Ham Hill Villa

Villa

Excavation uncovered the site of a Roman villa within the interior of Ham Hill hillfort. The villa was a ‘corridor’ type Roman villa, about 160 ft. x 40 ft. The walls had an average thickness of about 2 ft. and were built of faced Ham stone, whilst many of the rooms had concrete flooring overlain with tesserae. The villa building lay at the foot of a short south-facing slope.

Excavations and Surveys of Ham Hill Villa

Excavations, in May 1907 and September 1912, in a field known as “The Warren” at the S.E. portion of Ham Hill, revealed the outlines of a ‘corridor’ type Roman villa, about 160 ft. x 40 ft. The walls had an average thickness of about 2 ft. and were built of faced Ham stone, whilst many of the rooms had concrete flooring overlain with tesserae [See AO/LP/64/284] Finds included coins of the Constantinian family, Valentinian I, Gratian, Severus Alexander and Carausius, two bronze bracelets, a little Samian, window glass, painted stucco, iron nails etc. which are in Taunton Museum. (2-3)

Although this field is under plough, there is no ground evidence to confirm the O.S. siting of this villa.

The foundations of the villa (discovered in 1907) were exposed by a water-main trench, revealing the lowest courses of five walls built with large, roughly dressed blocks of Hamstone. Finds included a few large red tesserae, RB pottery clay tiles and fragments of lias (in private possession).

The villa consists a range of three buildings linked by short sections of wall. The principal building is at the south end. Structurally independent of this is a large room paved with red and white tessarae. The third building has been described as an ancillary farm building probably used as living accomodation. (7-8)

A geophysical survey of the Roman villa site and its immediate surroundings was undertaken for RCHME by Geophysical Surveys of Bradford (GSB) in 1992. The survey located the villa building whose main structural details, as revealed by resistance anomalies, equate quite well with the published plan of the excavation. The resistance survey also located a wall west of the villa building which could be the remains of a courtyard. Magnetic anomalies indicate that the villa lies within a complex of archaeological features, including enclosures, many of which share the same alignment as the villa. Of particular interest is a double ditched enclosure situated some 40m SSW of the villa building. Pit type anomalies are also present. (10)

Further geophysical survey in 1994, also by GSB, found evidence for a trackway crossing the interior of the hillfort in a WNW-ESE direction (see Area D in the report). In this area the geophysical survey also revealed pits, enclosures and a complex network of ditch systems of more than one period. South of the villa building, in the south-eastern corner of the hillfort, the survey revealed pits, ditches, another trackway and an area of intensive occupation activity (Area F, 4 and 8). (11)

The villa building lay at the foot of a short south-facing slope. The area has been heavily ploughed and at the time of the field visit the earth over the site of the building and its immediate environs was markedly black. Pieces of stone, tile and Roman pottery were numerous in the plough soil and spread over a wide area. South of the villa and the present road crossing the hilltop, the plough soil over the area of intensive activity located by the geophysical survey [Area F, 4 and 8 (11)] was also black, with iron slag and Roman pottery (in considerable quantities) visible on the surface.

The WNW-ESE trackway, located in Area D (11), does not now survive as an above ground feature. However, short sections are visible east of Area D on air photographs held by the RCHME’s air photography library. On the basis of this information the trackway clearly went to the present entrance through the hillfort defences at Batemoor Barn (probably an original entrance). The villa building and enclosures (10) share a similar alignment to the trackway indicating that all these features were related. In summary it appears that the villa building and its associated enclosures were located within the hillfort interior, just inside the eastern entrance, on the northern side of a trackway. Some of the enclosures, located either by the geophysical survey or visible on air photographs, within the interior of the hillfort appear to represent a field system associated with the villa (12). (13)