Dalton Parlours near Wetherby is the only excavated example of a Roman villa in West Yorkshire. The sites of one or two others may be inferred from antiquarian sources, but any remains are now under housing, making them impossible to investigate. This lack of known sites may reflect the nature of the villa itself. They are most plentiful in the south and east of the country where there is good arable land and where such a Romanised farm can more easily make a profit. On the Pennines conditions are harsher and farming more difficult and we would therefore not expect to find a villa site in the uplands of West Yorkshire.
Traces of the villa at Dalton Parlours survived above ground level until the beginning of the 19th century when the stonework was robbed to erect outbuildings at the nearby Compton Farm. When the area was taken into cultivation a large number of Roman artefacts were turned up by the plough. An excavation was carried out on the site in 1854, which revealed traces of a room with a hypocaust (a form of central heating in which hot air is circulated under the floor) and areas of mosaic flooring.
In 1976 further plough damage threatened the site and the West Yorkshire Archaeology Service mounted a full-scale excavation. This work revealed two major phases of occupation: an Iron Age settlement and a Roman villa complex. Dalton Parlours is the most extensively excavated villa in RomanYorkshire.
The native settlement
The excavation uncovered the full or partial outlines of eight Iron Age roundhouses with their associated yards and compounds. Each house was approximately 10m in diameter and would have had low wooden walls topped by a conical thatched roof. Three of these structures were definitely replacements for earlier roundhouses. Other similar structures in adjacent fields were identified by aerial photography. The excavators found no traces of hearths inside the roundhouses, but within the enclosures were hollows containing burnt material which may have been cooking pits. A number of larger pits on the site were interpreted as grain storage pits.
Relatively few 1st and 2nd-century objects were found on the site, but the likelihood is that the area was in continuous occupation from the late Iron Age into the Roman period. Air reconnaissance has revealed traces of settlement extending beyond the limits of the excavation, and it seems possible that the nucleus of the settlement shifted away from the excavated area before the erection of the villa buildings.
The Roman villa
The principal dwelling of the villa complex was of the winged corridor type. It had a rectangular central body flanked by two square wings, each with a further room projecting to the north. One of these projecting rooms contained the 4th-century mosaic found in the 1854 excavations. This building had no bath-house suite; these facilities being provided in a separate block some 24m to the south. To the east of the winged-corridor building was a large aisled building which combined both domestic and agricultural functions.
The farm buildings
The remainder of the structures excavated on the site seem to have been agricultural in function. They were principally sunken-floored buildings which housed a series of kilns and ovens. These were probably used for the processing of grain, either for malting or for drying before milling.
The pottery and coin evidence suggests that the villa was abandoned soon after AD 370. The reason for this desertion is not clear, but it would seem that it was done with some deliberation. The excavation of a well on the site revealed that a ritual deposit had been placed at the bottom. This included large quantities of pottery and the partial skeletons of six horses and three dogs. The shaft had then been filled with masonry fragments in a clear attempt to ensure that it would not be reused. It is possible that the main focus of habitation once again moved beyond the limits of the excavation. This is suggested by the presence of an Anglo-Saxon burial on the site.
The mosaic recovered from the 1854 excavations is now on display in the Yorkshire Museum, York.
Percival, J., 1976, The Roman Villa
Proctor, W., 1855, An account of the Excavation at the remains of a Roman Villa near Collingham, Transactions of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society I, 370-281
Speight, H., 1902, Lower Wharfedale, 442-5
Wrathmell, S. and Nicholson, A., 1991, Dalton Parlours: Iron Age Settlement and Roman Villa
The Dalton Parlours site report can be purchased directly from the WYAS. Please contact Roger Spruce on 0113 383 7500 for details.
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