Romano-British villa and 19th century reservoir in Cobham Park


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Romano-British villa and 19th century reservoir in Cobham Park
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Gravesham (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 68298 69325

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 important.

The Romano-British villa in Cobham Park survives well in buried form and has been shown by partial excavation to contain archaeological remains and environmental evidence relating to the monument, the economy of its inhabitants and the landscape in which they lived. The reservoir is a relatively unusual feature relating to the 19th century landscaping of Cobham Park.


The monument includes a minor Romano-British villa and a 19th century reservoir situated on the western side of a low ridge of the Kent Downs. The villa, which survives in buried form, lies around 275m to the south of Watling Street, the main Roman road between London (Londinium), Canterbury (Dubrovernum) and Dover (Dubris). Partial excavation in 1959-1960 revealed that the villa complex was in use from the mid first century to the fourth century AD, and underwent at least two main phases of development. To the south east is the main, domestic range, one of the earliest parts of the villa, which is a north west-south east aligned, rectangular building containing at least five rooms and measuring 38.7m by 9.75m. This has flint and iron sandstone footings, and may have had a timber superstructure, although this no longer survives. At least three further rooms were added to the north western end of the building at a later date, along with a flanking corridor to the north east. The south eastern end of the range was partially damaged by the construction of a later park boundary ditch, but traces of a furnace room, originally forming part of a hypocaust, or underfloor heating system, found to the south east of the ditch, indicate the presence of an attached bath house. The excavation also revealed fragments of painted wall plaster, window glass and sherds of Roman pottery. Around 14m to the north west is a smaller building which shares the alignment of the main range. This is also rectangular, measuring 13.7m by 5.9m, with trenched foundations laid with flint and chalk, bound together with clay. The lower wall courses were found to survive in situ in places, and are constructed of a mortared flint and pebble core faced with iron sandstone. Traces of tessellated floors were also found, along with quantities of fragmented roof tiles. Pottery sherds indicate that the building was in use during the second and third centuries AD. The excavations also revealed a timber-lined well dating to the Roman period, situated around 29m to the north west of the smaller building. The well is c.2.2m deep and was found to have been used subsequently as a rubbish dump. A further scatter of Roman brick and tile noted in 1964 during deep ploughing c.150m to the north of the main range is interpreted as evidence for further, as yet unidentified, buried structures which originally formed part of the wider villa estate. A hoard of Roman coins was discovered 120m south west of the main range in 1883. Around 70m south of the main range is an oval mound measuring c.16m by 11m which houses a brick lined, underground reservoir. This feature was part of a 19th century water management system designed to culvert spring water from the hillside down to the grounds of Cobham Hall c.300m to the south. The monument lies within Cobham Park, which is included in the national register of historic parks and gardens. The modern fences which cross the monument are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these is included.

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.

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Books and journals
Caiger, J, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in The Pumphouse on Cobham Hall Estate, , Vol. 84, (1969), 161-173
Tester, P J, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in The Roman Villa in Cobham Park, near Rochester, , Vol. 76, (1961), 88-109
Tester, P J, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Cobham Park Excavations, , Vol. 74, (1960), 177-178
ref 5, Tester, PJ, TQ 66 NE 23, (1964)
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 TQ6869 Source Date: 1968 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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

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