Roman villa 480m south east of Hill Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1011806

Date first listed: 23-Jul-1974

Date of most recent amendment: 30-Jun-1995


Ordnance survey map of Roman villa 480m south east of Hill Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Braintree (District Authority)

Parish: Gestingthorpe

County: Essex

District: Braintree (District Authority)

Parish: Wickham St. Paul

National Grid Reference: TL 82867 38649


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.

The Roman villa south east of Hill Farm survives well beneath the plough soil as has been confirmed by the partial excavation and magnetometer survey. This work has established the extent, date and nature of the archaeological features and deposits within the monument. The site is known to contain information about the construction and layout of the villa and its associated buildings. Evidence for industrial activity, and environmental deposits which may survive at the base of the archaeological sequence will also add to our understanding of the lifestyle and economy of the inhabitants and of the landscape in which they lived.


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


The monument includes a Romano-British villa, situated on the sloping crest of a south west facing promontory in gently undulating hills, overlooking a tributary of the Belchamp Brook.

The site was originally identified in 1948 when a dense scatter of artefacts was recognised after the land had been ploughed. Partial excavation of the site by the owner began in 1949 and continued until 1975. Fieldwalking and surveying was also undertaken in the surrounding area.

A magnetometer survey was undertaken in 1977 which established the relationship of excavated features to the overall plan of the villa complex. The site has been found to comprise the buried remains of a complex of masonry and timber built structures, industrial areas, yards and drainage gullies. These include the remains of wall foundations, floors, pits and ditches. The extent of the site can be plotted on the ground through the dense concentration of artefacts visible on the surface of the plough soil. These artefacts include masonry, tile and pottery fragments.

The main building of the complex, known through partial excavation, is a rectangular aisled construction which measures 36m by 18m, aligned north east by south west. This villa building includes a bath block with a hypocaust system and lies centrally within the known extent of surviving complex. At least two further buildings have been located. The first, recognised initially through fieldwalking and trial trenching but also identified from magnetometer survey, lies c.100m to the north of the main villa building. The remains include insubstantial masonry footings and which are believed to have had a wooden superstructure with a tiled roof. Painted wall plaster and window glass were also found during trial trenching in this vicinty suggesting a building of some sophistication. The second ancillary building, again located by partial excavation, lies c.10m to the south east of the main building. This area has produced evidence of bronze working, including part of a clay mould and crucibles. There is also evidence for small scale pottery manufacture as well as agricultural activities across the site.

Artefacts recovered from the site indicate that the monument was occupied from the first to the fourth century AD.

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: 24870

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Powell, W R, The Victoria History of the County of Essex, (1963)
Draper, J, 'East Anglian Archaeology Report' in Excavations at Hill Farm Gestingthorpe, Essex, , Vol. 25, (1985)

End of official listing