Roman and earlier settlement at Honeyditches


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Roman and earlier settlement at Honeyditches
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

East Devon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SY 23742 90860

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 later Roman settlement at Honeyditches, interpreted as a villa, is one of only very few such Roman establishments to have been identified as far west as Devon. Partial excavation and survey have demonstated that the stone-built villa phase of the second to fourth centuries AD lay between two periods of agricultural activity. The archaeological remains which have been shown to survive will provide information relating to the function of the site, its inhabitants, their lifestyle, and the landscape in which they lived.


The monument includes a Roman settlement, traditionally interpreted as a villa, of late second to early third century AD foundation which overlays the site of a late pre-Roman Iron Age/Romano-British farmstead; the site appears to have reverted to agricultural use before final abandonment in the late Roman period. It is positioned on an east-facing slope on the western side of the Axe Estuary overlooking the sea. The monument survives as below ground remains and slight earthworks which have been recorded by way of excavation and ground survey. A stone-built bath house and other buildings which were terraced into the hillside characterise the recognised second to third century AD focus of the complex which underwent phases of rebuilding and addition before later reuse. Systematic excavations carried out on the site have revealed scattered settlement with at least two enclosures and a round house of Late Iron Age date which may have continued little altered into the early Roman period. A change of function for the site occurs in the second half of the second century or the first quarter of the third century with the construction of a bath house and at least two other stone buildings overlying the enclosures and occupation material of the preceding settlement. These buildings were dispersed around what may have been an open space or courtyard. The most westerly building has been shown by excavation to have been about 45m long and lying on a north east-south west orientation. It had chert stone walls at foundation level and a room was added to its southern end after about 270AD. At least one room was furnished with a tessellated pavement beneath which a well was discovered. About 17m further north was another building with chert stone foundations which lay on an approximate north west-south east alignment. The length of this building could not be determined but it showed clear evidence of two main phases, the first of which possessed a hypocaust; the second phase comprised a near complete rebuild but without the provision of a hypocaust. About 75m east of this building was a detached bath house which retained evidence for its furnace, caldarium (hot room), tepidarium (warm room), and plunge bath. It was constructed of roughly dressed local chert blocks with Beer stone quoins and was substantially increased during a second phase of construction. A number of slight platforms and mounds recognised in the area of the bath house and to its west are thought to represent the remains of further buildings of the Roman complex. Dating evidence from the bath house demonstrates that it went out of use probably in the last decades of the third century after which it was surrounded by an enclosure ditch during a phase in which it may have been converted for agricultural purposes. Contemporary with these later changes were a number of trackways which have been identified in excavation by their parallel ditches and which extend northwards from a position to the north west of the enclosure. A final abandonment of the site in the Roman period by at least the middle of the fourth century is suggested by the absence of Roman wares which are found at other sites which continued in occupation in the area. Excluded from the scheduling are all fencing, gates, and gate posts, although the ground beneath all of 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
Bidwell, P T, Seaton Parish Worksheet, (1984)
Holbrook, H, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in Trial Excavations at Honeyditches, (1987), 59-74
Holbrook, H, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in Trial Excavations at Honeyditches, (1987), 59-74
Miles, H, 'Britannia' in The Honeyditches Roman Villa, Seaton, Devon, (1977), 107-148
Miles, H, 'Britannia' in The Honeyditches Roman Villa, Seaton, Devon, (1977), 107-143
Miles, H, 'Britannia' in The Honeyditches Roman Villa, , Vol. 8, (1977), 107-148
Silvester, R J, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in Excavations at Honeyditches Roman Villa, Seaton, in 1978, , Vol. 39, (1981), 37-87
Wright, H B H, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Discovery of the Ruins of a Roman Villa at Seaton, , Vol. 54, (1923), 66-68


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.

End of official listing

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