Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Gadebridge Roman villa

A Scheduled Monument in Gadebridge, Hertfordshire

Approximate Location Map
Large Map »
Street or Overhead View
Contributor Photos »

If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.

Coordinates

Latitude: 51.7665 / 51°45'59"N

Longitude: -0.4801 / 0°28'48"W

OS Eastings: 504978.018959

OS Northings: 208627.929622

OS Grid: TL049086

Mapcode National: GBR G6L.CD4

Mapcode Global: VHFRZ.MVJP

Entry Name: Gadebridge Roman villa

Scheduled Date: 7 January 1964

Last Amended: 21 February 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015577

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27881

County: Hertfordshire

Electoral Ward/Division: Gadebridge

Built-Up Area: Hemel Hempstead

Traditional County: Hertfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hertfordshire

Church of England Parish: Warners End and Gadebridge, Hemel Hempstead

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans

Details

The monument includes the buried remains of a substantial Roman villa complex
situated in the valley of the River Gade to the immediate north west of the
junction of Galley Hill and the A4146 Hemel Hempstead to Leighton Buzzard
road.

The site was discovered in 1962 during the construction of the A4146, and
parts of the monument were subsequently excavated over a period of six years.
Excavation revealed that the earliest occupation on the site dated to around
AD 75. Later buildings had obliterated most of the first house, which was
thought to be a simple, timber framed structure (located c.50m west of the
present road), with a separate small stone-built bath house c.20m to the north
east. The bath house initially included two heated rooms and one cold room in
a row running north-south, with a furnace at one end, but was modified during
this early phase by the addition of hot and cold plunge baths. During this
period a roughly rectangular area of farmland measuring approximately 120m by
40m immediately to the south of the villa was delineated by ditches.

Towards the end of the second century AD the main villa building was rebuilt
in stone. The principal suite of seven rooms, arranged in an east-west row,
had projecting wings at either end, the whole enclosed by a corridor and
measuring c.45m long by 25m wide overall. The south eastern wing, terraced
into ground sloping down to the river, was of two storeys, the lower floor
forming a semi-basement approached from the outer corridor. It is thought that
this room may have been used as a workshop or stable. At the same time the
bath house was remodelled, and a new wing with a caldarium (hot room) and hot
plunge baths was added to the western side. The existing caldarium became a
tepidarium or warm room. Finds from the excavation, including five ovens,
indicated that, unusually, the kitchen at Gadebridge was located in the west
wing rather than in the central range.

By the early third century a large building some 44m long by 15m wide had been
attached to the south eastern corner of the east wing. This contained three
large rooms, two of which were surrounded by a corridor or verandah. A
further, separate building measuring c.24m by 12m was erected to the south
west of the west wing and the two new structures joined by a wall to form an
enclosed courtyard entered from the west, overlying the former area of
farmland. It has been suggested that by the third century the villa had become
a large farming establishment and that the new structures provided
accommodation for farm workers and animals. The bath house was also the
subject of further alterations, chiefly the addition of a large plunge bath
built onto the south side.

By the beginning of the fourth century at least one room of the bath house had
fallen into a state of severe disrepair. However, from this point on, there
were major alterations which may suggest that the occupants of the villa
turned from agriculture as a primary source of income. Modifications to the
main villa building included the addition of two further wings to the north
west and north east corners. The wide foundations of these structures
indicate that they could have supported two storeys, forming impressive towers
projecting from the northern facade. The ground floor rooms of both these
wings were provided with hypocausts (underfloor heating systems), and one (in
the west wing) had a mosaic floor. However, partitioning in the main range
provided several small workshops one of which contained farrier's tools.
There is also evidence for lime quarrying and processing on the site.
At the same time, the south western barn was demolished and two smaller
buildings put up to the north. This may imply that more limited farming
activities were henceforth concentrated on the northern side of the villa.
Elaboration of the villa continued into the fourth century with an extension
to the north eastern hypocaust. A new room over 20m long was attached to the
west wing and provided with a two-furnace heating system. A hypocaust was
also inserted into the southern room of the west wing.

The southern room of the bath house was enlarged and, around AD 325, a
swimming pool was constructed, adjoining the southern end of the eastern wall.
At 21m long by 12m wide, the pool is the largest known example in the context
of a villa in England. The pool, now largely buried beneath the Leighton
Buzzard road, was entered by five steps, one of which extended around the
sides of the pool to provide a bench seat. Although a deposit of coins and
jewellery was discovered close to the pool, there are no indications that the
site had any ritual significance. Apart from the remains of a small building,
interpreted as a mausoleum (since it contained the burial of an adult male),
no temple or shrine was discovered on the site.

The villa itself is not unusually large and the provision of elaborate heating
systems and baths is thought to suggest either that it had become the centre
of a large estate where outlying farmers came to pay dues and make use of the
bath house and pool, or that it had ceased to function as a farm and was,
instead, providing spa and recreational facilities. It is interesting to note
that the villa is situated c.0.25km south of the springs at Piccotts End
which, in the 18th and 19th centuries, were a fashionable spa resort.

The sequence of coins recovered from the site ceases abruptly at AD 353 when,
except for the two small buildings to the north, the whole of the villa
complex was systematically demolished. The excavator of the site suggests
that this destruction may have been connected with the reprisals of
Constantius against the supporters of the usurper Magnentius. Magnentius was
defeated, committing suicide in AD 353, after which Constantius' agent pursued
and punished the rebel supporters, confiscating many British properties in
Britain in the process. The villa at Gadebridge may have been one of these,
and it has been suggested that its lands were incorporated into the estates of
the Boxmoor villa about 1km to the south.

After the demolition, occupation continued in the two remaining buildings to
the end of the Roman occupation. The land was returned to agriculture, and a
series of post hole alignments indicate the erection of large animal pens on
the site of the villa buildings. It remained as farmland into the 20th
century.

The monument is one of a significant number of Roman sites in the area
including the Roman barrow at High Street Green, c.2.2km to the east, Boxmoor
villa, c.1km to the south, and the former temple complex at Wood Lane End,
some 3.45km to the south west (all of which are the subject of separate
schedulings). These are thought to have been connected by an interlinking
network of roads and trackways.

All made surfaces are excluded from the scheduling including fences,
fenceposts, lamp posts, bollards, street and traffic signs, although the
ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT
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
important.

Although the remains of the substantial Gadebridge villa are no longer
visible, they are preserved beneath the present ground surface. Excavations
have revealed a sequence of construction phases for the villa complex
including the elaborate bath suite which incorporates an exceptional example
of a swimming pool whose size is at present unparalleled in this context.
Since the excavations were planned with the intention of preservation, no
surfaces or structures from the later phases were removed unnecessarily. The
monument therefore contains sealed layers of archaeological deposits which
relate to the earlier periods of occupation. These will provide further
valuable dating evidence together with information concerning the villa's
economy and the diet, status and lifestyle of its occupants.

The villa is one of a number of Roman sites in the area, including Boxmoor
villa, High Street Green Roman barrow and the temple complex at Wood Lane End,
all of which are thought to have been interlinked by a system of roads and
trackways. Comparative studies of these sites will contribute significantly to
an understanding of the settlement patterns and economic structures of the
Roman period.

Gadebridge villa is a well documented example of this monument class and is
frequently cited in works dealing with Roman Britain.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 98
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 64
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 75
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 51
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 68
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 29
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 88
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 96
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 3
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 19-20
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 24-25
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 93
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 7
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 55
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 14
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 6
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 47
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 94
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 89-90
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 6
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 99
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 38,98
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 99-100
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 98,99
Neal, S, 'Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries' in The Excavation of the Roman Villa in Gadebridge Park 1963-8, , Vol. XXXI, (1974), 75
Other
discussion with MPPA, Went D A, (1996)
discussion with MPPA, Went, D A, (1996)

Source: Historic England

Other nearby scheduled monuments

AncientMonuments.uk is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact AncientMonuments.uk for any queries related to any individual ancient or schedued monument, planning permission related to scheduled monuments or the scheduling process itself.

AncientMonuments.uk is a Good Stuff website.