Dicket Mead Roman villa


The Dicket Mead villa, a Roman ruin which was originally built in the 3rd century AD.  The full extent of the Dicket Mead villa was never fully excavated. Its baths, now known as the Welwyn Roman Baths were only one of at least four buildings in total.

The monument includes the visible and buried remains of a substantial Roman villa situated in the valley of the River Mimram, c.160m north east of Sherrardswood School. The eastern part of the monument is located beneath the school playing field – formerly known as Dicket Mead – while the western area, including the bath house, is preserved beneath the embankment of the A1(M). The area between the two parts of the monument was disturbed by the construction of the A1(M) and by the excavations in advance of this work. Nothing of significance now survives in this area and it is not included in the scheduling. The two parts of the monument are therefore protected in separate areas.

The site was first discovered in 1960, when Roman tiles noticed in the river bank led to part excavation, the later phases of the work being carried out in advance of the construction of the A1(M).

The investigations revealed part of the remains of an extensive and prestigious villa complex bounded to the north west by a wall c.106m long. The north eastern boundary has not been traced and is thought to have been eroded by the changing course of the river which, during the Roman period, was canalised to flow through the villa precinct, providing a convenient and controllable source of water. A double arch in the centre of the north west wall accommodated the flow and the remains of a small square structure adjacent to the canal or leat may have been connected with the management of the water supply.

The south western boundary is thought to have been represented by a series of post holes, but the full south eastern extent of the complex is not yet known, although it is considered to correspond broadly to the perimeter of the playing field.

The north western boundary wall linked two substantial rectangular buildings to the north east and south west, both measuring some 27m long by 15.5m wide, with the long axes orientated north west to south east. The internal layout of these buildings was fairly simple, with long central rooms and corridors or verandahs to front and rear, the corridors showing traces of subdivision into small rooms.

The north eastern building had a large rectangular hall with a centrally placed water tank or impluvium opposite the main entrance, a feature which has been noted in Italian villas and which suggests a significant degree of continental influence. The tank was made of oak shuttering, and water still standing in it at the time of the excavation had preserved enough of the wood to show the means of construction. The building was also provided with a heated room at the south eastern end.

Another building was located some 50m east of the boundary wall, its placing in relation to the other two buildings roughly forming the apex of a broad based triangle. The full ground plan of this building has not yet been recovered but a portion was excavated in advance of road construction and was preserved beneath the motorway embankment. This excavation revealed the remains of a second, more elaborate bath suite with an apsidal projection to the north west. Although the extent of this third structure is not known, it is considered that the bath suite occupies a corner position of a substantial villa building which extends to the north east and south east. A comparison with other British villas suggests that this building may have been a winged corridor house or perhaps a true courtyard villa.

Welwyn Roman Baths

The south western building was constructed in a similar style. An oven at the southern end of the central room suggests that this may have been a kitchen. The south eastern area was occupied by a small bath suite. This is some 15.5m long by 5m wide overall, with cold, warm and hot rooms and hot and cold plunge baths. The hot plunge bath is particularly interesting. In shape and size it resembles a modern bath, a style thought to be unknown elsewhere in Roman Britain. This bath suite is now preserved beneath the A1(M) and is included in the scheduling. It is a displayed monument open to the public at specific times. The remainder of the south western building and the connecting boundary wall were destroyed during the construction of the motorway and are not included in the scheduling.

Dateable Material found at Dicket Mead Roman villa

Coins and other datable material indicate that the whole of the known complex was built early in the 3rd century and modified c.AD 280. Soon after AD 345 the north eastern and south western buildings were abandoned and fell into disrepair with eventual demolition. Occupation of the third building did, however, continue into the late fourth century.

It has been suggested that the occupants of Dicket Mead may not have been entirely concerned with farming, and the evidence recovered may support this hypothesis. Building debris included sufficient glass to imply that all the buildings had glazed windows, and a quantity of carved Greek marble proved to be the remains of a number of statues of classical form typical of third century Mediterranean craftsmanship.

The site yielded a very large quantity of good quality pottery including samian ware, and fragments of Rhenish glass vessels unusual in Britain. Jewellery and similar objects included enamelled brooches, glass beads, shale and jet bangles and various rings, including an intaglio with a mythological device. A small haematite amulet recovered from the area of the north eastern building proved to carry symbols and inscriptions identified as Greek, Egyptian and Semitic and is thought to be a talisman intended to protect against the dangers of childbirth.

An analysis of the bones recovered from the site revealed an unusually high proportion of wild and hunted animals of which red deer was the most significant. Horses were also represented to an unusual degree, and a number of domestic cats and dogs. Two of the latter were found to be the smallest dog skeletons found in Roman Britain.

The finds imply a high degree of Roman influence and suggest significant wealth and status, allowing the inhabitants of Dicket Mead to pursue, in an elegant and luxurious setting, a lifestyle which must have included hunting and epicurean pleasures.


A second, simpler establishment – Lockleys villa (the subject of a separate scheduling) – is situated on the hillside some 300m to the north east. The dating chronologies relating to the building, occupation and demolition of the two monuments imply a relationship. It has been suggested that the inhabitants of Lockleys, which was built between c.AD 50 and AD 150, left that villa and moved to Dicket Mead during the early years of the third century when the hillside house is thought to have been abandoned. Lockleys was reconstructed around the beginning of the fourth century, perhaps for a bailiff or tenant, at a time when Dicket Mead was flourishing. However, this reconstructed house was demolished and another built next to it around the middle of the fourth century when Dicket Mead was largely abandoned.

No direct connection between the two villas has yet been established but the turbulent political and economic situation in fourth century Roman Britain may have some bearing on this, leading to a contraction of the Dicket Mead villa and a return to the Lockleys site where life continued in reduced circumstances until unsettled conditions caused the complete abandonment of both estates.

All fences, fenceposts and goalposts, and the footbridge are excluded from the scheduling together with the vault containing the bath house, structures relating to the emergency exit tunnel and the viewing platforms, supports, notices and conservation equipment; the ground beneath all these items is, however, included. The motorway embankment itself is completely excluded from the scheduling.

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