Roman villa at Mill End


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.

Buckinghamshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SU 78638 84826

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 buried remains of the villa at Mill End are considered to survive well. The parchmark evidence and minor earthworks provide a clear picture of the layout of the complex, and reflect the preservation in good condition of the foundations of structures, floors, yard surfaces and other buried features. The remains of the principal house and other structures will retain detailed evidence for the date of construction and the building methods employed, the status and function of the villa, and the duration of its occupation.

The proximity of the monument to the larger villa complex in the Hambleden valley is of particular importance for the study of the development of settlement patterns in the south Chilterns during the Roman period; suggesting an unusually close relationship between contemporary villas, which is thought to reflect functional and social variations between the two. The siting of the Mill End villa next to the River Thames is particularly significant in this respect, and implies the presence of rare riverside structures in conditions favourable for the preservation of organic material.


The monument includes the buried remains of a Roman villa situated on the Buckinghamshire bank of the River Thames immediately south of the village of Mill End which stands at the foot of the Hambleden valley.

Parchmarks caused by underlying wall foundations and buried ditches were first observed in 1921. These markings have since reappeared during periods of drought, and have been recorded from the air on numerous occasions between 1945 and 1990. In the summer of 1975 the marks were sufficiently distinct to allow a survey on the ground which provided a detailed plan of the main building. The foundations of this structure, a winged corridor house, stand on a low platform approximately 60m from the edge of the river, aligned roughly parallel with the present bank (ie.north west to south east). At the centre of the building stood a central rectangular suite of rooms measuring c.20m by 9m. Two corner rooms project from the south western elevation of this suite. These are thought to flank the main entrance which led into a small hall or vestibule dividing the smaller rooms clustered behind each projection. A narrow corridor ran to the rear of these rooms, and extended some 14m further to the south east. The foundations of the solid external wall of the corridor are flanked by an internal line of pillar bases leading towards a rectangular room at the south eastern corner of the building. A larger rectangular room, measuring about 8m by 6m, projects from the south eastern corner forming a wing which stood slightly forward of the extensions to either side of the entrance. The front wall of the building, between the south eastern wing and the central extension, is aligned with that of the entrance; the area between it and the pier bases to the rear being further sub-divided into three or four separate rooms. The 1975 survey indicated walls continuing to the north west of the entrance suite, although at that time they were not clear enough to include in the plan. The aerial record, however, provides clearer evidence that the corridor continued for a similar distance in this direction leading to a broadly symmetrical arrangement of rooms and, it is thought, a matching north western wing, the northern side of which is partly overlain by the present fenceline on the north western boundary of the pasture field. Fragments of brick found beneath the former hedgeline here are thought to have come from this structure.

The buried remains of several associated structures lie between the principal building and the river. These have been recorded as parchmarks from the air, and are also distinguished by a series of low undulations in the pasture. A large rectangular structure, measuring some 7m by 18m, lies approximately 16m to the south of the main building. This is orientated north west to south east with two walls dividing the interior into equal sized rooms separated by a narrow central compartment. Two smaller structures (both approximately 5m square) lie to the north east, arranged parallel and some 6m from the rectangular building. A fourth structure lies some 15m to the west of the centre of the principal house. A single internal wall divides this building, which measures c.6m by 10m, into two unequal parts. The ancillary buildings are all laid out in a similar orientation to the main house, suggesting the existence of a courtyard in front of the main house approached through a gap between the structures to the south west. The southern extent of the villa complex is marked by the parchmark of a single ditch running across the field some 10m to the south east of the southern building, forming the boundary of further slight undulations across the north eastern part of the pasture adjacent to Ferry Lane. Traces of a second parallel ditch are shown on some aerial photographs, perhaps indicating that this boundary served as part of a further trackway extending to the north east.

The location of the Mill End villa in relation to the Thames, and in relation to a larger villa estate (Yewden villa) located some 600m up the Hambleden valley to the north, has caused speculation about its function. Yewden Villa (the subject of a separate scheduling), is thought to have developed into a major agricultural centre. The discovery of 14 corn-ovens during the excavations there in 1912 suggests a concentration on grain production which may, on the basis of some 70 styli found at the site, have been linked to government contracts or military requirements. The Mill End villa has a smaller principal building and is poorly sited compared to Yewden for the exploitation of the Hambleden valley. Yewden villa was in occupation from the first century to at least the fourth century AD, and it is therefore unlikely that the Mill End villa served as its predecessor. A more probable explanation is that the Mill End villa was a secondary development: perhaps a comfortable dwelling set apart from the intensive production centre at Yewden, and funded by its success; or perhaps designed to control the shipment of goods between the Hambleden valley and the river.

The distinct parchmarks at Mill End allow some interpretation of the growth and longevity of the main house. This may have begun as a small cottage house (now in the centre of the structure), which later extended to the south west to form a small winged house and was ultimately enlarged with the addition of wings and the corridor to the rear. The ancillary buildings are relatively restricted in size and few in number, and are thought to have served as stables, dovecotes and other structures designed to complement a prestigious dwelling, rather than as the outbuildings of a farming complex. In addition to providing the house with an impressive view, the orientation of the building to face the Thames serves to highlight the importance of the river as a communication route in the Roman period. A series of four dark parallel lines in the grass are visible in the aerial record, representing ditches extending from the hedgeline on the south west side of the pasture towards the house. These features indicate a number of routes leading from the house to the river bank, where the remains of wharves, landing stages and other features relating to the use of the river for transport or commerce are thought to survive. The area between the main buildings and the river is therefore included in the scheduling.

All fences and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, together with the drain inspection chamber to the south east of the main house, the water trough near the north western field boundary and the telegraph pole near the southern side of Ferry Lane, although the ground beneath these items 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.

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Books and journals
Applebaum, S, 'CBA Research Report: Rural Settlement in Roman Britain' in Peasant Ecomony and Types of Agriculture, , Vol. 7, (1966), 102-3
Branigan, K, 'Arch Journal' in Arch Journal - Notes, , Vol. cxxiv, (1967), 129-59
Farley, M E, 'Britannia' in The Villa at Mill End, Hambleden, and its Neighbour, , Vol. 14, (1982), 256-9
Farley, M E, 'Britannia' in The Villa at Mill End, Hambleden, and its Neighbour, , Vol. 14, (1983), 256-9
AP held by Bucks Museums Service, Rouse, E, 1945.219, (1943)
APs held by Bucks Museums Service, Farley, M E, A1/4/84, A1/4/6A, (1975)
APs held by Bucks Museums Service, Farley, M E, A1/4/84, A1/4/6A, (1975)
APs held by Bucks Museums Service, RCHME, SU 78 84/2, SU 78 84/27, (1990)
Ordnance Survey record card (Bucks SMR), Ordnance Survey , SU 78 SE 4, (1974)
plot of AP information (Bucks SMR), Allen, L, Hambleden (Mill End), CAS 0788, (1979)
plot of AP information (Bucks SMR), Allen, L, Hambleden (Mill End), CAS 0788, (1979)


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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