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History of Chedworth Roman Villa

An archaeologist and volunteer digging in the northern wing of the villa at Chedworth Roman Villa, Gloucestershire
Archaeologist and volunteer working on Chedworth Roman Villa | © National Trust Images / Stephen Haywood

The history of Chedworth Roman Villa stretches back nearly 2,000 years to when the villa was a place of wealth, luxury and comfort. Find out about its construction, heyday and decline, and unearth the stories of a wealthy owner, and a Victorian discovery.

Construction, heyday and decline

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

Over the following 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 in 410AD the Roman Empire officially pulled out of Britain. However, there is evidence that the wealthy owners of the villa continued to lead an opulent lifestyle well into the 5th century, laying new mosaics long after it was thought these skills had declined and the wealth had gone.

Slightly damaged floor mosaic at Chedworth Roman Villa, Gloucestershire
Floor mosaic at Chedworth Roman Villa | © National Trust Images / James Dobson

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, mostly in the south-east province.

There was also a large concentration of villas in the Cotswold area. In a 10-mile radius around Chedworth Roman Villa we know of 14 other 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, the god of wine, fertility and agriculture, is heavily represented.

A wealthy owner

We cannot know for certain who lived at Chedworth 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 (triclinium) the choice of scenes from Graeco-Roman mythology, rather than Celtic, demonstrates the owner's desire to present themselves as classically educated.

A 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 archaeologist and uncle to the third Lord Eldon, to uncover Chedworth Roman Villa. Having gathered a team of estate workers, Farrer 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 Farrer's excavation spoil heap.

A close up of the central roundel of the mosaic, surrounded by a guilloche border at Chedworth Roman Villa, Gloucestershire
The central roundel of the mosaic at Chedworth Roman Villa | © National Trust Images / Ian Shaw

Chedworth Roman Villa and the National Trust

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 future generations.

A close up of part of the western panel in the southern mosaic of the Dining Room at Chedworth Roman Villa Gloucestershire

Discover Chedworth Roman Villa

Find out when Chedworth Roman Villa is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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