Victorian discovery

Chedworth Roman Villa is a major site of the Roman period in Britain, one of the 4 or 5 largest rural domestic buildings known from the 4th-century high point of Romano-British culture. It lies in a particularly beautiful setting, which has changed little since Roman times. The surrounding landscape has a large number of other archaeological sites of the same period, including several smaller villas, and a substantial temple. 

The site was discovered in 1864 when the recovery of some mosaic tesserae indicated the existence of a Roman site.  Eager to know more, the Earl of Eldon set the estate labourers to work under the direction of his uncle James Farrer.  A single season of excavation took place, during which the bulk of the currently exposed remains were uncovered. 

The earliest known photograph of the north range in 1870

The site was interpreted as a large country mansion belonging to a Roman gentleman, assumed to be an immigrant landowner participating in the governance of the province. The trappings of luxury, in the form of mosaics, hypocausts, bath-houses etc. were recognised as exceptional.

The excavated bath-house as illustrated in the Journal of the British Archaeological Association in 1868

It is clear that Mr. Farrer and Lord Eldon prized the discovery of the villa on the latter’s land very highly. The efforts they made to conserve the site were exceptional by contemporary standards. Usually, sites were dug, the finds removed, drawings made, and the ruins uncovered then abandoned. But Lord Eldon and his uncle took steps that ensured the remarkable preservation of the villa today. The re-burial of exposed mosaics and other delicate archaeological elements was very important in their survival. The building of the shelters, the Victorian Museum, and the custodian’s house were further evidence of their commitment to preserving and displaying the monument.  However, the excavators also decided to rebuild many of the walls according to their Victorian idea of a romantic Roman ruin.

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