Archaeologists unearth 'earliest barn conversion' amid Roman villas in Rutland

The villa was first discovered in 2020. Credit: Historic England

Archaeologists have unearthed what could be one of Britain's 'earliest barn conversations' at the site of Roman villa in Rutland. The villa was discovered in a farmer's field during the national lockdown in 2020 and work to unlock its secrets has been continuing ever since.

The housing complex dates back to somewhere between the third and fourth century AD and is made up of multiple structures which have helped to paint a picture of what life may have been like for those who once lived in it.

With a funding boost of £193,000 from Historic England, archaeologists - including those behind the Richard III discovery in Leicester - were able to examine multiple buildings across the site.

Believed to be the villa reception room. Credit: Historic England.

One of those is a large and well-preserved structure that is believed to have started out as a timber barn but later became a living space - complete, it seems, with a steam room.

The building was supported by large timber posts and could have had two storeys, according to investigators, who said it was converted to stone in the third or fourth century. It appeared to have undergone a series of interior changes over time with a series of complex interior walls.

But the standout feature was a Roman-style bath suite with a steam room, a warm room and a cold 'plunge pool'. There is even evidence of an underfloor heating system.

Part of the Roman bathroom. Credit: Historic England.

The mosaic, which was at the centre of the fascinating discovery in 2020 is now believed to have been in a dining room in what appears to have been the main villa within the complex. According to the excavation team, the dining room was a later addition to the main villa building.

John Thomas, Deputy Director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services said, "It’s difficult to overstate the significance of this Roman villa complex to our understanding of life in late Roman Britain.

"While previous excavations of individual buildings, or smaller-scale villas, have given us a snapshot, this discovery in Rutland is much more complete and provides a clearer picture of the whole complex."