A Roman Villa

Professor Peter Halkon (University of Hull) has also made extensive studies of the Roman Period in our area. Peter has authored several publications – popular and scholarly – and we recommend these to you – see the bottom of this page for details. These and a variety of other sources have been used in preparing this page.
Click on any photo or map to enlarge and scroll through them all.
Image from The Roads of Roman Britain – Roman Roads in Yorkshire and is the work of Mike Haken and other contributors. This shows the loop to east and west around the Humber marshes. Used under a creative commons license.

The conquest of Britain by the Romans, begun by Claudius in AD 43, began the end of the Iron Age. In about 71 AD, 5000 men of the ninth legion marched from Lincoln and set up a camp in what was to become York. Ermine Street (basically the A1) was built within a few decades. Its route did not follow the normal Roman straight line between Lincoln and York because there was the one thing in the way that caused the Romans to divert – a marsh. As the map shows, Ermine Street went east, crossed the Humber at Brough and then looped round through Hayton and then to Stamford Bridge before heading West to York. A road on the other side of the marsh looped through Castleford and Tadcaster before approaching York from the west.

More locally a Roman fort was built at Hayton housing about 500 legionaries. It is not known how receptive the local Parisi chieftains were to the Romans: There is some evidence that the area may have been garrisoned to as late as 120 AD, so initially things may not have been entirely peaceful. However, after this period the locals would have been pacified and had to learn to live alongside the invaders.

Villa location taken from ‘Peter Halkon (2008) Archaeology and Environment in a Changing East Yorkshire Landscape – The Foulness Valley c. 800 BC to c. AD 400. PhD Thesis’ and plotted on a map from and used with permission. Click on the map to enlarge it.

Stamford Bridge, Hayton and Shiptonthorpe would have been the main three local sites of settlement, but little larger than villages. Even the larger settlements of Brough and Malton would have had a village feel. Only York would have been recognisable as a town to someone of Mediterranean origin. Most people would have continued to live in huts akin to those of the iron age in farming settlements, or in new ‘ladder’ settlements along the new roads.

The roundhouses that had been used by British peoples since the earliest settlement sites were now replaced by rectangular Roman buildings. However, many roundhouses remained in use by the local population.

Villas eventually sprang up along Ermine Street to the east with a notable outlier in Seaton Ross, to the south of the current village and just to the east of the Iron Age settlement. It is likely that the latter was still populated when the villa was occupied and this would have created a settlement of about a kilometre in length. Was the villa built by natives from  the original settlement taking on the trappings of a new lifestyle, or did a Roman take over the local farm and build the villa – perhaps retiring from the camp at Hayton, or even York?

The villa complex would have benefited from the natural spring of Lady Well, the easily-ploughed, sandy soil, the marsh for summer grazing to the west and the resources provided by the lake of Everingham Carrs to the east – with waterfowl, eels and fish, beavers and otters for furs, and reeds for roofing.

Crop markings showing Roman settlement south of Seaton Ross. Data redrawn from Historic England Aerial Archaeology Mapping Explorer onto Open Street Map. 

What differentiated villas and large Roman farmsteads from earlier farming complexes was that they generally produced food on a significant scale for a commercial market – nearby towns or military forts. 

We do not know when the villa was occupied during the three and a bit centuries of Roman rule. It may only have been a relatively short period.

It is generally unclear what happened to Roman villas after the Romans left.  The commercial markets fairly quickly disappeared once the Romans departed, removing the villa’s purpose. Many were abandoned. The occupants, who were mainly of British heritage, generally continued to live in the same areas and continued farming, but buildings fell into disrepair. It is quite likely that the whole settlement was abandoned. Some sources report that the national population fell from several million to less than a million  in the decades after the Romans left.

References and Publications

Peter Halkon (2022) Exploring Pocklington’s Past – An Introduction to the Archaeology of Pocklington and District . 20 page booklet £5 on eBay

Peter Halkon (2013) The Parisi: Britains and Romans in Eastern Yorkshire. 304 pages. ~£20 on Amazon UK

Peter Halkon (2008) Archaeology and Environment in a Changing East Yorkshire Landscape – The Foulness Valley c. 800 BC to c. AD 400. PhD Thesis. 250 pages. ~£48 on Amazon UK

Guy De LA Bedoyere (1994) Roman Villas and the Countryside (English Heritage). – available 2nd hand on eBay etc…

The image at the top of the page is a reconstruction of Cargrave Roman Villa (ref Reference: IC042/001) from the English Heritage Reconstruction and Artwork Collection.


sharing Seaton Ross's history