Why the Romans built a huge villa near Banbury - Time Team's dig reveals valuable evidence and artist's impressions show an incredibly beautiful site

Romans built a villa almost as big as Buckingham Palace just outside Banbury – and Time Team thinks it has discovered what kind of life and business went on there.

An artist's impression of how the Roman Villa might have looked from the air, 2000 years ago
An artist's impression of how the Roman Villa might have looked from the air, 2000 years ago

Last September’s visit to Broughton by the archeological experts of the cult Channel 4 programme – now broadcasting on the YouTube Time Team channel - revealed the results of their dig in three incredible films now available to watch.

News of the discovery of the site by local historian and detectorist Keith Westcott was broken by the Banbury Guardian in August 2018, 55 years after a sarcophagus, containing the skeleton of a third century, high status woman was found by a farmer ploughing a field.

Three years later, after a lengthy search for an organisation to excavate the site, the legendary Time Team reconvened for a YouTube channel special and some of their best-known experts came to Broughton Castle for the exploration.

The dig concentrated on a few trenches whose contents were sifted, inspected, washed, cleaned and examined to reveal hints about why the Romans built there, what the purpose of their operation was, and what their estate looked like.

And it turns out that the villa was most likely to have been a big, agricultural operation to grow and supply grain for the Roman armies in Europe. Huge earthworks were done to create several ponds whose streams ran down the funnel-like valley to supply the villa with water.

The artist’s paintings of what the villa might have looked like are taken from the three YouTube films – see links to the episodes below.

The fascinating programmes show the work of each individual day and track the excitement of discoveries that give the experts the information they needed to combine with their knowledge of their fields of interest to draw a picture of the villa’s history.

In the final programme Dani Wootton, Time Team’s small finds specialist showed a selection of items dug up from the soil. These included a heavy roof tile.

"It's even intact with the hole where it would have been nailed to the roof,” she said.

"There would have been hundreds of these all lining the roof keeping it nice and watertight.”

Narrator, historian Gus Casely-Hayford, said: “These tiles required a steeper pitch than the clay tiles. And while the tiles kept the rooms dry, the hypocaust kept them warm.”

The hypercaust was underfloor heating taken up through the walls. Air would have flowed horizontally as well as vertically from fires beneath the floors, between stacks of tiles. One tile discovered bore the imprint of a small dog’s paw.

Above the layer of heated tiles was a mosaic floor and many mosaics – tesserae in different shades of orange, white and grey – were found in the soil.

Other finds included a number of Roman coins giving evidence of the dates the villa was in use and occupation as well as bones, pottery fragments, burnt grains of wheat, weeds preserved in clay, parts of drinking vessels and even fine Roman window glass.

Of one 2,000 year old beaker, Ms Wootton said: “You can see a thumbprint where the potter who made this and dipped it into the slip. And it's left the impression of his or her thumbprint.”

Time Team's artist has come up with this amazing plan of the Roman Villa, as envisaged after the excavations

The dig allowed the Time Team and its volunteers to get closer to the purpose of the people who lived and worked at the villa, 2,000 years later.

Major exploration of the walls of the construction led the historians to believe the villa had ended up being a two-sided series of buildings which featured a huge pavilion at one end where the occupants might have dined and looked out across the valley to enjoy the stunning views.

A bath house was thought to have been located at the foot of the network of ponds and dammed streams.

The programmes end with footage of the excavation of that first huge clue, the sarcophagus, situated up the hill overlooking the beautiful home of the unknown lady. The tomb revealed carved stone, lead lining and catches to keep the lid in place.

Among those who are featured in the programmes were the farmer, John Taylor, whose plough hit this high-status coffin revealing bones within, and Lord and Lady Saye and Sele who were shown some of the smaller relics turned up at this historic site on their family estate.

To see the first day of the Time Team dig at the Roman Villa dig see this link. For day two see here and for day three see here.

Lord Saye and Sele feels a silver denarius coin found beneath the soil at the Roman Villa site on the Broughton Castle estate
Lord and Lady Saye and Sele are shown artifacts from the dig on the Broughton Castle estate
How the Roman villa may have looked inside the entrance
What the villa may have looked like from the eastern side where evidence shows the large pavillion was built
Time Team's artist has come up with this impression of the entrance to the villa from the west