Fawler Roman villa


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018213

Date first listed: 22-Mar-1949

Date of most recent amendment: 24-Jul-1998


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

County: Oxfordshire

District: West Oxfordshire (District Authority)

Parish: Fawler

National Grid Reference: SP 37081 16851, SP 37190 16869


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 at Fawler is known, despite having been partly damaged, to include extensive surviving buried remains. These will contain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the construction of the villa, the ford across the Evenlode at this point and the development and subsequent decline of the economy of the site. The additional evidence of Roman water management on the site which has not been found in association with any of the other West Oxfordshire villa sites to date provides further important information about the monument.


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


The monument includes the site of a Roman villa, its associated buildings, water management system and the buried remains of later post-medieval agricultural buildings within two areas of protection. The monument is situated on a gentle slope just above the valley floor to the north west of the River Evenlode, below the hamlet of Fawler. The villa itself, which is contained within the area of protection to the north of the railway embankment, is no longer visible at ground level but a series of observations and part excavations carried out over the past 150 years, along with a geophysical mapping survey carried out in 1996 have provided evidence of the probable extent and nature of the monument. This evidence has revealed that the villa faced a road which ran from the north down to a ford across the river and then presumably 1km south to meet the south west to north east aligned Akeman Street Roman road. The villa house was surrounded by ancillary buildings including kitchens, workshops, barns and stables and a bath house which would have been both functional and a status symbol. During construction of the railway embankment and re-routing of the line of the River Evenlode in the 19th century the villa was shown to be a substantial building with thick limestone walls and a tesselated pavement above a hypocaust floor. Although this was destroyed by the building work, where it lay on the embankment route, parts of it, north of the embankment, were buried, and the buildings were seen to extend well to the north. More recent excavation revealed a stone causeway, believed to be Roman, carrying a road down from the north to a bridging point over the river, immediately adjacent to an earlier ford. A building close to the line of the river was identified as a possible bath house, common on wealthy villa sites. This would have contained both hot and cold pools with changing rooms, a fuel store and a complicated heating system which worked by circulating hot air below the floors by way of flues and bellows from a furnace room. The site also contains a number of other ditches and walls which represent buildings of several periods around and below which are a large number of quarry pits, rubbish pits and wells, some of which have been excavated. The site has produced quantities of Roman coins, imported samian pottery and more common local pottery wares. The second area of protection to the south of the railway line was included in a geophysical survey undertaken in 1996 which revealed evidence of two substantial, parallel ditches running roughly west to east down to the Evenlode. These measure up to 8m wide and lie approximately 6m apart. They are associated with a pit which lies roughly 25m west of the Evenlode, between the ditches. These features are believed to be associated with a Roman water management system forming part of the villa estate and known from several other villas of similar date. The system would have served several important domestic and economic functions from providing water to the bath house to helping control water levels in the Evenlode and preventing flooding in winter. The system could also have provided water for fulling, as many Oxfordshire villas probably produced wool for clothing rather than arable crops as their main business. A woollen cape, similar to a `duffle coat' and known as the `Birrus Britannicus' was a famous export from Roman Britain as were woollen blankets. A number of slight earthworks located towards the centre of the south west quadrant of the first area of protection represent the remains of post- medieval agricultural buildings and later quarrying and spoil dumping associated with the railway construction. These have often been confused with the earlier Roman structures which lie below them. The name Fawler is believed to originate from a Saxon name `faga flora' meaning coloured or spotted floor. This suggests that the villa survived in part above ground or was encountered during digging in the early medieval period. The discovery of small amounts of Saxon pottery further suggest that activity continued on the site through the Dark Ages. Excluded from the scheduling are all modern boundary fences and walls, and all modern buildings and telegraph poles, although the ground beneath 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.

Legacy System number: 28186

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Allen, T G, 'Oxoniensia' in Excavations At Bury Close, Fawler, Oxon., , Vol. 53, (1988), 293-315
Allen, T G, 'South Midlands Archaeology' in Excavation on Line of Thames Water Pipeline, , Vol. NL 17, (1987), 88
A.M.L. Report 77/96, Cole, Mark, Fawler Roman Villa, Report on Geophysical Work, (1996)
A.M.L. Report 77/96, Cole, Mark, Fawler Roman Villa, Report on Geophysical Work, (1996)
Photos on SMR File, Oxfordshire, C.A.O., Various,
PRN 1295, C.A.O., Fawler Roman Villa, (1987)
PRN 1295, C.A.O., Fawler villa, (1984)
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:10000 Series Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: SP 31 NE

End of official listing