Chedworth Roman Villa £3m project reveals mosaics

For the first time in 150 years visitors to Chedworth can have a full Roman experience, walking just above precious Roman mosaics on walkways and viewing platforms thanks to a new conservation shelter at Chedworth Roman Villa.

Opened this month, the £3 million development, which includes a refurbished visitor centre, lets people see recently excavated mosaics not seen for 150 years – with more to be uncovered over the coming year. Visitors will be able to see the archaeologists at work and also meet conservators preparing mosaics for display.

The National Trust’s project to protect the fragile remains of the villa has involved creating a new environmentally-controlled conservation shelter over the mosaics in the west range, to replace old Victorian sheds. Uniquely, the shelter rests on the original walls of the villa, recreating many of the rooms inside the villa and allowing people to experience, for the first time, the scale of the spaces the villa’s owners lived in.

To add to the experience for visitors, a new café and a refurbished visitor centre have been included in the development which has funding support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Instead of looking into the sheds put up by the Victorians following the excavations in the 1860s, visitors will be able to enter the new Conservation Shelter and walk on suspended walkways just above the Roman floors looking down through the steel gratings and timber slatted covering. The shelter gives visitors a sense of the sights, sounds and smells which would have greeted visitors to the villa in the 4th Century, giving a glimpse into Romano-British life of 1600 years ago.

In addition, the Victorian built museum on site has been re-displayed, showing the artefacts recovered after the villa was first discovered in 1864.

‘Our archaeologists have known these extra mosaics lay hidden here at Chedworth since the Victorians reburied them but they were not as well protected underground as they could be in this new building, protected from frost and other damage,’ said Janet Gough, Property Manager.

‘Importantly the new building also allows much better access to the Roman remains and mosaics, with the walkways allowing visitors to look down on the mosaics and new ways of explaining the Roman history of Chedworth which we hope really brings the place to life.’

Kari, Ellen and Rhys, all 7 years old, from Thomas Reade Primary School, Abingdon get close ot the mosaics

National Trust archaeologist Martin Papworth said the newly revealed mosaics include one of the longest in-situ corridor mosaics in the country at 35 metres long, excavation of which will be completed in the summer.

The Victorian shelters previously displayed three mosaics in the Bath House and one in the Triclinium or dining room. The excavations will, for the first time in 150 years, allow the display of the corridor mosaics, and three others in an additional room and two short corridors.

Martin explained: ‘There is still one section of the corridor mosaic to be excavated in the centre of the corridor. We know it is where the doorway was and we hope that it might reveal a new design in the mosaics that we don’t know about. The walkways will provide ideal platforms for people to watch us this summer and see if we do find something exciting. Once excavated we are simply cleaning the mosaics and stabilising them with other conservation work to follow to ensure they remain in the condition they were found when revealed.’

Walkways above the 35m corridor mosaics

The conservation shelter and other developments are all designed to be sustainable, with air source heat pumps serving the main buildings and a rainwater harvesting system allowing scarce water supplies to go much further. The villa was built close to a natural spring, venerated in the water shrine, but the borehole which supplies it today has a very limited supply so water is harvested from the roofs of the buildings and stored in a tank under the car park and used for flushing toilets.

Unlike other cover buildings at Roman sites, the Chedworth building sits directly on the villa walls, removing the need for foundations in such an archaeologically sensitive site. The lightweight timber glulam structure has been designed to minimise the loads on the villa walls, and fixings have been carefully located so that they are not installed into any Roman masonry

‘Interest in Chedworth is growing all the time, we are welcoming more school groups to the new Salway Learning Room and with archaeologists returning in the summer to complete the excavation, we’re expecting an exciting year,’ added Janet

Alongside the conservation shelter visitors will be able to explore the north bath-house, the water-shrine and see the Roman underfloor heating system.

The project was made possible thanks to a £700,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £150,000 from the Gloucestershire Environmental Trust with landfill tax contributions donated by Cory Environmental, a £100,000 grant from the Garfield Weston Foundation and generous donations from the Summerfield Charitable Trust, the Roman Research Trust, the Cotswold AONB Sustainable Development Fund and the Kinsurdy Trust together with a number of National Trust supporter groups and individual donors who have sponsored protective winter covers or ‘socks’ which will prevent damage to the Roman stone pillars which support the underfloor heating system over the winter.

Fairies, sprites, monks and bikes

Floating fairies, pensive monks and hunky Harley Davidsons are not a common sight at Lacock Abbey. Especially not ones made of chicken wire.

That’s all due to change from Saturday 18 February to Sunday 4 March, when an esteemed local artist displays some life-size sculptures in the grounds of the historic property.

For two weeks, visitors will encounter a range of fun figures, including a cyclist on the driveway to the Abbey, a gardener pausing with his wheel barrow, sprites and nymphs playing in the trees and even a gleaming silver motor bike.

The sculptures are part of the Inner Spirit Collection by Westbury based artist Derek Kinzett, whose work has been described as ‘beyond beautiful, stunning and spiritual’.

Award Winning
Derek has won many accolades for his art – he was winner of the Peoples’ Prize at the 2010 Showborough House Sculpture Exhibition, and in 2011 he was selected as one of three British sculptors for The International Sculpture Symposium in South Korea. He’s responsible for the much praised Christmas angels floating above Milsom Street in Bath, and his work has also been commissioned by film star Nicholas Cage, and Tim Green of the Tate Gallery.

‘This is going to be a great display of art in a fantastic setting,’ said Rachael Holtom, Visitor Experience Officer at Lacock Abbey.

‘Although it is winter, our early spring flowers will be out and the crispness of the weather should really compliment Derek’s work. It will be the first art show of its type here at the Abbey, and hopefully not the last.’

Normal admission rates apply. NT members and under 5’s free. For opening times and further information, please phone 01249 730 459 or see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/Lacock

Norway Maple at Prior Park is country’s tallest

A Norway Maple at Prior Park has been declared the national champion tree for its species after being measured at 36 metres (117 feet) – the tallest in the country by a clear six metres.

The previous champion Norway Maple is 30 metres tall and growing at Glamis Castle in Angus.

Norway Maples are quite common in Britain so it is more remarkable to find a champion tree for the species being looked after by the National Trust at Prior Park.

Matthew Ward, National Trust head gardener for Bath said: “For years I’ve looked at this tree and thought it was unusually big but when we finally measured it ourselves we realised it was one of the tallest in the country.”

It is in a sheltered part of Prior Park, growing amongst other trees on a bank.

The measuring was done by a team from the Tree Register who climbed the tree to be able to use a combination of poles and tape measures to measure the exact height of the tree.

 The garden has a number of Norway Maples and also beech, ash and yew, which grow very well.

“It hasn’t been planted up as a specialist arboretum and because, in the past it had been left alone, there are a lot of self seeded trees creating quite a natural feel to the woodland. We are in a hollow, close to the city and it is a sheltered pleasant spot which the trees certainly seem to like. As well as this superb Norway Maple we have a number of yew trees which grow particularly well.”

The Trust is maintaining Prior Park in the spirit of Ralph Allen, the 18th Century entrepreneur who created it as his vision of blending a garden with the natural landscape.

In addition to the work at Prior Park, the Trust is carrying our a three year survey to reveal the full extent and condition of the estimated 500 tree avenues in its care. The project began last year to help prioritise funding for their care and bring together the fascinating stories associated with them.

Volunteers are still needed to help assess these tree avenues and take part in the project to survey all the ancient trees on National Trust land, which has so far surveyed more than 23,000 trees. Members of the public interested in volunteering should contact their local property.

A stunning sign of spring at Overbeck’s

Overbeck's Magnolia

A stroll in any of our gardens at this time of year is always lovely but if you’re lucky enough to get to Overbeck’s nr Salcombe like I did this week, take a moment to go and view the stunning 110 year old Magnolia Campbellii ‘Overbecks’. This stunning tree year on year attracts the crowds and with a backdrop that includes the Salcombe estuary its almost overwhelming in its beauty.

The garden has undergone quite a makeover recently with the planting of 1000 spring bulbs, 300 rare endangered species. Combine a visit with a made to order picnic or a Otto cream tea (or maybe both) and there is no better place to relax and rejuvenate after the cold winter months.

Overbeck’s opens for its new season this Saturday 12th March. More details from our website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk

National Trust inquiry into the outdoors hits the road

The National Trust’s Outdoor Nation project will be touring the country from today to find out if the UK public thinks it’s losing touch with the outdoors and, if so, what might be done about it.

Over the next three months, Leni Hatcher, the Outdoor Nation roaming reporter, will be based in a specially created California campervan loaned to the project by Volkswagen.

Leni will be travelling the country, meeting experts, outdoors organisations and the general public, asking them about their views on the outdoors.

All the views, comments and research will be posted on the Outdoor Nation blog at www.outdoornation.org.uk with visitors invited to post and tweet their replies.

The blog has highlighted recent research showing that one in four children never play outside and that a sharp rise in rickets in British has been partly caused by playing indoors on computer games.

The outcomes of the project will help shape the future activities of the National Trust, which is focusing activities around helping more people spend more time outdoors.

Leni Hatcher said: “It’s great to be mobile and be able to use the campervan as my new base.  I will be following up on our Outdoor Nation blog user’s comments and tweets to see both what we are doing as a nation to improve access to and what the barriers are which prevent people from getting outside.

“Outdoor Nation runs for another three months so there is plenty of time for the public to make their voices heard and suggest what the National Trust and other organisations can do to help people get outside and enjoy the fresh air.”

The Outdoor Nation journey is reported at www.outdoornation.org.uk with video interviews and a blog, users can comment on the findings, put forward ideas and suggest avenues for investigation. Leni’s own journey can also be followed on Twitter by following @outdoor_nation.

Nicola Gates, Communications Manager for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles UK, said:  “Volkswagen UK is proud to support Leni and the National Trust’s Outdoor Nation project.  We believe that there’s nothing better than exploring the outdoors and the Volkswagen California is the perfect vehicle to do this in.  We hope that Leni has a fun-filled adventure in her California and look forward to keeping up with her updates as she progresses on her journey.”

The project also aims to explore how changes introduced by the Government could present opportunities for ‘Big Society’ partnerships between NGOs and local community groups to help provide greater access to local green space.

So far the Outdoor Nation blog has generated nearly 20,000 views, attracted nearly 200 comments and 40 invitations have been received for items to film. Prominent figures interviewed include Ben Fogle and Simon King.