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Investing in the Romans at Chedworth

I have been visiting Chedworth Roman villa on and off for half a century. One of the walks featured in my 1975 book, Walks in the Cotswolds, starts and ends at this elegant villa tucked at the far end of a canonical Cotswold coombe.

The site model

Over the years the villa has achieved a kind of celebrity status, exceeding its actual merits as a monument. Since its discovery in the Victorian age and acquisition by the National Trust in 1924, it has attracted the great and good to excavate and study it. Notable archaeological grandees have included Sir Ian Richmond and Peter Salway, both authors of great tomes on Roman Britain.

To my astonishment when I arrived at Chedworth this time the car park was overflowing. Much had changed. Visitors were queuing in the new entrance hall, café, shop, and guides were taking parties around the site, now utterly upgraded.

New entrance & cafe

First stop, a model of this simple double courtyard villa. Next, the elegant, timber FieldenCleggBradley building with its raised steel walkways that cleverly allows you to see the line of mosaics that stretch from the triclinium with its fine polychrome pavement made by a Cirencester mosaicist to the plunge baths at the other end. In between a room to educate children at making mosaics, playing Roman board games, and two women docents dressed as Romans to answer questions.

The peristyle mosaic

Indeed, ‘Roman’ docents were everywhere, patiently explaining the minutiae of Cotswold life in the fourth century. The improbable quality of the building work, the heating systems and the mosaics keeps everyone in thrall.

The FieldenCleggBradley cover over the main range including the triclinium

I looked hard at who actually were my fellow visitors drawn to this secret valley where over the decades I have been on my own. The answer: families. The National Trust have reinvented this place. They have invested astutely. Chedworth Roman villa lives in a way today I could never have imagined, bringing another time and place in a pleasing setting into the here and now.

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