Comparing the past and the present: a room full of hypocaust pillars


This is an image from the Institute of Archaeology’s lantern slide collection of the Roman Villa at Chedworth, Gloucestershire. This lantern slide was made and sold by local commercial photographer Henry Taunt. Taunt (1842-1922) mainly photographed in Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley, and was a pioneer in both landscape and archaeological photography.

HEIRtagger Martin Rush sent us this rephotograph with a comment on the background to the image:


Here is my modern rephotograph of HEIR 38518 (lantern slide of Chedworth Roman Villa Glos. hypocaust pillars). Taken by me April 2016.

It is clear that the site has been “tidied up” dramatically – walls repaired and roofed, encroaching trees cut back, and – most dramatically of all – the fallen hypocaust stumps repositioned neatly. National Trust are the current custodians of the site.

Historic England seems to have the same Taunt picture from which the lantern slide was taken (at the bottom  – their index CC72/02013).

The villa at Chedworth was discovered in 1864 and excavated shortly afterwards. The Reverend H. M. Scarth wrote up a report on the discovery which was published in 1870, and we were lucky enough to find a copy of it in the wonderful Sackler Library (with a dedication to the ‘Reverend Mr Earle M.A.’ in the author’s own handwriting!).

Harry Mengden Scarth was born in Durham in 1814, died in Tangier April 1890, and was rector of the Church of All Saints in Wrington (Somerset) from 1871. He was also a keen antiquarian, and was known as an authority on the Roman occupation of Britain.

His pamphlet on Chedworth gives some of the background to the discovery of the site – ‘due to an underkeeper while engaged in collecting rabbits’ – and its first reporting in the pages of the Society of the Antiquaries of Scotland and the Journal of the British Archaeological Association. He also has this to say about the current state of the site:

“The villa is situated on the Estate of the Earl of Eldon, who has not only had careful plans made of the portions uncovered, but has erected sheds over the pavements…The walls have also been protected by placing copings upon them, formed of the roofing tiles which formerly covered in the villa, and have been found in great abundance”

The room of hypocaust tiles features in Scarth’s plan of the site, and so was part of the early excavations. Our Taunt picture shows some of the walls on the left of the picture protected by tiles, but certainly not all. Might this give us a date around or before 1870 for the photograph?

Many thanks to Martin Rush for the re-photo and further information on the site.

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