Mike’s Roman roles bring Chedworth to life for visitors
When Mike Bryan decided to dress up as the Victorian gamekeeper who stumbled across the remains of Chedworth Roman Villa in 1864, he had a choice to make.
According to legend, Thomas Margetts found fragments of the villa’s mosaic floor when his ferret disappeared down a rabbit hole on the Earl of Eldon’s Gloucestershire estate. When the ferret refused to come out, a Jack Russell was sent in after it. Both animals had to be dug out of the hole, which is when the momentous discovery was made.
Mike, 71, had no problem finding a Victorian gamekeeper’s costume, but the ferret proved more problematic. He said, “We did contemplate using a real ferret, but health and safety regulations made it difficult. I’ve got what you might call a small stuffed animal that you can do little tricks with. It amuses the children and some of the adults as well.”
Mike has worked at Chedworth Roman Villa since 2012 – initially as a conservation volunteer and more recently as a paid guide. As well as Thomas Margetts, his costumed characters include a pair of Romans – the land owner Censorinus and a skilled mosaic maker called Appian – and James Farrer, the Victorian antiquarian and member of parliament who ordered the first excavation of the site.
To play Farrer, Mike dons a frock coat, top hat and cane, while his Romans wear giant shirts belted at the waist and decorated with an appropriate amount of bling. The objective is simple: to bring the remains of one of the grandest Roman villas in Britain to life for the thousands of people who visit each year.
Mike said, “I talk to visitors, speak a bit of cod Latin and slip in and out of the role. The thing that’s really rewarding is seeing the smiles on people’s faces and knowing you’ve given them some information they didn’t have before. And hopefully I’m doing it in an entertaining and amusing way.”
Chedworth’s decorative floors are widely regarded as some of the finest in-situ Roman mosaics in the country and funding made possible by National Lottery players has helped preserve them. In 2011, it helped fund a new cover building for the mosaics in the villa’s west wing.
For Mike, a retired IT project program manager, Chedworth is a magical place. He said, “It’s not just the villa, it’s the setting and the views down the valley. It’s extraordinary to think that nearly 2000 years ago there was a family living here in a landscape they appreciated just as much as we do today.”
Chedworth Roman Villa is just one of hundreds of incredible places across the UK that took part in National Lottery Open Week. Running between 18th-26th March 2023, it was our way of thanking players like you for helping support amazing historic buildings and heritage sites up and down the country. To find out more go to www.NationalLotteryOpenWeek.com.
Originally published 3rd March 2023. Updated 27th March 2023.
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