Roman Villa at Gargrave

Elizabeth Hartley and Maureen Ellis
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Certain facts stick in one’s mind. In 1995 at Langcliffe Village Hall, Miss V. Fiorato, the Deputy Archaeological Officer for North Yorkshire County Council, gave a talk organized by the NCHT in which amongst other things she showed an aerial photograph of a Roman Villa at Gargrave. I had never heard of it but of course it was on the map. Access is very difficult as it is on private land and I did not get any further until 2004 when I saw a travelling exhibition case from Skipton Museum in Craven College at Bentham, which had some artefacts on display, namely small mosaic pieces from the villa. The museum was extremely helpful and said they had more exhibits in Skipton and eventually it was possible to photograph the contents of their permanent display case during a period when the museum was closed to the public so that the glass cover could be opened for better visibility. I was also shown their documentation about the site and they suggested I contact Elizabeth Hartley the widow of the late Professor Brian Hartley who had done the excavations; this is how the following article came about, and I am very grateful to her. The outline of the villa can best be seen from the train.

I would like to thank the staff of Skipton Museum under the leadership of Andrew McKay the Curator for their friendly and constructive help, namely Lorraine Greenald, Education and Museum Officer; Marianne Hornby, Museum Assistant and Ella Hatfield, Clerical Officer.

The following was written by Professor Brian Hartley and supplied by Elizabeth Hartley from the Gargrave archive. The excavation was directed by Brian Hartley, University of Leeds. Professor Leon Fitts was Assistant Director.

Excavations were undertaken in the years 1968 to 1975 on part of the Kirk Sink site at Gargrave by the Roman Antiquities Section of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. The Roman villa site revealed a remarkable series of Romanised buildings, beginning with a large Antonine corridor house and bath-house. To these were added in the third century two more houses and other subsidiary structures connected with both arable and pastoral farming, the former attested both by remarkable preserved environmental evidence and by a complex field-system, still largely visible on the ground.

The Enclosures

There are two enclosures still largely visible on the site. The outer one contains some five acres and has two parallel ditches for most of its circuit at least. Within them, and almost symmetrically placed, is another single ditch enclosing rather over two acres.


The earliest material from the site is Hadrianic or thereabouts and is associated with three round huts and possibly a fourth. No doubt native farmers were attracted by the flat, fertile plain left by the former glacial lake which here stretched across the Dale. At present there is no evidence either for enclosure of the site at this stage or for the contemporary field-system. Cultivation of cereals is however attested.

The first Romanised house of Antonine date was a stone-built one of corridor type with a heated room and a covered stoke-hole (building A). A central entrance with projecting porch gave on to the corridor. This house went out of use at the end of the third or the beginning of the fourth century.

Alongside the house and roughly contemporary with it was the bath-house (building B). It had a laconicum (sweating room), a cold room, apsidal plunge-bath, and two heated rooms. The bath building was remodelled at some time, probably contemporary with the demolition of the house. In its final form the bath-house had a cruciform plan.

Secondary Romanised buildings

At the end of the second century or, more probably, in the early third century, two houses were built which had their end walls in line and were parallel to each other (buildings C and D). Each had four rooms. Half way between the houses was a rectangular building (building E). All the buildings had mortar floors which had had a tessellated surface. At this stage we have the interesting phenomenon of three contemporary buildings on the site, possibly with a native hut also still in use. It looks as if the inner ditch of the enclosure was provided to exclude stock from the vicinity of the houses.

The final phases

Towards the end of the third century or early in the next century the large house was demolished (building A). It was apparently at the same period that the other houses were modified (C slightly, D completely). In building D a rear range of rooms was added. At the same time a channelled hypocaust was inserted in the original western room, which was now given a geometric mosaic floor reminiscent of some of the Aldborough examples.

Most interestingly a linking corridor was now added from the entrance of this house to a new central building (E). Did this house in its more elaborate state replace the demolished house as the principal residence of the estate? It is clear that at this period it had gained in status. If it was not the owner’s house, then it must surely have been the farm manager’s house. The final point which needs to be made about the later stages of the inner enclosure is that the S.E. quarter was partly walled in the fourth century and was given over to what looks like stacking-yard flooring.

Finds from Roman villa at Gargrave (in Skipton Museum). Photo by Richard Ellis.
Plan of Roman Villa at Gargrave

Finds from Roman villa at Gargrave (in Skipton Museum). Photo by Richard Ellis.

Plan of Roman Villa at Gargrave