Thousands of visitors have been able to walk in the footsteps of ancient people thanks to upgrades to a Roman villa at Buster Ancient Farm, including authentic new flooring. The popular tourist attraction, in Chalton, south of Petersfield, has recently completed £100,000 worth of alterations to the building, with £25,000 being provided by a grant from East Hampshire District Council.
The works include a new floor of ‘Roman concrete’, called opus signinum, created using authentic materials, to level the floor and make it more accessible for people with mobility issues. The villa’s walls have also been plastered in the Roman way, doors have been widened, a set of stairs has been constructed to a mezzanine floor and windows have been enlarged to allow more light.
Since completion in September more than 17,000 visitors have been to see the improved villa, including thousands of local schoolchildren.
The alterations were partly funded by a £25,000 Cabinet grant from East Hampshire District Council.
Maureen Page, a director of Butser Ancient Farm, said: “We wouldn’t have been able to do this work without EHDC’s grant and we are very grateful to them for supporting us in this way. Butser Ancient Farm is the third most visited educational attraction in the South Downs and brings ancient times to life for the thousands of schoolchildren and visitors who come to see our living history exhibits.”
Cllr Julie Butler, EHDC Portfolio Holder for Customer Relations, toured the villa to see the alterations. “The Roman villa looks amazing and really brings home to you what life was like for people 2,000 years ago,” she said. “Butser Ancient Farm is a real treasure and one of East Hampshire’s top attractions so we are very proud to have been able to support it in this way.”
Local craftsmen were brought in to work on the villa. Around 40 tonnes of mud floor was dug out and replaced with the opus signinum by hand. For added authenticity some touches were added to the wet concrete, including the footprints of a Roman soldier’s hobnail boots and the paw marks of the household dog!
The walls were laboriously lined with thousands of oak lathes, on which was added three coats of lime plaster, each of a different consistency. A final glassy coat creates a cool and distinctively Roman feel to the rooms.
Butser Ancient Farm features archaeological reconstructions of ancient buildings from the Stone Age, Iron Age, Roman Britain and the Anglo-Saxon period and is visited by more than 30,000 school children a year.