Thursday, 23 February 2017

What Have The Romans Done For Us?

Well , for one thing, they provided a fascinating afternoon for Bob and myself on Tuesday. We were away for 2 days at the Southern Counties Baptist Association Annual Conference for ministers and spouses [what a mouthful] staying in Cheltenham.  We had a couple of hours of free time so we popped over to see Chedworth Villa, a National Trust property just up the road.
This villa started as three detached buildings, probably built around 150AD - but grew and grew into one lavish construction, reaching its heyday between 360 and 380AD, when it would have housed around 100 people. Most of these would have been servants/slaves of the rich owners. The villa itself was luxurious and had an extensive underfloor heating system and set of wonderful baths - ranging from cold, through tepid and lukewarm to hot - where the wealthy householder and his friends could enjoy a lavish lifestyle. Even in a cold British winter they could bathe in waters as warm as their beloved Mediterranean Sea! But the Villa was neglected, and over the years collapsed and was covered with earth. 
This preserved the mosaic floors and many dropped items - until back in 1864, an agricultural worker unearthed something - and alerted the landowner, Lord Eldon. Eldon called upon his uncle James, an archaeologist, and he set about uncovering the hidden treasures. In the middle of the site, Eldon built a little museum to house the treasures, and built sheds to cover the sections of mosaic floor. The NT has improved these enormously, and a programme continues to reveal more buried artefacts and display them sensitively.
The NT website shows this Museum with the rest of the site around it. I took loads of pictures - we were really impressed with the displays and information panels. As usual the NT works hard with their educational stuff- helmets and costumes for families and school groups to try on - replica artefacts to hold and draw...

The felt servant hats were strange [and small] I looked like an elf, and Bob looked like a Bishop!
 There was beautiful variation in the colour and shape of the pottery, and also a row of engraved brass discs on leather thongs [reading "Hold on to me, for I am a slave"]

 I am Maximus Decimus...and this is my crazy wife...

I think I prefer the scent of Bob's usual after shave!
The mosaics were amazing - so detailed and carefully put together. They are maintained in a carefully controlled environment, to prevent further deterioration or algae growth. The engineering and construction of the baths is amazing - the way that as one moved through a series of rooms, the temperature of the waters changed.
Outside are the lower parts of walls surrounding other rooms - with notes explaining their purpose - and beyond, sheep graze happily in the fields and snowdrops bloom in profusion on grassy banks.
In the Museum were a couple of quotes [one from a local yokel, the other from an eminent historian] dating from the 1860s when these hidden treasures came to light

This was a good outing, and slightly different from most of our recent NT excursions, which have been in properties dating from Tudor times to the 20th century. A bit of older history is always thought provoking.
It is also fascinating to realise how the Victorians approached such excavations in a very different way from 20th century archaeologists - and now in the 21st century with so much advanced technology, techniques and attitudes are still changing.
C19 - dig it up, put it on a shelf in the Museum behind glass, with little handwritten label.
C20 - uncover it, put a roof over it and type out some information [on a typewriter]. School children get a lecture and then write an essay or draw a picture. Maybe a guy in Roman Armour will come and chat to them and make them march round the field [Sinister, Dexter, Sinister, Dexter...]
C21 - minimal disturbance but high tech equipment means things can be revealed under the surface, and computer technology can recreate accurately things like the missing section of mosaics and paintings. Children can dress up in costumes, pretend to be Romans, use interactive computer programmes to recreate life in 365AD...
Engaging with history is getting easier, and definitely becoming more fun for children [poor Rosie is doomed, she has a family of people who like this sort of thing!!]
Here is Bob outside the Museum. He is concerned about his waistline! The food at the Conference was plentiful and delicious. It will be Back to Banting next week!!


  1. Hi Angela, I visited Chedworth when I was seven as part of a school trip. (now nearly half a century ago!!) We were shown around by an old man whose descriptions were so vivid I thought I had visited a proper Roman villa. I insisted my family visited it again a few months later. I couldn't believe it when there were no rooms, no walls covered in mosaics... I have loved history ever since, and am so grateful to that old chap 'Penny Lx

  2. It fascinates me why such wonderful houses were left to fall into ruin. You would have thought that something so superior would have been taken over by"squatters".

  3. An enthusiastic teacher can really make things come alive like that - do try and go again, to see what they have done with the place now!

  4. FC - I am mystified too. I can understand somewhere like Pompeii when they are suddenly overcome by as volcano - but whatever happened to the villa at Chedworth for it to be left to decay like that?

  5. I used to love taking a class to immerse themselves in 'real' history. Chedworth sounds amazing...and even you and Bob could have a play!

  6. I must admit, we did have a lot of fun on our afternoon out.


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