Reasons for Designation
The Roman villa north of Hamilton Grounds Farm is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Roman villas are amongst the most characteristic settlements of the Roman period and as such are of great national importance;
* the site includes a diversity of features, notably the villa, possible bath house and a short stretch of Roman access road;
* despite undergoing cultivation, the site is reasonably well preserved, retaining information relating to its construction, layout, use and abandonment, as well as its duration of use;
* the villa not only adds to our understanding of Roman society and its economy but should be considered as a very important component within a rich historical landscape where archaeological remains and deposits in and around the villa would provide further information on the development of both the villa itself and the wider urban and rural landscape;
* it is more than likely that the archaeological remains would have had a strong relationship with the vast multi-phased prehistoric settlement sites to the west. The proximity of the scheduled abandoned medieval village of Hamilton, also to the west of the Roman villa, locates it within a sequence of sites that developed through time, further enhancing its group value.
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. The buildings usually include a well-appointed dwelling house. 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, underfloor 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. They 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 1st to the 4th 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 activities, and this is reflected in the considerable diversity in their plan. 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. As a very diverse and often long-lived type of monument, a significant proportion of the known population are identified as nationally important.
The site at Barkby Thorpe was first identified during the cutting of a north-east/south-west aligned mechanical trench in the 1940s, where pieces of Roman building material, such as tesserae and brick, were found. In the subsequent survey and excavation undertaken in 1955 the lifting of turf and topsoil at intervals of 25ft (7.6m) revealed a layer of small rubble and fragmentary brick which extended over an area of about 100ft (30.5m). As a result a short east-west aligned trench was dug to ascertain the floor level and its relationship with the extant ridge and furrow. It was found that a post-Roman robbing layer overlaid a floor of cement with a thin clay layer on its surface. The cement flooring lay on a bedding of orange gravel and clay which overlaid a dark charcoal flecked soil which merged with the natural subsoil. The depths of the furrows were deeper than that of the villa floor consequently meaning that survival of the floor was restricted to the ground beneath the ridges. Building debris excavated consisted of thick building or pila-brick and fragments of tegulae and imbrices. Stone fragments were mainly Lias limestone. No other finds were discovered. A slight terrace was observed to run between the modern road and the site of the villa which could possibly be the site of a Roman access road. Around 1955 Mr Pick, the farmer at the time, reported the discovery of further material in the south-west corner of the adjacent field to the east. Amongst the finds were fragments of box flue-tile which may have been part of a hypocaust system for an associated bath house.
During 1975 the fields which had been investigated in 1955 were brought into arable cultivation and were ploughed probably for the first time since the Middle Ages. As a result Roman building material was upcast. Finds included roofing tiles, Swithland slates, flue tiles, tesserae and painted wall plaster. Pottery was discovered at the site which dated from between the 1st and 4th centuries AD (with the vast majority dating to the 1st and 2nd). As a result of this an excavation was carried out in 1976 which discovered an extensive area of mortar flooring measuring at least 18x8.5m bounded by walls on two sides. Failure to locate walls on the other two sides suggests that this area may have been the courtyard. To the north and west of the walls were the fragmentary remains of footings for other walls and in one place a well-made gravel floor. Finds made within the excavation area were similar to surface finds made during 1975, which included pottery from the 1st, 2nd and 4th centuries AD, along with two coins, one being a radiate of 3rd century date, whilst the other remains unidentified. A Roman chimney-pot or roof finial was also discovered during subsequent ploughing after the excavation as well as orange-pink tile fabric (McWhirr 1977, 87). Excavations carried out in the first decade of the C21, approximately 1.8km to the west of the site, have uncovered numerous Bronze and Iron Age remains comprising penannular and rectilinear enclosures and trackways which form several extensive multi-phased settlements.
The monument includes the Roman villa surviving as buried archaeological deposits over an area of approximately 3ha.
The Roman villa, centred at SK 6463 0750, is situated approximately 6.7km north-east of the historic centre of Leicester and 4.5km east of the Fosse Way. Topographically the villa lies at around 75-85m above OD where it occupies a relatively steep south-facing slope overlooking Melton Brook to the south. It is under arable cultivation. The excavations of 1955 and 1976 have indicated the variable degrees of preservation across the site. In some places buried wall remains comprise two courses whereas in other areas only patchy footings remain. This may be attributed to medieval cultivation practices where the better preserved remains lie protected beneath the ridges.
There are three distinct areas of archaeological significance. The original villa remains, identified during the 1955 excavation, which encompass an 100ft ² area of buried building material centred at SK 6458 0758, with a short stretch of Roman access road running up to the villa from the west. To the south-east of this, the possible bath house, discovered during the 1976 excavation, encompasses a rubble spread centred at SK 6462 0754. Again to the south-east, centred at SK 6472 0743, is an area of possible ploughed building debris.
A larger area surrounding all three of the identified areas is scheduled to allow for inaccuracies in locating the specific sites as well as to protect any archaeology that may remain between the three areas. Although intrinsic evidence indicating archaeological remains outside of these areas is not available, it should be assumed that the identified structures situated here would have been related during the Roman period even if they are not fully contemporary. Other features such as tracks and leats may have also run between the areas. It is also possible that there are other minor structures between these sites that have not been detected by the archaeological techniques deployed to date.
EXTENT OF SCHEDULING
The area of protection includes the site of the Roman villa. Any track surfaces, fences and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.