Fieldwork: Summer Excavation 2005
Interim Report by Stephen Young

(see also Aerial Photos at the end of the 2005 dig)


The work schedule set out for the excavation this year reflected our engagement with several important chronological and stratigraphic elements associated with the evolution of the site's story as a settlement. Our priorities centred on exposing the foundations and floor levels of the second stone round house situated immediately south west of the main villa range; an investigation of the debris layers on the lower slope adjacent to the east end of the bath house; finalising the exploration of the Post Roman timber phase and examining the courtyard stratigraphy beneath these features.

However, the 'digging' strategy was complicated by the presence of Time Team and our connection with the Big Roman Dig. Inevitably the rise to TV stardom impacted on the pace of progress of the excavation and to a degree it affected our ability to achieve the outcomes we were endeavouring to reach. This is best illustrated by the amount of weeding and clearance work undertaken to make the site ready for filming. I know this process was exhausting and a little contentious but it was unfortunately necessary. However the hectic start to this years campaign enabled us to demonstrate to a wider audience both the professionalism and dedication of the 'digging' team and the project's commitment to archaeological best practice.

2 x 15 minutes of fame


Unfortunately the excellent preservation of the structure encountered at the end of the 2004 excavation was not reflected in the state of remains uncovered this year. In reality virtually all of the substantial foundations of the stone round house had gone, as had the strategraphic evidence of the internal flooring. The differential survival of the archaeological remains is a consequence of activity in the late Roman period, the erosive effect of the medieval ridge and furrow and to a lesser extent modern ploughing. Nevertheless, careful excavation of the existing remains enabled significant interpretational insights to be made concerning the overall development of this area of the site.

Analysis of the round house diameter measurement enables us not only to fix the position of the building in relation to the other structures but also to see how that location influenced and reflected the development of the villa main range and the erection of the suite of rooms comprising the wing. This is extremely significant because it enables us to cast fresh light on the sequence of events in the construction of the villa and to have a greater degree of confidence in the previously proposed hypothesis of the phasing of the site.

The diagnostically datable material recovered during excavation confirms the construction of the building is consistent with the other round house, indicating a 2nd century AD date of origin. Amongst the finds from the foundations was a corroded but nice example of a bronze fibula of the same date. Our round houses were the first structures to be erected on site followed by the building of the central villa range filling the space between them. Crucially the position of the second round house indicates that the southwest wing could not have formed part of the original villa design and that this was added at a later stage. The construction of the southwest wing of the villa would have required the round house to be demolished and this could explain the stone platform forming the foundations for two of the rooms in the range comprising the wing.

These findings also support the evidence available from studying the different foundation material found in the robber trenches of the central villa range and in the wing indicating two or three major phases of development.

...a corroded but nice example of a bronze fibula


Removing the weed covering from the central range of the villa offered an opportunity to re-examine elements of the surviving foundations in the robber trench flanking the front entrance to the house. This enabled us to understand more clearly the process of stone robbing connected with the early 19th century destruction of the site. The remaining sections of foundations showed where a series of pits had been dug down to locate suitable surviving portions of wall that could be utilised elsewhere. It appears that at least three pits were excavated along this alignment of wall reinforcing the idea that a systematic approach was being applied to stone selection and recovery.

An explorative trench was also excavated opposite the entrance to make sure that the facade frontage envisaged for the villa was indeed a correct interpretation of the surviving archaeology and that no larger classical pedimented porch had ever existed or been part of the villa design.

In addition the make up of the foundation debris in the corridor wall robber trench indicates that this area represented a different later phase of construction within the development of the villa overall plan. The remaining interpretative problem centres on whether this work was carried out at the same time as the construction of the southwest wing or represents a distinctive phase in its own right between building the central range and the much later southwest wing.

... the trench opposite the entrance


We were able to commission Archaeomagnetic analysis of the stoke hole in the Praefurnium to explore the date of the final firing of the under floor heating system. Obviously the possibility of a fixed date associated with the latest phase of occupation will be of great value in supporting the general dating framework created for this area of the site. The process is relatively expensive and can be affected by exposure and weathering either in the past and or in modern times. However Prof M. Noel was able tentatively to suggest that the last firing of the stoke hole may have been at around 460 AD.

This date is of great importance not only for our understanding of Roman Whitehall but also in what that means to the general established picture of late antiquity in Roman Britain. The general consensus is that Roman Britain ceased to be a province of the empire in 410 AD and that from then on the story is one of English settlement. Our last historical reference to Britain during this period is connected with the visit of Bishop Germanus in 429 AD which refers to organised civic life and the continuation of Romanised values.

However at Whitehall Farm we have the possibility of a Romanised building and possibly by inference an estate surviving and functioning another generation beyond the date which traditionally signalled the loss of Britain from the historical record. Our data confirms that the picture is much more complex than previously thought. Taken together with the evidence for the Post-Roman timber phase and fieldwalked material from neighbouring sites it indicates that the 5th century AD experience in this part of the Midlands was as robust and vigorous as it had been at any time in the previous hundred years.


The pressures encountered with the visit of Time Team meant that the progress planned for this area was severely curtailed. However we were able to investigate the area in several ways.

Archaeomagnetic samples were taken from the burnt post pits and although affected by later depositional effects a date range of 500-550 AD is a possibility.

Pottery from this period has been identified and was confirmed by Paul Blinkhorn, an expert on Dark Age ceramics who will be analysing and reporting on the material in greater detail.

During the excavation I was fortunate to talk to Prof Ken Dark of Reading University about our timber building. He believes the lack of hearths in this structure does not necessarily mean that the building couldn't have been occupied as a dwelling because portable hearths were in use and are known from sites with comparable dating.

The diagnostically datable pottery recovered across the area of the timber structure and around the bath house suggests an association between the buildings but the difference between the last stoke hole firing and the burnt post pits from the Post Roman structure may be indicative of another interpretation.

Perhaps we can speculate a little on an alternative scenario which could see the timber phase as replacing the bath house and villa complex with a hall and farmstead. It is possible that we have a potential link to the earliest burials excavated in our Anglo-Saxon cemetery. Only extensive carbon dating of the skeletons and a detailed review of the ceramic evidence will be able to highlight whether this is a possibility or not. Some supporting evidence for such speculation comes from the neighbouring villa of Horestone where jewellery of this date, which can be culturally described as early Anglian, was recovered along with the identification of ephemeral post impressions of a timber structure erected on top of the defunct but surviving mosaic.

Two trial trenches were excavated through the metalled surface and terracing underpinning the Post Roman timber phase to try and identify any earlier stratigraphy that might lie beneath these levels. A feature was located which most likely part of an enclosure ditch dating to an earlier phase of Roman occupation.


The archaeological work undertaken on the lower slope proved to be quite fascinating and although there was plenty of building debris present the existence of yet another structure could not be taken for granted. A large amount of worked building stone and used boxflue tile had to be removed before the plan of a building began to appear.

Our interpretation of the overall sequence of features in this area is still to be resolved but we were able to establish the existence of a range of rooms orientated in a north-west to south east alignment which utilised the contour of the slope. Parts of the building have been destroyed by later trenching of an indeterminable date. Sufficient stratigraphy survives to indicate that one room has a hypocaust floor.

It is possible that we are looking at an earlier bath house which had been demolished in the Roman period. Access to water and its efficient use within the structure may point to the rationale behind the change in location of this facility. Equally the discovery of tesserae could also point to a level of sophistication indicative of an earlier completely separate villa structure. Only further excavation will confirm such an interpretation.

However two aspects of these discoveries suggest we are dealing with a structure that is not associated with the previously excavated bath house or main villa range. Undoubtedly different materials are being used to manufacture both the tesserae and the ceramic fabric boxflue and roof tiles than those found associated with the other villa buildings elsewhere on site. A provisional dating of the pottery could also support an earlier date range.


Whitehall Farm was successful in an application to the Marc Fitch Fund for a grant towards the costs of reports on the coins and glass found during the excavation for inclusion in a forth-coming publication.

The coins will be analysed by Dr. Mark Curteis and the glass by Prof Jennifer Price supported by Barbara Rees Evans.

Our conservator and environmental archaeologist Dr Martin Weaver will also be producing a catalogue of plant remains retrieved from the sealed contexts in Room 3b of the bath house which will add to our understanding of the villa economy being provided by the analysis of the animal bones.

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