Review by Simon Esmonde Cleary
The excavations at Druce Farm in Dorset were carried out by local volunteers between 2012 and 2018, along with geophysical, drone, and laser surveys of the environs. The full publication of the results only four years later, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic intervening, is a remarkable achievement and deserves warm praise. As well as detailed discussion of the structural remains, there are substantial specialist reports, particularly environmental, which will stand as a reference point for villas in Dorset and beyond.
The site history shows major land-division in the mid-1st century, associated with which is the ‘Ancillary Building’, dated to the pre-Flavian period. The main range of the villa looks to be of early 2nd-century date, and the complex expanded through the 2nd and 3rd centuries, with a west extension added to the main range, a rectangular building to the south-west, and an aisled structure with evidence for dyeing to the east. Two geometric mosaics were installed, with fragmentary evidence for others. The buildings passed out of use at the end of the Roman period, the west extension becoming a roost for pellet-projecting owls, before collapsing in, probably, the 6th to 7th centuries.
A couple of points on the structural sequence. First, the ‘Ancillary Building’ is given a terminus ante quem (‘date before which’) of the Flavian period, early for a structure involving stone. Constructing a terminus ante is very difficult; looking at the stratigraphic and dating evidence suggests more a terminus post quem. Second, a length of curved walling west of the western extension to the main range is proposed as a wide apse to an earlier version of the range. The photographs (Figures 5.3 and 5.13) suggest it may instead have been a (sub-)circular structure demolished and built over at the construction of the rectilinear extension. If so, the rather strained comparison with Fishbourne can be set aside.
Druce Farm would appear to be a villa of the ‘middling sort’, certainly compared with the elaborate Dewlish nearby, the two giving useful comparisons in this area of villas east of Dorchester and setting the scene, one hopes, for future projects.
The Rise and Decline of Druce Farm Roman Villa (60-650 CE): excavations 2012-2018, Lilian Ladle, BAR, £95, ISBN 978-1407360010.