Downend Romano-British villa
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1010002
Date first listed: 22-Oct-1968
Date of most recent amendment: 18-Jan-1995
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Isle of Wight (Unitary Authority)
Parish: 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
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
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: 22031
Legacy System: RSM
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