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
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Braintree (District Authority)
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
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
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)
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