Wigginton Roman villa and Iron Age enclosure, 300m north east of the Church of St Giles


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


Ordnance survey map of Wigginton Roman villa and Iron Age enclosure, 300m north east of the Church of St Giles
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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This copy shows the entry on 16-Oct-2019 at 22:37:12.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cherwell (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 39357 33432

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 found throughout lowland Britain and between 400 and 1000 examples have been recorded in England. Of these less than 10 are examples of `major' villas. These were the largest, most substantial and opulent type of villa which were built and used by a small but extremely wealthy section of Romano-British society. 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. All major villas will be identified as nationally important.

The Roman courtyard villa east of Wigginton is a rare type of site in Oxfordshire which survives well. Excavations of the nineteenth and twentieth century have shown the ground plan of the villa is well preserved with strong evidence of multiple phases of development. The remains of good quality mosaics and tessellated floors also survive in situ. Much of the villa and associated complex remain unexcavated and therefore the site retains potential for further investigation. These unexcavated areas will contain information on the construction and evolution of the site and its associated landscape. The site will also hold environmental and archaeological information relating to the Roman occupation of Oxfordshire. The size and form of Iron Age enclosed settlements vary considerably from single farmsteads up to large semi-urban oppida. Farmsteads are generally represented by curvilinear enclosures containing evidence of a small group of circular domestic buildings and associated agricultural structures. Where excavated, these sites are also found to contain pits or rectangular post- built structures for the storage of grain and other produce, evidence of an organised and efficient farming system. The surrounding enclosures would have provided protection against cattle rustling and tribal raiding. In central and southern England, most enclosed Iron Age farmsteads are situated in areas which are now under intensive arable cultivation. As a result, although some examples survive with upstanding earthworks, the majority have been recorded as crop- and soil-marks appearing on aerial photographs. The Iron Age enclosure east of Wigginton, seen from aerial photographic evidence as an irregular sub-rectangular ditched area, appears to survive well. Its proximity to the villa and comparisons with other such enclosures in Oxfordshire indicates that it is a proto-villa. The enclosure will contain archaeological evidence and environmental information relating to the enclosure and the landscape in which it was constructed. It will also relate to the Roman villa to the north of it.


The monument includes a Romano-British courtyard villa and Iron Age enclosure, east of Wigginton on a gentle south facing slope north of the River Swere. The villa is aligned NW-SE and includes three ranges of buildings which are evident as raised platforms over 1m high, at the north end of the complex. To the south of the buildings is the villa courtyard, defined by vestigial ditches, within which are a number of outbuildings. To the south beyond the courtyard is a rectilinear Iron Age ditched enclosure, 56m wide by 68m long, on the same alignment as the villa. All the above features are identified by air photographs, and the three ranges of the villa have been partially excavated. The villa comprises two substantial wings, one to the west and one to the east, connected by a large corridor building orientated NE-SW. The corridor (about 5.3m wide) is located on the south side of its building and terminates at its east end. At the west end, it joins a further corridor which runs southwards along the east side of the west wing. Fragmentary remains of tessellated pavement and mosaic are located in these corridors. At least 15 rooms and passages are present in the corridor building. Ten of these rooms contain mosaic and coarse tessellated pavements, five of which were heated by hypocausts. At the axis of the building, within the corridor is the main entrance to the villa. A small rectangular room projecting southwards from the corridor, east of the main entrance, suggests a porch leading to an entrance in the corridor wall. The main entrance then leads to a large central room. Beneath the mosaic of this room is a lead water supply pipe which conveyed water from a well on the north side of the building. At the north east corner of the building is a small triangular apsidal room with a hypocaust and a good quality mosaic. Wigginton villa was first discovered in 1824 and partially excavated by Skelton and Reverend C Winstanley. Two rooms were uncovered in the main north range, including the triangular apsidal room, and a small skeleton laid north-south. Roman coins dating to the third and fourth century AD were also found. Further excavations of the main range were undertaken in 1965-66 by E Greenfield for the Ministry of Works. These revealed a complex site dating from the second-fourth centuries AD, with at least two phases of occupation. Excavations also indicated that the villa had been reduced in size in the late fourth century by sealing off all or part of the west wing. Finds included a large quantity of painted plaster found in a hypocaust on the north side of the building. These depicted part of a winged cherub in red paint and fragments of a painted scene of columns and drapery. A plan of the excavated main north range was published in "Roman Oxfordshire" (2000) by N Henig and P Booth. A field walking exercise of parts of the villa site was undertaken by Phoenix MM Archaeology in 2000. A large amount of Roman artefacts were found, with concentrations of finds in the location of the villa. Between 2003 and 2005, Phoenix partially excavated the west wing of the villa. A geophysical survey of the west wing was also undertaken at this time, results from which were limited. Excavations uncovered two phases of plunge pool at the southern end of the corridor, providing evidence for a bath house. Remains of hypocaust heating and two mosaics were also revealed, one in good condition depicting an aquatic scene. Finds from this excavation included a large amount of wall plaster, some depicting a check pattern. A Roman lead baptismal tank 21cm deep was also uncovered during metal detection. The whole villa complex was recorded as cropmarks in 1996, by Roger Featherstone as part of a RCHME aerial reconnaissance programme. In 2005, an aerial investigation report by Helen Winton was published by English Heritage. Results of the survey showed the north and east wings of the villa, potential remains of outbuildings and an Iron Age enclosure to the south, indicating that the complex covered a much larger area. The results confirmed that a significant number of walls or foundations in the north and east wing are still in situ. Mosaic or rubble floors can also be potentially indicated by the appearance of blocks of cropmarks. Between the north and east wings of the villa is a large area of compacted surface 34m wide and 45m long, considered to represent a central area or courtyard. About 420m to the south of the east wing of the villa and on the same alignment, are the remains of a rectangular building which appears as cropmarks measuring 12.4m wide by 30.4m long. Potential remains of further buildings can also be seen to the west of this building, representing a continuation of the villa complex. Further west, cropmarks of boundary ditches appear, one in particular forming an L-shape alignment with the west wing of the villa. This indicates that the villa complex was surrounded by a large ditched enclosure. The Iron Age ditched enclosure, about 350m square, appears about 150m further south of the villa boundary ditches, also on the same alignment as the villa itself. The ditches measure between 1.8m and 5.6m wide, and on the north side of the enclosure the ditch narrows in the middle to form an entrance. This enclosure has been interpreted as a 'proto-villa' due to its similarity to other such enclosures in Oxfordshire. Within the field to the west are the remains of ridge and furrow extending SW-NE, which have been ploughed level, they are not included in the scheduling. The field gate, field posts, fences and the feeding troughs in the southern field are excluded from the scheduling; however the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


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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.

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