The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological
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FIVE LANES VILLA, LLANVACHES
Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 00983g Trust : Glamorgan Gwent Community : Caerwent Unitary authority : Monmouthshire NGR : ST44609100 Site Type (preferred type first) : Roman Villa Status : Scheduled Monument
Summary : Roman villa complex extending over an area of approximately 500x650m on a gentle slope overlooking a tributary of the Nedern brook approximately 2km west of Caerwent, and close to the A48 which is probably on or close to its Roman course at this point. It consists of two groups of masonry buildings, one of which lies within an oval ditched enclosure, both surrounded by field systems. The site is now under pasture. The site was recommended for scheduling by Evans in 2001 as the site is an Iron Age enclosed farmstead with associated field system, apparently replaced by two successive villa buildings, one on the same site and one with a change of site but embellished with tessellated pavements. Neither type is common in South East Wales, and the site gains further importance from its association with the Roman town at Caerwent.
Description : Remains of high-status Roman building, comprising of a small winged corridor villa, the long axis of which runs north to south, the southern end being only some 10m from the northern side of the A48 Newport to Chepstow road 2km west of Caerwent. Two (or three) tessellated pavements came to light early 19th century 'in a field called the Cherry Orchard' just N of Roman road 'about half a mile westward of Caerwent'; one was backfilled, other(s) destroyed. Site visit by OS in 1957 after ploughing turned up building debris (stone, flanged tile, imbrices) in an area around and to the W of the symbol marked on the 1921 edn map. 'The walls of the `Roman building' marked on the recent OS maps show up well as negative crop marks on one of John Sorrell's 1995 aerial photographs, as do those of another, smaller, stone building to the east. In addition several ditched features are revealed. The inscription on the earlier editions of the OS recording `Roman remains found AD 1838' may relate to the report by Octavius Morgan of the finding of two tessellated pavements `about 25 years' before he was writing in 1855. Confusion has however arisen over Morgan's description of the site as being in `a field called the Cherry Orchard about half a mile westward of Caerwent' when the site now revealed by Sorrell is over a mile and a quarter from the walls of the town. However we do know that occupation debris including Roman brick, flanged tiles, imbrices and some white tesserae were found in the right place just before a site visit by N V Quinnell of the Inspectorate in October 1957. The main building is a small winged corridor villa the long axis of which runs north to south, the southern end being only some 10m from the northern side of the A48 Newport to Chepstow road 2km west of Caerwent. It comprises five rooms in a line in a main range with wings formed merely by one room projecting eastwards from each of the end rooms. What appears at first sight to be a suite of four narrow rooms, forming a block parallel to and added to the rear or western side of the central three rooms of the main range, can be seen on closer examination to be part of an earlier building without wings which has been overlaid by the `villa'. It is not possible to identify the site of Morgan's `very handsome tessellated pavement...destroyed by children' but it might be that this and perhaps contemporary unrecorded excavation was responsible for the fact that the eastern walls of both the central range of the villa and those of the earlier building, unlike all the rest of the walls of the two phases of the building, are not visible on Sorrell's photo. Morgan's account of the two pavements indicates, however, that there may still be something to be found of the second pavement which seems to have been treated with more suitable respect, for he concludes the same sentence `and a large portion of another pavement was subsequently found, but immediately covered up, as the only means of preservation.' It is at this point that Morgan again causes confusion by referring to yet another pavement, almost in the same breath but without indicating its whereabouts, or perhaps without the real necessity to do so because the find spot was so close to the one just described. Thus he continues with a fresh sentence `And a few years ago a portion of another pavement was discovered in a cottage garden, a few inches below the surface; there was nothing remarkable in its pattern or quality, and, being unprotected, it was soon destroyed.' One may now wonder whether the cottage garden was not the site of the second and neighbouring building found by Sorrell. This second and much smaller stone building lies about 100m to the east, beyond a crop-marked ditch and bank which runs northwards from the hedge alongside the north side of the A48 and on the same alignment as the axis of the villa. All that remains of this smaller building is a range of three rooms, the southernmost of which has been very largely removed by the cutting back in recent years of the verge alongside the A48 on the approach to the Five Lane crossroad. North of these two buildings and particularly to the east of the ditch and bank there is a palimpsest of field boundaries, most of them straight, probably of different ages and including lengths of two straight, ditched trackways. Perhaps the most interesting feature is the positive crop mark of the foundation slot for a timber wall or fence, or perhaps of a very narrow ditch, enclosing three sides of a probably originally rectangular area of some considerable size. It lies an estimated 75m north of the smaller stone building and may have contained internal ranges of rooms, again of timber, backing onto the western and the northern edges of the enclosure, the long axis of which runs almost parallel to the line of the A48. The layout is reminiscent of a temple enclosure but there is no sign of any central building. There are no signs of stone walls. It is not possible accurately to measure the size of the enclosure as the east end is not entirely visible in this oblique shot but the western end appears to be the same length as the total length of the `villa', while the total length is probably not more than a quarter longer. To the west of the `villa' are two broad, parallel darker green marks in the grass of the field some 60m long, but the fact that the marks vary somewhat in width together with the existence of another similar short mark closing off the end of the narrow strip of land enclosed by the first two tends to suggest an agricultural cause, such as fodder spreading. Enquiry of the farmer is indicated as the alternative is indeed something interesting. Ditched field/enclosure system now given separate PRN - 07052g Results of site visit: Site fairly closely grazed. Low earthworks visible from road but not intelligible from ground level. Villa would appear to occupy slight terrace in E half of field, which falls away at the east to a lower-lying area which at the time of the visit was partly under water. Relative levels of field and verge suggest that road-widening has caused minimal damage and site probably continues under wide verge on north side of road. Mole-hills examined for finds, without success.