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A Roman Villa.

From "Wanderings in Roman Britain".
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I am inclined to think that if you or I were suddenly transported by magic into the Britain of Roman days we should find the general characteristics of the countryside recognisably similar to those of our own times. We should not stare about us with that gloomy horror we might well feel if our school-books were right in describing ancient Britain as covered with dreary marshland and impenetrable forests; for though there were undoubtedly large tracts of woodland which have now disappeared, and wide areas of fen-country which have now been reclaimed, most of the rural features we love would be present to make us feel at home.

It is true that in the Doomsday Book of Norman times much of the country is described as being uncultivated, but this was after 400 years and more of Anglo-Saxon rule, during which time whole areas of land must have gone to waste.

In Roman Britain we should see here and there the same serene cornfields that we see to-day, rich with the same poppies; the Roman roads and lanes would have the same wealth of English wild-flowers on either side, and would be shaded by the same English trees; the sheep and cattle would be browsing in the same luscious meadows of grass and daisies and buttercups; and even the houses, built of brick and timber or of grey stone, with their gardens ablaze with old English flowers and trim with clipped hedges, would not be strange to our eyes.

Especially would this be so in that glorious district of the Cotswolds, where to-day the flower-bordered lanes lead you through sun-flecked woods and picturesque villages, up beside bountiful fields on to the rolling open country where the larks are singing, and down again into secluded, luxuriant valleys, and along the banks of meandering brooks.

These things which constitute for us our dearest picture of the unrivalled English countryside, were here when our Roman-British ancestors of this neighbourhood went into Corinium (Cirencester) or Glevum (Gloucester) dressed in their best togas, transacted their business in the Latin tongue, and discussed the latest news from Rome in the shadow of the colonnades of the local Forum.

The ruins of the great mansion of one of these country gentlemen have been found in Chedworth Wood, in a valley amongst the Cotswolds, seven miles as the crow flies from Cirencester and thirteen from Gloucester; and here we have an excellent illustration of this fact that the general aspect of the countryside as we know it now, formed the setting of the story of Roman days. The site is backed by the trees, just as it must have been in ancient times; it overlooks a peaceful valley which can hardly be much changed since that far-off age; and nearby there still passes the White Way, the road from Cirencester, made by the Romans, close to the great Fosse Way which was the main military highroad of the legions, running from Exeter through Bath and Cirencester to Leicester and Lincoln.

The ruins were discovered by accident one day in 1864, when some men who were out rabbiting, having lost a ferret in one of the holes, opened a section of the warren with their spades, and found to their astonishment that the rabbits were living in a mosaic-paved Roman bedroom. The place was subsequently excavated, and now you may see the greater part of the whole mansion laid bare, the original walls still standing two or three feet in height, and several of these mosaic floors lying fresh and bright in the sheds which were then built to protect them. You may walk from room to room, through corridors and along colonnades, where now the green grass grows, and across the open courtyards where to-day there are mown lawns and well-kept beds of flowers; and as you wander about, seeing clearly the general plan of the house, you will surely feel, as I felt, that the owner of this estate, the best part of two thousand years ago, knew and loved the same rural England that the men of Gloucestershire love to-day.

The mansion faced east, and formed three sides of a square in which a formal garden was laid out; and of these three sides the right or south, where were the kitchens and living rooms, has only partly been recovered, the left or north, which consisted of work rooms and servants' quarters, still reveals its entire plan, and the middle or west, containing some of the main rooms, is now the best preserved.

In the west section you will first visit the dining room, and you will see how it was heated in cold weather by hot air circulating under the splendid mosaic floors and up the flues let into the walls behind the painted plaster surface. Here the mosaic designs show the four seasons - Spring as a little girl bearing a basket of flowers, Summer in the guise of a cupid holding a bird in his hand, Autumn now destroyed, and Winter in the form of a cloaked and hooded man holding a leafless branch in one hand and a rabbit in the other.

There are two bedrooms next to this, and then come the baths, the threshold-stone leading to one of these rooms being worn down by the feet of generations of bathers. Here there are a warm room and a hot room heated all round by means of flues, and now having the hot air passages underneath and the furnace exposed to view. Then there is a room containing a small plunge-bath still intact, with the steps leading down into it, and the plug-hole and lead drain-pipe by which it was emptied still in place.

In the north wing there is the blacksmith's forge, where the horses of the estate were shod and the necessary ironwork was wrought; next there is the laundry with its vats or cauldrons in which the clothes were washed; and then the bakery, and beyond it the servants' quarters, leading from a terrace which was once a roofed colonnade. The estate was evidently self-supporting, and one has the feeling that it must have been run like clockwork by generations of capable Gloucestershire housewives.

Between the west and the north sides, in a sylvan corner in the shade of the trees, stood the nympheum a temple-like little building where there is an octagonal basin let into the floor, into which the water of a woodland stream still flows down, and originally passed out by pipes for the use of the house.

The objects found in the ruins are now to be seen in a small museum on the spot, and from the coins and other evidence it seems that the house was in constant occupation from a period soon after the conquest right down to the end of the fourth century. There is here a great deal of ironwork - keys, locks, weapons, horseshoes, a pair of clippers, a pair of curling tongs, pocket knives, a pair of handcuffs, and so forth; and there are also three great blocks, or "blooms"of iron which the smithy had only partially used when the end came. There are bones from joints of meat, and the shells of oysters, snails, whelks and mussels, the remains of ancient feasts; and there are an oyster-opener, some meat-choppers, skewers, a steel-yard, ladles, spoons, knives, sharpening-hones, bronze bowls, fragments of glass vessels, broken pottery, corn grinders, and so on, all telling of good living and good cheer. I am told that snails of the edible variety, which must be the actual descendants of those cultivated by the Romans, are still to be found living amongst the ruins of this villa.

The name of only one of the owners of the Chedworth house has been preserved - that of a man called Censorinus. The names of all the others are lost for ever; yet in these ruins we can picture something of their lives, and they are linked to us by the setting of their ruined home, here in this sylvan valley which remains to-day, as it was then, a beautiful corner of the British motherland.

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