Ancient Monuments

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Roman villa 480m south east of Hill Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Gestingthorpe, Essex

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Latitude: 52.0163 / 52°0'58"N

Longitude: 0.6632 / 0°39'47"E

OS Eastings: 582851.090125

OS Northings: 238663.779924

OS Grid: TL828386

Mapcode National: GBR QHN.DJ9

Mapcode Global: VHJHT.FLZ6

Entry Name: Roman villa 480m south east of Hill Farm

Scheduled Date: 23 July 1974

Last Amended: 30 June 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011806

English Heritage Legacy ID: 24870

County: Essex

Civil Parish: Gestingthorpe

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Gestingthorpe St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument includes a Romano-British villa, situated on the sloping crest of
a south west facing promontory in gently undulating hills, overlooking a
tributary of the Belchamp Brook.

The site was originally identified in 1948 when a dense scatter of artefacts
was recognised after the land had been ploughed. Partial excavation of the
site by the owner began in 1949 and continued until 1975. Fieldwalking and
surveying was also undertaken in the surrounding area.

A magnetometer survey was undertaken in 1977 which established the
relationship of excavated features to the overall plan of the villa complex.
The site has been found to comprise the buried remains of a complex of masonry
and timber built structures, industrial areas, yards and drainage gullies.
These include the remains of wall foundations, floors, pits and ditches. The
extent of the site can be plotted on the ground through the dense
concentration of artefacts visible on the surface of the plough soil. These
artefacts include masonry, tile and pottery fragments.

The main building of the complex, known through partial excavation, is a
rectangular aisled construction which measures 36m by 18m, aligned north east
by south west. This villa building includes a bath block with a hypocaust
system and lies centrally within the known extent of surviving complex. At
least two further buildings have been located. The first, recognised initially
through fieldwalking and trial trenching but also identified from magnetometer
survey, lies c.100m to the north of the main villa building. The remains
include insubstantial masonry footings and which are believed to have had a
wooden superstructure with a tiled roof. Painted wall plaster and window glass
were also found during trial trenching in this vicinty suggesting a building
of some sophistication. The second ancillary building, again located by
partial excavation, lies c.10m to the south east of the main building. This
area has produced evidence of bronze working, including part of a clay mould
and crucibles. There is also evidence for small scale pottery manufacture as
well as agricultural activities across the site.

Artefacts recovered from the site indicate that the monument was occupied from
the first to the fourth century AD.

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.

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 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 Roman villa south east of Hill Farm survives well beneath the plough soil
as has been confirmed by the partial excavation and magnetometer survey. This
work has established the extent, date and nature of the archaeological
features and deposits within the monument. The site is known to contain
information about the construction and layout of the villa and its associated
buildings. Evidence for industrial activity, and environmental deposits which
may survive at the base of the archaeological sequence will also add to our
understanding of the lifestyle and economy of the inhabitants and of the
landscape in which they lived.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Powell, W R, The Victoria History of the County of Essex, (1963)
Draper, J, 'East Anglian Archaeology Report' in Excavations at Hill Farm Gestingthorpe, Essex, , Vol. 25, (1985)

Source: Historic England

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