Rockbourne Roman villa was discovered in 1942, when oyster shells and tiles were found as a ferret was being dug out of a rabbit warren. Mr A T Morley Hewitt recognised the significance of the finds and dug a trial excavation, coming straight down onto a mosaic floor. As it was wartime, Morley Hewitt bought the land, and large scale digging didn’t start until 1956. Thereafter, summer excavations took place until 1978 and further work accompanied the relaying of mosaics in 1982.
The digging seasons were notable for their enthusiasm and were much enjoyed by those who took part and visitors to the area, but many details of recording were overlooked at the time. Nevertheless, the excavations revealed that in its final phase (4th century) the villa had forty rooms set, together with farm buildings, around three sides of a large courtyard. Coins found (715 in number, together with a hoard of 7,717) show that the site was occupied for over 350 years, and that in its early days it consisted of a simple rectangular house, built over the remains of an Iron Age timber roundhouse.
A brief guide to the Villa is available at the Museum, but a detailed assessment of the archaeological evidence was made by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments in 1983 (they call it West Park Roman Villa). Their account lists the various rooms, corridors, bath-houses, corn-driers and an aisled building that came and went over the centuries. They also describe some of the finds, including two milestones, a roof finial and chip-carved table-top. These, and many other items, ranging from New Forest pottery to pieces of animal bone, are either on view at Rockbourne Villa Museum, or housed at the Museums Service headquarters, Chilcomb House. The archive also contains diaries and images from the dig.
Morley Hewitt surveying
Mosaic during excavations