North Leigh Roman Villa: A footprint in time
By RON JENSEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 5, 2003
For nearly 400 years, the Roman Empire extended through much of Great Britain, and the footprint left by that presence can still be seen.
The baths in Bath, for example, are one of the most obvious remnants of the Roman era. Hadrian’s Wall, which extends across England in the north, is the largest Roman artifact in the world.
But there are many Roman remnants in England, from the city walls of York to the remains of a Roman lighthouse inside the walls of Dover Castle.
No place in England is far from a Roman relic. That’s true of the bases at RAF Croughton and RAF Fairford.
For people at each base, the North Leigh Roman Villa is an easy and insightful place to visit.
All that remains are the foundations, but they provide a good indication of the villa’s layout and size.
Built from the 1st to the 4th centuries, it was abandoned early in the 5th Century as the Roman occupation of England came to an end and excavated early in the 19th Century.
Located in a quiet valley and under protection of English Heritage, the villa is reached on foot. The path is the same used by servants who worked at the colonnaded home.
The owners — probably Romanized Britons who farmed the land — would have approached from the opposite direction.
The house was built only one mile southeast of what was the Roman road from Cirecester to Alchester, now mostly a highway.
The villa would have been surprisingly comfortable.
A heating system under the floor would have warmed the house throughout, and the remains of this can be easily discerned.
It featured arches and vaulted ceilings and the walls were decorated with painted panels.
The reception room had a mosaic floor and much of that still exists and can been seen through the glass of a building that covers the valuable floor.
The Roman villa at North Leigh — actually at the edge of East End — will never replace the Roman Coliseum or even the Roman Garden at Chester.
But it does provide a glimpse of a past that greatly influenced the present and offers a chance to walk in the footsteps where Roman sandals trod 2,000 years ago.
On the QT
Directions — The North Leigh Roman Villa is about halfway between the bases of RAF Fairford and RAF Croughton, 20 miles from each and about 10 miles northwest of Oxford, not far from the popular Blenheim Palace at Woodstock.
The villa can be reached by following a sign off A4095.
Take the next right into East End. The villa is at the far end of East End, noted by another sign, with limited parking available near the sign. A rough path must be walked about 600 yards to the villa, but it is not too strenuous.
Cost — The villa is free to visit.
Hours — The villa can be visited any reasonable time, according to the English Heritage guidebook.
Information — The tour is self-guided, and it is wise to come equipped with some information about Roman villas in England to help in the explanation.