Great Witcombe Romano-British villa


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Great Witcombe Romano-British villa
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Tewkesbury (District Authority)
Tewkesbury (District Authority)
Great Witcombe
National Grid Reference:
SO 89938 14251

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 at Great Witcombe is one of the group of villas around Roman Gloucester, and as such is integral to an understanding of the relationship between town and country in the Romano-British period. The villa acts as the nucleus for finds of other Romano-British and earlier material in the vicinity, including a related Roman building and two Romano-British settlements, all within 1km of the villa. The bath suite in the villa has tessellated pavements and mosaics surviving in situ.


The monument includes a Romano-British villa situated on the western edge of the Cotswolds beneath the Cotswold scarp. The villa, aligned north east-south west, lies on a moderate south east facing slope near the head of a broad valley. There are springs emerging above the villa and a stream is c.100m to the south east at the bottom of the slope. The villa, which is terraced, comprises two large wings, one at the south west and one at the north east, connected by a corridor, with a courtyard open at the south east. It has evidence for two separate phases of occupation. In its first phase the villa measured c.49m north east-south west by c.33.5m north west-south east. This was increased in its second phase to c.71.5m and 38.5m respectively. The first phase of the main structure dates from c.AD 250 and occupation is thought to have continued into the fifth century. The south west wing is largely given over to a bath suite with projecting hot and cold plunge baths. There were seven tessellated floors in this part of the villa and an elaborate threshold between two of the rooms. The surviving mosaics are fragmentary and contain representations of fish and geometric patterns. Painted plaster is reported as only being found in this wing of the villa; polychrome designs were reported up to 1.8m high in one room, and in the plunge bath a type of flooring known as `opus signinum' occurred as a cove between the floor and the sides. Features of the wing include a small cistern in the middle of one of the rooms, projecting above the Old Red Sandstone floor, which was fed with water which drained into the system serving an adjacent latrine; and an unusual corner passage or 'slype' connecting two of the rooms. There appear to have been extensive additions and rebuildings to this wing. Inserted ovens and a spread of rubbish in the northernmost room belong to the final phase of the villa. The north east wing contained a kitchen with an oven and a latrine adjacent. There appear to have been no mosaics in this wing. The corridor took the form of a tessellated gallery, 3.66m wide, with a portico and buttresses on the downhill or courtyard side. In the centre of the corridor, on its northern edge, is a room originally rectangular measuring 3.66m by 6.4m with its north west corners rounded internally, and later converted to an octagon of 6.4m with an apsidal projection from the north west side. The thick walls and buttresses, as well as the numerous drains, reflect the natural difficulties of occupying this site. However, it is suggested that the substantial nature of parts of the structure also indicate an upper storey over certain rooms. A conjectural reconstruction of the villa, made by Mr D S Neal, shows the gallery as a dominant feature connecting with upper floors in the north part of the south west wing and extending over most of the north east wing. The villa was discovered in 1818, and the south west wing was excavated that year by Samuel Lysons. Lysons and Sir William Hicks continued the excavations over much of the villa in subsequent years. Excavations for the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments were conducted by Mrs E M Clifford in 1938-9 and, since 1961, by E Greenfield. It is known from these excavations that materials used in construction include Oolite and tufa, the latter mostly in the south west wing. Most of the roof tiles found were earthenware, but some were of Old Red Sandstone. Imported white marble was used in some of the moulded cornices, and painted pieces of fine sandstone were also found. Window glass, both green and colourless, appeared in quantity in the rooms of the south west bath block. Early Roman finds include a coin of Domitian, much first century `Glevum' ware, a `Hod Hill' brooch and second century samian ware. Coins are predominately late Roman; of 26 found, about half are later than AD 367; one belongs to the house of Theodosius. There is much fourth century pottery. A penannular bronze brooch may attest activity in the fifth century. Other finds include an earthenware fir-cone, a bronze box handle, a bronze steelyard, a key and pins. An iron knife-coulter could have belonged to a coultered ard (a light plough). There are a number of querns, one made of puddingstone. Glass includes millefiori, snakethread, beaker fragments and an intaglio. Bones include ox, sheep, pig, hare, domestic fowl and other birds. Much wood includes cherry and other species newly introduced in the Roman period. A piece of coal was found. Painted pigments were noted and analysed in two pots, and an oyster shell had served as a palette. Slight indications of nearby Iron Age occupation include a ditch under the north east corner of the villa; early Roman pottery and other finds point to occupation in the first and second centuries, while foundation trenches show that a walled structure earlier than the villa lay immediately to the south with its north west angle under the south west corner of the villa. The modern stone buildings which protect the bath suite and mosaics, including glass and drainage pipes, are excluded from the scheduling, as are the surrounding stone walls and post and wire fences, the dumps of bricks, scaffolding poles and corrugated iron, although the ground beneath all these features 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
Royal Commission on Historical Mons. England, , 'Iron Age and Romano-British Monuments in the Gloucs. Cotswolds' in Ancient and Historical Monuments in the County of Gloucester, , Vol. vol 1, (1976), 61
Royal Commission on Historical Mons. England, , 'Iron Age and Romano-British Monuments in the Gloucs. Cotswolds' in Ancient and Historical Monuments in the County of Gloucester, , Vol. vol 1, (1976), 60
Royal Commission on Historical Mons. England, , 'Iron Age and Romano-British Monuments in the Gloucs. Cotswolds' in Ancient and Historical Monuments in the County of Gloucester, , Vol. vol 1, (1976), 60
Royal Commission on Historical Mons. England, , 'Iron Age and Romano-British Monuments in the Gloucs. Cotswolds' in Ancient and Historical Monuments in the County of Gloucester, , Vol. vol 1, (1976), 61
Royal Commission on Historical Mons. England, , 'Iron Age and Romano-British Monuments in the Gloucs. Cotswolds' in Ancient and Historical Monuments in the County of Gloucester, , Vol. vol 1, (1976), 61-62
Gloucester County Council, SMR record 423,


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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