Radwell Roman villa


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016308

Date first listed: 02-Feb-1976

Date of most recent amendment: 16-Feb-1998


Ordnance survey map of Radwell Roman villa
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Hertfordshire

District: North Hertfordshire (District Authority)

Parish: Letchworth Garden City

County: Hertfordshire

District: North Hertfordshire (District Authority)

Parish: Radwell

National Grid Reference: TL 23439 35468


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.

Although Radwell Roman villa has been degraded by ploughing, substantial remains survive buried beneath the present ground surface, including the foundations of the main villa building, a bath house suite, ancillary structures and boundary ditches. These features will contain valuable archaeological deposits indicating the phases and methods of construction, illustrating the duration of the settlement and the lifestyle and occupations of the villa's inhabitants. Parts of the monument are located close to the River Ivel and are subject to waterlogging. Buried features here will preserve important environmental evidence relating to the villa's economy, the diet of the inhabitants, and the nature of the landscape in which the monument was set. The relationship between the pre- and post-Roman features on the site suggests a continuance of use from the Iron Age, and the fills of these ditched features may contain archaeological deposits enabling a closer examination of the means by which the native settlements of the Iron Age evolved into the villa estates of the Roman period. Radwell Roman villa lies some 500m west of Ermine Street and some 4km north of the small Roman town at Baldock and is a valuable example for the study of settlement patterns in Hertfordshire during the Roman period.


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


The monument includes the buried remains of a Roman villa complex immediately to the north of the River Ivel, some 200m south of Bury Farm. The serpentine course of the river defines the south western extent of level ground containing the remains of two domestic ranges, beyond which the land rises abruptly by about 1.5m. From this point the field slopes gently up towards the line of the A1(M) to the north east. The monument cannot be seen clearly on the ground but from the air the position of walls, ditches and other features frequently appear as cropmarks and soilmarks. These have been recorded by aerial photography, providing a clear and detailed picture of the principal villa structures, the associated components of the settlement, and a series of additional features thought to represent the remains of a medieval field system, together with the buried remains of a substantial bank and ditch considered to date from the Iron Age. A roughly square system of ditches encloses the villa complex on three sides, the south western boundary being the River Ivel. The area thus enclosed is some 200m long by 180m wide. These ditches continue beyond the main enclosure, indicating further land divisions, but their full extent is not known. A sample of these features is included in the scheduling. The main villa building lies approximately 400m south of the present farmhouse. It is visible in the aerial record as a rectangular structure 40m in length and 20m wide, orientated north east to south west and situated in the western corner of a ditched yard. The walls are defined by light parched areas in the crop, indicating the survival of stone foundations. The core of the building (perhaps the earliest part of the structure) is an oblong hall subdivided into one large square room and four smaller chambers by four walls spanning the width. This central range is flanked by narrow corridors extending around the south western and north eastern ends and showing traces of subdivisions. A further room is attached to the southern end of the south eastern corridor, forming a very slight wing, and this may have been matched at the northern end. Two small annexes extend from the north western corridor on the opposite side. Cropmark evidence indicates two oblong structures approximately 30m long by 12m wide lying parallel to each other, orientated at right angles to and about 70m and 110m north east of the main villa building, one in the courtyard and another in an adjoining sub-enclosure. It is thought that these were of aisled construction, perhaps with internal partitions, and would have been used as barns, stables or workshops. A second villa building lies at right angles to the house, some 50m to the south east, close to the river bank. This structure comprises a suite of six rooms arranged in an L-shape. The five rooms forming the long arm of the `L' measure some 40m by 10m. The sixth room has an apsidal end and is 10m long by 8m wide. It is thought that this building was a bath house serving the villa and that the remains of a small structure attached to the south western side may represent a furnace room. The suite's location, very close to the river, would have been chosen to take advantage of the water supply and ease of drainage. Cropmark evidence for a third, separate rectilinear structure has been noted about 10m south east of the bath suite. The full extent of this building is not known, but its proximity to the river suggests a function connected with water management or water-related activities such as tanning or dyeing. Finds recovered from the plough soil in the area of the main villa complex include shards of Romano-British pottery and imported samian ware (a glossy red ware) together with tesserae (composite floor tiles), roof and flue tiles. Bronze coins of the House of Constantine, Claudius II (Gothicus) and Allectus discovered on the site indicate occupation during the 3rd and 4th centuries. Within the main villa complex there is cropmark evidence of a later enclosure orientated NNE to SSW and measuring approximately 90m by 70m. The defining ditches of this enclosure overlie the south eastern corner of the southern aisled building and the apsidal room of the bath suite. Traces of further ditches appear in the yard and in the area to the north west of the main complex. All these are considered to date from the post-Roman period and to be part of a medieval field system which may be associated with the remains of a ditch-flanked trackway about 280m north east of the main villa building. The buried remains of a broad, curving bank and ditch runs from the field boundary ESE of Bury Farm, some 270m north east of the villa, whose outer land boundaries it crosses. This bank turns south towards the river and peters out about 200m north of Norton Mill. It is thought that this feature represents an Iron Age boundary, suggesting that the villa could have succeeded a pre-Roman farmstead or settlement, the remains of which may be represented by cropmark features such as gullies, pits and ditches in the eastern part of the main enclosure. A sample of this bank is included in the scheduling. The footbridge supports on the northern bank of the River Ivel are excluded from the scheduling, as are all made surfaces, fences, fenceposts and sign boards, although the ground beneath them 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.

Legacy System number: 27908

Legacy System: RSM


oblique monochrome photograph, St Joseph, J K, BFD25,
oblique monochrome photograph, St Joseph, J K, BFD28,
plot produced from aerial photographs, National Mapping Programme, Hertfordshire overlay, (1991)
RCHM, NMP overlay plot, (1991)
Sherlock, D, Old County Scheduling document, text

End of official listing