A SITE that I have been mean¬
ing to visit for several years now, but which I have always missed precisely because it was so near London is the Roman villa at Gorhambury just outside Verulamium, St. Albans. There seems to be a theory floating round— I do not quite know where it came from — that around every Roman town there is a villa free zone, within which there is only one villa, but this an exceptionally large and important one. Gorhambury, which lies only 1 mile from Verulamium, appears to be this villa in relationship to Verulamium, and thus David Neal, looking for a villa to excavate as a follow-up to the villa at Gadebridge Park has been excavating at Gorhambury every year since 1972.
He completed the excavation of the main villa last year. On plan this appears to be 2 villas side by side, though in fact one turns out to be the earlier one and the other its later successor. This year, however, he began to move away from the villa intending to excavate the adjacent farm buildings. Instead he found a mystery. There were no farm buildings but the best built structure yet discovered, with masonry far finer than that of the actual villas. This consisted of a large, squarish room, with a long thin room running along one side of it: what is it?
Judging by the plan, the favourite explanation is that it is a classical shrine or temple, with a cella and a portico to the front. Against this explanation, however, is the entire absence of any votive offerings or other temple paraphernalia from the area, though the cellar of the villa which lies only 25 yards away was filled with a number of architectural fragments, wall plaster and stucco, which might well have adorned a temple. Perhaps we shall have to wait till next year to see whether the adjacent areas produce farm buildings, or the ancillary buildings of a temple complex.
Above: The Roman 'temple' the left.
Below: John Hadman (left) and Graham Webster examine the 'chi-rho' monogram on the large decorated lead tank found half way down a well at Ashton.