(Part 1, Chapter 2, Section 5) ( Bk. Index )
The site of the Roman Villa (map ref. TQ 054 045)
lies nearly one mile west of the village centre close to the footpath leading
across the fields to Poling. However, it is covered by soil or crops and it is
therefore impossible to see little, if any, of the remains.
The location of the elaborate villa may have been known for many hundred years; it was certainly known in 1819 when an excavation of the site took place. The next excavation was in 1937 when the British Museum sent the personable young archaeologist, Miss Leslie Scott, to supervise the excavation with the eminent archaeologist Dr Mortimer Wheeler acting in a consultancy capacity.
The author and playwright, R C Sherriff, who lived
for a while at Middleton, had a great fascination with archaeological
excavations and personally helped excavate the site in the late 1930s. Indeed,
he donated £100 to get the excavations under way.
Requiring more money to complete the project, an Excavation Fund Appeal was launched in July 1937 with a committee consisting of: EW Hulme (Chairman), Miss Leslie Scott (Director of Excavations), D Crawford (Hon Treasurer), EJF Hearne (Hon. Secretary), CA Butt, Eliot Curwen F.S.A., EC Curwen F.S.A., and RC Sherriff. The Committee estimated that a sum of £500 would be needed, £150 to complete the 1937 work, and £350 for the excavation of the main building in 1938 and for preservation and repairs.
The findings indicated a substantial villa complex, and while not quite on the same scale as the palace at Fishbourne, was probably a more magnificent set of buildings than the Bignor Roman Villa. Some white stone was used in the construction which appears to have been imported from Italy but local materials were also used which included Sussex marble. It is estimated that the villa was built between 65AD and 75AD and may have been occupied by an important Roman citizen or a member of the Romano-British aristocracy.
The bath house may have been largely demolished by
160AD but there are indications that the site was still in occupation into the
3rd century, and may have continued beyond that time.
The principal finding of the main 1937-39 excavations was a bath house complex consisting of no less that eight rooms heated. The bath house measured approximately 130 ft x 90 ft (39.6m x 27.4m). Within the bath house area there was use of well worked pink clay, and red clay tiles were employed on the roof.
There were a number of finds of small artifacts some of which can be seen today in Littlehampton Museum.
Other smaller excavations took place in 1945 (PAM Keef) and 1947 (AE Wilson) and there were many encouraging finds of buildings other than the bath house. The excavations, however, were never completed, a situation that still exists today. The site is now scheduled as an ancient monument (English Heritage No. SM29240) and is therefore protected by law.
The villa site stood on ground about 5m above sea level and was situated between two tidal tributaries of the River Arun which ran up to Angmering until about the 16th century after which they became progressively silted leaving two small streams, one of which we today know as Black Ditch and the other as a stream leading up to Decoy ponds. The villa was therefore serviced by ships entering the Arun and branching off at a main tributary near Ford.
While excavations have concentrated on the magnificent bath house, less is known about the villa itself. It appears that there was not just a single villa on the site, but a dispersed complex consisting of the main villa in its own enclosure, the bath house, and a cluster of four additional buildings with perhaps a fifth building being added in the 3rd century. The smaller buildings, or even the 3rd century building, may well have used materials from the demolished bath house in their construction. The extent of the main building is unknown and much of the site has been ploughed up over the centuries. Small fragments of roof tiles may still be found on the surface near the site of the villa.
The bath house, which was located about 55 metres east of the main villa, may have been built in four different phases, these being largely identified by fragments of dated pottery. Its layout was as follows:
The main block of baths was on the south of the building. This comprised two heated chambers with their hypercaust systems, rooms G (caldarium) & F (tepidarium) on the above plan, two cold plunge baths, H & M, a further heated room, K (sweating room or sudatorium), with its own separate stoke room, N. On the north side of the building was a corridor, L (possibly where slaves waited), with eastern and western wings, rooms O, P, C (possibly a latrine) & D (possibly an anointing room or another latrine), and rooms A & B (undressing rooms), E (frigidarium), S & T joined all these elements together.
The unusual style of the mosaics in the bath house floors were unusual for Roman villas in this country. One was composed of geometric patterns with different coloured triangles, kite-shaped pieces and rhomboids. Another utilised stones cut to form a 'naturalistic design'. The stones, of various colours and shapes were laid in cement. Some of these were local stones in pink, yellow and dark grey plus some Sussex marble, but other white stone (probably from northern Italy) was also used.
Finds from the villa were never prolific but did include a silver pencil
holder probably lost during the 1819 excavations. Other finds from earlier
times included a small pair of bronze forceps (possibly eye-brow pluckers), two
bronze brooches, a small bell, a fish hook, bone knife-handles, beads,
fragments of window glass and decorated plaster, an amber bowl, five coins
(including a newly minted coin of Vespasian - Emperor 69AD - 79AD) and an
amount of Samian ware.
In January 2022, I found this most informative report, by Mr F E Newman of the Angmering Society, of a visit to the site conducted by Mr Con Ainsworh of the Worthing Archaeological Society in August 1977. This gives great insight into the extent of villa site and has us thirsting for further excavation.
Angmering Roman Villa
The Worthing Archaeological Society visited Angmering on August 17th for an evening walk to the Roman Villa site (south of the footpath to Poling). This was directed by Mr Con Ainsworth who, as advertised in the village, kindly invited anyone living in Angmering to be present.
Mr Ainsworth explained that excavations on the site were begun in 1937 and, although interrupted by the War, were carried on intermittently over a period of ten years. Although no plans are in prospect in the near future for further excavations, the site is still regarded as one of great interest and one which may be found to rival Fishbourne in importance. It was built about the same time, or possibly a few years earlier, probably by an important official or someone in high favour at the court of King Cogidubnus. It is only twelve miles from Chichester and some of the material is thought to have been imported from Italy. As in the case of Fishbourne, it is likely that it could have been approached from the sea.
The site appears to be extensive. It forms a triangular peninsula, a plateau of land pointing west towards Poling, bounded on the north-west by Black Ditch which rises from a spring beyond Decoy Woods and flows into the Arun to join the sea.
The Bath buildings, which are separate from the main villa, lie on the north side of the site, just south of the present footpath, and this is the area excavated in the late thirties. The first bath house was built towards the end of the first century, somewhat later than the Villa itself. This, after considerable reconstruction, was later replaced by a second bath house of slightly inferior quality. The building went out of use in the second century when it was demolished and the site was then levelled.
Early in 1940, two more buildings further to the east - on the highest part of the site - were excavated. The larger of these was found to have very substantial foundations and walls about seven feet thick. These features and the fact that the path and its angle of approach showed that it led, not to the basement floor, but to the storey above, indicate that the building was of greater than normal height. The identity of this building has been the subject of various conjectures; in some ways it resembles a small temple and is similar in many respects to another building found at Jordan Hill near Weymouth and to a temple found at Autun in France, although neither of these contained a basement floor. It is thought that the building could have been considerable architectural pretensions; the walls were constructed of white mortar and chalk lumps laced with brick courses, faced inside and out with chalk blocks. Black and white tesserae have been found in the rubble and two pieces of marble architrave. Opinion seems to be leaning towards the view that the building was once a mausoleum which would be most unusual on the site of a Roman Villa.
Guesses have been made that, at a later period, it might have been used as a granary as heating arrangements suitable for drying corn were found nearby and there is a post hole set at an angle near the building, suggesting its use for a hoist. Also, a great quantity of mouse bones were found in the rubble and silt at the southern end of the building.
From the footpath Mr Ainsworth was able to point out the approximate positions of the various buildings which have been excavated and which occupy only a relatively small section of the whole site. The field is under cultivation - (at the time of our visit planted with potatoes) - and he pointed out the numerous fragments of flue tiles, roof and floor tiles and bricks which litter the surface, all thrown up by the plough.
It is interesting to note that in Vol.79 of the Sussex Archaeological Collections (SAC) dated 1938, it mentions that on many of the bricks two bosses were found, set in diagonally opposite corners. These were designed to prevent the bricks from sticking together in the kilns; they were put on while the clay was 'still soft enough to take the imprint of a dog's paw'. A brick was picked up during the walk showing the marks of the boss and a clear imprint of the animal paw.
At the western end of the plateau we joined the original footpath which stretches towards Poling and borders the Villa site on its western and southern perimeter. This is perhaps one of the most interesting features of the site for, as Mr Ainsworth conjectured, this depression may have been an inlet from the sea in Roman times, or at least indicates that the villa complex may have been served by a navigable channel, suggesting that traces of some sort of quay may yet be found. Volume 34 of Sussex Archaeological Collections states: "the Black Ditch itself runs into the River Arun and may very well have been navigable in ancient times, at any rate for barges, though opinions differ on this point. Rome, it will be remembered, possessed a European barge service. A narrow canal would serve for the passage of barges so that the water-way need not have been tidal at that date and silting would hide all traces of it later". Also, how would the building materials have been transported? There is no evidence of a tile industry being attached to the house and it is thought that the chalk blocks used in the construction came from a zone at the base of the Upper Chalk and therefore not from Highdown; probably from the Arun Gap where a large, old quarry exists at Houghton, again suggesting transport by water.
The question of water levels in connection with the Roman Villa is intriguing and has provoked much controversy. In volume 79 of SAC, it is stated that the Roman ditch bounding the baths on the north would have served no useful function if the water levels had been higher in Roman times. Nevertheless, the whole aspect of the site as it can be seen today, and the proximity of Black Ditch, tempts one to believe that this promontory was bordered by an inlet from the sea. On this particular evening, as we completed the southern circuit and returned to our starting point in the approaching dusk, we looked back to the west at a scene which none of us will quickly forget. The crescent moon was risen, the villa site was outlined against the dying sunset and, filling the valley beyond the site where it slopes down to the north was a flat mist whose coppery green surface reflecting the evening sky, tapered off into the woods, giving a vivid impression of water and an idea of what it must have looked like nineteen hundred years ago, had this really been an inlet from the sea.
F E Newman
Angmering Society, Archaeological Section
N A Rogers-Davis
(1) Old Angmering: Leslie Baker, 1968
(2) Sussex County Magazine, 1938: Article by John Worsley
(3) Sussex Archaeological Collection: SAC 137, 1999
(4) Roman Villas of S-E England: E Black
(5) Angmering - Reminiscences of bygone days: The Angmering Society, 2003
(6) Angmering Roman Villa - Excavation Fund Appeal, July 1937
(7) Angmering Society report of visit to site by Worthing Archeological Society, August 1977
(Illustration by courtesy and kind permission of the Sussex Archaeological Society - website: www.sussexpast.co.uk )
Last updated: 22 January 2022