One of the largest and probably best known Roman era archaeological sites in Great Britain is the Chedworthvilla near Cirencester in Gloucestershire.
The Chedworth villa is a typical Roman house in Britain during the late period, with U-shaped layout surrounding a central courtyard. Construction of the villa occurred in several stages, with the original house dating from the first half of the second century C.E. The house was rebuilt and extended in the third century. What remains today are the foundations of the house from the fourth century when the buildings were joined together with verandas to overlook a central garden. Most likely, the villa was a country home for an official headquartered in nearby Cirencester, which was the second most important city in Roman Britain.
Chedworth was discovered by accident in 1864 when a gameskeeper searching for a ferret found paving and pottery fragments. The majority of the site was excavated over a period of approximately two years by James Farrer under the aegis of the Earl of Eldon, who owned the site at the time. The earl also provided funding for a museum on the site as well as roofing over the structures. Britain’s National Historic Trust has administered the site since 1924. Debris from the original excavations underlies the custodian’s house, which originally was a hunting lodge, built prior to 1870.
Sitting at the top of a small hill, the villa faces east overlooking the river Coln. Visitors can access the site via a pleasant uphill walk from a parking lot set in a wooded Costwold combe.
The highlight of the site is a mosaic floor, preserved almost in its entirety, in the villa’s dining room located in the west wing. Crafted by local artisans, the mosaic depicts the four seasons, but in a uniquely British way. The representation of winter wears a hooded woolen cloak called a Birrus Brittanicus. This area of the villa was heated by a hypocaust system, a geothermal method whereby heating water ran underneath a raised stone floor, thereby heating the floor as well as the entire room. In addition to the ducts for the hypocaust, the furnace room where the water was heated has also been excavated. A sauna and roman baths are also located in this part of Chedworth.
A second highlight of the site is a spring-fed water shrine, set into the northwest corner of the U shaped layout. A crude figure of the Roman god Mars was originally found in this portion of the site. Also located at Chedworth, although down the hill from the main site, is a square Roman-Celtic temple surrounded by a portico, dating from the second century.