There were over 1000 Roman villas in England, with around 40 in the Hampshire area. Rockbourne, was discovered by accident when bits of oyster shell and tiles were found in the earth, miles away from the sea. The site was inhabited from the Iron Age to the fifth century AD, with traces of all of this visible today.
The site was privately owned and excavated, but since the 1980s has been under the control of Hampshire County Council. Sadly they haven't been able to maintain it as a large scale site, so the excavations have almost all been filled in, with just the wall outlines left to give visitors a sense of the ground plan. 40 rooms have been found, making this the largest villa in the area, an impressive complex.
This is a real shame, and makes visiting a strange experience, knowing you're trampling on the ancients, absorbing the atmosphere and being forced to use your imagination. They do their best to help with this though, with a range of information boards drawing you in with information about the site, about Roman life, and about the plentiful wildlife in the area.
Pheasant at Rockbourne - one of the animals introduced by the Romans
A highlight is the dining room mosaic. It's only a small room, but the mosaic shows the areas where the couches went, as well as having a decorated section to be on show in the middle of them (which isn't quite in the middle of the room). It's a simple mosaic, but this mapping of space and conservation of resources (only decorating the seen areas) gives us a great window into Roman life.
There are several bath areas in the villa complex, with part of one left uncovered for us to see. Baths are instantly recognisable through their hypocausts, the central heating needed to warm up the caldarium.
At Rockbourne, however, there is a difference. Instead of the floor being held up on pillars or small piles of bricks and tiles, the columns are made out of two roof tiles cemented together. It's a novel use of building materials, and once again shows how important concrete was to the Roman world.
Inside the museum is a wealth of objects which bring the Roman villa to life. There are sherds from beehives, nails from boot soles, and carbonised grain. It's extraordinary sometimes what survives. The museum is also well-planned for children. A lego area lets them examine and build Roman artefacts. There's a dressing up rail where they can adorn themselves in Roman fashions.
A few tubs of sherds and reconstructed objects have been put out so that children can engage in object-handling too. Learning by touching is so much more valuable than just looking at things, and although this is only a small museum, they've made a real effort.
In the outdoors area, all the information boards are also geared towards children. Inside there are a few 'rubbing' boards, and this concept is continued, as in the corner of each information board is a small 'rubbing' spot acting as a trail for children to follow around the site.
One particularly unusual feature is the reconstructed garden. In 2012 six raised beds were put in place to provide beautiful plants, medicinal and culinary herbs, and a vegetable patch, all true to the Roman style.