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Roman villa north of Yewden Lodge

A Scheduled Monument in Hambleden, Buckinghamshire

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Latitude: 51.5639 / 51°33'49"N

Longitude: -0.8691 / 0°52'8"W

OS Eastings: 478484.266292

OS Northings: 185603.012176

OS Grid: SU784856

Mapcode National: GBR C4F.WLS

Mapcode Global: VHDW8.WYDJ

Entry Name: Roman villa north of Yewden Lodge

Scheduled Date: 25 July 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014606

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27160

County: Buckinghamshire

Civil Parish: Hambleden

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Hambleden with Frieth

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The monument includes the buried remains of a large villa complex spread
across the lower Hambleden valley to the north of Yewden Lodge and south of
Ridge Wood. The remains extend some 550m west and 150m east of Hambleden Road,
starting 350m-400m to the north of the River Thames and continuing up the
valley towards Hambleden Rise. The scheduling is divided into four separate
areas which provide protection for the principal areas of activity and for
samples of the more extensive field systems and trackways. The site cannot
be seen on the ground, apart from some scatters of pottery and building
materials in the plough soil either in the arable fields to the west of the
road, or the permanent pasture to the east. The location of the principal
villa buildings, however, was carefully recorded after the major
archaeological excavations in 1912; these structures and the far larger
complex of associated buildings, enclosures and other features, have since
been recorded from the air as clearly defined cropmarks and parchmarks.
The excavations in 1912 uncovered a large courtyard, the south eastern corner
of which lies some 180m to the NNW of Yewden Lodge. The courtyard measures
c.120m north to south and 70m east to west, defined by the foundations of a
flint and mortar wall on all but the western side. On this side, opposite the
main entrance to the courtyard, stood the principal dwelling - which the
excavator, A H Cocks, referred to as the first house. This is thought to have
originated in the late first century AD as a building of simple rectangular
plan, measuring c.20m by 8m, orientated approximately north to south, and
subdivided into four rooms. At a later stage two symmetrical suites, each of
three main rooms and linked by corridors flanking the central rooms, were
attached at right angles to either end, and a small room projecting from the
centre of the western corridor completed the plan. The south eastern room was
divided in two and contained a hypocaust (an underfloor heating system), tiled
chutes and lead piping for a water supply and drainage, and the impression
left by a lead bath. The hypocaust continued beneath the centre of the
southern range. Its stoke-hole lay in the northern room. The low walls of
mortared flint rubble were thought to have originally supported a timber
superstructure. Material found in the vicinity showed that the building was
decorated internally with painted plaster and was surmounted by a tiled roof.
Several of the floors were composed of small tile squares (tesserae), others
being concrete or rammed chalk.
A second building, similarly constructed, was found adjacent to the southern
wall of the courtyard. This building (Cocks' second house) still remains
visible from the air, and measures c.14m by 27m. It was thought by the
excavator to have originated as a large workshop or barn, but in the early
fourth century the western end was divided off and converted into a small
dwelling of three rooms. The southern room contained a hypocaust and the
central room was provided with a tesselated floor. Beneath the hard packed
floor surface in the third room, to the north, the excavators found a small
jar containing 294 coins dating between AD 317 and AD 326.
The remains of Cocks' third house lie in a corresponding position against the
north wall of the courtyard. The construction methods and dimensions were
similar to those of the second house, although there were no indications that
this building had been used as a dwelling. Instead the interior was divided
into small areas with flint or chalk floors suggesting a number of individual
rooms or workshops. A small flint-built annexe attached to the south western
corner of this building was also interpreted as a workshop; and between this
and the first house lay a further small structure (the fourth house) which may
have served as a shrine.
The second and third houses contained large furnaces or ovens, with stoke-
holes and flues cut into the ground to depths of c.1m and lined with walls of
chalk and flint. In total, 14 ovens in a variety of different designs were
excavated both within the compound and slightly to the north, most housed in
small timber structures. Ovens of this type are frequently found in
association with Romano-British occupation, and charred grain discovered
within these examples, as in others, indicates that they were used for drying
corn. However, the number of ovens here is unusual and has been taken to
suggest an exceptional level of cereal processing at a specialised site,
perhaps operating under central government control. The unusual number of
styli found on the site (70) points to a bureaucratic control over the produce
which, it has been suggested, may have been geared to the requirements of the
The ovens may also have been used for a variety of other purposes, including
bronze smelting and malting barley for ale. Numerous pieces of bronze slag and
a broken crucible were found during excavation and the second house, in
addition to containing two of the most complex ovens on the site, also housed
a large clay-lined tank which may have been used either in the metal working
process, or to soak barley prior to malting.
Over 26 refuse pits were examined during the excavation, one of which
contained the skeletal remains of three adults and two children. Burials of
this nature are not uncommon on Romano-British sites, and are often taken to
reflect some epidemic disease. The burial of infants in courtyards and within
the thresholds of houses is also frequently recorded, but in this practice the
Yewden villa was again found to be exceptional. In total 97 neo-natal and
infant burials were uncovered during the excavations, all but two buried
within the area immediately to the north of the courtyard wall. This
remarkable discovery evidently reflects a sizeable female population or high
infant mortality rate. A H Cocks recorded a section of a large ditch to the
south of the trackway which enters the courtyard from the east. The ditch also
appeared at the time of excavation in the western side of a quarry adjacent to
the Hambleden Road (now a car park) where it was shown to be `V' shaped,
approximately 2m deep, and to contain Roman pottery dating from c.AD 50.
Aerial evidence since has shown that this ditch formed part of a large square
enclosure measuring c.65m across, the western arm of which lay parallel to and
just outside the eastern wall of the courtyard. The date and characteristic
shape of the ditch may indicate a temporary military camp, pre-dating the
villa: perhaps the earliest evidence of Roman occupation in the Hambleden
A further ditch, marking the southern edge of a second trackway, is shown in
the aerial record flanking the northern arm of the courtyard and extending
some 400m to the west of the Hambleden Road. A single rectangular structure,
not excavated by Cocks, lies to the south of this ditch adjacent to the
northern boundary of the old quarry, and a complex of structures, again known
from the aerial evidence, lies towards the western end of the track adjacent
to the western boundary of the modern field. Approximately 50m to the east of
this boundary a cluster of small rectangular buildings straddles the trackway,
with a clearly defined structure measuring c.16m by 12m immediately to the
west. Similar buildings have been recorded 50m to the north and 30m to the
south. The function of this outlying complex, which is linked to the villa by
a trackway, can only be surmised at present. It is clearly related to the
operation of the villa, and the buildings are considered either to be barns,
stables or byres, or to comprise a specialised industrial area set apart from
the main villa complex. A single, isolated structure, though of some
complexity and duration, lies still further to the west (some 200m to the west
of the present field boundary) perhaps on the line of the trackway which
appears to be reduced in scale as it approached this westernmost building.
This building is included within a separate area.
To the north of the main courtyard a second trackway, marked by flanking
ditches, extends to the north east. It is thought probable that many of the
infant burials reported by Cocks were found within the triangular area between
the two tracks, and that a single cremation found here points to a more
extensive cemetery. The aerial photographs show a cluster of small ditched
enclosures extending to the north side of the northern trackway, a discrete
group of which are included in the scheduling as a sample of the wider field
system which becomes less distinct further north as the ground rises towards
Ridge Wood. A more extensive system of rectilinear fields and enclosures has
been recorded continuing for nearly 700m up the valley on the eastern side of
Hambleden Road. These are not included in the scheduling.
The southern trackway continues to the east of Hambleden Road where it joins a
second group of enclosures in the pasture immediately to the north of the road
to Rotten Row. These enclosures differ in character from those to the north
west, forming numerous rectilinear subdivisions within a roughly square
perimeter ditch emcompassing approximately 1.2 ha. The layout reflects
habitation, and it is thought that this settlement area may have accommodated
part of the workforce for the villa estate. A ditched trackway marks the
eastern side of the settlement area, running parallel with, and some 25m to
the west of the Hamble Brook. This can be traced northward in the aerial
record where it forms the eastern side of a further enclosure spanning the
Hambleden Brook approximately 140m from the settlement. This enclosure, which
is also approached by the northern trackway from the villa courtyard, is also
square in plan, and measures approximately 40m across. Contained within the
perimeter ditch are two square enclosures, one within the other, with
corresponding gaps forming an entranceway in the centre of the western side.
This plan is characteristic of Romano-Celtic temples, an interpretation which
is supported by the large quantity of Roman coins found in the vicinity by
metal detectorists.
The extensive collection of material evidence from the site (pottery, coins,
metal artefacts and such,) indicates that the villa fell into decline and was
probably abandoned in the late fourth century AD, after a period of occupation
spanning nearly three centuries. During this period a second, smaller villa
(scheduled separately) was established on the bank of the Thames at Mill End
some 600m to the south. The proximity of the two villas suggests a close
association between the two sites, perhaps reflecting the control of goods
between the Hambleden valley and the river, or the need for a separate
residence for the owner or manager of the estate, set apart from the intensive
production centre which the villa north of Yewden Lodge evidently became.
The inspection covers in the eastern pasture are excluded from the
scheduling together with all fences and fence posts, although the ground
beneath these items is included in order to protect buried remains.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

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 extensive villa north of Yewden Lodge, one of the largest monuments
of its class in the Thames Valley, is well known from the valuable evidence
already revealed by excavation and is frequently cited in modern studies of
villa structures and economy. The part excavation of the site of the
principal house and courtyard has indicated that the villa served as an
intensive agricultural production centre possibly regulated by the provincial
government. This area still retains much of the structural evidence formerly
uncovered, and is also thought to contain further material remains either
overlooked by the original excavators, or capable of yielding far more
information given the range of scientific techniques now available. The aerial
evidence, which has since shown that the courtyard formed only part of a
larger complex, clearly demonstrates the survival of further structural
evidence and a wide range of related buried features. In conjunction with the
evidence recovered to date, these features will enable a more thorough
understanding of the operation of the villa estate. The physical remains,
artefacts and environmental evidence preserved here, will provide further
evidence for the character of the villa, for the development of its economy
throughout the period of occupation, for the scale and status of the
population of estate workers, and for many aspects of daily life including
religious practices and burial rituals.
The proximity of the monument to the smaller villa at Mill End is also highly
significant. The spatial relationship between these contemporary monuments is
unusually close, and comparison of functional and social variations will
provide further insights into the manner in which the villa developed in Roman

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Fenner, V E P, Dyer, C A, Thames Valley Survey, (1995), 50-51
Percival, J, The Roman Villa, (1976), 163
Salway, P, Roman Britain, (1981), 601-2
Applebaum, S, 'CBA Research Report' in Rural Settlements in Roman Britain, , Vol. 7, (1966), 102-3
Branigan, K, 'The Archaeology of the Chilterns' in The Impact of Rome, (1994), 94-95
Branigan, K, 'Arch Journal' in Arch Journal - Notes, , Vol. cxxiv, (1967), 142
Cocks, A H, 'Archaeologia' in A Romano-British Homestead in the Hambleden Valley, (1921), 141-198
Cocks, A H, 'Archaeologia' in A Romano-British Homestead in the Hambleden Valley, (1921), 142
Farley, M E, 'Britannia' in The Villa at Mill End, Hambleden, and its Neighbour, (1983), 256-9
Farley, M E, 'Britannia' in The Villa at Mill End, Hambleden, and its Neighbour, (1983), 256-9
Reynolds, P J, Langley, J K, 'Arch J' in Romano-British Corn-Drying Oven: An Experiment, , Vol. 136, (1980), 27-42
Went, D A, Burleigh, G R, 'NHDC Field Archaeology Reports' in Excavations at Little Wymondley 1991, , Vol. 15, (1992), 28
discussion with CAO about camp, Farley, M E, (1995)
Pottery analysis: Dr. G. Simpson, 0868, (1979)
Record of metal detector finds, 0868/0869, (1979)
reference to possible camp, Farley, M E, 0868, (1979)
Thames Valley Project (ref:4-557), RCHME, 0868/0869 Compilation plot of evidence from aerial photographs, (1994)
Thames Valley Project (ref:4-557), RCHME, 0868/0869 Compilation plot of evidence from aerial photographs, (1994)
Thames Valley Survey (Ref: 4-557), RCHME, 0868/0869 Compilation plot of evidence from aerial photographs, (1994)

Source: Historic England

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