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Bignor Roman Villa, 450m east of Manor Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Bignor, West Sussex

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Latitude: 50.9233 / 50°55'23"N

Longitude: -0.5949 / 0°35'41"W

OS Eastings: 498850.937686

OS Northings: 114697.079867

OS Grid: SU988146

Mapcode National: GBR FHD.0D8

Mapcode Global: FRA 96NN.L1X

Entry Name: Bignor Roman Villa, 450m east of Manor Farm

Scheduled Date: 14 October 1936

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1005869

English Heritage Legacy ID: WS 73

County: West Sussex

Civil Parish: Bignor

Traditional County: Sussex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): West Sussex


The monument includes a major Roman villa and associated ancillary buildings, which developed on the site of, and incorporated, a minor villa, surviving as upstanding and below-ground archaeological remains. It is situated on the south-facing slope of a ridge overlooking a valley near the village of Bignor. An earlier ditched field system underlies the Roman villa. The earliest building phase dates to about AD 200, when a timber-framed structure was constructed. It was replaced by a four-room masonry building between AD 225 and 250. This was extended with the addition of a hypocaust, a portico, wing-rooms and a further room. Substantial additions from about the end of the third century include extension of the west wing, full enclosure of the inner courtyard complex (a crypto-porticus) and construction of ancillary farm buildings within an outer courtyard. By the early fourth century it had developed into a type 'B' major villa (a villa with an unplanned asymmetrical primary courtyard complex). The villa includes a minor court to the rear of the primary courtyard and a bath complex. It featured open fireplaces in the living areas in addition to the hypocaust heating system. There is no clear date for the abandonment of the villa and it may have continued in use into the 5th century.
The villa was first discovered in 1811 during ploughing, and subsequently partially excavated. Several protective covered buildings, dating from the Georgian period, now display the exposed mosaics, hypocausts and other archaeological remains. Some of the foundations are marked by tarmacadam strips or modern flint walling. The site was partially excavated in 1811-1819, 1925, 1956-62, 1975-6, 1985-88 and 1990-2000. The earliest excavations were carried out by the antiquarian Samuel Lysons. Many of the subsequent excavations involved re-excavation of parts of the site and part-restoration of some features. The finds include Roman jewellery, statuary, pottery, flue tiles, quern stones, lead water pipes and a female baby burial.
The course of Stane Street Roman Road is about 400m to the south-east.
The monument excludes the surface of modern trackways, all modern buildings, the protective cover buildings over the exposed archaeological remains, all modern fences and fence posts, gates and gate posts. However the ground beneath all these features is included.

Sources: West Sussex HER 1674 - MWS5390, 1697 - MWS2528, 7688 - MWS7779, 7691 - MWS7782, 7689 - MWS7780, 7690 - MWS7781. NMR SU91SE1. PastScape 249475.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

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.
Despite partial excavation, Bignor Roman Villa survives in a good state of preservation. The excavations have secured a high level of archaeological documentation, but the villa still retains further potential for the recovery of archaeological and environmental information relating to the villa and its use, as well as the landscape in which it was built. Bignor Villa is a good example of a major Roman villa dating from modest origins in the 2nd century and continuing into the 4th century. It was built on a palatial scale and contains some of the finest mosaics in the country, as well as an example of a fully enclosed primary courtyard complex. Bignor Villa makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the local economy, social structure and the general way of life of the Romano-British inhabitants of the area.

Source: Historic England

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