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
The buried remains of Boxmoor House Roman villa represent a valuable example
of this monument class, with building phases clearly reflecting the
fluctuations of the villa's economic basis. The remains will retain further
evidence for the methods of construction and period of use, and for the status
and lifestyles of the occupants.
Archaeological deposits within the area of the villa precinct, including the
remains of ancillary buildings such as barns, stables and baths, will not only
enable the reconstruction of the layout of the villa complex, but will contain
evidence relating to the agricultural activities carried out and to other
craft occupations, such as metal working, which are typically found in such
Environmental evidence preserved within the same features will provide
information relating to the diet of the occupants and the types of agriculture
practiced, and may illustrate the nature of the landscape in which the
monument was set.
Boxmoor House Roman villa is one of a number of Roman sites in the area, two
of which - Gadebridge Roman villa c.1km to the north east (SM 27881), and the
elaborate temple complex at Wood Lane End c.1km to the north west (SM 27921),
are the subject of separate schedulings. These sites are thought to have been
linked by a network of roads and trackways. As such, the villa at Boxmoor
House has particular significance for the study of settlement patterns and
communications during the period of the Roman occupation.
The monument includes the buried remains of a Roman villa situated in the
Bulbourne valley at Boxmoor House, now part of Boxmoor House School.
Roman remains were first identified in the 19th century when pottery sherds
and building debris were noticed in the gardens of Boxmoor House, then a
private residence, and a limited investigation of the site in 1852 revealed
the foundations of a villa building dating to the second century AD.
By 1966 Boxmoor House had become a school and the erection of new buildings at
this time allowed further part excavations to take place. These located the
foundations discovered in 1852 and demonstrated a sequence of construction,
modification and occupation dating from the first to the fourth centuries AD.
The villa remains were subsequently preserved beneath the new school block and
The earliest building on the site, not investigated during the excavation of
1852, was of timber frame construction on sleeper beams set directly onto the
clay subsoil. The timber framing was infilled with wattle and daub panelling.
The structure, which was largely overlain by a later villa building, was
orientated roughly north west-south east and measured some 21.6m long by 12.8m
wide. It had five rooms arranged in a row with two wings projecting to the
south west. A corridor along the central range is thought to have extended
around the south western ends of the wings.
The second room from the north west in the central range may have been the
principal living room. Here the walls were finished with decorated plaster.
This earliest building, which had no hypocaust (underfloor heating) system,
was destroyed by fire. Few finds were recovered from beneath the burnt debris,
suggesting that the house was emptied and the fire started deliberately as a
means of clearing the site before the new villa was built. Little datable
material was discovered, but it has been suggested that the house may have
been built during the second half of the first century AD, while fragments of
samian pottery (glossy red ware) indicated that the house remained in use
until c.AD 120-30.
The new villa building, probably erected c.AD 130, shared the same orientation
as its predecessor, but measured c.42.7m by 16.63m. The walls were of cob
construction (clay and chalk) on rammed chalk foundations. A central range of
rooms was flanked by wings, again projecting to the south west, and a corridor
ran across the full length of the north eastern elevation. A second corridor
across the south western side joined the two wings. Five rooms had floors
finished with plain red tesserae (cube tiles), and a room in the north
western wing was provided with a tessellated floor in a black and white
stepped pyramid design.
Soon after this new house was built it was modified and extended by the
addition of three further rooms to the south east. Dwarf walls of flint were
inserted to carry the cob walls. During this period the River Bulbourne (now
canalised) ran some 100m south of its present course, and it is thought that
the insertion of the dwarf walls was a measure to counteract rising damp. The
modifications included the provision of a hypocaust in the southern wing and
the insertion of an elaborately patterned mosaic in the north western room.
The adjacent room to the south east had a tessellated floor in a simple
crenellated design and several rooms were finished with decorated plaster.
During the first half of the third century the villa building was largely
demolished and rebuilt on a smaller scale. The cob walls were replaced by
mortared flint and puddingstone on wider foundations. The additional rooms to
the south east were pulled down and the function of the rooms in the southern
wing changed. The hypocaust was abandoned and it is thought that the wing may
have ceased to have any domestic use.
The villa building was modified again, probably during the later third
century. The number of rooms was reduced to seven and the southern wing was
abandoned. The extreme south eastern room in the central range was rebuilt and
floored with opus signinum (a form of cement), with a hypocaust beneath. The
stoke hole for this system was discovered in the adjacent room to the north
A further reduction took place in the late third century or early fourth
century. At this time the walls dividing the rooms of the north western wing
were removed to provide one large room. Pits, hearths and lead residue
discovered in this room suggest that it had been turned into a workshop.
Further dividing walls in the central range were demolished to convert four
rooms into two. One of these had a new floor of red and cream tesserae, and
the hypocausted room was replastered in white with a painted floral design.
Archaeological investigations which took place in the gardens of number seven,
Box Lane, some 100m north east of the villa building, revealed traces of wall
foundations and an oven. It is thought that these represent the remains of a
structure - perhaps a gatehouse - which formed part of the north eastern
boundary of the villa precinct. Ancillary buildings, including a bath house,
have not yet been discovered but are thought to survive within the area of
this precinct, which is included in the scheduling. Traces of a trackway
discovered beyond the north eastern boundary may be associated with the villa.
However, the extent of this trackway is presently unknown and it is not
included in the scheduling.
Finds recovered during the excavations included a variety of rings, bracelets
and brooches, together with pins, needles, knife handles and spindle whorls.
Animal bones included cattle, sheep and pig. Although the villa building
itself, with its mosaic and tessellated floors and decorated plaster, suggests
a degree of affluence and status, the finds imply that the house was more
likely to have been the centre of a working farm estate than a country
retreat. An imperial lead seal discovered in the western corridor has been
dated to the late third/early fourth centuries and may indicate that the
estate was by this time under governmental control, and perhaps occupied by a
The modifications of the third and fourth centuries which reduced the size of
the villa building, and the change in function of some of its rooms suggest a
long economic decline which may have been connected with failing markets. The
house was abandoned during the mid-fourth century, although there may have
been continued occupation elsewhere on the site.
The buildings of Boxmoor House School are excluded from the scheduling,
together with all fences, fence posts, gates, modern walls and surfaces, play
equipment, notice boards, sign posts and garden features, although the ground
beneath all these included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.