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Cotswolds villa's century-and-a-half of 'living history'

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: May 29, 2014

By Tristan Cork

  • Chedworth Roman Villa is preparing to mark 150 years since its rediscovery. Pictured above is David Rawcliffe, house and monument steward and left Mark George, visitor services manager

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The moment a group of ferreters made the extraordinary discovery of the West's most elaborate Roman villa site is being marked 150 years later this week at a remote spot in the Cotswolds.

Back in the summer of 1864, the men out on an ordinary day of pest control on a country estate unearthed one of the best-preserved Roman sites in the country, and one of the grandest villas of Roman Britain.

The discovery happened when gamekeeper Thomas Margett's ferret got stuck down a rabbit hole on the young Lord Eldon's estate, and as he dug it out, he caught a glimpse down the hole of a patch of mosaic.

The young Lord Eldon's uncle James Farrer was in Victorian times what was known as a 'keen antiquarian', and so Mr Margett reported what he saw to him.

An excavation was planned, but no one could have predicted the scale of what they found.

They unearthed an elaborate Roman villa estate, a three-sided set of buildings, with hot and cold wash rooms, saunas and plunge pools fed by a nearby spring and heated by underground fire chambers.

Now, to mark the 150th anniversary of the discovery, the National Trust – who took on the site 90 years ago – are holding a Victorian Discovery Weekend this weekend, with the kind of traditional fête Mr Margett and his family would have been used to, games and entertainment, to kick off a summer of celebration.

Later in the summer, visitors to the villa will be able to watch archaeologists unearth more of the Roman villa, when they uncover the north side of the complex.

The look back at the discovery of Chedworth, which is north of Cirencester at the head of a remote Cotswold valley, has unearthed some more remarkable coincidences – not from beneath the ground but from the archives.

The present day operations manager at Chedworth, archaeologist Alex Auden, looked through the donors listed when the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society raised funds to buy the site back in the 1920s.

There she spotted a 'Miss MA Auden' and a 'Miss PG Auden', donating five shillings to the cause – they turned out to be long-lost relatives.

"It seems that Chedworth and archaeology are in my blood," said Alex. "I'm passionate about both the past and present life of this special place. And this year we're not only celebrating its discovery 150 years ago but 150 years of living history. Over the years many new and important discoveries have been made, and this summer we hope to make even more.

"Chedworth is at the cutting edge of conservation," he added.

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