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Great Witcombe Romano-British villa

A Scheduled Monument in Brockworth, Gloucestershire

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Latitude: 51.8268 / 51°49'36"N

Longitude: -2.1474 / 2°8'50"W

OS Eastings: 389938.423573

OS Northings: 214251.53488

OS Grid: SO899142

Mapcode National: GBR 1LP.HWN

Mapcode Global: VH94L.QBMX

Entry Name: Great Witcombe Romano-British villa

Scheduled Date: 20 September 1921

Last Amended: 5 September 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014826

English Heritage Legacy ID: 28521

County: Gloucestershire

Civil Parish: Brockworth

Traditional County: Gloucestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Gloucestershire

Church of England Parish: Great Witcombe St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Gloucester


The monument includes a Romano-British villa situated on the western edge of
the Cotswolds beneath the Cotswold scarp. The villa, aligned north east-south
west, lies on a moderate south east facing slope near the head of a broad
valley. There are springs emerging above the villa and a stream is c.100m to
the south east at the bottom of the slope.
The villa, which is terraced, comprises two large wings, one at the south west
and one at the north east, connected by a corridor, with a courtyard open at
the south east. It has evidence for two separate phases of occupation. In its
first phase the villa measured c.49m north east-south west by c.33.5m
north west-south east. This was increased in its second phase to c.71.5m and
38.5m respectively. The first phase of the main structure dates from c.AD 250
and occupation is thought to have continued into the fifth century.
The south west wing is largely given over to a bath suite with projecting hot
and cold plunge baths. There were seven tessellated floors in this part of the
villa and an elaborate threshold between two of the rooms. The surviving
mosaics are fragmentary and contain representations of fish and geometric
patterns. Painted plaster is reported as only being found in this wing of the
villa; polychrome designs were reported up to 1.8m high in one room, and in
the plunge bath a type of flooring known as `opus signinum' occurred as a
cove between the floor and the sides. Features of the wing include a small
cistern in the middle of one of the rooms, projecting above the Old Red
Sandstone floor, which was fed with water which drained into the system
serving an adjacent latrine; and an unusual corner passage or 'slype'
connecting two of the rooms. There appear to have been extensive additions and
rebuildings to this wing. Inserted ovens and a spread of rubbish in the
northernmost room belong to the final phase of the villa.
The north east wing contained a kitchen with an oven and a latrine adjacent.
There appear to have been no mosaics in this wing.
The corridor took the form of a tessellated gallery, 3.66m wide, with a
portico and buttresses on the downhill or courtyard side. In the centre of the
corridor, on its northern edge, is a room originally rectangular measuring
3.66m by 6.4m with its north west corners rounded internally, and later
converted to an octagon of 6.4m with an apsidal projection from the north west
side. The thick walls and buttresses, as well as the numerous drains, reflect
the natural difficulties of occupying this site. However, it is suggested that
the substantial nature of parts of the structure also indicate an upper storey
over certain rooms. A conjectural reconstruction of the villa, made by Mr D S
Neal, shows the gallery as a dominant feature connecting with upper floors in
the north part of the south west wing and extending over most of the north
east wing. The villa was discovered in 1818, and the south west wing was
excavated that year by Samuel Lysons. Lysons and Sir William Hicks continued
the excavations over much of the villa in subsequent years. Excavations for
the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments were conducted by Mrs E M Clifford in
1938-9 and, since 1961, by E Greenfield. It is known from these excavations
that materials used in construction include Oolite and tufa, the latter mostly
in the south west wing. Most of the roof tiles found were earthenware, but
some were of Old Red Sandstone. Imported white marble was used in some of the
moulded cornices, and painted pieces of fine sandstone were also found. Window
glass, both green and colourless, appeared in quantity in the rooms of the
south west bath block. Early Roman finds include a coin of Domitian, much
first century `Glevum' ware, a `Hod Hill' brooch and second century samian
ware. Coins are predominately late Roman; of 26 found, about half are later
than AD 367; one belongs to the house of Theodosius. There is much fourth
century pottery. A penannular bronze brooch may attest activity in the fifth
century. Other finds include an earthenware fir-cone, a bronze box handle, a
bronze steelyard, a key and pins. An iron knife-coulter could have belonged to
a coultered ard (a light plough). There are a number of querns, one made of
puddingstone. Glass includes millefiori, snakethread, beaker fragments and an
intaglio. Bones include ox, sheep, pig, hare, domestic fowl and other birds.
Much wood includes cherry and other species newly introduced in the Roman
period. A piece of coal was found. Painted pigments were noted and analysed
in two pots, and an oyster shell had served as a palette.
Slight indications of nearby Iron Age occupation include a ditch under the
north east corner of the villa; early Roman pottery and other finds point to
occupation in the first and second centuries, while foundation trenches show
that a walled structure earlier than the villa lay immediately to the south
with its north west angle under the south west corner of the villa.
The modern stone buildings which protect the bath suite and mosaics, including
glass and drainage pipes, are excluded from the scheduling, as are the
surrounding stone walls and post and wire fences, the dumps of bricks,
scaffolding poles and corrugated iron, although the ground beneath all these
features is included.

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 Roman villa at Great Witcombe is one of the group of villas around Roman
Gloucester, and as such is integral to an understanding of the relationship
between town and country in the Romano-British period. The villa acts as the
nucleus for finds of other Romano-British and earlier material in the
vicinity, including a related Roman building and two Romano-British
settlements, all within 1km of the villa. The bath suite in the villa has
tessellated pavements and mosaics surviving in situ.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Royal Commission on Historical Mons. England, , 'Iron Age and Romano-British Monuments in the Gloucs. Cotswolds' in Ancient and Historical Monuments in the County of Gloucester, , Vol. vol 1, (1976), 61
Royal Commission on Historical Mons. England, , 'Iron Age and Romano-British Monuments in the Gloucs. Cotswolds' in Ancient and Historical Monuments in the County of Gloucester, , Vol. vol 1, (1976), 60
Royal Commission on Historical Mons. England, , 'Iron Age and Romano-British Monuments in the Gloucs. Cotswolds' in Ancient and Historical Monuments in the County of Gloucester, , Vol. vol 1, (1976), 60
Royal Commission on Historical Mons. England, , 'Iron Age and Romano-British Monuments in the Gloucs. Cotswolds' in Ancient and Historical Monuments in the County of Gloucester, , Vol. vol 1, (1976), 61
Royal Commission on Historical Mons. England, , 'Iron Age and Romano-British Monuments in the Gloucs. Cotswolds' in Ancient and Historical Monuments in the County of Gloucester, , Vol. vol 1, (1976), 61-62
Gloucester County Council, SMR record 423,

Source: Historic England

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