Wellow Courtyard Villa


Wellow Courtyard Villa

Wellow E. & NE. Som[erset] Welleuue 1084. Originally the name of the stream here, a river-name (Welsh/Gaelic) probably meaning ‘winding’.” (Mills, p.370)

This large courtyard villa probably started life as a single rectangular building served by two parallel corridors, one fronting the house and one along the rear, its floors were richly decorated with a number of mosaics and tessallated pavements, boasted underfloor hypocaust heating systems and was also served by a bath-suite. This original corridor villa or ‘aisled farmhouse’ was augmented at a later date by outbuildings at each end of the main building, these two ‘wings’ being joined by a wall at the ends furthest from the original house, thus enclosing a courtyard. Unfortunately the villa was excavated during an age when archaeology was carried out by ‘antiquarians’ who knew little of the techniques of dating a site by use of stratigraphy, but judging from the finds recovered it would appear that the villa was occupied between A.D. 220 to 380. The excavated site is abutted by cropmarks which delineate an enclosure or annexe to the known courtyard villa; cropmarks also reveal signs of a possible trackway or access road. (AHDS)

The site of the villa has long been known and excavations have been conducted over a number of centuries, all of which are documented in the Victoria County History of Somerset; the initial dig conducted in 1685 uncovered a mosaic floor and several wall foundations, excavations in 1737 were published in the Vetusta Monumenta of 1747, and further digs conducted in 1787 and 1807 were documented in the Gentleman’s Magazine for the appropriate year; the latest dig was conducted by Skinner and Weddell in 1822 and the results published privately in 1823. (AHDS)

Carved finials from the roofing of the Wellow villa have also been found at other villa and temple sites in the south-west, including North Wraxall, Chew Stoke, Atworth and Llantwit Major, which may have been produced in workshops situated at Caerwent or Bath where similar stones have been found. (Rivet, p.157)

Possible Altar to Mercury and the Mother Goddesses

A 14-inch high oolite panel recovered from the Wellow villa shows three figures carved in relief, unfortunately all missing their heads, two of which are females dressed in modest full-length draperies and each holding a branch or ritual staff, the woman on the right appearing to have her right arm resting upon some finely-decorated item of furniture, the third figure, standing to the right of the two women is a male dressed only in a cloak and holding a staff and a purse in his hands. The scene has been explained as representing the god Mercury and two ‘mother goddesses’. The stele is now held in the British Museum in London. (Rivet, p.154, Plate 4.11)

The Mosaics and Tessallated Pavements

Altogether there were five separate tessallated pavements and decorative mosaics recorded during the excavations detailed above; an asymmetric patterned mosaic containing figures of peacocks, dogs and lions? was recorded in 1685 and another mosaic uncovered in 1737 was dominated by a swastika pattern and featured two rectangular panels which contained a pair of spotted [hunting?] dogs against a backdrop of leafy tendrils; it seems likely that the ‘lions’ depicted on the 1685 drawings were, in fact, a pair of these spotted dogs, which may indicate a predilection of the villa owner. Other corridors and rooms in the villa sported tessallated pavements patterned with octagons, interlaced circles or bi-coloured chequer-board designs. A number of coloured drawings “… which would appear to have been more colourful than accurate” recording these mosaic designs are held at the Somerset County Museum in Taunton. (Rainey)

The main mosaic at Wellow, discovered in 1685, is similar to others displaying ‘Christian, Dionysiac and Gnostic Imagery’, in the form of a ‘cantharus between confronted dolphins, fish, panthers or peacocks’, which have been uncovered at Littlecote Park in Wiltshire and at Withington in Gloucestershire. It is possible that these three mosaics were laid by a single school of mosaicists operating out of Aquae Sulis (Bath) in North Somerset. (Rivet)

Other Roman Sites in the Vicinity?

The footworks of Roman buildings together with Roman coins and pottery fragments were recorded at Eckwick Farm (ST7157) and White Ox Mead (ST7158) in the 19th century, in addition, a roman stone coffin was reported near the Dunkerton hill turnpike (ST7158) and in 1846 the Reverend C. Paul reputedly found and traced Roman building foundations, tessallated pavements, pottery fragments, coins and pieces of sculpted stone in the area (ST7357); none of these 19th century claims have yet been corroborated using modern techniques. (AHDS)

The National Monuments Record (NMR) lists several other archaeological sites in the immediate surroundings which seem to indicate continued occupation of the area by a faction of the Belgae tribe prior to the advent of the Wellow Roman villa. A v-shaped ditch uncovered during the laying of a modern sewer alongside the Peasedown St. John – Braysdown Road (at ST 7054 5671) contained Iron-Age pottery and a human burial and a nearby pit contained a bronze-working crucible belonging to the late-Bronze-Age or early-Iron-Age. A group of rectilinear enclosures noted as crop-marks on air-photographs near White Ox Mead (ST 728 585) have yet to be investigated by the spade but their general appearance would seem to indicate a late-prehistoric or Romano-British settlement.

The Stoney Littleton Long Barrow And other Barrows in the Area

Nearby the Wellow Roman villa at Stoney Littleton (ST7357) lies a Neolithic chambered long barrow which was excavated in 1816 and reported in ‘Archaeologia : or miscellaneous tracts relating to antiquity’ (volume 19, 1821, p.20). The site was accurately surveyed by the Bath Archaeological Trust in 1989. The antiquarian excavation caused a large depression on the east side of the barrow mound which was investigated and accurately identified by the Cotswold Archaeological Trust in 1995 when a single trench measuring 12 by 1 metres was laid-out across the site. (AHDS)

The remains of another chambered long barrow were uncovered in 1815 at Shoscombe nearby (ST 7091 5619) and contained inhumation and cremation burials and arrowheads dating to the Neolithic period. Another possible ring barrow near Wellow (ST 7097 5811), identified by a circular crop-mark on aerial photographs, was investigated in 1964 but nothing was found. It was later thought that the circular mark in the field was caused by horse training. (AHDS)

Map References for Wellow Courtyard Villa

OSMap: LR172

Villa at Wellow (MONUMENT NO. 203043)

Roman Roads near Wellow Courtyard Villa

None identified

Sites near Wellow Courtyard Villa