Roman villa 500m north east of Harlowbury


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014738

Date first listed: 04-Oct-1995


Ordnance survey map of Roman villa 500m north east of Harlowbury
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Harlow (District Authority)

National Grid Reference: TL 48150 12530


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 500m north east of Harlowbury survives well below the ploughsoil. The monument has suffered minimal disturbance with the majority of archaeological information coming from non-destructive methods of investigation. The fieldwalking survey and collection of artefacts indicate that the villa has particularly rich buildings and will provide important information for understanding the economy and development of the social structure of Romano-British society in this region. Evidence of Iron Age settlement prior to the Roman occupation will also help to elucidate the Romanisation and development of rural Essex from the Iron Age and into the Roman period.


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


The monument includes a Roman villa complex situated towards the crest of a gentle north facing slope in an area of undulating chalky boulder clay hills and is known through aerial photographs and through analysis of building debris and pottery recovered from the ploughsoil. The villa has no upstanding remains above ground but buried features include wall foundations, pits, ditches and occupation deposits.

At the centre of the villa complex are the buried masonry remains of a near square building. This lies within a large rectangular enclosure aligned north east by south west. The enclosed area, surounded by a boundary ditch, contains at least one other building.

The location and ground plan of the central building has been identified from crop marks visible on aerial photographs. It lies towards the centre of a ditched enclosure and measures approximately 40m by 40m. Lying c.40m west of the central buiding is a second building. This is likely to be an agricultural outbuilding and measures approximately 50m north east-south west by c.10m north west-south east. Traces of the ditch which forms a rectangular enclosure around the core buildings of the villa are visible as cropmarks and soilmarks on aerial photographs.

Roman masonry structures were first identified at the site in 1819 by John Barnard. In 1831, during the excavation of a ditch, labourers uncovered further remains which included flint and brick walls, evidently of Roman date. A fieldwalking survey undertaken in 1990 found a high concentration of Roman tile coinciding with the area identified from the aerial photographs as the location of the main domestic building and outbuilding. A general spread of Roman tile was found across an area of approximately 200m east-west by 140m north-south. A substantial quantity of Roman pottery was also found across the whole of the site. A column fragment of worked stone was also recovered. The full height of the column is believed to have been between 4m and 5m and suggests that the villa was of high status and elaboratly decorated. Metalwork of Iron Age and Roman date has been found on the site. Some of this material indicates the presence of an Iron Age predecessor to the villa.

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: 24860

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Bartlett, R W, The Archaeology of Gilden Way: An Assessment of the Field Walking, (1991)
Clouston, R P S, Gilden Way, Harlow, Archaeological Assessment, (1991)
Powell, W R, The Victoria History of the County of Essex, (1963), 141
Bartlett, R W, (1993)
O.S. Archive, Film 71-173 Frames 083 & 084 4/5/1971, (1971)

End of official listing