Roman villa at Chinnel Barn


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1008894

Date first listed: 16-Sep-1994


Ordnance survey map of Roman villa at Chinnel Barn
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Uttlesford (District Authority)

Parish: Wendens Ambo

National Grid Reference: TL 50663 36078


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

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, 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, 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. 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. The majority of these are classified as `minor' villas to distinguish them from `major' villas. The latter were a very small group of extremely substantial and opulent villas built by the very wealthiest members of Romano-British society. Minor villas are found throughout lowland Britain and occasionally beyond. 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.

Partial excavation of the site of the Roman villa at Chinnel Barn has demonstrated the location and layout of the villa buildings while more recent excavations concentrated on the area which now lies beneath the motorway. These excavations revealed that the well preserved remains of a rich villa building with the majority of the associated estate features survive. The monument also includes the remains of the Iron Age farmstead which predated the Roman villa. This continuity of settlement is valuable for our understanding the settlement patterns and changing agricultural practices which occured throughout the period in which this monument was occupied.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a corridor Roman villa complex with associated features approximately 400m to the south west of Wendens Ambo, in the immediate vicinity of Chinnel Barns. The site lies on the north facing slope of a tributary valley of the River Cam, with an underlying geology of mixed chalk and boulder clay. The complex includes the buried masonry remains of foundations, walls and floors of the main villa building. These and other buried remains are known from the partial excavation and geophysical survey of the site. The main building is aligned east-west and measures some 40m in length and 16m wide with projecting wings and an apsidal central room. To the south and east of this masonry building are buried ditches, pits, and building foundations indicating the location of the associated estate features such as barns, granaries, yards, paddocks, fields, etc. Partial excavation was initially undertaken by R C Neville in 1853, which concentrated on the villa building. Further survey and excavation took place to the east of the main villa prior to the construction of the M11. Large scale excavations were undertaken in 1973/4 revealing a complex of intercutting pit and post holes together with the foundations of a substantial building. Five phases of occupation were identified ranging in date from the Late Iron Age through to the fourth century AD. Further evaluation work was undertaken in 1993, consisting of fieldwalking, geophysical survey and trial trenches on the western edge of the motorway. Again evidence of many ditches and pits was found. Excluded from the scheduling are all fences, fenceposts, Chinnel Barn itself and other building superstructures. The ground beneath all of these features, apart from that beneath Chinnel Barn is, however, included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

Legacy System number: 24861

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Hodder, I, The Archaeology of the M11: Excavations at Wendens Ambo, (1982)
Nevill, R C, Braybrook Diaries, (1853)
Atkinson, M, Site of Roman Villa, Wendens Ambo, Essex: Stage II Assessment, 1993, Part of Environmental assessment.

End of official listing