Blenheim Villa, a Roman villa and associated field system 200m north east of Little Cote
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1021367
Date first listed: 13-Jan-2005
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Cherwell (District Authority)
Parish: Shipton-on-Cherwell and Thrupp
National Grid Reference: SP 45641 16140
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
In 1985 Blenheim Villa was found to be in a surprisingly good state of preservation, and care was taken to keep excavation, and therefore further damage, to a minimum. Although further plough damage may have taken place subsequently, it is likely that floor levels will survive intact, and together with other buried deposits will provide information of period of occupation, dating, and the lifestyle of the occupiers. The surrounding enclosures will contain evidence for the functions of the villa estate, and its place in the local and wider economy. The ditches in particular may contain environmental evidence, reflecting the nature of the surrounding landscape during the lifetime of the villa.
The monument includes the buried remains of a Roman villa and associated
fields and paddocks, located south east of Woodstock. It was built on the low
lying land between the Thames tributaries, the Rivers Glyme and Cherwell,
about 2km from both, and about 6km north of the Thames.
The site of the villa can be seen from a distance as a low mound outlined
against the northern boundary of the field. It was first identified by aerial
photography in the summer of 1971, when the buried stone walls and
surrounding enclosure ditches showed clearly as cropmarks. The outline and
internal arrangement of rooms were clearly visible, and the plan and
dimensions were subsequently confirmed by limited excavation in 1985, when
the walls were traced by trial trenching. Pottery found in the course of
excavation, and in the following year, when the field surface was
systematically fieldwalked, was dated to the third and fourth centuries AD.
All the pottery was of local manufacture, except for one sherd of imported
The house is a simple cottage form, aligned north east-south west, measuring
41.5m long by 10.8m wide. Its single range is made up of six rooms, with a
corridor 2.7m wide on the south east side. The corridor runs for about two
thirds of the length of the villa, ending at a point where a larger room, of
about 10 sq m, forms a slight wing off the main range, with an adjoining
semicircular room creating an apsidal finish to the south west end. The trial
trenching undertaken in 1985 showed the building to be surprisingly
well-preserved. Some plough damage to the apse wall was evident where it
projected into the plough soil; however, the mortared foundations, about
0.70m wide, were still intact, and a layer of plaster, decorated in white,
yellow, green, blue and red, lay face down where it had fallen from the wall.
Floors will probably remain intact below this, but the excavators made no
attempt to reach these lower levels. In the central part of the building the
walls of the corridor survived to three courses of stonework, a height of
0.35m. More wall plaster was found here.
The villa building lies within a ditched enclosure three sides of which can
be seen on aerial photographs. Ditches also define a further six or seven
fields and paddocks of varying size on the same alignment, which lie to the
north of the villa building. The villa enclosure and its associated field
system are visible over an area about 180m by 100m. Although the main
concentration of tile, stone and pottery found in the course of fieldwalking
lay over the area of the building, there was a thinner spread of pottery and
some tile over the fields to the north: this was not of sufficient quantity
to suggest the presence of further buildings, but is more likely to be the
result of manuring from the villa's middens.
The villa and its estate were well placed for access to river and road
transport to major centres of the region. Akeman Street, the road between the
Roman towns of Cirencester and Alchester, lay only 3km to the north, with
Alchester itself only 12km to the north east. It formed one of a number of
villa estates extending along the tributaries of the Thames from the Windrush
to the Cherwell, a pattern of Romanised settlement in contrast to the lower
gravels of the Upper Thames Valley, an area of native villages and small
farms. The third century saw a growth in numbers and an increase in size of
some existing villas, and an apparent expansion of the villa estate economy.
Although relatively small, particularly in comparison to some of the larger
villas of the Cotswolds, it is comparable in size to the earlier phases of,
for instance, Ditchley villa at Enstone.
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: 35545
Legacy System: RSM
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