Roman villa north of Yewden Lodge


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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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 78015 85705, SU 78361 85535, SU 78631 85718, SU 78637 85488

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 extensive villa north of Yewden Lodge, one of the largest monuments of its class in the Thames Valley, is well known from the valuable evidence already revealed by excavation and is frequently cited in modern studies of villa structures and economy. The part excavation of the site of the principal house and courtyard has indicated that the villa served as an intensive agricultural production centre possibly regulated by the provincial government. This area still retains much of the structural evidence formerly uncovered, and is also thought to contain further material remains either overlooked by the original excavators, or capable of yielding far more information given the range of scientific techniques now available. The aerial evidence, which has since shown that the courtyard formed only part of a larger complex, clearly demonstrates the survival of further structural evidence and a wide range of related buried features. In conjunction with the evidence recovered to date, these features will enable a more thorough understanding of the operation of the villa estate. The physical remains, artefacts and environmental evidence preserved here, will provide further evidence for the character of the villa, for the development of its economy throughout the period of occupation, for the scale and status of the population of estate workers, and for many aspects of daily life including religious practices and burial rituals. The proximity of the monument to the smaller villa at Mill End is also highly significant. The spatial relationship between these contemporary monuments is unusually close, and comparison of functional and social variations will provide further insights into the manner in which the villa developed in Roman Britain.


The monument includes the buried remains of a large villa complex spread across the lower Hambleden valley to the north of Yewden Lodge and south of Ridge Wood. The remains extend some 550m west and 150m east of Hambleden Road, starting 350m-400m to the north of the River Thames and continuing up the valley towards Hambleden Rise. The scheduling is divided into four separate areas which provide protection for the principal areas of activity and for samples of the more extensive field systems and trackways. The site cannot be seen on the ground, apart from some scatters of pottery and building materials in the plough soil either in the arable fields to the west of the road, or the permanent pasture to the east. The location of the principal villa buildings, however, was carefully recorded after the major archaeological excavations in 1912; these structures and the far larger complex of associated buildings, enclosures and other features, have since been recorded from the air as clearly defined cropmarks and parchmarks. The excavations in 1912 uncovered a large courtyard, the south eastern corner of which lies some 180m to the NNW of Yewden Lodge. The courtyard measures c.120m north to south and 70m east to west, defined by the foundations of a flint and mortar wall on all but the western side. On this side, opposite the main entrance to the courtyard, stood the principal dwelling - which the excavator, A H Cocks, referred to as the first house. This is thought to have originated in the late first century AD as a building of simple rectangular plan, measuring c.20m by 8m, orientated approximately north to south, and subdivided into four rooms. At a later stage two symmetrical suites, each of three main rooms and linked by corridors flanking the central rooms, were attached at right angles to either end, and a small room projecting from the centre of the western corridor completed the plan. The south eastern room was divided in two and contained a hypocaust (an underfloor heating system), tiled chutes and lead piping for a water supply and drainage, and the impression left by a lead bath. The hypocaust continued beneath the centre of the southern range. Its stoke-hole lay in the northern room. The low walls of mortared flint rubble were thought to have originally supported a timber superstructure. Material found in the vicinity showed that the building was decorated internally with painted plaster and was surmounted by a tiled roof. Several of the floors were composed of small tile squares (tesserae), others being concrete or rammed chalk. A second building, similarly constructed, was found adjacent to the southern wall of the courtyard. This building (Cocks' second house) still remains visible from the air, and measures c.14m by 27m. It was thought by the excavator to have originated as a large workshop or barn, but in the early fourth century the western end was divided off and converted into a small dwelling of three rooms. The southern room contained a hypocaust and the central room was provided with a tesselated floor. Beneath the hard packed floor surface in the third room, to the north, the excavators found a small jar containing 294 coins dating between AD 317 and AD 326. The remains of Cocks' third house lie in a corresponding position against the north wall of the courtyard. The construction methods and dimensions were similar to those of the second house, although there were no indications that this building had been used as a dwelling. Instead the interior was divided into small areas with flint or chalk floors suggesting a number of individual rooms or workshops. A small flint-built annexe attached to the south western corner of this building was also interpreted as a workshop; and between this and the first house lay a further small structure (the fourth house) which may have served as a shrine. The second and third houses contained large furnaces or ovens, with stoke- holes and flues cut into the ground to depths of c.1m and lined with walls of chalk and flint. In total, 14 ovens in a variety of different designs were excavated both within the compound and slightly to the north, most housed in small timber structures. Ovens of this type are frequently found in association with Romano-British occupation, and charred grain discovered within these examples, as in others, indicates that they were used for drying corn. However, the number of ovens here is unusual and has been taken to suggest an exceptional level of cereal processing at a specialised site, perhaps operating under central government control. The unusual number of styli found on the site (70) points to a bureaucratic control over the produce which, it has been suggested, may have been geared to the requirements of the army. The ovens may also have been used for a variety of other purposes, including bronze smelting and malting barley for ale. Numerous pieces of bronze slag and a broken crucible were found during excavation and the second house, in addition to containing two of the most complex ovens on the site, also housed a large clay-lined tank which may have been used either in the metal working process, or to soak barley prior to malting. Over 26 refuse pits were examined during the excavation, one of which contained the skeletal remains of three adults and two children. Burials of this nature are not uncommon on Romano-British sites, and are often taken to reflect some epidemic disease. The burial of infants in courtyards and within the thresholds of houses is also frequently recorded, but in this practice the Yewden villa was again found to be exceptional. In total 97 neo-natal and infant burials were uncovered during the excavations, all but two buried within the area immediately to the north of the courtyard wall. This remarkable discovery evidently reflects a sizeable female population or high infant mortality rate. A H Cocks recorded a section of a large ditch to the south of the trackway which enters the courtyard from the east. The ditch also appeared at the time of excavation in the western side of a quarry adjacent to the Hambleden Road (now a car park) where it was shown to be `V' shaped, approximately 2m deep, and to contain Roman pottery dating from c.AD 50. Aerial evidence since has shown that this ditch formed part of a large square enclosure measuring c.65m across, the western arm of which lay parallel to and just outside the eastern wall of the courtyard. The date and characteristic shape of the ditch may indicate a temporary military camp, pre-dating the villa: perhaps the earliest evidence of Roman occupation in the Hambleden valley. A further ditch, marking the southern edge of a second trackway, is shown in the aerial record flanking the northern arm of the courtyard and extending some 400m to the west of the Hambleden Road. A single rectangular structure, not excavated by Cocks, lies to the south of this ditch adjacent to the northern boundary of the old quarry, and a complex of structures, again known from the aerial evidence, lies towards the western end of the track adjacent to the western boundary of the modern field. Approximately 50m to the east of this boundary a cluster of small rectangular buildings straddles the trackway, with a clearly defined structure measuring c.16m by 12m immediately to the west. Similar buildings have been recorded 50m to the north and 30m to the south. The function of this outlying complex, which is linked to the villa by a trackway, can only be surmised at present. It is clearly related to the operation of the villa, and the buildings are considered either to be barns, stables or byres, or to comprise a specialised industrial area set apart from the main villa complex. A single, isolated structure, though of some complexity and duration, lies still further to the west (some 200m to the west of the present field boundary) perhaps on the line of the trackway which appears to be reduced in scale as it approached this westernmost building. This building is included within a separate area. To the north of the main courtyard a second trackway, marked by flanking ditches, extends to the north east. It is thought probable that many of the infant burials reported by Cocks were found within the triangular area between the two tracks, and that a single cremation found here points to a more extensive cemetery. The aerial photographs show a cluster of small ditched enclosures extending to the north side of the northern trackway, a discrete group of which are included in the scheduling as a sample of the wider field system which becomes less distinct further north as the ground rises towards Ridge Wood. A more extensive system of rectilinear fields and enclosures has been recorded continuing for nearly 700m up the valley on the eastern side of Hambleden Road. These are not included in the scheduling. The southern trackway continues to the east of Hambleden Road where it joins a second group of enclosures in the pasture immediately to the north of the road to Rotten Row. These enclosures differ in character from those to the north west, forming numerous rectilinear subdivisions within a roughly square perimeter ditch emcompassing approximately 1.2 ha. The layout reflects habitation, and it is thought that this settlement area may have accommodated part of the workforce for the villa estate. A ditched trackway marks the eastern side of the settlement area, running parallel with, and some 25m to the west of the Hamble Brook. This can be traced northward in the aerial record where it forms the eastern side of a further enclosure spanning the Hambleden Brook approximately 140m from the settlement. This enclosure, which is also approached by the northern trackway from the villa courtyard, is also square in plan, and measures approximately 40m across. Contained within the perimeter ditch are two square enclosures, one within the other, with corresponding gaps forming an entranceway in the centre of the western side. This plan is characteristic of Romano-Celtic temples, an interpretation which is supported by the large quantity of Roman coins found in the vicinity by metal detectorists. The extensive collection of material evidence from the site (pottery, coins, metal artefacts and such,) indicates that the villa fell into decline and was probably abandoned in the late fourth century AD, after a period of occupation spanning nearly three centuries. During this period a second, smaller villa (scheduled separately) was established on the bank of the Thames at Mill End some 600m to the south. The proximity of the two villas suggests a close association between the two sites, perhaps reflecting the control of goods between the Hambleden valley and the river, or the need for a separate residence for the owner or manager of the estate, set apart from the intensive production centre which the villa north of Yewden Lodge evidently became. The inspection covers in the eastern pasture are excluded from the scheduling together with all fences and fence posts, although the ground beneath these items is included in order to protect buried remains.

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
Fenner, V E P, Dyer, C A, Thames Valley Survey, (1995), 50-51
Percival, J, The Roman Villa, (1976), 163
Salway, P, Roman Britain, (1981), 601-2
Applebaum, S, 'CBA Research Report' in Rural Settlements in Roman Britain, , Vol. 7, (1966), 102-3
Branigan, K, 'The Archaeology of the Chilterns' in The Impact of Rome, (1994), 94-95
Branigan, K, 'Arch Journal' in Arch Journal - Notes, , Vol. cxxiv, (1967), 142
Cocks, A H, 'Archaeologia' in A Romano-British Homestead in the Hambleden Valley, (1921), 141-198
Cocks, A H, 'Archaeologia' in A Romano-British Homestead in the Hambleden Valley, (1921), 142
Farley, M E, 'Britannia' in The Villa at Mill End, Hambleden, and its Neighbour, (1983), 256-9
Farley, M E, 'Britannia' in The Villa at Mill End, Hambleden, and its Neighbour, (1983), 256-9
Reynolds, P J, Langley, J K, 'Arch J' in Romano-British Corn-Drying Oven: An Experiment, , Vol. 136, (1980), 27-42
Went, D A, Burleigh, G R, 'NHDC Field Archaeology Reports' in Excavations at Little Wymondley 1991, , Vol. 15, (1992), 28
discussion with CAO about camp, Farley, M E, (1995)
Pottery analysis: Dr. G. Simpson, 0868, (1979)
Record of metal detector finds, 0868/0869, (1979)
reference to possible camp, Farley, M E, 0868, (1979)
Thames Valley Project (ref:4-557), RCHME, 0868/0869 Compilation plot of evidence from aerial photographs, (1994)
Thames Valley Project (ref:4-557), RCHME, 0868/0869 Compilation plot of evidence from aerial photographs, (1994)
Thames Valley Survey (Ref: 4-557), RCHME, 0868/0869 Compilation plot of evidence from aerial photographs, (1994)


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.

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