The overgrown foundations of Spoonley Wood Roman Villa
The overgrown foundations of Spoonley Wood Roman Villa

If ever a historic attraction qualifies as 'hidden', it is the Spoonley Wood Roman Villa. The overgrown villa remains are set in a small woods, reached by an unsigned path across fields, within the Sudeley Castle grounds, just outside Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.

The villa was built near the confluence of two small streams that run into Beesmoor Brook in the valley bottom, 1km further west.

It began as a corridor villa and was later extended with the addition of two wings. This winged villa, in turn, was extended with a final side to create a courtyard villa. A stone's throw away from the villa is a simple building thought to have been a granary or barn. The courtyard villa measures 51m x 61m (170 x 190 feet).

Part of the reconstructed mosaic
Part of the reconstructed mosaic

Discovery

Stones were first found in Spoonley Wood in 1877, but it wasn't until five years later in 1882 that workmen searching for building stones in the wood stumbled upon the villa, unearthing several rooms with Roman mosaics.

The owner of Sudeley Castle at that time was Emma Dent, and Mrs Dent had one of the mosaics disassembled and moved to the castle where it was reassembled. Mrs Dent then called in two prominent Victorian antiquarians, John Henry Middleton and William Bazeley, to excavate the villa.

Finds from Spoonley Wood included pottery sherds, tools, a silver-plated bronze bowl, and Roman coins dating to the 3rd and 4th centuries.

Most of these artefacts are kept at Sudeley Castle, though a marble statue of Bacchus, found in a grave at Spoonley, is now in the British Museum in London. The base of a Roman column is in the Gloucester Museum and three pottery lamps are on display at the Cheltenham Museum.

The mosaic is protected by a lean-to shed
The mosaic is protected by a lean-to shed

Unfortunately, this investigation exposed the Roman remains to the effects of frost. Visitors began to explore the site, causing further damage. Mrs Dent decided to rebuild several of the villa walls up to 1.8m high (roughly 4 feet). She also had two of the better mosaics reconstructed and protected from the weather under wooden sheds.

Also unfortunately, no other steps were taken to protect the site, and by the 1970s the sheds had collapsed and trees and shrubs had overrun the site.

One shed has been rebuilt and given a corrugated iron roof. Under this shed is a partial mosaic, further protected by a plastic sheet held in place with stones.

There are no visitor facilities at Spoonley Wood. In fact, there is no information panel or any indication that the villa or the mosaics exist. The villa is lost beneath decades of undergrowth, with only scattered stones visible.

That said, it is an evocative site, if a slightly sad one. The mosaic is well worth seeing, and it is fascinating to wonder what life was like for the villa inhabitants. The mosaic is entirely geometrical, with no discernable depictions of humans or animals. When we visited, it was damp and muddy in places where water had gotten under the plastic sheet that was meant to protect it.

The path to Spoonley Wood goes past Sudeley Castle
The path to Spoonley Wood goes past Sudeley Castle

Getting There

Be aware that there are no signposts to the villa! An Ordnance Survey map is a big plus (Outdoor Leisure 45 or Landranger 163), but I'll describe the route in detail.

Start at the public car park on Back Lane (alternatively at the main Sudeley Castle car park). From the car park take Cowl Lane down to High Street and turn right. Turn left onto Vineyard Street and go over the bridge across the River Isbourne. The road will bend to your right but go straight on, entering the Sudeley Castle grounds.

Follow the main drive past a small pond and take the Warden's Way footpath on your right. The Warden's Way skirts the edge of Sudeley Castle and crosses the Windrush Way path. Stay left on the Warden's Way until you cross a footbridge over The Warden's Way turns left to follow the stream, but you need to carry straight on along the unnamed footpath that leads along the farm field.

The path skirts a small reservoir on the right before reaching another footbridge over a stream. Carry straight on, towards the obvious line of trees ahead. The footpath leads directly through Spoonley Wood.

Geometric mosaic patterns
Geometric mosaic patterns

This is where it is easy to get lost, simply because the villa is so overgrown. The villa is reached by a short path off to your left. An equally narrow path to the right leads to the shed that protects the mosaic. When we visited, this was in poor condition, and so collapsed that we wondered if it was the right place.

It was.

Just lift up the stones holding down the plastic sheet and move the sheet out of the way so that you can see the mosaic, but don't forget to reposition the plastic sheet and stones when you are done.

The Spoonley Wood walk takes roughly 5 miles (8km) from the Back Lane car park and should take no more than 3 hours for a return trip. As we discovered, it makes for a lovely family outing.

Most photos are available for licensing, please contact Britain Express image library.

About Spoonley Wood Roman Villa
Address: Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, England
Attraction Type: Roman Site
Location: In the Sudeley Castle estate grounds, off the Warden's Way footpath.
Location map
OS: SP045256
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS

Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

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Sevenhampton, St Andrew's Church - 2.6 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Hailes Abbey - 2.8 miles (Abbey) Heritage Rating



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