line between Cardiff and Gloucester, a pill box was constructed towards the northern end of the site between 1940 and 1941. It was manned by the Home Guard.
This Roman villa complex is located on a plateau overlooking the River Severn, some 550m to the south-west of Woolaston Station. It includes a villa that was occupied from the second to the beginning of the fourth century AD and again from the fourth to the fifth century AD. To the south-west of the principal building are the buried remains of a further building which was associated with the production of iron during the mid-third to late fourth centuries AD. Elsewhere on the site are the possible remains of a lighthouse and a beacon also of Roman date. The beacon is located in Middle Chesters, the field to the north of the railway. In addition there is a World War Two pill box towards the northern end of the site in Lower Chesters.
Excavations of 1932 to 1935 revealed a major Romano-British villa of the tripartite corridor-type with wings. It is orientated roughly north to south, measuring approximately 47m by 47m and includes a residential range to the east, bath house to the south and a courtyard to the west. A boundary wall runs from the south of the villa to a small, square building thought to be a lighthouse. The boundary wall then runs to the west with evidence for a gateway to its centre, before turning to the north where it terminates at a further gateway. To the west, outside the boundary wall, is a detached, rectangular building measuring approximately 23m by 9.5m. The function of this building, which consists of a single large room with a corridor along its southern side, is unclear but it has been suggested that it is a barn with labourers’ room.
Finds at the villa site have included large quantities of pottery dating from the second to the fourth century AD, tesserae, stone roof tiles, iron nails and coins primarily from the fourth century, with the exception of one coin from the second century. A flagstone platform, found during excavation in the field to the north of the railway is thought to be the site of a beacon dating to the second period of occupation.
To the south-west of the villa, on the same alignment as the villa’s west range, are the remains of what was a rectangular timber building on padstones measuring 16.5m by 8.2m, and containing two iron-smelting furnaces and stone slabs, possibly for ore-crushing. Excavation found evidence for a large concentration of iron slag in the vicinity of this building, which, together with the remains of the furnaces, indicates that it was manufacturing iron on an industrial scale.
The World War Two type 26 pill box in the northern part of the site is constructed of concrete blocks and reinforced concrete. It stands some 1.5m high; the floor within the building is lower than the surrounding ground surface.