Berkhamsted Common Romano-British villa, dyke and temple


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Berkhamsted Common Romano-British villa, dyke and temple
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Dacorum (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 00270 09602, TL 00290 09669, TL 00346 09815

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 Berkhamsted Common Romano-British villa, dyke and temple together form a unique complex reflecting occupation in the late Iron Age and Roman period. Despite some disturbance resulting from earlier piecemeal investigations, the villa and other components survive well, both as buried features and visible earthworks.

There are no other documented villas in the Chilterns with attached temples. Nationally, a number of domestic Roman buildings are found in conjunction with religious structures (temples or mausolea). Current research indicates that such close proximity indicates a common period of use - the temples were most probably built by the villa owners, perhaps as symbols of their power and prestige, or simply as a demonstration of their religious patronage.

The relationship between the dyke and temple is also of significance. The dyke does not appear to form a logical boundary within the villa complex. It is more likely to be Iron Age, adopted and retained in the Roman period and accorded some significance through the location of the temple, perhaps serving to separate the temple from the domestic activities to the north. Recent studies have shown that temples tended to be built on or near to dykes, the latter forming pre-Roman tribal boundaries or post-conquest administrative divisions. It is also possible that the concept of the boundary as a sacred place may have influenced the siting of the temple.

Archaeological deposits sealed below ground within the complex will greatly enhance our knowledge of the relationship between secular and religious structures in addition to contributing more generally to an understanding of life during the 2nd century AD. Such deposits will contain artefacts and environmental evidence which will illuminate the way of life of the Romano-British inhabitants of the Berkhamsted villa. Temple deposits may include votive artefacts, reflecting the particular cult practised. Animal bone and plant remains may also be preserved in buried deposits, the study of which will show the diet and farming regimes of the inhabitants.


The monument, in three separate areas of protection, includes the upstanding and buried remains of a Romano-British villa complex, associated enclosures, and a temple, located to either side of a substantial linear earthwork or dyke crossing Berkhamsted Common.

The visible remains of the main villa building lie in scrub and woodland, to the east of the sixth tee of Berkhamsted Golf Course, with associated earthwork enclosures extending to the south across areas of rough and fairway. The dyke and the temple are located on the practice range and fairway of the golf course approximately 100m and 200m respectively to the south west of the associated enclosures.

The villa was first discovered in 1927 when flint wall foundations and a tesselated pavement were found during the construction of a new green. Ten years later further flint walls and tesselated pavements were found nearby. In 1954 a limited survey and investigation of the site revealed three fairly substantial sections of flint wall, one at least 0.8m thick and another some 6m long. Finds recovered from the investigations included nails, iron slag, glass, pottery, brick and evidence of wattle and daub buildings. The finds mostly date to the second century AD, but some of the pottery is Belgic, which suggests two phases of settlement: later Iron Age (Belgic) occupation in the 1st century BC, represented by the wattle and daub buildings, followed in the 2nd century AD by the Romano-British villa with its dressed flint walls.

The foundations of the villa are visible within a series of excavated hollows to the east of the sixth tee, where sections of wall can still be traced on the ground. These walls are constructed with dressed flints laid in regular courses in soft mortar containing small, sharp gravel, tile and brick. The full extent of the building remains undetermined, although the building walls, earthwork enclosures and former excavations provide an indication of its size.

Some 50m to the south of the main building lie a pair of conjoined rectangular enclosures, indicated by 0.5m-1m high boundary banks extending over an area of approximately 150m north west-south east by 85m. These are thought to represent compounds or stock pens associated with the operation of the villa. The villa and contemporary enclosures are bounded to the south by a large dyke, aligned north west-south east. The dyke is visible over a distance of approximately 500m; it may have continued on further from either end, but if so, it can no longer be traced as an earthwork. It has a bank 0.3m to 1m high and 6m wide and a ditch to the south west measuring 5m in width. The date of the dyke's construction is uncertain. However, by analogy with similar earthworks in the Chilterns, it may be late Iron Age rather than Romano-British in origin, and therefore contemporary with the earlier occupation of the villa site.

The Romano-British temple is located about 50m south west of the dyke, visible as a square double-ditched earthwork, approximately 30m in width with a central, slightly raised platform approximately 10 sq m. The temple can be detected at ground level from the slight impressions of the buried ditches, but shows clearly on aerial photographs as a crop and parch mark, the grass growing higher and more verdant over the ditches and conversely being stunted and pale over the foundations of masonry walls.

The modern raised earthworks associated with the sixth tee are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
'Journal of Roman Studies' in Roman Britain 1937, , Vol. XXVII, (1937), 185
'Berkhamsted Parochial Review' in A Villa On The Common Roman Finds In Berkhamsted, (1971), 6-7, 12
'Berkhamsted Parochial Review' in A Villa On The Common Roman Finds In Berkhamsted, (1971), 6-7,12
Morris, M, Wainwright, A, 'Chiltern Archaeology Recent Work A Handbook for the next decade' in Iron Age and Romano-British Settlement, Agriculture and Industry, (1995)
Morris, M, Wainwright, A, 'Chiltern Archaeology Recent Work A Handbook for the next decade' in Iron Age and Romano-British Settlement, Agriculture and Industry, (1995), 68-79
Morris, M, Wainwright, A, 'Chiltern Archaeology Recent Work A Handbook for the next decade' in Iron Age and Romano-British Settlement, Agriculture and Industry, (1995), 72
Morris, M, Wainwright, A, 'Chiltern Archaeology Recent Work A Handbook for the next decade' in Iron Age and Romano-British Settlement, Agriculture and Industry, (1995), 72
20.6.96, Air Photo Services, Herts. SMR Photo Refs. 8283, 6 and 8361, (1996)
In HRO, HCC, Herts SMR No. 639, (1971)
March-December, National Trust, National Trust Earthwork Survey, (1985)
October, HCC, Herts. Photomap 639, (1972)
Title: Frithsden Beeches, Draft 1:2,500 and 1:250 Source Date: 1996 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: December
Title: Frithsden beeches, Draft 1:2,500 Source Date: 1996 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: December
Transcript of presentation, Went, D, Midlands MPP Meeting, (1996)


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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