An abandoned Roman villa: The Otford site which was systematically demolished in the 4th century

By Culture24 Reporter | 02 December 2015

Initially excavated during the 1930s, this Kent villa was abandoned around 1,700 years ago

A photo of a large square brown archaeological trench outoors
A large Roman villa was revealed in Otford in May© Kevin Fromings
Archaeologists say a Roman villa in the Kent village of Otford, abandoned in mysterious circumstances during the 4th century, is at least twice the size of the nearby Lullingstone villa, where an early Christian house chapel was discovered along the Darent Valley.

Roman bricks, tiles and sections of painted wall plaster were originally found at Otford during a limited 1930s excavation, with archaeologist Ernest Black naming the site in a book about Roman villas in the region published in 1987. The West Kent Archaeological Society proceeded with more investigations this summer after research pointed to the area where the villa was found.

A photo of a large square brown archaeological trench outoors
Any reusable materials were removed when the villa was abandoned© Kevin Fromings
Dating evidence from the few coins and pottery found suggests the villa was occupied during the 3rd and 4th centuries. Hypocast tiles and a number of red tesserae made from clipped tile are being examined, although the villa appears to have been systematically demolished.

The group has detected no signs of fire, but says the floor where the tiles were removed is covered by about 50mm of silt, which in turn is beneath the main demolition rubble – implying that there may have been a flooding problem from the nearby river.

A photo of a large square brown archaeological trench outoors
The site may have remained in use as an ancillary building after the larger Otford villa was constructed© Kevin Fromings
A suite of rooms created as an extension to the east wing appear to have been abandoned at the foundation stage. The west wing lies beneath a hard surface tennis court built during the 1960s, and nearby springs - channelled during the medieval period - hint at the possibility of a bath house in the area.

The villa is situated 500m west of Progress villa, a smaller farmstead villa which was similar to Lullingstone. This was built on the lower slopes of the North Downs, beside the ancient route that became the Pilgrim’s Way.

Progress was excavated during the 1920s and would appear to date from the 1st or 2nd century AD. A geophysical survey earlier this year by the society was inconclusive, but hinted that the area covered by the buildings was greater than originally thought.

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Three Roman villas to see

Chedworth Roman Villa, near Cheltenham
This site was discovered in 1864 by a local gamekeeper and subsequently excavated. More than a mile of walls survive along with beautiful mosaics, two bathhouses, hypocausts, a water shrine and latrine.

Bignor Roman Villa, Pulborough
Learn why the Roman owners chose to develop such a magnificent settlement at Bignor in the 3rd Century AD and how they acquired wealth from its location.

Crofton Roman Villa, Orpington
Crofton Roman Villa is the only villa open to the public in Greater London. It was inhabited from about AD 140 to 400 and was the centre of a large farming estate. Today you can see the remains of 10 rooms protected inside a public viewing building.
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When I was younger there was a large square stone in the river near the gas works which was used as a stepping stone,maybe once part of something roman,it was about 2ft spuare knowone I knew was strong enough to move it.I wonder if its still there?
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