Romans in the Hambleden Valley

Volunteers doing geophysical surveys


Hambleden is a beautiful valley today – but has it always been a good place to live?  What was Hambleden like in the past and how can we find out?  This is exactly what Chiltern Archaeology set out to discover between 2008 and 2011, using a group of local volunteers, in a community archaeology project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  


The first place to start with any project is research and maps.  This led to a good deal of knowledge of where certain archaeological features were located (including using aerial photograph information) and that a good number of these features were related to a Roman villa complex known as Yewden villa, although others are of unknown age at present. Yewden villa was excavated during 1912 and the result is an enormous collection of artefacts that have mostly never been researched.  The group reassessed the collection, starting with about 200 boxes of pottery.


Volunteers fieldwalkingThere is also a second villa at nearby Mill End.  Using a combination of geophysics (resistivity), field walking and metal detecting a very exciting picture is beginning to emerge of Hambleden during the Roman period.  The Mill End villa layout was confirmed and more detail found.  This villa, adjacent to the Thames, does not seem to have had outbuildings, although the perimeter ditch was discovered.  Yewden villa extends beyond the buildings within its courtyard enclosure – a number of irregular features and a track and a pathway lead to the site of a suspected temple.  Closely associated with both sites are numerous field boundaries and other structures.  Some of these will be Romano-British and others will undoubtedly prove to be Iron Age or even earlier.


Reconstruction drawing of Yewden villaSo what were the Romans doing in the valley?  There was clearly agriculture associated with the Yewden complex, but why did they need 14 furnaces?  One or two is normal for corn drying and maybe another for malting.  Other unusual features are the large number of styli found on site – in a mainly illiterate society it is unusual to have a quantity of writing implements!  What was going on in the workshops?  Why are two very lavish villas lying so closely to each other?  Then there are the 97 infants that appear to have died as newborns – was infanticide being practised on site?




Metal-detecting survey with volunteersAlthough the project activities discovered a huge amount about the Hambleden Valley, it has also posed a lot more intriguing questions.  The project report 'Romans in the Hambleden Valley: Yewden Roman Villa' was published in 2011.

Jill Eyers, Project Director.