The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Ditchley Roman Villa, Near Charlbury, Oxfordshire

A typical Roman villa in England, although Ditchley was smaller.*

NGR: SP 39932 20104. In a field about ½ a mile southeast of Ditchley Park, near Charlbury, Oxfordshire, are the visible earthworks of a Roman villa. This grassy, rectangular-shaped earthwork is to be found just to the east of a wooded area (Harry’s Plantation) in the location known as Watts Wells Field – northeast of Lodge Farm. Although it has always been called “Roman villa” more than likely it was a Roman farmstead, which had a boundary ditch (dyke) enclosing it and an entrance at the south side; but because it was still inhabited into the 5th century AD, ‘Romano-British’ farmstead seems more appropriate. The rectangular earthwork is said to be 330 x 300m. Nearby are remains of a Roman bath-house, ancient field system and Grim’s Dyke, and 1½ miles south is the Roman road (Akeman Street). 1½ miles northeast of Charlbury at the B4437 (Woodstock Road) take the lane north to Lodge Farm, then follow the footpath northeast and then east to the next field – the villa (site) is in this field, just a little to the south of the footpath.

The Wikipedia website has the following: “It was a collonaded house with outbuildings, threshing floors, and a granary with capacity for the produce of about 1,000 acres (400 ha) of arable land. It was surrounded by a rectangular ditch 360 yards (330 m) by 330 yards (300 m). The site is less than 2 miles (3.2 km) north of the course of Akeman Street Roman road and is one of a number of Roman villas and Romano-British farmsteads that have been identified in the area, apparently associated with the territory bounded by Grim’s Ditch. The villa site was identified by aerial archaeology in 1934 and excavated in 1935. It was found to have been first settled in about AD 70 with a set of timber-framed buildings, which were replaced in stone in the 2nd Century. In about AD 200 a fire severely damaged the stone buildings and the site was abandoned. The site was reoccupied early in the 4th century, and occupation on a more modest scale than before continued until the end of that century.” (See the link, below).

Ground plan of Ditchley Roman Villa, Oxfordshire (after Oxoniensia vol.i,p.28).

Richmond (1963) tells us that: “At Ditchley (Oxfordshire), the timber posts which formed the first version of the earliest house plainly indicate the simplest kind of structural beginning, comparable with the now rare but once common timber arcades of Norman domestic architecture, of which carpentry made a delightful thing. The first stone-built Ditchley house differed little from Lockleys or Park Street, and it is probable that only a loft-like first floor was provided, if at all. But about the turn of the first century A.D. there were added a new stone-built veranda and projecting end rooms which gave to the establishment both privacy and a new elegance. There was now room for re-creation and entertainment in what had been previously a workaday farm, wherein the whole house had lived together. Socially speaking, the new plan divided the household and accentuated the position of master and mistress. In Britain this type of house became widespread, and it brought the new province into touch with the mainstream of contemporary West-European domestic archi-tecture. For in Gaul or the Rhineland the design was generally common, and went with a sizeable farm. And so it was in Britain, for on the basis of its granary accommodation the Ditchley villa has been related to an estate of five hundred acres. This supplies, then, a kind of yardstick, however rough, by which the size and standing of different kinds of villas can be gauged. Even allowing for the fact that, on the ancient system of crop-rotation, one-third of the arable lay fallow each year, it becomes clear; that by this standard the numerous  bigger villas must have been related to very substantial estates indeed. Not enough is known about the social organization of such larger estates to say whether they were run by slaves or by crofter-labourers. But where a resident staff of labourers appears, their accommodation nearly always takes the form of a barn-dwelling, frequently ranged on one side of a farmyard or court. This structure, convenient for so many purposes, is planned with nave and aisles divided by timber columns. As in Friesian farm-houses today, the nave served for stores, tools, and livestock, while the aisles or the whole of one end of the building were partitioned to house the workers. In the form of a subsidiary building essential to the working of a farm this type of house was so general, even in the largest establishments, that its prototype has been sought in the pre-Roman days. But no proof of such antecedents has yet appeared, and it may well be that this type is borrowed from the Italian villa rustica. There are some villas also in which this type of house is the only domestic accommodation present, as for examples Clanville (Hampshire) or Denton (Lincolnshire). These represent either small tenant farms or bailiff-run establishments, where the distinction between tenant or supervisor and workers was less sharply defined. Some, as at Castlefield (Hampshire), are so primitive in their arrangements that any distinction seems out of the question.”

Hawkes (1975) with Roman villas in general, says: “These range in size and dignity from large “country houses” to quite modest farm-houses. They were most numerous and prosperous in the Home Counties, but frequent enough right across southern England, with noticeable concentrations in Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and the Cotswolds. The most elaborate villas were built round a courtyard; others had a main block with wings, very many consisted only of a single block with rooms opening on to an arcaded corridor. Their remains often include foundations of brick or stone walls, mosaic floors, small column bases, hypocaust columns from the central-heating system, and, of course, the usual Roman litter of bricks, tiles and potsherds. The buildings seem often to have been enclosed with an outer boundary ditch or wall, and the estates attached to them must sometimes have been extensive.” 

The Wikipedia websites also tells us that: “Some time before the villa was discovered, a hoard of 1,176 bronze Roman coins was found between Box Wood and Out Wood, about 600 yards (550 m) to 700 yards (640 m) northeast of the villa site. The coins range in date from about AD 270 onwards and seem to have been buried in a ceramic pot about AD 395, towards the end of the Roman occupation. The hoard was transferred to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 1935.

Grim’s Ditch, which passes through the present park and estate, is an ancient boundary believed to have been constructed during the Roman occupation of Britain in about the 1st century AD. The toponym ‘Ditchley’ is derived from a compound of two English words, meaning the woodland clearing (“-ley”) on Grim’s Ditch.” (See the Wikipedia Link, below).

Sources / References & Related websites:

Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments In England And Wales, Cardinal (Sphere Books Ltd), London, 1975.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ditchley

*Liversidge, Joan, Then And There Series—Roman Britain, Longman, Green And Co. Ltd., London & Harlow, 1969.

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England—Roman Britain, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963. 

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1009420

https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=334570

https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol1/pp306-324

https://www2.rgzm.de/transformation/unitedKingdom/villas/VillaeLandscapes.htm

More information here Ashmolean Museum

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.

 


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The Multangular Roman Tower And Defensive Walls at York, North Yorkshire

The Multangular Roman Tower, Eboracum (York)

NGR: SE 60012 52072. At the east side of York city centre, just off Museum Street (A1036), and in the Yorkshire Museum’s gardens (at the north side) overlooking the River Ouse is the famous ‘Multangular Tower’, a defensive structure (with 10 sides or angles) belonging to the western corner of the Roman fort of Eburacum or Eboracum, which was built around the year 300 AD during the reign of Constantius I (Chlorus). The lower section of the tower with its nice, neat stonework is the Roman part whereas the top section with the larger stonework and arrow slits is 13th century. It is certainly the finest, and the best preserved, of all the Roman defensive structures in the city; and also there is a well-preserved 76 foot section of Roman wall (early 3rd century and still 17 feet in height, but without its parapet) running northeastwards from the Multangular Tower through the museum gardens toward Bootham Bar; along this section of wall there is the stump of an interval tower. Access to the York-shire Museum Gardens (close by Lendal Bridge) is from either Museum Street or Marygate. Also look out for the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey and St Leonard’s Hospital.

The Wikipedia website gives the following: “A low plinth or skirt extends out from the lowest course. It stands almost 30 feet (9.1 m) tall, has an external diameter of 48.5 feet (14.8 m) at the base and 46 feet (14 m) above the skirt. Length of each side varies from 7.5 feet (2.3 m) to 11 feet (3.4 m) on the inner face. The tower projects beyond the curtain wall to a distance of 36.75 feet (11.20 m). The foundations are concrete, atop which the tower extends having a rubble and mortar core between faced courses of small magnesian blocks. At 15 feet (4.6 m) a scarcement reduces the thickness of the wall from 5 feet (1.5 m) to 3.25 feet (0.99 m), which continues for a further 4 feet (1.2 m) before being capped by 11 feet (3.4 m) of 13th century masonry in which arrowslits can be seen”, according to Wikipedia. (See the Link, below).

Herman Ramm (1979) says that in: “About AD 300: The defenses were again rebuilt except for the section from the south-east to the north-east gates which includes the east corner. The new wall was similar to the old except that the facing was bonded to the core by a tile band and had a tile cornice. This can still be seen at the west angle where there is also the stump of a great projecting tower, the Multangular Tower, matched by another (not now visible) at the south angle. Along the south-west side, facing the Ouse, were six only slightly less imposing interval towers and a great gritstone gatehouse.

“The reasons for these changes are not always certain……but “is often said to be the result of another similar disaster, but the new architectural frontspiece added to the river front of the fortress suggests that it had attained a new dignity, probably that of becoming the seat of the new Dux Britanniarum, commander of the land forces of all Britain.

Herman Ramm goes on to say that: “Inside the fortress timber buildings have been found, for example near St. William’s College and off Blake Street, which must relate to the timber defences. The headquarters building was first built in stone in the early 2nd century (Trajan-Hadrian), but its next reconstruction in the early fourth century was Constantinian rather than Constantian. It was not demolished until the ninth century.”

Tom Garlick (1988) tells us that: “In the early 4th century the fortress was again strengthened by Constantius Chlorus following the troubles of 296. The river façade was now equipped with two fine polygonal angle towers, six close set interval towers and a new impressive towered gateway. These alterations made York one of the strongest defended and imposing fortresses of the Roman Empire. The south-west corner tower — the ten sided Multangular tower faced in small ashlar blocks — still survives in the Museum Gardens. Once fronted by ditches, its upper storey held powerful catapult artillery.

“Constantius I died at York and his son Constantine was proclaimed Emperor there. In the administrative reorganization of the 4th century, York became the headquarters of the Duke of Britain, a new military cavalry commander. In the third and fourth centuries Whitby jet was manufactured into rings, pins, necklaces and portrait medallions in the town and mar-keted in the Rhineland. By the late Empire there were Christian churches in the colonia and a bishop of York attended the church council in Arles in France in 314. The legionary garrison was evacuated in the late 4th century but town life seems to have continued into sub-Roman times and the Dark Ages.”

The Multangular Roman Tower at York (photo).

Mr Garlick adds more, saying that: “Today the fortress area, canabae and colonia lie buried beneath the modern city. The main lines of the camp’s streets are still preserved in Stonegate and Petergate, and the Minster stands over the Roman headquarters. Visitors can still inspect sections of the Roman defences. The Multangular tower is the finest survival, together with 35 feet of adjacent wall surviving to a height of 13 feet. Inside, the position of barracks is known, as is a bath house under the Mail Coach Inn in St. Sampson’s Square and the legionary head-quarters crosshall under the Minster. Modern buildings cover the canabae and the site of the presumed amphitheatre. No traces survive above ground of the colonia but its street plans and some of its buildings are known from excavation and chance finds. The cemeteries were extensive and lined the town’s approach roads. Visitors should establish the line of the Roman fortress and town walls as compared with the later medi-eval city walls and visit exposed Roman defences. The Yorkshire Museum contains an extensive collection of inscriptions and finds from the city which throw interesting light on the history of Eboracum and its inhabitants during the four centuries of Roman rule. In 1971 the city celebrated the 1,900 anniversary of its founding by Cerialis.” 

Richmond (1963) tells us: “At Eburacum (York) literature similarly records a shrine of Bellona, the Goddess of War, and there is a noble head of Constantine* as Caesar or newly-proclaimed Emperor.” *The head of Constantine can be seen in    The Yorkshire Museum.

Richmond goes on to tells us about jet, saying that: “Solinus describes British jet with interest, as a substance heated with water but quenched with oil and magnetic when rubbed. These paradoxical qualities endowed jet with almost magical esteem, and it became a favourite material for ornamental jewellery, much of which was manufactured at Eburacum (York). Hair-pins, spindles, finger-rings, and bracelets were made in great variety, some bracelets and many necklaces being ingeniously articulated in minute component pieces. Elaborately carved pendents and medallions, including family groups executed to order, and teddy-bears, represent either profitable lines of production.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:

Garlick, Tom, A Dalesman White Rose Guide — Roman Yorkshire, The Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, 1978.

Ramm, Herman, Roman York From A.D. 71, Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society, York, 1979.

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England — Roman Britain, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963.

The AA, The Illustrated Road Book Of England & Wales, The Automobile Association, London, 1962.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/York_city_walls#Multangular_Tower

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/York_Museum_Gardens

Check out this website: https://yorkcivictrust.co.uk/heritage/civic-trust-plaques/roman-fortress/

http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/roman-empire-governed-from-york/the-multangular-tower

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/multangular-tower-and-wall-museum-gardens-7913

http://secretyork.com/multangular-tower/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.