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Lockleys Roman villa

A Scheduled Monument in Welwyn, Hertfordshire

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Latitude: 51.8307 / 51°49'50"N

Longitude: -0.2053 / 0°12'19"W

OS Eastings: 523765.281039

OS Northings: 216199.412581

OS Grid: TL237161

Mapcode National: GBR J8V.2XG

Mapcode Global: VHGPD.D7BX

Entry Name: Lockleys Roman villa

Scheduled Date: 14 February 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015581

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27910

County: Hertfordshire

Civil Parish: Welwyn

Traditional County: Hertfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hertfordshire

Church of England Parish: Welwyn and Woolmer Green

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


The monument includes the buried remains of a Roman villa and traces of an
Iron Age settlement situated on the south western slope of a hill overlooking
the Mimram valley some 300m south west of Lockley Farm.
The site was first identified in 1930, and part excavation in 1936-37 revealed
phases of occupation dating from the first century AD to the last quarter of
the fourth century AD.

The earliest structure on the site was considered to be a circular hut located
on what was probably a natural terrace c.300m south west of the present farm
buildings, represented by a shallow, circular depression c.3.5m in diameter.
A single shallow gully c.10m to the north west was thought by the excavator to
represent a later Iron Age house destroyed when the first villa building was

Finds recovered from these early phases included pottery, brooches and coins,
all of which suggest that the site was occupied at least intermittently from
c.AD 20 to the mid first century AD.

The remains of a substantial ditch situated some 30m to the south east of
these early features is thought to date from this phase of occupation, and to
have continued to function as a boundary throughout the Roman period.

The first building on the site which shows clear evidence of Roman influence
was considered to have been built around AD 60-70 as a direct replacement of
its Iron Age predecessor. Building debris containing fragments of samian ware
dated to AD 54-79 found beneath the foundation layers of flint and chalk
rubble may represent the remains of this Late Iron Age house.

This first villa was constructed over the site of both the earlier buildings.
It was a simple cottage house of four rooms in a row, orientated north
west-south east and measuring some 23m long by 7m wide. The northernmost room
was subdivided into two, and the whole building was fronted by a verandah
along the western side supported by a row of posts. The foundations and dwarf
walls were of dressed flint, forming sills to carry the timber framing of
which the house was mainly constructed. This framework would have been
infilled with wattle and daub panels and finished inside with decorated
plaster, remains of which were found on the site. The inner partition walls
would have been similarly constructed and finished.

By the beginning of the fourth century AD the house had been remodelled
utilising the existing foundations, and extended. A stone corridor replaced
the verandah and a northern wing was added. The severe nature of the slope to
the west was overcome by splitting the level of this wing. The rear room's
foundations are contiguous with the original building, but those of the
projecting room are set lower down. A second storey over half this lower room
rose above the height of the rest of the house.

The northern wing thus had one room adjoining the existing foundations,
fronted to the west by a second, larger room with a tesselated floor of red,
yellow and green brick cubes, and entered on its western side via a porch. The
upper floor, constructed over the eastern half of this room, is thought to
have had access from the main range by a wooden staircase.

It is thought that a matching wing was added to the south but, as this area
was subsequently built over during the fourth century, little is presently
known of its form and extent.

Soon after these extensions were built, the rear room of the northern wing was
divided by a rough masonry partition and another room was constructed in the
angle of the western room and the corridor.

By about AD 340 the building was in ruins. This was probably the result of a
fire, debris from which sealed datable deposits in three of the rooms.
However, the collapsed walls and ceilings of the two storeyed western room
suggest a degree of dereliction before the fire occurred, and may even
indicate deliberate burning as a means of clearing the site before the final
phase of construction.

The final house, built to the south east of the original building and partly
overlying its foundations, is thought to have been both simpler and flimsier
than its predecessor. Only three small rooms ranged along the southern end of
the original house are known, together with the remains of one or possibly two
others which may have utilised the foundations of the old southern wing. The
building extended southwards but, as the excavation was limited, the full
ground plan has not yet been recovered.

A coin found in the foundations of the east wall indicates that the house was
built after AD 330, while the pottery discovered beneath the burnt debris of
the previous house has been dated to the first half of the fourth century.
The site was probably abandoned during the last quarter of the fourth century
when the coin sequence ends with an issue of Valens (AD 364-78), and there
appears to have been no reoccupation. This date coincides with a period when
conditions in Britain were extremely unsettled: rural areas were subjected
not only to the depredations of bands of Gaulish marauders but also to similar
treatment at the hands of army deserters. A few years of relative stability
were secured by a military reorganisation which fortified the coast and
strengthened town defences, but a subsequent wave of rebellions and
usurpations undermined both social order and the economy. By the last quarter
of the fourth century life at Lockleys villa may have been untenable.

The relative simplicity of the villa building with its lack of any heating
system may indicate that Lockleys was occupied by native British farmers who
only gradually adopted Roman ways and whose home reflects fairly modest means.
However, the relative lack of datable deposits for the late second century and
the third century may mean that the site was abandoned during this period, and
not rebuilt and extended before AD 300. A second, more elaborate villa some
300m to the south west in the Mimram valley (Dicket Mead villa, the subject of
a separate scheduling) was built during the third century when the Lockleys
villa may have been abandoned, and was itself largely derelict during the
final phase of occupation at Lockleys. The interrelationship of these two
villas is not yet fully understood but it is possible that both were part of
the same estate. Dicket Mead could represent a phase of prosperity which led
to the desertion of the hillside house in favour of the sheltered valley
floor, with Lockleys remodelled at the beginning of the fourth century to
house a bailiff or tenant. A reversal of fortune, necessitating the virtual
abandonment of the more luxurious establishment may be reflected in the final
house at Lockleys which, it has been suggested, was constructed from material
salvaged from demolished buildings at Dicket Mead.

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

Although Lockleys Roman villa can no longer be seen on the ground, the partly
excavated remains have been preserved and will retain valuable archaeological
deposits. Modern techniques of excavation and analysis applied to these
deposits will provide further information relating to the date, period of
occupation, status and lifestyle of the villa's occupants, and may elucidate
the phases of pre-Roman settlement. Environmental evidence sealed beneath the
foundations and in the fills of the boundary ditch may help to illustrate the
nature of the landscape in which the monument was set.

The monument is situated in close proximity to a second villa at Dicket Mead.
The development and functions of the two sites are considered to be
interrelated, and to be fundamental to an understanding of the evolution of
settlement and economy in the area from the Late Iron Age to the end of the
Roman occupation.

Lockleys villa has become a well known example of this class of monument and
is frequently cited in works on Roman Britain.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Webster, G, The Future of Villa Studies, (1969)
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)
Rook, A G, 'Hertfordshire Archaeology' in The Roman Villa Site at Dicket Mead, , Vol. 9, (1987)
Salway, P, 'The Oxford History of England' in Roman Britain, , Vol. 1A, (1981)
Ward Perkins, J B, 'The Antiquaries Journal' in The Roman Villa at Lockleys, Welwyn, , Vol. XVIII, (1938), 339-376
Ward Perkins, J B, 'The Antiquaries Journal' in The Roman Villa at Lockleys, Welwyn, , Vol. XVIII, (1938)
Ward Perkins, J B, 'The Antiquaries Journal' in The Roman Villa at Lockleys, Welwyn, , Vol. XVIII, (1938)
oblique monochrome photograph, 164, (1974)

Source: Historic England

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