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Chapter 6
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Romano-British Buildings and Earthworks

by John Ward

published by Methuen & Co. Ltd.
36 Essex Street W. C., London

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.


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Chapter 8

 p174  Chapter VII


In the last chapter we described a number of Romano-British houses, which, whether small or large, simple or complex, all agreed in the presence of a corridor or crypto-porticus. These, it was pointed out, represented the prevailing type in this country — the Romano-British house par excellence. In the present chapter it is proposed to consider some houses of another type, as also the humbler abodes of the poorer classes.

'Basilical' Houses

The remains of a few remarkable houses, if houses they can all be called, have been found mostly in the southern counties, which present a fundamental difference of planning from that of the corridor class. Little is known of them; but it is observable that none have been found in or near the towns. They are mostly associated with rural mansions of the ordinary type, and we have incidentally referred to three of them; several, however, have been found quite isolated in this respect. Some appear to have been of the nature of barns, rather than houses: others were certainly used for human habitation.

In Fig. 52 three plans of these buildings are given. The first, the building at Spoonley Wood already referred to, is a simple example and serves as a key to the rest. It was not completely excavated, but sufficient was disclosed to give a general idea of its construction. Its two rows of pillar-bases give it a basilical character, hence we may conveniently apply the term 'basilica-type' to this class of buildings. Each base rested upon a rough foundation, and consisted of a cubical block  p175 of stone with a mortice-hole to receive the tenon of a wooden post or pillar. No mention was made of its floor; but it was regarded as a barn or granary by Prof. Middleton.

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Fig. 52. — Basilical Buildings at Spoonley Wood, Ickleton, and Chesterford.
(40 ft. to 1 in.)

The second was excavated at Ickleton,1 in Essex, in 1845‑7, and it closely resembles the foregoing, and, like it, was associated with a house of the usual type. It presents, however, the additional feature of three internal walls, stretching between the side of the building and three of the pillars, thus dividing a portion of the 'aisle' into two cells or rooms. We are not informed whether these walls were coeval with the main structure, or were a later insertion. Many stone roofing-slabs were found, but the late Lord Braybrook, in his description of the remains, considered that the central area had not been roofed; he also regarded the building as a temple or a basilica, but nothing was found to corroborate this or to throw light upon its use.

The third example was discovered at Castlefield,2 near Andover, in 1867, and it supplies some further particulars. The floor was of rammed flint and chalk, and stone roofing slabs were abundant. No window-glass or painted wall-plaster was noted. More important were the remains of several open fireplaces or hearths and of furnaces, indicated by a for the former,  p176 and b for the latter, on our plan. Nothing was found to suggest that these had chimneys, so it is probable that if the whole space was roofed, the smoke found an exit through one or more holes in the roof. It was regarded as a deversorium, or inn; but this it could hardly have been, as it was remote from any important road or large village of the Roman era. Nothing was discovered to indicate whether it was associated with a house, but a possible that further investigation may bring the remains of one to light. At Holbury, in the same county, a similar building had three hearths, one at each end, and one near the side.3

In the next examples, the primary planning is less evident at first sight, in consequence of the numerous internal divisions. Fig. 53 was discovered at Clanville,4 in Hampshire, in 1897. Its dimensions were 96 by 52 ft., and it stood at the south-west corner of a large yard, which had traces of other buildings on its other sides of apparently a subordinate character, as "necessary farm buildings" and servants' quarters. According to Mr. Engleheart, the explorer, the rooms of the first-mentioned and apparently chief block "lay around a small court with a peristyle, of which a double row of stone bases still remains almost entire, six a‑side. But this original peristyle had been curtailed by building the walls of the present rooms over the three northernmost bases on either side,5 the masonry not only surrounding but actually covering the bases." The large central room at the south end of the building had a rich mosaic floor, while the corresponding room at the opposite end had a plain grey one. The two adjacent rooms in the western 'aisle' had striped and chequered mosaic floors; while external to this 'aisle' was a narrow corridor-like space. On the opposite or eastern side, the  p177 two oblong rooms, the one towards the north and the other towards the south, were heated by hypocausts, while midway between was apparently the entrance to the building through an external lobby or porch, of which the pavement remained. The northern part of the columned space was of rammed chalk; elsewhere the floor was of clay. Painted wall-plaster and window-glass were abundant. From Mr. Engleheart's description it is clear that the internal walls of the 'aisles' were not parts of the original structure. And it is also clear that however we regard our first three examples, this of Clanville has strong claims, in its mosaics, wall-plaster, and window-glass, to be regarded as a house of no mean order.

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Fig. 53. — Basilical House at Clanville, near Andover
(40 ft. to 1 in.)

In Fig. 54 are given the plans of the buildings already referred to on pages 164‑6, as associated with the Brading  p178 and Mansfield Woodhouse mansions. Both were much larger than the last example; and they closely resembled one another, which is all the more interesting from the fact that their relative positions in the two groups were identical, and the houses to which they appertained were also similar to one another. The upper ends of our two plans are the ends nearest the houses. The remains of the upper half of the Brading building were better preserved than those of the lower half, where little else than the foundations were left. The pillars were represented by their foundations of rough concrete from 4 to 5 ft. long, and upon three of these towards the upper end of the right-hand row the oblong bases still remained. It is clear that the pillars were as nearly as possible 10 ft. 8 ins. apart (or 11 Roman feet) from centre to centre. This measurement divides the building internally into twelve bays. If the rows of pillars extended the full length of the building, twelve bays would require eleven pillars to each row, whereas the foundations of only seventeen were noted. Both the report of the explorers and their plan make it clear that most of the pillars in the upper two-thirds of the building were removed upon the erection of the walls along their lines, for the remains of these walls covered several of their foundations; and it is probable that the five presumably existing but unobserved foundations were overlapped by the concrete floors of the rooms, and so escaped discovery. Their probable positions are indicated in outline on our plan. The lower one-third of the building was devoid of rooms except for a small double chamber with two apses, which was built within the aisle. This had a hypocaust, and was probably connected with one or more other rooms of which only vague traces remained, immediately beyond the lower end of the main building, the whole forming the baths. The building was entered from the garth by what appears to have been a double doorway of noble proportions, about the middle of its left side. The two portals, which corresponded with two bays, apparently opened between two columns, of which a portion of one was found near, and the massive foundations remained. The building was roofed with stone slabs, and several of the rooms had concrete floors and walls with painted plaster, and in one or two of them much broken window-glass. The middle room at the upper end had a pillared hypocaust.

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Fig. 54. — Basilical Houses at Mansfield Woodhouse and Brading
(40 ft. to 1 in.)

In the Mansfield Woodhouse example only two of the  p179 pillar-bases remained, and these were large and well-shaped blocks with shallow recess in their tops. They puzzled Major Rooke, the explorer, who, seeing no use for them, finally concluded that they were altars! The conjectural positions of the rest of these bases are shown in outline. As at Brading, most of the rooms had concrete floors, and painted wall-plaster was abundant. The room at the lower right-hand corner was heated by a hypocaust; and on the opposite side were the baths, also similarly heated, and they had an external cold-water bath. The central space was regarded as a court; and no indications of an entrance were noted, but presumably it was in the same position as at Brading.

At Carisbrook, a remarkably fine example of one of these buildings was partially uncovered in 1859.6 It was of similar dimensions and plan to that of Brading, and had baths in a similar position, while its entrance was in the side as at Clanville, which it surpassed in its array of decorated and plain mosaic floors. A similar building with rooms paved with plain mosaic has recently been opened out at Petersfield.7 It occupies most of the north side of a large courtyard, which has the remains of baths on its west side and a narrow building on the east side. In buildings of the type in the outer courtyards at Bignor and Hartlip,8 the pillars arose from two lines of sleeper-walls.

These buildings suggest questions which can only be imperfectly answered in our present state of knowledge. One point, however, is clear enough — they belong to a very different type from that of the corridor-houses, and it is impossible to conceive that the one could have been derived from the other. The rooms are divisible into two classes: one or more at one or both ends, which appear to have formed part of the original structure, and others constructed in the 'aisles,' evidently insertions. If the central space was open to the sky, we may regard these structures as peristyled courts with portions of their peristyles converted into rooms; but the similarity of the plans to those of the great medieval barns is so striking that one is tempted to regard them as their prototypes, and to have been similarly roofed over. Rammed chalk or clay would scarcely form a satisfactory floor open to the rain; and surely in the larger  p180 buildings some indications of gutters to catch the drip from the roofs, and of drains to convey away the rain-water from the open area, would have been found.

While several of these buildings showed no signs of having been used as human habitations — as that at Spoonley Wood, for instance — others were manifestly houses, wholly or in part. Some were associated with houses, to which they appear to have held a subordinate relationship, and others were not so associated. The Clanville and Petersfield examples, for instance, seem to have been the chief building of the groups; and it is noteworthy that in their mosaic floors they were comparable with the better class of the rural residences of the time. The Carisbrook example was larger and even more sumptuous; and nothing was discovered to warrant the belief that it was an outbuilding of a large house of the ordinary type. Major Rooke surmised that the two buildings at Mansfield Woodhouse were related to one another as villa urbana, the residence of the proprietor, and villa rustica, where his 'villicus,' or bailiff, and other farm dependents lived, or, as we should say, 'house' and 'home-farm.'

The similarity of these obscure buildings to a widespread type of farmhouse in ancient and medieval times, which still survives in Germany, Holland, and elsewhere, will perhaps best help to a solution. For a succinct description of these houses, the reader is referred to Addy's Evolution of the English House. One description in particular, which he gives of a Saxon farmhouse from the German writer Meitzen, so admirably elucidates our present subject that we give the quotation in extenso:—

"Its chief characteristic is that it unites in one body the space necessary for a very considerable establishment under one and the same roof, and therefore represents an extremely large building. Its ground plan is that of a basilica with nave and aisles. The middle always forms the so‑called 'floor' (diele) (a), which is entered at the gable end through a large gate, and which goes through the whole house as far as the dwelling-rooms at the end. . . . In the forms of the Frisian and Saxon house generally in use, the horses (b) and cows (c) are always so placed on both sides of the 'floor' that they are foddered from it. Over the 'floor,' over the cattle stalls, and over all the other rooms up to the ridge of the roof, the cornº harvest and hay harvest are stored on boards and poles laid between the joists. In the Saxon  p181 house (Fig. 55)º the background of the 'floor' ends in a low hearth (d), on both sides of which are the bedsteads of the family, arranged in a kind of narrow and rather high cupboards, whilst over against them, and near them, the men-servants sleep over the horses, and the maids over the cows. To the right and left of the hearth extends the space used for the household, which is uninterrupted as far as the two opposite side walls of the house. This part of the house is lighted by high and broad windows, and on either side a glass door forms an exit into the open air. Usually, too, the well is inside the house at the side of the hearth.

"Thus the master of the house can superintend the whole management of the household from the hearth and his bedstead, and hear every sound. So he exercises the fullest supervision, and so long as the smoke of the great hearth fire, which had no chimney, permeated the whole building, insects and the bad stench of the cattle were driven away, so that not till the most recent times was the need felt for building additional rooms behind the hearth-wall (heerdwand). Of these rooms, f is usually the best room, h the living-room, and g a store-room, kept dry by the fire on the hearth."

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Fig. 55. — Plan of Saxon Farmhouse.

This Saxon farmhouse is perhaps exceptional for its large size and symmetrical proportions; but there is no question of the former wide diffusion of its type. Galen described peasants' houses, which similarly combined dwelling with farm offices under a common roof, in Asia Minor in the second century of our era; and Addy sees the survival of the class in our own country, in the Yorkshire 'coits.' Lange, after describing similar buildings in Schleswig, Hanover, and Westphalia, thus concludes: "The great covered middle room with smaller rooms around it, and with the dwelling-rooms at the back, divided into three parts,  p182 seems to have been a common type of all the dwelling-houses of the Aryan peoples at a certain stage of their evolution."

The resemblance of the plan of the Saxon farmhouse to those of the Romano-British buildings we have discussed, is apparent at a glance. It will be observed that the farmhouse, like most of these, has rooms at each end beyond the limits of the basilical portion; and that in this portion, besides the stalls for the beasts, there are rooms and spaces carved, so to speak, out of the aisles; also, that by sacrificing some of these stalls it would be an easy matter to provide additional rooms. Analogy could scarcely supply a stronger argument in favour of the kindred Romano-British buildings having served a similar, but not necessarily identical, purpose. We can, for instance, well imagine that the Spoonley Wood example was used for farm purposes — for the beasts in winter and the storage of their fodder, also for the storage of grain, which could be thrashed on the ample 'floor' — the farm-hands having accommodation in a wing of their master's residence. We can well imagine that the dependents themselves had their quarters in the similar buildings at Brading and Mansfield Woodhouse; and in addition, the proprietors and their families, at Clanville, Petersfield, and Carisbrook.

If the reader will now return to the early Pompeian houses, he will probably share the writer's conviction that these also were of the same type, only modified to suit town conditions. Mau's typical plan on page 139,º shows an oblong atrium with passage-like entrance between two rooms at one end as in the Saxon house. Within was the primitive hearth, and along the sides, the bedrooms, occupying the positions of the stalls in that house. Beyond these were the alae or wings of the atrium, and behind the hearth, the tablinum, which originally contained the master's bed, with a room on either side, all of which have their counterparts in the Saxon house. The origin of the Pompeian alae has puzzled antiquaries, but the Saxon plan suggests a solution. There, these recesses are each terminated with a window and door. Their purpose is to admit light about the hearth, and to provide spaces for various household operations and convenient means of ingress and egress. It is probable that the Pompeian alae had a similar purpose, but that the building of house against house necessarily led to the abandonment of the glazed doors  p183 or windows, and compelled the builders to compensate the loss of light by enlarging the smoke-hole.

It will not be altogether irrelevant to briefly consider a number of small buildings that have been opened out at Silchester, especially along the street leading to the West Gate.9 They were all of one type, and this has some resemblance to the basilical structures described above. The characteristic feature of their plans, of which three are shown in Fig. 56, is their division into a large space next the street, and a smaller space behind divided into rooms. It is almost certain that the former was roofed, for in several of them were found blocks of sandstone which might well have been the bases of posts; but in our third plan,10 which indicates a building of a type, larger and more elaborate than the rest, there is a central sleeper-wall with two bases for pillars or posts that can only be interpreted as the supports of a roof. The rooms at the back were in some instances floored with plain mosaic or with mortar; in others there was inferential evidence for timber floors. We may reasonably assume that these rooms were of two storeys, and that the whole structure was under a continuous roof.

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Fig. 56. — Plans of Workshops, Silchester. (After Hope.)
(40 ft. to 1 in.)

In most of the large anterior spaces were found remains of furnaces for heating boilers, and other indications that some  p184 industry was carried on in them; and Messrs. Fox and Hope give strong reasons for thinking that this was dyeing.11 There is no evidence that they were other than workshops; but it is quite possible that some of them were also dwellings. Several buildings that resemble these Silchester workshops have been discovered at Caerwent, and one — House 13, N. — is distinctly of the basilical type,12 only, instead of having two rows of roof-posts, it had a single one nearer one side of the building than the other.


The remains of many small dwellings have been discovered, but it is comparatively rare that their periods have been determined. The majority have been described as prehistoric, and there is no reason for doubting the general correctness of this conclusion. Others have been assigned to the Roman period, and others again to the post-Roman. In plan and construction, these ancient dwellings varied greatly, and little attempt has been made to classify them or to ascertain their distribution. Had this been done systematically, much light would have been thrown upon the origin and development of their types, but it is questionable whether it would have provided a satisfactory means of determining the age of individual examples. The presence of distinctively Roman structural work is, of course, the best evidence that the building which contains it was erected or modified in Roman times; but its occurrence upon cottage sites has been exceedingly rare. Under these circumstances we have to mainly rely upon the presence of chance potsherds and other articles of determinable age. If these are unmistakably of Roman age, we may assume that the site was occupied during or shortly after that age; but their absence does not prove the contrary.

From the slightness of these cottage remains, it is hardly to be expected that the exploration of any one example, no matter how carefully executed, will yield a reasonably complete plan. Resort must be had to the comparison of many of these plans; but, unfortunately, not only do the published descriptions lack preciseness and detail as a rule, but they are rarely illustrated with plans and drawings of the structural remains. Lieut.-General  p185 Pitt-Rivers' exploration of a village site on Woodcuts Common in Cranbourne Chace, however, is a notable and grand exception. The excavation of a Romano-British settlement, near Wetton in Staffordshire, by the late Mr. Samuel Carrington, between the years 1848 and 1852,13 is an example of a promising work rendered of little value through the absence of plans.

It appears from Mr. Carrington's account that this settlement was protected by earthen banks. The sites of the dwellings were indicated by rude pavements of limestone or floors of stiff or clayey earth, one of which is described as "burnt very red and hard by repeated fires"; and these occurred "in rows or streets, as well as standing detached." The shapes and sizes of these floors are rarely stated, but one pavement is described as about five yards square. Indications of fires were numerous. "Near the first place we examined, we found occasional depressions in the floors having a few stones round them, which, from their containing ashes, charcoal, bits of calcined bone, fragments of pottery, etc., we at once concluded to be fireplaces." In other places the domestic fires appear to have been lighted upon the floors, or upon hearths of limestone flags. Elsewhere, "we observed a low wall . . . in which was inserted a hard slab of gritty slate, about an inch thick, that had evidently been used as a bakestone, as it projected out from the wall so as to receive the heat of the fire kindled beneath it, the traces of which were obvious both upon the stone itself and the ground beneath it, whereon lay a collection of ashes and charcoal."

This is the only reference to a wall, and probably its purpose was simply to carry the projecting slab. While it is possible that some of the houses were partly of stone, to judge from the large quantity of this material which cumbered their sites, Mr. Carrington gives evidence that others were of wood. In the vicinity of this piece of walling, for instance, were "holes nearly filled with flat stones, set around the middle on edge, so as to leave a small place in the centre, which was found to be filled with earth and a dark-coloured powder as fine as vegetable ashes. Three of these were observed; two of them being on one side of the bank, and the other on the opposite side over against one of the others. They were between three and four yards asunder,  p186 and were respectively about a yard deep. We concluded that they had been prepared for the reception of strong posts or beams of wood, that formed the corners of the house, which had been inserted in the ground and then wedged in with flat stones, so as to stand firmly in the desired position." Several similar holes were found in the vicinity. Nothing seems to have been observed to throw any light upon the manner in which the spaces between the posts were filled in; and from the absence of any reference to roofing-tiles or singles, we may conclude that these houses were probably thatched.

The relics associated with these remains were, with few exceptions, of simple and homely character. The pottery was "of various degrees of refinement" — some of it being "no more artificially wrought than the sepulchral urns of the ancient Britons." But, on the whole, they seem to have been very distinctly Romano-British, and to have convinced Mr. Carrington that the settlement belonged wholly to that period. Very few coins were found, and the earliest was one of Gallienus.

We now turn to Lieutenant-General Pitt-Rivers' excavations on Woodcuts Common.14 His plan represents a tangle of intersecting ditches and banks, with numerous pits and other remains, which, except for the thoroughness and systematic character of the exploration to which they were subjected, would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible of interpretation. By a careful comparison of the 'finds,' however, he was able to prove that the village dated from late pre-Roman times, and to indicate the various changes it passed through before its final stage was reached in late Roman times. To describe the village as a whole and to unravel its history would be foreign to our present purpose: we must confine ourselves to the evidence it affords of the dwellings it contained.

The most notable features of the site were the curious pits, of which ninety-five were found. They varied from 3 ft. 6 ins. to 10 ft. in diameter, and from 3 ft. 6 ins. to 9 ft. in depth; some cylindrical, others in the form of a truncated cone, larger at the bottom than at the top; and some, again, had lateral pits with higher bottoms, attached like side chambers to them. They were cleanly cut in the solid chalk, and many of them showed traces of clay linings. Various uses have been suggested for  p187 these pits, but Pitt-Rivers came to the conclusion that they were the cellars or store-pits of houses. From a comparison of the potsherds and other objects found in them, with those diffused near the surface of the ground generally, he was able to prove that these houses were of pre-Roman origin, and that many of them continued to be used in Roman times. The exploration failed to throw light upon the shapes and sizes of these houses, but the pits furnished some hints as to their construction, in the occasional fragments of clay-daubing wattle-work found in them.

The Romano-British houses were in even worse plight, as only several were marked by structural remains in situ, and these for the most part could only be regarded as of this period from their position, not from any intrinsic characteristics. The later village spread beyond the earlier in several directions, and naturally the 'finds' of these portions were mostly of the later period. In one of these regions (the 'North-East Quarter') were found several "narrow trenches formed up at the ends with flagstones of Purbeck shale — which, from the traces of ashes and fire about them, appeared to be hearths"; these, from their position, were presumably Romano-British. Four 'supposed hypocausts' were also found, three in the overlapping regions and one outside the village altogether. These were undoubtedly Romano-British, but three of them would be better described as T‑shaped furnaces, such as have been found at Silchester, Caerwent. The fourth passed round the four sides of a square, the outer sides being about 9 ft. long, and would admirably serve to heat a room 10 ft. or more square; but no indications of the walls of such a room were found.

For some idea of the construction of the Romano-British houses of this village, we have to turn to the loose structural remains. The 'finds' generally proved that the villagers became more or less Romanized, also that the North-West Quarter was, to use Pitt-Rivers' words, the 'fashionable end' of the village. Here were found fragments of painted wall-plaster, proving that although mosaic and concrete floors were absent, the walls of some of the rooms were in Roman taste. A number of these pieces had "distinct marks of wattling at the back, which showed that the plaster was about one inch thick, and was smoothed to a perfectly flat surface before being painted. There were also  p188 the round impressions of stakes, and the wattles appear to have been about a quarter of an inch in diameter. A few fragments had the impressions of flat laths upon them. It may be conjectured that the house were partly built or partly lined with daub and wattle, and coated with lime and mould, mixed in some cases with small fragments of flint." Many fragments of both stone and red clay roofing-tiles were found, and their distribution proved that this quarter contained most of the buildings so roofed. The distribution of iron nails also corresponded, and they occurred under conditions which connected them with the later rather than with the earlier remains. The paucity of these remains in the central and older part of the village renders it probable that the later dwellings there were of humbler type. Indeed, it is a question whether the earlier dwellings were completely replaced by later, for the fillings of many of their pits contained Romano-British pottery and other relics, showing that they continued to be used after the advent of the Romans.

The Author's Notes:

1 Brit. Archaeological Assoc. iv, 366; Arch. Jour., vi, 15.

2 Ib., xxiii, 268.

3 Wilts, Arch. Jour., xiii, 33, 276.

4 Archaeologia, LVI, 2.

5 ? On the western side only.

6 Collect. Antiqua, vi.126.

7 Arch. Jour., lxvi, 33.

8 Collect. Antiqua, ii, 9.

9 Archaeologia, LIV, 440.

10 Ib. lx, 150‑2.

11 Archaeologia, LIV, 472.

12 Ib. lx, 123.

13 Ten Years' Diggings, pp193‑203.

14 Excavations, i, p7.

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