A Romano-British villa and a possible Iron Age farmstead at Franks
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Sevenoaks (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- TQ 55414 67413
Reasons for Designation
Romano-British villas were extensive rural estates at the focus of which were
groups of domestic, agricultural and occasionally industrial buildings. The
term "villa" is now commonly used to describe either the estate or the
buildings themselves. The buildings usually include a well-appointed dwelling
house, the design of which varies considerably according to the needs, taste
and prosperity of the occupier. Most of the houses were partly or wholly
stone-built, many with a timber-framed superstructure on masonry footings.
Roofs were generally tiled and the house could feature tiled or mosaic floors,
underfloor heating, wall plaster, glazed windows and cellars. Many had
integral or separate suites of heated baths. The house was usually accompanied
by a range of buildings providing accommodation for farm labourers, workshops
and storage for agricultural produce. These were arranged around or alongside
a courtyard and were surrounded by a complex of paddocks, pens, yards and
features such as vegetable plots, granaries, threshing floors, wells and
hearths, all approached by tracks leading from the surrounding fields. Villa
buildings were constructed throughout the period of Roman occupation, from the
first to the fourth centuries AD. They are usually complex structures occupied
over several hundred years and continually remodelled to fit changing
circumstances. They could serve a wide variety of uses alongside agricultural
activities, including administrative, recreational and craft functions, and
this is reflected in the considerable diversity in their plan. The least
elaborate villas served as simple farmhouses whilst, for the most complex, the
term "palace" is not inappropriate. Villa owners tended to be drawn from a
limited elite section of Romano-British society. Although some villas belonged
to immigrant Roman officials or entrepreneurs, the majority seem to have been
in the hands of wealthy natives with a more-or-less Romanised lifestyle, and
some were built directly on the sites of Iron Age farmsteads. Roman villa
buildings are widespread, with between 400 and 1000 examples recorded
nationally. The majority of these are classified as `minor' villas to
distinguish them from `major' villas. The latter were a very small group of
extremely substantial and opulent villas built by the very wealthiest members
of Romano-British society. Minor villas are found throughout lowland Britain
and occasionally beyond. Roman villas provide a valuable index of the rate,
extent and degree to which native British society became Romanised, as well as
indicating the sources of inspiration behind changes of taste and custom. In
addition, they serve to illustrate the agrarian and economic history of the
Roman province, allowing comparisons over wide areas both within and beyond
Britain. As a very diverse and often long-lived type of monument, a
significant proportion of the known population are identified as nationally
Despite some damage caused by river action, gravel extraction and ploughing, the Romano-British villa at Franks has been shown by partial excavation to survive comparatively well and contains archaeological remains and environmental evidence relating to the monument and the landscape in which it was constructed. The villa at Franks is one of a group of Romano-British villas situated along the River Darent. This close geographical association provides evidence for the high agricultural productivity and economic importance of north western Kent during the period of Roman occupation. Iron Age farmsteads are often represented by curvilinear enclosures containing evidence of a small group of circular domestic buildings and associated agricultural structures. Where excavated, these sites are also found to contain storage pits for grain and other produce, evidence of an organised and efficient farming system. The surrounding enclosures would have provided protection against cattle rustling and tribal raiding. In south eastern England, earlier Iron Age farmsteads are often found beneath excavated examples of later Romano-British villas, suggesting a continuity of rural settlement patterns and land ownership between the two periods. Most Iron Age farmsteads in south eastern England were sited in areas which are now under intensive arable cultivation, with the result that, although some examples survive with upstanding earthworks, the majority have been recorded as crop and soil marks appearing on aerial photographs. The close stratigraphical relationship between the possible earlier farmstead and the later villa will provide evidence for the continuity of settlement on the site from the prehistoric period through to the period of Roman occupation from c.AD 43.
The monument includes a minor Romano-British villa and a possible Iron Age
farmstead situated on the western bank of the River Darent.
The domestic range of the villa complex, which survives as a buried feature, is a north east-south west orientated, south east facing, rectangular building 29m long and up to 19.4m wide, with projecting wings at either end. The building has been shown by partial excavation during the 1940's, 1960's and 1970's to have been in use from the early second century AD to the early fifth century AD. It was constructed in two main phases, the second of which took place during the fourth century and entailed the rebuilding and extension of the earlier, timber-built villa. At this time flint foundations were added in support of a renewed, timber superstructure. At least one room in the south western corner of the building was equipped with a hypocaust, or underfloor heating system. The remains of two infants, buried with a large stone jar, were found beneath the villa floor.
Situated beneath the domestic range of the villa are the buried remains of earlier, Iron Age occupation which may represent a farmstead. These survive in the form of a series of ditches and pits revealed by partial excavation during the 1960's. A natural change in the course of the River Darent some time in the past, which occurred after the villa had been abandoned as a residence, has caused some damage to the north eastern end of the villa building. During the 1970's the mechanical extraction of gravel used for the construction of the nearby M20 motorway from the area surrounding the domestic range is likely to have destroyed the remainder of the villa complex. Gravel extraction also destroyed further traces of the earlier, Iron Age farmstead and traces of later, early medieval occupation of the site, represented by the remains of a sunken-floored house, discovered c.100m to the east of the main villa site during rescue excavation in the 1970's.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Frere, SS, 'Britannia' in Britannia, , Vol. 8, (1977), 424
Goodburn, , 'Britannia' in Britannia, , Vol. 7, (1976), 376
Meates, GW, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Franks Hall near Farningham, , Vol. 76, (1961), l
Meates, GW, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Franks Hall near Farningham, , Vol. 78, (1963), lv
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing