Saturday, November 15, 2014

Chedworth Roman Villa, England

The Chedworth Roman Villa is an archeological site run by the National Trust. The historical finds there go back as far as the Middle Iron Age but most are from the Roman era. A wealthy family (they are not sure who) built one of the largest country houses in Roman Britain. The house was built in the 300s AD and was clearly meant to impress visitors. Beyond the large size (120 meters by 90 meters), the location features two kitchens, extensive heated floors, mosaics and wall paintings, a small shrine, and even a latrine. Every modern convenience circa the fourth century was available at the villa.

Model of the Chedworth Roman Villa as it was back in the day

After the Romans officially left Britain in 410, the villa's fortunes began to decline. By 1066, the villa fell into ruins. By Henry VIII's coronation in 1509, the villa was buried and forgotten. It was discovered in 1864 by two local men who were out hunting or, in other versions of the story, poaching. They had to dig out one of their prey and came upon a mosaic pavement. Within a year, a major project was underway to excavate the find. The fruits of Victorian curiosity and industry are available for all visitors to enjoy.

When we arrived, we were given audio guides. These devices are always popular with J and L, though they are not always competent using them. I wish I had a nickel for every time I had to switch one of their guides back to English after they spent ten minutes mashing all the buttons they could find.

J and his guide

The first room we came across was the latrine, an ancient bathroom that had running water underneath to wash away human waste.


Next, we were in a low building that covered the far end of the complex, where the main dining and entertaining rooms were located. The mosaics are quite impressive and are still being uncovered and preserved today.

Hallway mosaic

Dining room mosaic

Just past the dining room is the bath complex. Baths were a common part of Roman life and were like modern day spas. People came not just for a good soak in hot water, but for exercise and social interaction. At Chedworth, a game board was found during the excavation!

Changing room for the baths

Hot dry bath--the ancient steam room

More hot, dry rooms

A cold plunge bath

Another cold plunge!

At the corner of the baths was a small religious shrine with an octagonal pool fed by a natural spring. The natural spring is probably what made the site attractive in the Middle Iron Age and in Roman times.

Octagonal pool, 1600 years old!

Normally for Roman villas, just the bath house was heated by the hypocaust, an underfloor duct system circulating hot air. In England, with the colder climate, most of the rooms in the villa have hypocaust heating, including the dining room.

The boiler room and wood storage for the central heating system

The north wing of the villa is mostly one long wall at this point though the archeologists have been able to identify rooms thanks to items they recovered and by comparing with other Roman villas in Britain and elsewhere.

Buried rooms

A lobby

Drainage built in

The kitchen

The summer dining room

The villa is built on a hill looking down to the River Coln. The typical Roman villa would have farm lands around it with slaves bringing in a variety of crops, supporting the house and adding to the wealth of the family. Not much farm area has been discovered around this villa but it does have a nice view, another reason why archeologist think this was more of a showcase home.

Remains of a small garden

Villa view

A new garden begun

Unpaid visitor who might make a nice meal

The Victorians built a small museum displaying some of the finds as well as providing some child-friendly interactivity. The one child-unfriendly bit is the display about gambling in the Roman period. The nearby town of Cirencester was the Roman town Corinium Dobunnorum, and they had an amphitheater where gladiators fought. The people who lived at Chedworth were apparently fans of a chariot racing team known as the "Green Team" who were based in Rome but who made the circuit of outlying provinces. Professional sports (and merchandising) were very popular back then too.

Museum door


Ancient team memorabilia

Religious items?

L tries to make her own mosaic

We had a snack at the ticket office and admired the various items for sale. We resisted buying the National Trust Monopoly game!

Proof that I didn't just make that up

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