1864–2014: Chedworth 150

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This year we're celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Victorian rediscovery of Chedworth Roman Villa. Learn about the history of this site, from Victorian exploration to our plans for the future.

A Roman villa lost to the landscape

Built in the second century AD, the villa at Chedworth in Gloucestershire was one of the largest and most lavishly decorated houses in Roman Britain. As the sun set on the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the villa fell to ruin and, over time, was reclaimed by nature, lying buried for over a thousand years until a chance discovery in 1864.

A fortuitous Victorian ferreting trip

In June 1864 two men working on the Stowell Park Estate were ferreting for rabbits in the woods when their ferret got stuck down a hole. As they dug the ferret out they revealed a small patch of mosaic pavement. Realising the significance of the find they reported it and it came to the attention of the young landowner – 19-year-old Lord Eldon. His uncle and guardian, James Farrer, was a keen antiquarian and organised excavation of the site over the summer of 1864.

News of the excavations traveled far and wide

The dig revealed a series of huge and impressively intact mosaic floors, two bath houses, a water shrine, and over a mile of Roman walls. By 1865 a museum had been built on site, along with cover buildings to protect the main mosaics, and the villa ruins were being displayed to the visiting public. News of the dig spread and was reported in the Cheltenham Chronicle and Taunton Courier. In 1924 a public subscription bought the site from the Stowell Park Estate for the National Trust, so 2014 also sees the 90th anniversary of this milestone.

Displayed for the nation

We've continued to preserve, display and interpret the site ever since. In March 2012, the site fully reopened to the public after several years of extensive building and conservation work. Our new, award-winning cover building over the West Range offers unrivalled views of the spectacular mosaics. We invite visitors to marvel at some of the amazing inventions brought to this country by the Romans - including mosaics, bathhouses, latrines and even under-floor heating.

Innovation continues today

The Victorians who discovered Chedworth and protected it for the nation were trailblazing. Although we may not necessarily agree with the conservation practices they favoured, we applaud the recognition that their discovery was something special that needed protection. Today Chedworth is still a pioneering centre for research, with strong links to several UK universities and academics, an exciting programme of live archaeology and a strong education programme (both onsite and as an outreach offer).

New discoveries are being made all the time. In 2012, new finds included a second-century bathhouse, several buried mosaics and an impressive silver ring. The cover building that opened in 2012 has won several awards for its innovative approach to conservation.

Your invitation to a year of celebrations

We are preparing for a year of celebrations marking 150 years since that fortuitous ferreting trip. We invite you to help us celebrate  the story of the Victorians and how they shaped the villa as it is today with a range of special events. There will be further archaeological digs in August 2014, when we hope to explore more of the North Range following a successful dig in 2013.