Roman Villa Discovered Near Tewkesbury

The Abbey of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Tewkesbury. Image Credit - Hadyn Curtis.

A previously unknown Roman villa has been discovered in England by archaeologists excavating an area in preparation for a pipeline to be laid near Tewkesbury. The excavation has uncovered part of a wealthy Roman villa north of Bredons Norton in Gloucestershire. Two burials pre-dating the villa have also been discovered.

According to Stuart Foreman, an archaeologist from Oxford Archaeology, the most likely dating of the villa is the late-third to the mid-fourth centuries AD. He said: So far we have discovered a masonry building with plaster walls. It’s not impossible that it’s a shrine, but the most likely explanation is that it is a villa. The bit we have exposed is well preserved, with intact flagstone flooring and walls. He explained that the plaster walls were painted with a simple design in dark red and cream colours an indication that the building’s owners were wealthy. The part of the building that has been exposed is built on a terrace cut into a hillside.

Pottery and two coins have been found at the site. The pottery is mainly from the Severn Valley and the Malvern area. The coins are the best indicator that the villa was occupied during the fourth century AD. Mr Foreman added: We haven’t had a huge number of coins from the site, I think because it’s always been a popular spot for metal detectors. But the two coins we have are from the mid fourth century AD. One of them shows the emperor Magnentius and his brother or son, with whom he ruled from 350-353 AD.

Mr Foreman was quoted by thisisgloucestershire as saying: Whenever you find a new villa, it’s of national importance. It’s pretty unusual to find a new villa that hasn’t been recognised before.

Roman Villas in the Cotswolds

There are quite a few Roman villas dotted around the Cotswolds, many of them would have belonged to rich families connected to Cirencester, the capital of Britannia Prima in the fourth century AD.

It’s not impossible that it’s a shrine, but the most likely explanation is that it is a country villa. The bit we have exposed is well preserved, with intact flagstone flooring and walls

Within a 20-mile radius of Cirencester, there are approximately 30 Roman villas, including the well known ones such as Chedworth and Hucclecote and smaller sites such as Barnsley Park Roman villa, Bibury, Clear Cupboard, Spoonley, Wadfield, Rodmarton, Barnes Green and Withington.

The mid-third century was a disturbed period for the Roman empire and, according to Stuart Foreman, the Cotswolds, around Cirencester, was something of a haven from some of the military turbulence that was happening in Britain and the rest of the empire. The ‘third century crisis’ played out during the greater part of the third century AD (from 235-284 AD).

There is no clear evidence of who would have lived in the villa. At this stage, itis impossible to say whether they were part of the Roman elite, settled military personnel or a Romano-British family who had made their fortune.

Two Burials

Two burials have also been found at the site. One is a crouched inhumation but no objects or material have been found in the burial, so the date could range from the Iron Age to Anglo-Saxon times. It’s about 150m away from the villa.

The second burial is an Iron Age cremation. According to Mr Foreman, both burials are pretty much what you would expect from late Iron Age or Roman burials.

Making Way for a Water Supply Security Pipe

Although the site being excavated is a 15m-wide strip, which is being prepared for a pipeline to be laid, the Roman villa is thought to extend much further and part of it is likely to be buried beneath the village of Bredons Norton. Geophysical surveys will have to be carried out to establish the exact layout of the villa.

The pipe is being laid as part of the Gloucester security water supply pipeline, managed by Severn Trent Water.