Exploring Chedworth’s Roman heritage
Chedworth is most famous for its mosaics and provides a unique insight into life during the Roman period in Britain. A modern conservation building provides exceptional access to the extensive mosaic floors, hypocaust systems and bath house rooms and a small museum houses a range of finds and artefacts from the villa. Read on to discover more about Chedworth’s heritage finds.
Chedworth is famous for its mosaics. During a Victorian excavation in 1864, the walls and mosaics of one of Britain’s largest Roman villas were uncovered.
In 2010, National Trust archaeologists Martin Papworth and Nancy Grace, were excavating the floors in the West Range and discovered a mosaic floor running the length of the West Range. At over 30m, the corridor is the longest of its type in Britain.
In 2014, excavations uncovered a new mosaic floor. Measuring 18m long and 6m wide, the mosaic is the largest on site and is believed to have formed part of Chedworth's grand reception hall. Certain tesserae within the mosaic were made of marble, which would have sparkled in the lamplight.
At Chedworth, you can also see the remains of the baths, which were an essential ingredient in the guest's experience in the Roman era. The West Range bath suite was a very special place. Only guests of a high social status would be invited.
Bathing together, in this private space, was an essential part of business and social networking. This was exclusive bathing for the elite.
For those invited in, the baths were a sensual experience - the temperature of the air and water in the baths was highly controlled to send skin into shock and relaxation, opening and closing pores to sweat out dirt and grime.
Servants might offer oils, massages, scrapings, cuttings and clippings to ensure the guests came out well groomed. The shared experience and the visual and aromatic evidence of the visit helped to strengthen social bonds.
The hard graft behind the scenes
The remains of the baths hint at the enormous work that others undertook to supply this service. Hypocaust channels flowed with hot air that was produced from burning huge amounts of wood. This wood had to be cut and prepared for burning, fires maintained and ashes cleaned.
The mosaic floors needed mopping and drains clearing. All this work would have been largely hidden from the eyes of the guests.
We don't know if the servants were enslaved, free born or a mixed staff. There’s little evidence in Britain in the 4th century to help us understand if slavery was still common.
Did the women of the villa, in particular those associated with the owner's family use the baths? Presumably the women came at a different time of the day to the men? Were moments of freedom and relaxation from the restricting social duties of high-born women snatched here?
The story of the villa is one of elite wealth, luxury and entertainment. However, deeper, more spiritual tales can also be found here.
Spirits of nature protect the water
When you visit Chedworth you will find the remains of what is known as the Nymphaeum. This is where a natural spring is captured and a shrine to the female spirits of nature, or nymphs was built.
The spring water was fed into an eight-sided pool with stone coping slabs. From here the water went to the villa buildings.
A new religion moves in
The nymphs ruled the shrine for years, but at some point in the 4th century AD, the world around them was shifting. Christianity became the favoured religion of the emperors and many of the people. This filtered through to Chedworth.
In the museum you can see a stone which was once a coping slab around the nymph's pool. On it is a tiny, inscribed mark, which is known as the Chi Rho, and represents the first two letters of Christ's name in Greek. Exit nymphs and enter Christ, the new protector of the spring.
Round two, the nymphs are back
But the story doesn't end here. The stone wasn't discovered by the pool but being re-used to make up some new steps in the West bath house. The mark of Christ was now hidden away and the old spirits were back in charge at the spring.
The stuff of life
This is also a reminder of how important the provision of water was to the villa. Ensuring this water supply was suitably protected by some spiritual force was clearly important to the people that lived here.
Without the spring, the baths couldn't function, the toilets couldn't flush and food and drink couldn't be prepared. We use this very same spring to supply water to our visitors today.
Chedworth is also home to a Roman latrine, a rare feature in villas and considered an ultimate luxury.
Human waste was useful - most simple toilets were built over cesspits, and the content removed by slaves or servants for fertiliser. Large pottery jars were used to collect urine. This was used in laundries and leather production.
A communal loo
Roman flushing toilets are very identifiable in their layout even when you just have a few stones left in the ground. The occupants would sit on a long wooden bench with a number of holes cut through it. There are no cubicles; this was a shared experience and moss or sponges on a stick would have been used for cleaning.
A luxury offering
There are some questions about the toilet at Chedworth. If it was such a luxury offering, why was it next to the kitchen, which would have been in the servants' area of the villa?
As far as we can tell, the only door into the toilet was via the kitchen. It’s hard to imagine esteemed guests pushing their way through the hustle and bustle of the kitchen to use the facilities.
Archaeology is fascinating, it raises as many questions as it answers.
Discover 2,000 years of history at Chedworth Roman Villa. Find out about its construction, heyday and decline, and unearth the stories of a wealthy owner and a Victorian discovery.
Discover the remains of one of the grandest Roman villas in Britain. See the spectacular Roman mosaics, hypocausts and bath houses and find out what treasures have been found here.
Chedworth Roman Villa has some of the most impressive in-situ Roman mosaics in the country and a close up look gives an insight into life in Roman Britain.
Discover the unusual objects that have been unearthed at Chedworth; from a 5th-century mosaic to bone hair pins and pottery.
Chedworth is famous for its mosaic, but there’s so much more to discover - from bath houses to Roman latrines. Discover more about Chedworth’s heritage finds