Sunday, 29 April 2012

Who would live in a (Sub-Roman) Villa like this?

There comes a time when every successful Saxon warlord needs to step up from ransacking hovels and wattle-and-daub huts. A time when even the allure of setting fire to a Christian church and slaughtering the children of Christ begins to fade. At that point, he raises his sights higher - for such a warlord it is clear that he has entered the tempus maximus. It's time to ransack a sub-Roman villa.

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!


  1. Thats a splendid piece, any Saxon worth his salt would be proud to sack it (or copy it even ;-))

    1. Thanks Phil. Yes, all ready for looting. As for copying ... oh crikey, nouveau riche Saxons - now there's a leadership type we need to include in the rules!!

  2. Fabulous stuff Sidney! Dare I ask how long it took you to build it?

    1. Thanks Kinsleypark. I really should keep better track of time for these things! I built it over four weekends, probably doing about 3 to 4 hours each weekend. So, I'd say about 12 to 16 hours altogether. But that's a rough estimate - might have been a it more or a bit less (by an hour or so).

  3. Great looking building. Enough to tempt any Saxon warlord

  4. What a cracking build Sidney and I love the idea that it fits perfectly into the display cabinet! I shall be looking out for it in future posts.

  5. Thanks everyone.

    @Captain Richard and Scotty - thanks guys! Expect to see burning torches surrounding it in a play-test very soon!

    @Michael Awdry - thanks Michael! Yes, I was determined to fit this into a cabinet to keep it out of the way of the children. They kept calling it "their farm" as I was building it. I had visions of them filling it with Lego Harry Potter figures the second my back was turned!

  6. Fantastic Sidney. Just finished making a WW1 ruined building myself, a lot more work than I originally thought!I think mine took more than 16 hours though.

    1. Thank you! I am really looking forward to seeing your WWI building. It sounds great. And on the time spent - you know, Rodger...I think my 16 hours was 16 hours of modelling. If I add in all the time I spent faffing about and shilly-shallying around trying to find the right paint or the sandpaper, it'll probably have been longer!!

  7. Sidney,

    That looks superb! Funnily enough it's almost exactly how I plan to build one of my own - probably because I'd copied it from a similar drawing of a historical building.

    Good step by step post too.



    1. Hey Matt - great minds think alike, right? The strange thing was, when I first thought of building a Roman villa and I looked online, I was surprised that they were double-storied. I mentioned this to my good friend Rich Clarke who said something along the lines of "No you muppet, there's a difference between a Roman villa of the fifth century AD and a villa in Tenerife"!! So, like you, I followed the online illustrations!

  8. A really nice looking building, great work!

  9. Thanks Sidney for an excellent walk through on building this superb villa. The quality is not just in how it looks but you have gone that little bit further in making it really strong as well. Where I would have just glued the walls together with PVA you used 'no nails' and also pinned them together.
    Made to last, just like a real Roman building.

  10. Man this is a awesome job, my compliments on the result!

  11. Excellent walk through, I wish you a happy sacking and prosperous new loot.

  12. Not only are you a superb painter, but your just as good at terrain building, plus giving tutorials and......


  13. Bloody beautiful! A lot of hard work and research gone into this and it shows it, a lovely thoughtout model. I made something simalar a few years ago and loved every minute of it. I makes a nice change from painting mini's sometimes.

  14. Absolutely mind-blowing peice of scenery. Thank you VERY much for the step by step walkthrough. I might have a go at this myself.

  15. Thanks again, everyone. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment:

    @Phil: Thank you very much, Phil.

    @Silver Whistle: That it too kind, Silver! I did think of just trying to glue the foamboard walls, but in the past I've found that pinning them (and leaving the pins in place) really adds to the strength of th model. Which is very helpful when you're dragging them around wargame shows, or to the club every week. The "No More Nails" is a great impact adhesive. There's also nothing to stop you combining the initial gluing using "No More Nails" and then a top coat of PVA glue for a really strong bond.

    @Remco: Thanks very much!

    @Anibal: Thanks Benito. I shall certainly do my best with the looting!

    @Christopher: That's very kind - and coming from you that is a great compliment. But, in the end, it's all about practice, as you'll know, and finding the time to do it. Cheers anyway!

    @Secundus: Thank you very much! It is really great to see something, research it and build it. Somehow terrain building can be more rewarding than painting minis - something about making your miniature world come to life!

    @Lead Legion: Thanks! Have a go. It really wasn't complicated. I'd love to see how you get on. Good luck!

  16. Well done Sidney...great stuff. And have to say you look very relaxed, lying there eating your grapes!

  17. This is lovely work! Puts mine in the shade. Please do some more!

    1. Thanks Mitch....although I'm not sure about that! Those are some super figures on your (old) site. There's more dark age terrain coming soon-ish.....from north of the Wall!

    2. Just spotted this Sidney (sorry), very, very impressive work!


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