The history of Chedworth Roman Villa

4th century villa illustration of Chedworth Roman Villa, Gloucestershire

The history of Chedworth Roman Villa stretches back nearly 2000 years.

Construction, heyday and decline

Evidence for the first stone structure at Chedworth Roman Villa dates to the 2nd century AD. This relatively simple structure consisted of three detached buildings, each of a few rooms.

Over the next two centuries the villa was extended and improved, reaching its heyday in the 4th century AD, between 360-380AD. During this time Chedworth Roman Villa was a place of wealth, luxury and comfort. Imagine stunning mosaic floors, extensive bath house rooms and features made of marble so precious it was usually reserved for the imperial family.

Soon after this period of wealth and decadence the villa was abandoned. The Roman Empire officially pulled out of Britain in 410AD. It 's around this time that Chedworth Roman Villa fell into disrepair. The roofs fell in, trees grew up through the mosaic floors and soil from the surrounding banks buried the buildings.

A wealthy farmstead

In latin villa simply means a rural building or property. Archaeologists use the term to refer to a rural building in the Roman style. There were hundreds of villas across Roman Britain, principally in the south-east province. There was also a large concentration of villas in the Cotswold area. In a ten mile radius around Chedworth Roman Villa we know of fourteen other Roman villas.

Many villa owners would have got their wealth by farming the land. There have been no agricultural buildings discovered at Chedworth but this does not mean they didn't exist.  A possible clue to farming as the source of the villa owner's wealth exists in the triclinium mosaic floor. Bacchus is heavily represented here. Bacchus was the god of wine, fertility and agriculture. Imagine the villa owner, desperate for his crops to grow and paying homage to Bacchus.

A wealthy owner

We cannot know for certain who lived at Chedworth Roman VIlla as no finds give a direct link. What we do know is that the owner of a villa as lavish as Chedworth would have enjoyed wealth and status. Possibly, they were on the council that administered the local area from Corinium (modern day Cirencester). They may not have been Roman at all although they were living in a Romanised way.

The villa itself reflects the wealth, education and taste of the owner. In the West Range dining room the choice of scenes from Graeco-Roman mythology, rather than Celtic, demonstrates the owner's desire to present himself as classically educated.

Victorian discovery

It was not until a chance discovery by a gamekeeper in 1864 that Chedworth Roman Villa was unearthed.

One summer in 1864 was all it took for James Farrer, an archaeologst and uncle to Lord Eldon 3rd, to uncover Chedworth Roman Villa. Having gathered a team of estate workers, James felled the wood and revealed the walls and mosaic floors of one of Britain's largest remaining Roman villas.

After the 1864 excavations, some mosaics were left for visitors to view but the rest were re-buried. The outline of the Villa was reconstructed by placing nearby stone on top of surviving walls. At the same time, a lodge and museum were built on James' excavation spoil heap.

National Trust ownership

A local archaeologist Welbore St Clair Baddeley raised enough money by public subscription to buy Chedworth Roman Villa and pass it to the National Trust in 1924. Ever since then the Trust has worked hard to understand more about the villa and protect it for the future.