OSMap: LR154
Type: Villa

Roads
None identified

Reach or Swaffham Prior Roman Villa

This Romano-British villa lies on the eastern edge of Swaffham Prior Fen between the villages of Reach to the north and Swaffham Prior to the south (TL 5726 6518), in a field just east of the Swaffham Road and north of the dismantled GER Cambridge and Mildenhall railway line; the late-Roman or early-Dark-Age monumental earthwork now known as "Devil's Ditch" passes by the area from NNW to SSE a little to the east of the site. The villa site is known as eithe Reach Villa or Swaffham Prior Villa but actually lies in the parish of Reach. It was excavated by Allix and the Cambridge Antiquarian Society in 1892-3 and the results published in the Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society (Vol.8, 1891-4, pp.229-234).

The building takes the form of a 'corridor villa' measuring 25 feet wide by 130 feet in length (c.7.6 x 39.6m), aligned NE-SW onto which small wings 36 feet (c.9.4m) long were attached at either end, projecting to the south-east. A portico fronted the building between the two wings and a long corridor appears to have run along the length of the building to the rear (i.e. the north-west). An apsidal projection on the south-west side of the southernmost wing held the remains of an under-floor 'hypocaust' heating system, and a large room nearby had box-flue tiles in situ, both of which would indicate that this wing contained a bath suite. The flooring in both of the wings consisted of tessellated pavements of plain red brick. Iron-Age pottery was also found on the site which probably indicates that the villa was built upon the site of a previous building, possibly belonging to the late pre-Roman Iron-Age (LPRIA); the entire site is, in fact, scheduled as an Iron-Age settlement, not a Roman villa.

There are indications of a nearby Roman building to the immediate south-west of the known villa site on the opposite side of the Swaffham Road just north of the public footpath (TL 570650), where a quantity of Roman pottery, box-flue tiles, mortar and flint have been found. The presence of another Roman building is indicated to the north-east on the opposite side of the Devil's Dyke (TL 575656), where pottery, roof tiles and painted wall plaster were found together with Iron-Age pottery and storage-pits containing animal bones which would indicate a continued occupation from at least the LPRIA period.

Bibliography

See: A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely Vol.10 (2002) pp.224-5, 273-8;

Online References

www.british-history.ac.uk
ads.ahds.ac.uk
www.streetmap.co.uk
This page is dedicated to Dr. John Busby who gave me the initial stimulus to write it.