Downend Romano-British villa


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Isle of Wight (Unitary Authority)
Havenstreet and Ashey
National Grid Reference:
SZ 53780 87816

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.

The Roman villa at Downend survives well and is known from partial excavation to contain archaeological remains and environmental evidence relating to the villa and the landscape in which it was constructed. This villa is one of only seven to have been identified on the island, and thus is essential to an understanding of the Romano-British period on the Isle of Wight.


The monument includes a Roman villa estate situated in an east facing combe. The main villa building, aligned north east-south west, lies on the mid slope c.200m east of a spring which lies on the upper slopes of the combe. A brook runs through the bottom of the combe. The villa complex includes a bath house and aisled building linked by a corridor with further associated features, including a courtyard to the south. These features have been revealed and their extent recorded by partial excavation. The main villa building and bath house lie at the north end of a courtyard. The bath house is recorded as being c.18m long and 10m wide, and the aisled building c.27m long and c.15m wide. The courtyard immediately adjacent to and south of the building, is c.64m long and c.37m wide. The north eastern side of the courtyard is projected south west a further 50m where it ends in a rectangular building c.21m long and c.12m wide. A wall composed of chalk rubble extends across the north eastern side of the courtyard for a further 35m in a north west-south east direction. The first finds in the vicinity of the villa were made in the late 19th century. In 1911 an excavation was carried out by Arthur Arnold on behalf of the owner. This excavation confirmed the presence of the villa. The site was re-excavated in 1968-75 by L R Fennelly, who found the main components of the villa. Results of this excavation suggested that the earliest structure on the site was a narrow flint wall dated to the Claudio-Neronian period. The bath house was dated to not later than the mid-second century AD, and the aisled house to between AD 120 and AD 280. The precinct wall post-dates the aisled house. A dolphin mosaic was found in the bath house as were coins dating to AD 250-AD 350. Both the bath house and aisled building had walls set into a waterfall leading to the suggestion that the site was perhaps abandoned due to flooding. Later small scale excavations have revealed the rubble of a collapsed building outside the courtyard wall and a wall which reputedly post-dated the villa. The timber lean-to, the timber bridge and the wooden fences in the woodland to the south of the main villa building are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath is 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:
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Books and journals
Basford, H V, 'Britannia' in Britannia, , Vol. 11, (1980), 393
Fennelly, L R, 'Proceedings of the I.O.W. Nat History and Archaeological Soc' in Proceedings of the I.O.W. Nat History and Archaeological Soc, , Vol. 6, (1971), 420-430


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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