Chedworth Thoughts on Room 24

A bit of a gap since the excavation.. and look how nice the weather is now.

It’s always good to try to sum up our findings. So here are some thoughts on Room 24

The headlines of the dig were good but the detail is in the relationships between contexts. This is the essential less engaging bit of archaeology, working out the story, finding the evidence within the archaeological stratigraphy.

Things are not necessarily clear cut and decisive but if something lies on top of something else or cuts it or sits against it… then it is later .. and if the thing is cut through or built over or buried by something then it is earlier .. everything gets a number and a context sheet to create an ordered approach …to enable us to tease out the sequence of events.

There are still many unknowns but it is good to fit pieces together and raise questions. Our ideas may be disproved at a later date.. particularly once the finds are cleaned and processed and the specialist analysis is done ..but it is good to set up a hypothesis even to enable it to be shot down to create something better and closer to the truth.

Room 24 on our first day before we lifted the turf.

Room 24 on our first day
After the mosaic discovery in 25b last year we thought there was a possibility that the adjacent Room 24 might have another. We confirmed that the floors of the North Range corridor and 25b were at a lower level and the rooms leading off them were reached by steps over hypocausts and were at a higher level. Their floors had collapsed long ago.
This year we found fragments of mosaic below the turf which were probably part of Room 24’s fallen floor.

[caption id="attachment_3209" align="alignnone" width="660"]Trench E, the apse of room 24. Very little archaeology survived. The Victorians had built four courses of stone on rubble. No sign of the Roman wall it is supposed to have followed and no mosaic at this level. Though small chunks were found which may have fallen into the hypocaust as the raised floor failed and the mosaic collapsed between the stone pilae. Count 3 20cm long stripes in from the top of the ranging pole and you'll see a mosaic fragment at the edge of the trench. Trench E, the apse of room 24. Very little archaeology survived. The Victorians had built four courses of stone on rubble. No sign of the Roman wall it is supposed to have followed and no mosaic at this level. Though small chunks were found which may have fallen into the hypocaust as the raised floor failed and the mosaic collapsed between the stone pilae. Count 3 20cm long stripes in from the top of the ranging pole and you’ll see a mosaic fragment at the edge of the trench.

A couple of stone pillars which supported the floor had been left in position and early photographs show they were part of the Victorian display of the villa. In 1963, Sir Ian Richmond had retained them as part of his interpretation. We found the packed plaster foundations of 10 more of them, regularly and closely spaced. The layout of the stone pillars would have been like those in nearby Room 26.

The stone pilae on display in Room 26 would be like the arrangement in 24.

The stone pilae on display in Room 26 would be like the arrangement in 24.

So no surviving mosaic in 24 but another objective was to take up Sir Ian Richmond’s 1963 concrete to see what he based his interpretation on.

Room 24 First day. After we'd cleaned Sir Ian's 1963 concrete interpretation of part of the 2nd century baths. The site of our trench D. Note the stone pillars placed within the room top left and middle right. These show where the 4th century floor above the hypocaust was. They show that the floor was at the same level as Room 21 which can be seen at the top right hand edge of the picture.

Room 24 First day. After we’d cleaned Sir Ian’s 1963 concrete interpretation of part of the 2nd century baths. The site of our trench D. Note the stone pillars placed within the room top left and middle right. These show where the 4th century floor above the hypocaust was. They show that the floor was at the same level as Room 21 which can be seen at the top right hand edge of the picture.

Beneath the concrete was 1960s backfill but gradually we peeled off the clay to reveal the early walls. Richmond had created a hole in the Victorian rebuilt wall and put a concrete kerb lintel over it to demonstrate a hypocaust stoke-hole to heat the 2nd century bath. On either side he marked out the walls of the stoke-hole.

First day showing Sir Ian Richmond's interpretation in Room 24. The reddened walls below the concrete matched the alignments of his reconstruction of a 2nd century heating stoke hole except the kerbed grass squares in front which we could not relate to the buried archaeology.

First day showing Sir Ian Richmond’s interpretation in Room 24. The reddened walls below the concrete matched the alignments of his reconstruction of a 2nd century heating stoke hole except the kerbed grass squares in front which we could not relate to the buried archaeology.

Our trench D uncovered the south side and we found the walls as he had shown them, burnt red. All these early walls have their stones burnt red. We saw them in 2010 in the West Range and Sir Ian thought that the South Range had been burnt down and then rebuilt. Perhaps an early catastrophic fire that spread throughout the villa rather than just heat from a hypocaust.

We found that an earlier stoke-hole had been filled in and blocked by the wall that formed the stoke-hole later interpreted by Richmond.

Last day: Room 24 D. In the corner of the room (centre) is the stone pila demonstrating where the floor of the room was in the 4th century.The tops of present walls rebuilt in the 1860s show where the heated mosaic floor would once have been. Sir Ian Richmond fixed the position of the pila by surrounding it with concrete in 1963 (we left some of the concrete in place). To the right the archaeological trowel is placed on an offset which is the footing of the original Roman wall. This lies across a 2nd century wall. The stones are reddened as though burnt. Directly below the trowel, and under the offset, the mortar is yellow and it is capped by a clay tile. On either side the walls are heat burnt and curving. This is a blocked hypocaust stoke hole. The wall burnt red and running left from this covers this blocking and is therefore later. Left of this is another tile and flue entrance though this time not blocked. The wall of the stoke-hole is a one-sided revetment wall and runs back towards the later Room 24 east wall and ends at a large stone preserved in the later wall line (this pre-dates the stoke-hole I think and is the earliest feature). Now we can see what Sir Ian was interpreting.

Last day: Room 24 D. In the corner of the room (centre) is the stone pila demonstrating where the floor of the room was in the 4th century.The tops of present walls rebuilt in the 1860s show where the heated mosaic floor would once have been. Sir Ian Richmond fixed the position of the pila by surrounding it with concrete in 1963 (some has been left in place). To the right the archaeological trowel is placed on an offset which is the footing of the original Roman wall. This lies across a 2nd century wall. The stones are reddened as though burnt. Directly below the trowel the mortar is yellow and it is capped by a clay tile. On either side the walls are reddened and curving. This is a blocked hypocaust stoke hole. The reddened wall running left from this covers this blocking and is therefore later and left of this is another tile and flue entrance though not blocked. The wall of the flue runs back towards the later wall and ends at a large stone preserved in the later wall line (this pre-dates the stoke-hole I think and is the earliest feature). Now we can see what Sir Ian was interpreting.

Room 24 of the 4th century villa, used the south wall of this 2nd century room and built off its foundations. However, most of the standing walls we see today are Victorian and later interpretations of what was found in the 1860s. In fact the apse of Room 24 seemed to be four courses of Victorian built stone based on no surviving Roman foundations. I expect there are traces under the wall somewhere..I hope so.

Before all this there seems to have been another earlier wall made of large blocks of stone. The evidence survives as a robber trench that crosses 24 from east to west with a distinctive large stone incorporated into each of the east and west wall faces. Both are burnt red.

The robbed out wall line in Room 24 running west apparently continuing under Room 21. The top of a large pink red stone is just visible at this stage within the wall above the level surface of mortar.

The robbed out wall line in Room 24 running west apparently continuing under Room 21. The top of a large pink red stone is just visible at this stage within the wall above the level surface of mortar.

The east stone forms the end of the stoke-hole revetment wall interpreted by Richmond. The west stone was revealed at the end of a ‘robber trench’… that is a trench dug to salvage the foundation stones of a disused wall. This demolition happened before Room 24 was built over it and before the 2nd century stoke-hole was built against the east stone.

The sequence of events surrounding the west stone show how much has happened since its foundation trench was dug and it was placed in its original wall line fixed with its distinctive pink mortar against its now lost neighbours. The Roman walls abutting it on either side are later as is the modern wall reconstruction above it. The cut and filling of the trench dug to rob out the wall our stone was once a part of has preserved the alignment of this earliest wall within Room 24.

The large red stone in the west wall of 24 after the mortar and rubble infilling of the 'robber trench' had been removed

The large red stone in the west wall of 24 after the mortar and rubble infilling of the ‘robber trench’ had been removed

This stone itself looks reused from somewhere else. Look at the shape of it and its regular wavy profile seen on the right hand side. With the light shining on it from a rare break in the cloud there appear to be figures on the upper face of it but these faint features are too worn to be certain.

The large stone surviving in Room 24's west wall. Although the stone has a tooled dressed face which can be seen beneath my trowel, it appears reused. It has an undulating wavy edge seen in profile on the right and its curving upper surface may have worn figures carved onto it...a trick of the light perhaps?.

The large stone surviving in Room 24’s west wall. Although the stone has a tooled dressed face which can be seen beneath my trowel, it appears reused. It has an undulating wavy edge seen in profile on the right and its curving upper surface may have worn figures carved onto it…a trick of the light perhaps?

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