Shakenoak Roman Farm

Villa

Roman villa complex and a saxon settlement and cemetery extensively excavated in the 1960s and 1970s at Shakenoak Farm. It was built in the later years of the first century AD is the only example known in Britain of an inland fish-farm.  The villa was a corridor type with later alterations. The fish-farm prospered for over a century. Three fishponds were dug, the water retained by oak timbers. The flow between the small, breeding pool, the main pool and the holding pool by the exit to the farm was controlled by timber valves. We do not know which fish were bred at Shakenoak – trout are a likely option.

Second century additions include a bath-house and aisled barn. By the third century an enclosure wall had been built and the bath house had been converted into an agricultural building. Some of the other complex buildings had been altered or demolished. The complex had been abandoned circa 420 AD.

The owners lived a Roman lifestyle in a fine villa overlooking the ponds. Beyond the ponds stood a heated bath-house with glazed windows and an agricultural barn. The owners commissioned sculpture and architecture of classical form, carved in local stones. They painted the walls of the farmhouse to match exactly the colours of exotic marbles unobtainable in the north Thames Valley. They drank and dined from Roman red ware cups and bowls signed by well-known potters and imported from Lezoux in central France. Scraps of coloured glass from northern Italy and enamelled bronze fittings from Germany suggest there was once a wider range of imports.

For unknown reasons the fish-farm collapsed about AD 200. The ponds were filled in and the inhabitants – presumably now of a different family – built an Iron Age-style round-house over the site of the large pond. Though large by the standard of such buildings, and equipped with strong stone foundations and an elegant porch. This is a radical change of lifestyle, unexpected at the height of the Roman empire. The owners of this and subsequent buildings used pottery made in or near Oxford.

About AD 250 the fish-farm’s agricultural barn was converted to serve as a residence with a bath-house. The round-house was demolished. In a complete exchange of function, the former farmhouse became an agricultural building used for drying corn, and the bath-house became a store.

In the fourth century AD Shakenoak was probably a dependency of the much larger villa at North Leigh, a short distance to the north-east.

In the early fifth century the Roman authorities withdrew from Britain. By then the access routes to and across the farm had been changed, and the original villa was fortified with towers.

More finds suggest a military end for the Roman farm. Some belt-fittings from military dress in Germanic style were found in or near the residential barn. Distinctively decorated bracelets may have been worn by women migrants from Germany, either accompanying soldiers or permanent settlers. Most strikingly, young men some of whom had met a violent death were buried in neat rows in the farmyard.

The farm at Shakenoak continued to be inhabited by people who evidently kept sheep and wove wool. However no new housing was discovered, and it is likely that they lived in the ruins of the Roman villa.

There is a display about the Shakenoak Farm site in the ‘Rome’ gallery on the ground floor.