Roman villa in and adjacent to Denbeck Wood
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1020771
Date first listed: 12-Mar-2003
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: King's Lynn and West Norfolk (District Authority)
Parish: Flitcham with Appleton
National Grid Reference: TF 71387 27623
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
The excavations conducted on the site of the Roman villa in and adjacent to Denbeck Wood served to demonstrate the survival of building remains and associated features below the ploughsoil to north and south of the wood, and the type and quality of the building materials and other finds confirmed the identification of the buildings as parts of a minor villa, occupied over a period of nearly two centuries. The investigations were, however, limited in extent and generally superficial, and the monument will retain much additional archaeological information concerning the plan and layout of the villa and the lives of those who occupied it. The area of the excavations to the north of the wood have remained undisturbed since the late 1940s and in the area investigated to the south of the wood the recorded depth of topsoil is around 0.75m, which is sufficient to ensure the survival of remains below the normal depth of modern ploughing. The remains were also observed to extend into the wood between the two areas. The villa is one of a series of Roman settlement sites identified close to the line of the Icknield Way in north west Norfolk, although very few of these have been the subject of excavation. The monument is therefore of particular importance for the study and better understanding of Roman settlement in the region.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes remains of a Roman villa located around the springheads
of Den Beck, at the eastern end of Denbeck Wood. The site, which lies about
500m west of the ancient route known as the Icknield Way, was first identified
in the 1940s, when several concentrations of Roman building materials were
noted on the surface of ploughed fields to the north and south of the wood.
Exploratory excavations carried out in 1947 and 1948 revealed the underlying
remains of at least three buildings, although the investigations were too
limited to establish details of the plans of the buildings or the layout of
the villa as a whole. Pottery and coins found on and around the site are
dated from around AD 150 to AD 330, suggesting that it was occupied for about
The most extensive excavation was immediately to the north of the wood, within an area measuring about 50m SSE-NNW by 69m ESE-WNW. In the north western part of this area the remains of a rectangular structure were found, measuring approximately 23m WNW-ESE by at least 12.5m overall and interpreted by the excavator as a walled yard. On the north and west sides the foundations of the outer wall were of mortared flint rubble about 0.45m thick, and on the east side the line of the wall was marked by a foundation trench about 0.75m wide from which the stone had been removed. A series of small, walled compartments between 1.5m and 1.75m deep were ranged along the inner face of the west wall and the north west corner, and the interior to the east of these was covered by a thick layer of flint cobbles, possibly the foundation for a tile pavement, since numerous fragments of floor tile were found scattered over the site. The structure was thought to date from a period fairly late in the history of the site, and evidence for earlier occupation was found beneath the pavement. About 24m to the east of this structure, part of a wall belonging to what was probably the main house was located. This was aligned ENE-WSW, and to the north of it lay an area of flint cobbles on which rested fragmentary remains of a mosaic floor. The building materials found on and around the site included wall plaster and fragments of window glass. The area of these excavations has remained undisturbed, and the outlines of the excavation trenches and some of the upstanding foundations are still visible.
Excavations on the opposite side of the wood, about 25m south of the springs, uncovered evidence for another building with a floor of pink plaster and associated debris of stone blocks, mortared flints, floor and roof tiles. The area investigated was too limited to determine the full extent or the character of this building, although it was noted that the scatter of building material extended northward into the wood, and the location, close to the springs, suggests that it may have been a detached bath house. The bed of the stream contains numerous fragments of Roman tile.
All fence posts, two brick built dams in the stream and an upstanding brick inspection chamber adjacent to the dams are excluded from the scheduling, 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: 30615
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Clarke Rainbird, R, 'Norfolk Research Committee Bulletin' in Interim Report on Excavations at Appleton, September 1947, , Vol. 1, (1949)
Gregory, T, 'The Romano British Countryside' in Romano British Settlement In West Norfolk And the Norfolk Fen Edge, , Vol. 103, (1982), 360-362
Rainbird Clarke, R, 'Arch News Letter' in Roman Villa On Royal Estate In Norfolk, (1949)
Rainbird Clarke, R, 'J Roman Studies' in , , Vol. 39, (1949), 104
Rainbird Clarke, R, 'J Roman Studies' in , , Vol. 38, (1948), 90,91
Letter; copy in SMR File, Lewton-Braine, C , (1954)
Sketch plan in file, 3481; Denbeck Wood Roman Villa,
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