This article is substantially taken from a longer piece about Littlecote House which can be found at the excellent Hungerford Virtual Museum site. This also contains a large number of articles and photographs relating to almost every aspect of the history of Hungerford and the surrounding area. Many thanks to Hugh Pihlens of the Virtual Museum for his permission to reuse this: and also for allowing us to reproduce his photographs here.
Littlecote House is a place of many treasures (and, according to some, a number of ghosts). Perhaps the most spectacular and certainly the oldest of these are the remains of an important group of Roman buildings including an Orpheus mosaic.
The earliest reference to a Roman site at Littlecote was in 1727 when William George, estate steward to Sir Francis Popham, first uncovered the Orpheus mosaic. It was described as “the finest pavement that the sun ever shone upon in England”. An engraving and a drawing were made, from which a tapestry was created. This tapestry hung in Littlecote House until 1985, since when it has been in the Ashmolean Library (Museum), Oxford (although not currently on public display: recent enquiries with the museum revealed that its whereabouts in their collection were unknown. Hopefully this is merely a matter of record keeping).
After its discovery and recording, the mosaic and the villa were reburied, and declared lost. In 1976, however, the villa was rediscovered and in April 1978 the owner Sir Seton Wills founded a long term research project, led by Bryn Walters. This was covered by Country Life on 14 September 1978 (Lifting the Littlecote Mosaic): click here to see the article. The then owner Peter de Savary continued his support of the excavation until it was completed in 1991.
The villa is large and complex. It may have started life as a military base guarding the crossing of the Rive Kennet in the early years of the Roman occupation on which a more permanent villa was built in the early part of the second century AD. This in turn was added to over the next few hundred years The Orphic building is thought to date from 360-365. The buildings had already started to fall into disuse before the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the early fifth century.
The villa and mosaic can be visited without prior appointment but, particularly in the winter, it’s as well to call first to check that the mosaic is not covered (as is sometimes necessary). Guided tours can also be arranged. Please contact Littlecote on 01488 682 509.