Authentic Roman bakery oven at The Newt in Somerset
Roman bakery oven at The Newt in Somerset
The Hadspen estate was bought back in 2013 by South African Hotelier Koos Bekker who has been transforming the whole estate into a luxury hotel and gardens with the now well known ‘The Newt’ as its flagship.
Remains of a Roman villa were discovered on the Cattle Hill part of the estate and this has now been incorporated into a new museum and completely reconstructed authentic Roman Villa showing life as a wealthy Roman in what was then an outpost of the Roman Empire.
Our involvement began in January 2021 when the project architects, Stone Wood Design, approached us to build an authentic but working Roman bakery oven in an outbuilding at the rear of the villa. The reconstruction is a testament to the varied restoration skills of the project builders, Stone Wood Builders, based in Castle Coombe near Chippenham, who have just completed an extraordinary build lasting 2 years.
The Roman bakery oven build eventually got started in March after the builders had completed the base for the oven at the correct height to lay the insulation and 60mm thick terracotta baking tiles that formed the baking surface for the oven. The mineral Micafil insulation under the tiles is a modern take on volcanic pumice or a thick layer of sand, as we could achieve the same heat loss values in 100mm that would have taken upwards of 200-300mm to achieve earlier.
Once the bakers tiles were laid, allowing for the hand made tile trim around the edge, we were able to set out the dome and front arch to follow the agreed design by the project architects. The brick chosen for the dome was a thin firebrick 38mm thick, somewhat similar to a slimmer Roman period brick, laid in a circular shape and bedded in a clay modified heat stable mortar.
We cut the bricks in half making the dome around 110mm thick, giving good heat retention once the mass was heated to saturation at its working temperature of 250C or so. We agreed that in order to make a good working oven that could be fired up within a few hours for demonstration purposes, the insulation should be a modern ceramic fibre 100mm thick rather than having extra mass or old inefficient sand based layers. It enabled us to reduce the overall dimensions and supply a reasonable 120cm internal diameter oven within the footprint set out for us within the building. The insulation was backed up with a thick 100mm layer of strawy clay cob that added further insulation and finished the oven off authentically. The hand made clay tile entry arch completes the authentic look and matches the arch build within the base structure.
Overall, we took some liberties with the finished design of the Roman bakery oven in order to achieve a modern, good sized working wood-fired oven. The immediate impression is ‘Roman’ but underneath is a stable, well-constructed and well-insulated oven that will serve the museum well for many years to come. One of the first things you may notice is that it has no flue, common to other clay cob ovens-the smoke billows out up into the rafters of the building and wafts its way out and clears when the oven reaches working temperatures. The smoke cleared remarkably quickly and if carefully made, the fire caused a lot less smoke than expected. The secret is dry wood and not overloading the oven too much and starving the fire of air.
The Roman Villa and Museum is due to open in 2022 when the landscaping and planting have got established so watch this space for updates as work progresses.
We specialise in this kind of bakery oven reconstruction and those who are interested should see our other museum build we did at the Weald and Downland Living Museum in Singleton, West Sussex.
Watch our short video of the oven here-
Roman bakery oven at The Newt in Somerset The Hadspen estate was bought back in 2013 by South African Hotelier Koos Bekker who has been transforming the whole estate into a luxury hotel and gardens with the now well known ‘The Newt’ as its flagship. Remains of a Roman villa were discovered on the Cattle […]