(Part 1, Chapter 2, Section 5) ( Bk. Index )

Angmering Roman Villa


Summary

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.

Bathhouse excavations, 1937

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.

Detail

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. Bathhouse excavations, 1937. Corner of caldarium

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. Pictures of some of these finds can be seen by clicking here.

N A Rogers-Davis


Source Information:
(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

(Illustration by courtesy and kind permission of the Sussex Archaeological Society - website: www.sussexpast.co.uk )
(6) Angmering Roman Villa - Excavation Fund Appeal, July 1937


Last updated: 8 April 2010