North Leigh Roman villa 300m NNE of Upper Riding Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1009419

Date first listed: 22-Mar-1949

Date of most recent amendment: 02-Nov-1994


Ordnance survey map of North Leigh Roman villa 300m NNE of Upper Riding Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Oxfordshire

District: West Oxfordshire (District Authority)

Parish: North Leigh

National Grid Reference: SP 39699 15392


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 found throughout lowland Britain and between 400 and 1000 examples have been recorded in England. 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. All major villas will be identified as nationally important.

The North Leigh villa survives as an extensive monument, our understanding of which has been enhanced by partial excavations and aerial photography. Excavation has also demonstrated that further archaeological remains will survive providing additional evidence of the villa's construction and the landscape in which it was built. The villa is a well known educational amenity and is open to the public as a monument in the Guardianship of the Secretary of State, providing a vivid example of this type of monument and how it functioned.


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


The monument includes the remains of a Roman villa and its associated buildings and trackway situated 300m NNE of Upper Riding Farm. Part of the monument is currently held in the Guardianship of the Secretary of State. The principal villa building complex itself has three ranges of more than 60 rooms built on three sides of a courtyard, the fourth side being formed by a corridor in which the gateway was set. Further ranges of buildings lie to the south west of the main complex, either side of a metalled driveway which led away from the gateway on the south eastern side of the courtyard. The courtyard itself measures c.65m from south east to north west by 50m from south west to north east.

The villa is of luxurious construction, including four bath suites, situated close to the corners of the complex, 16 rooms containing mosaic pavements, some of which remain visible above ground, 11 rooms with plain tessellated floors and under-floor hypocaust heating in 11 rooms.

The main complex has been partially excavated and some of these areas are now visible above ground, both in the open air and covered. The excavations have shown that the site was first occupied during the Late Iron Age: a number of pits and pottery fragments were found under the floors of the later villa complex. The villa appears to have been constructed in three main phases, the first phase being underway in the late second century AD. The villa began as a winged-corridor building but was rapidly extended to form a courtyard villa. During the early third century AD a number of rooms were divided and soon afterwards rebuilding and extension of some of the buildings on the north western and south western ranges was undertaken.

Further evidence of workshop units and other buildings to the south east have been identified from aerial photographs which show that the site extended over a large area on the west bank of the River Evenlode.

Excluded from the scheduling is the modern building housing the mosaics, the custodian's building, all boundary walls and fences and services and their trenches on the site, although the ground and fabric beneath all of these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


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

Legacy System number: 21819

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
'OXONENSIA' in Oxonensia, , Vol. 1958, (1958), 133-4
Taylor, M V, 'A History of Oxfordshire' in North Leigh Villa, , Vol. Volume 2, (1939), 316-8
Allen 5/20 Riley 7/1,2,8/24,9/35, Riley and Allen, Riley and Allen, (1930)
Plan of remains, English Heritage, Guide Book - North Leigh Roman Villa,
PRN 1314, C.A.O., North Leigh Roman Villa, (1993)
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:10000 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Sheet SP 31 NE

End of official listing