The buried remains of a Romano-British villa, a roadside settlement and a probable mausoleum or shrine, both considered to also date from the Romano-British period.
Reasons for Designation
The Roman villa complex to the south-west of St Algar's Farm is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Survival: a good example of a Romano-British complex that survives well in the form of buried archaeological features;
* Documentation: the site is well-documented archaeologically, with evidence from survey and excavation;
* Potential: archaeological investigations have indicated that it retains valuable information relating to the development of the villa and the roadside settlement which will also facilitate further studies of Romano-British settlement patterns and land use in the area more generally; the structure to the west of the villa retains great potential for improving our understanding of the construction and function of this enigmatic building;
* National and regional significance: the quantity and form of glass recovered from the site has indicated that it played a significant role in glass working in Roman-Britain and will contribute considerably to the study of the industry during the Roman period.
Romano-British villas were extensive rural complexes 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 criterion of 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, under-floor 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.
Roman activity in the area close to St Algar's Farm was discovered in the 1960s when large quantities of Roman pottery and other artefacts were found within the plough soil horizon. A trial excavation to the south-west of the farm in 1971 uncovered evidence for a large villa or settlement and led to the site's designation as a scheduled monument in 1973. Since 2012 a programme of archaeological fieldwork, including excavation and geophysical survey, initially by the Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society and more recently by the St Algar's Project Group confirmed the character and form of the villa. Artefacts recovered from the site include pottery and coins and indicate that it was occupied from the early/mid 1st century through to the late 4th century AD.
A significant quantity of glass fragments has also been recovered which provides evidence that the site was also used for glass working; fragments of metallic lead and waste material have also been found which suggests that silver was being produced too. In addition to the main villa building, the investigations have recovered evidence for other archaeological features which have been interpreted as a possible Romano-British mausoleum or shrine to the west of the villa and a roadside settlement to the north and north-east.
Located on a gentle south-east facing slope above a tributary of the River Frome is a minor Romano-British villa which occupies a low-lying but pronounced platform in the south-east quadrant of the site. From the evidence recovered it appears likely that there were three periods of Romano-British occupation at the site: an early villa in the 1st/2nd centuries, followed by a winged corridor villa in the 2nd/3rd centuries, and an industrial site during the 4th century, possibly with occupation continuing into this period. There is also evidence of some non-Roman activity on the site evinced by the presence of Iron Age and medieval pottery. The buried remains of a possible mausoleum or shrine have been identified to the west of the villa, and a roadside settlement to the north and north-east. The site survives as entirely buried structures and deposits with no visible earthworks.
Field investigations, including excavation and geophysical survey, in the late C20 and early C21 have recovered evidence for a substantial building situated on a on a low-lying platform. It is a winged corridor-type villa with internal room divisions, set within a roughly square ditched enclosure. The ditch, which survives as a buried feature, is up to 1.5m deep and 2m wide and encloses an area of approximately 100m square. Although no evidence has been found so far for walls or foundations to the villa, excavations have recovered building materials such as stone rubble, roof and floor tiles, flue tiles, tesserae and fragments of painted wall plaster; a cobbled surface was also found and interpreted as a yard. Artefacts relating to the domestic occupation of the villa include a large quantity of oyster shell, animal bone, glass gaming counters, both imported and Roman-British pottery, coins and a copper brooch. In addition a considerable amount, more than 400 fragments, of glass and glass waste such as pulled threads and trails, misshapen molten waste glass, drops of glass and small broken chunks of glass, as well as crucible fragments were recovered in the vicinity of the villa building. These provide clear evidence for glass working and glass blowing at the site probably during the 4th century or later. Evidence for a furnace at the site has yet to be identified. Quantities of lead, including litharge, which is waste material from the cupellation process used during the Roman period to extract silver from lead, were also recovered.
The geophysical survey located a second square enclosure on the brow of the hill to the west of the villa which has the same orientation as the villa but is smaller in size, measuring some 40m across. The surrounding ditch, which is no longer visible on the surface, has a V-shaped profile, is 3m wide and some 1.5m deep. It encloses a smaller square building which has been interpreted as the site of a Romano-British mausoleum or similar ritual structure. An excavation in 2011 uncovered its foundation walls and within the building were two human cremations. In an area to the north and north-east of the villa the survey located evidence for a possible Romano-British settlement. The area contains a number of pits, post holes and possible building foundations located parallel to a trackway or road that is orientated north-west to south-east, and continuing eastwards down the slope. Although there have been no excavations in this area the evidence suggests it is a focus of occupation and structural activity.
Excluded from the scheduling are the gate posts, although the ground beneath these features is included in the scheduling.