It's hard to imagine what the villas of sub-Roman villas would have seemed like to Saxons and Jute arriving in fifth century England. Some of the villa complexes in Southern England were huge, covering many acres and including many buildings and warehouses. They frequently featured elaborate designs, fine workmanship and even wall paintings. Coming from an earthen hut somewhere in the Jutish lands, close to a pine forest or swamp, the villas must have seemed as if they were from a different world.
Even when in decay, these buildings retained the power to astonish the Anglo-Saxons:
The Ruin, Eighth Century Anglo-Saxon poem
Wondrous is this stone-wall, wrecked by fate
the city buildings crumble, the works of giants decay.
Roofs have caved in, towers collapsed,
barred gates are broken, hoar frost clings to mortar,
houses are gaping, tottering and fallen,
undermined by age. The earth's embrace
in its fierce grip, holds the mighty craftsmen;
they are perished and gone.
From "The Anglo-Saxon World", translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland
But for our games of Dux Brittaniarum, I wanted something more compact than a sub-Roman villa complex covering the whole of the table. I anted something which, compared to the other wattle-and-daub and timber huts and hovels on the tabletop, would proudly announce the wonder that was once Rome!
Choosing a Historical Villa
Ideally I wanted the villa to fit into an area 12" x 10", the rather pedestrian reason being to enable it to fit into my wargaming terrain cabinet at home. I looked around the internet for a suitable villa to try and copy and came across the main villa building at Yewden in Bucks.
I thought the style of the villa was just about perfect. It was double winged, but with a central area between the wings which allow us to use the villa with three distinct areas in which sub-Roman loot could be placed. (And yes, creating some specific sub-Roman loot is something else on the workbench).
Fitting an exact 28m-scale model of the Yewden villa onto a 12" x 10" base wasn’t going to be possible - the historical villa complex covered a very large area, with outbuildings. So I tried to focus on the main features of the villa, all of which I could trace from the illustrations online.
Making the Villa
After mapping out the proportions of the villa which I wanted, I cut the walls from foamboard, making sure to cut out the windows. All the cuts were made with a fresh modelling scalpel, which cuts through the foamboard like a knife through butter.
I then pinned the walls together to dry-fit them, checking everything would fit together and look sensible.
The, while the walls were still in single pieces, I added the “stonework” at the base of the walls which were visible from the illustrations online. I used artists mounting board (just thick card), gluing the mounting board on with PVA glue.I glued the walls together with impact adhesive (“No More Nails” in the UK) and pinned them in place with cheap steel pins. I also glued the walls onto the floor of the base, again using impact adhesive.
I made a front door from some artist’s mounting board cut offs (no keyhole though, Lloyd Grossman fans). I added an extra piece of card which could serve as a smooth base for some (cardboard) paving around the front of the villa, and a large front portico which could support a small roof covering the front door. Again, I tried to check this feature against other illustrations online. I filled in the ‘spongy’ edges of the foamboard with Milliput.
If you’ve not used Milliput before, give it a try. It is very inexpensive modelling putty and dries rock hard. It’s available in a number of grades but I tend to use the rougher, cheap version for terrain building. It is horrible stuff to use, mainly because the mixing of the putty is best when a small amount of water is added to the epoxy putty. But if you can get through the mess of using it, I think it gives consistently excellent results.
Next, it was time to add the roof. These were made from artists’ mounting board, and secured by pins – using the same technique as the walls. I also put a brace in the middle of the buildings to make sure I could support the roofs and so I would have something to pin the middle of the roofs to.
I also mixed a thin wash of PVA glue, polyfilla (interior filler, or spackle) and fine-grade sand and brushed this over the walls and brickwork (but not the roof) to add some texture and strength to the villa.
I then found some OO scale plastic model railway pantiles online. I thought these would look more Roman than slate tiles, and hoped that these would look a little nicer than corrugated cardboard. The ones I used were very reasonably priced sets of four strips for £3.18, plus postage, and were made by Wills. In the end, I needed three packs of tiles, or 10 strips out of the 12 I’d purchased. I cut the pantile strips to fit the roofs and fixed them in place using impact adhesive. I made a mess of the ordering, underestimating how many pantile strips I needed – so I wished that I’d measured out what I’d needed in advance of ordering. One of these days, I’ll learn!
I painted the villa before adding in the portico roof, enabling me to paint the front door and the paved area before the door within the portico wall.
And then finally, I added the portico roof and, with some painting of the groundwork, the villa was finished. All ready for looting!