Roman villa, Anglo-Saxon hall, cemetery and church site, around and to the north and east of St Mary and All Saints Church


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1013831

Date first listed: 09-Oct-1981

Date of most recent amendment: 01-Aug-1996


Ordnance survey map of Roman villa, Anglo-Saxon hall, cemetery and church site, around and to the north and east of St Mary and All Saints Church
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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: Rivenhall

National Grid Reference: TL 82908 17780


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.

Part excavation at and around Rivenhall Roman villa has confirmed that the monument survives well and exhibits a great diversity of surviving remains from the Iron Age through into the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods. It is one of the most extensive villa complexes yet investigated in Britain. The continuity of occupation and settlement evidence from the Iron Age right through to the present day adds to the significance of the monument for our understanding of the changing economy and social structure of the rural population. Such continuity is rare in many parts of the country. The surviving structures and deposits contain information on the construction and layout of the villa and associated buildings, their function and use. In addition the associated artefactual information and environmental deposits will add to understanding of the lifestyle and economy of the inhabitants and the landscape in which they lived. The remains of the Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical structures at this site are also of great interest, representing as they do one of the very few instances nationally where an early church site is thought to have developed out of a major Roman villa site.


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


The monument includes a Roman villa complex situated on the crest of a north-south ridge and on an east facing slope towards the Cressing Brook, which runs south to the River Blackwater. The monument comprises at least four major Roman buildings and a variety of associated structures and features. These all survive as buried foundations, floors and occupation deposits. The only trace of the monument visible from the ground surface is the pronounced building platform on which the east end of St Mary and All Saints Church is located. The extent of the remains are known from a combination of excavation results, soil, crop and parch marks indicating the locations of associated field systems and other buried features. The site was originally noted as containing the remains of Roman buildings in 1846. Following various rediscoveries of the remains over the next hundred years the Roman Essex Society undertook fieldwalking and a number of small trenches were opened in 1950 with further excavations the following year. The Essex Archaeological Society undertook further excavations in advance of a sewage scheme cutting through the site in 1971, followed by further excavations and investigations around the church in 1972-3. The main villa building lies on the west side of the complex aligned north-south and its southern rooms are located below the eastern end of the parish church. Partial excavation of the area indicates that the building measures c.60m long with a maximum width of c.25m including short wings to the east and west at both ends of the building. To the north east is a second building, located during excavations in 1846, 1892, 1950-2 and 1955, believed to have been domestic in use, running east-west, and connected with a paved corridor to a bath complex further east. The main domestic building is believed to have been disposed around a courtyard or garden on three sides and is c.36m long with the corridor to the bath house running east for 40m from the south east corner. The traces of a fourth building were recovered between 1971 and 1973 c.60m to the south east of the main villa building. The walls were constructed with a masonry footing most probably for a timber superstructure, while pads of rubble were the footings for internal posts. The building has been interpreted as an aisled barn relating to the agricultural activity of the villa estate. Between and around these buildings are a number of metalled areas and rubble spreads as well as traces of an east-west road which crosses the Cressing Brook heading east towards Canonium (modern Kelvedon). To the south, cropmarks of linear features have been noted. These indicate the locations of field boundaries some of which, where investigated, have been dated to the Late Iron Age. The villa, therefore, superseded a Late Iron Age farmstead with associated field system. This Iron Age field system appears to have continued in use after the construction of the masonry buildings forming the villa complex. The location of a further building in the southern part of the site has been identified from a surface scatter of building material and pottery which was noted when the field was under plough. In the north west corner of the site, to the north of the church, Roman burials were recorded in the 19th century. Further Roman burials are believed to survive in the north east part of this area. Work in 1971 identified several other Roman features to the north of the church including ditches and hearth pits. In addition this area had a number of extant earthworks, believed to date to the Anglo-Saxon period. These were infilled in the 1960s and now survive as buried features. Other remains which have been identified include traces of a possible enclosure wall, a T-shaped corn drying oven and what is thought to represent the location of a mill on the eastern side of the monument. Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age artefactual material has also been recovered from partial excavations of the site and includes in situ material from a buried soil horizon. The earliest features recognised during the various excavations were dated to the Early Iron Age. Some of the enclosure ditches are believed to date to the Middle pre-Roman Iron Age indicating the continuity of occupation from the Iron Age into the Roman period. After the end of the Roman period the site was occupied during the early Anglo-Saxon period when a post built hall was constructed in the central part of the site east of the main villa building. A Saxon cemetery was also centred around the villa remains and, subsequently, an early medieval timber church was constructed over the southern part of the main villa building. It has been suggested that the villa building itself may have been reused as an early church or mausoleum. Excluded from the monument are all modern structures and buildings, fences, fenceposts, the fabric of the church which is a Grade I Listed Building and the gravestones. The ground beneath all these features is included with the exception of that contained in the following burial plots numbered in accordance with the graveyard register: Row A/18, plots 25-32; Row C/1, plots 18-35; Row C/2, plots 6-8 and 16-37; Row C/3, plots 5 and 8-19; Row C/4 plots 1-20; cremation area D, plots D1-D20, D/2/1-D/2/20, which are totally excluded from the scheduling.

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: 24867

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Rodwell, W J, Rodwell, K A, 'Chelmsford Archaeological Trust Research Report' in Rivenhall: Investigations of a Villa, Church, and Village, , Vol. 55, (1985)
Drewett P L, AM107?, (1971)

End of official listing