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 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
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
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.
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.