A major Roman villa, an Anglo-Saxon settlement and prehistoric remains 600m SSE of Darenth Court Farm
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1012965
Date first listed: 23-Dec-1953
Date of most recent amendment: 15-Jun-1995
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Dartford (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: TQ 56316 70608
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
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 found throughout lowland Britain and between 400 and 1000
examples have been recorded in England. Of these less than 10 are examples of
`major' villas. These were the largest, most substantial and opulent type of
villa which were built and used by a small but extremely wealthy section of
Romano-British society. 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. All major villas will be identified as nationally important.
Beginning in the fifth century AD, there is evidence from new settlements, distinctive burials and cemeteries, and new forms of pottery and metalwork, of immigration into Britain of settlers from northern Europe. At this time the Roman rural settlement pattern appears to have been disrupted, and although some Roman settlements continued in use, the native Britons rapidly adopted many of the cultural practices of the new settlers and it soon becomes difficult to distinguish them in the archaeological record. Although it has been partially disturbed by modern agricultural activity, tree growth, pipeline construction and gravel working, the Roman villa and the associated, later Anglo-Saxon settlement east of Darenth Court Farm survive in buried form and have been shown by partial excavation to contain archaeological remains and environmental evidence. The villa is the largest and most complex example of those which cluster along the Darenth valley, and may be the largest in Kent. Traces of earlier, prehistoric features beneath the later villa serve to illustrate the continued importance of the site for human use over a period of several thousand years.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes a major Roman villa, a later, Anglo-Saxon, settlement
and traces of earlier human use of the site during the Mesolithic and
Neolithic periods and from the Late Bronze Age to the Late Iron Age. It
survives in buried form and is situated on low-lying ground on the eastern
bank of the River Darent.
Covering an area of around 2.6ha, the villa complex is one of the largest in
the country. It has been shown by partial excavation in 1894-5, 1969 and 1972
to have been built during at least four main phases of construction between
the late first and late fourth centuries AD, resulting in the development of
an extensive group of buildings and structures with flint footings, ranged
around two, roughly north-south aligned, sub-rectangular, walled courtyards.
The main domestic range is situated along the northern side of the complex,
and faces towards the south. This was constructed initially as a simple
rectangular building of around six rooms, including a dining room and kitchen,
served by a detached bath house located c.100m to the south. During the mid to
late second century, a new bath house was added to the western end of the main
range and two further blocks of rooms were built to the west and east. These
have been interpreted as originally free-standing structures subsequently
incorporated into the main range by the construction of further linking rooms.
By this time, the residential portion of the villa contained at least 50
rooms, and the level of comfort is indicated by the fact that many of these
were heated by hypocausts, or underfloor heating systems, had tessellated or
tiled floors and were decorated with painted wall plaster. By the early fourth
century, access to the main residential complex was via a monumental gateway
to the south and through an inner courtyard or formal, walled garden. Situated
immediately to the south of the gateway is a small, sub-square structure, with
a small, square lobby on its northern side, interpreted as a shrine. Features
discovered within the inner courtyard include a large, centrally placed water
tank, with an associated cistern, which may have been used as an ornamental
pool or water management feature. To the south, situated along the western and
eastern peripheries of the complex, are a series of outbuildings interpreted
as barns, storehouses or worksheds, used for agricultural and industrial
activities. Around 140m to the south west is a large, rectangular, aisled
building measuring c.50m by 20m which itself underwent several phases of
development. This has been interpreted as a separate domestic unit, possibly
housing a villa estate manager. A timber-lined water channel, or leat, found
adjacent to the river bank to the west of the villa buildings may indicate the
presence of a nearby watermill.
During the second half of the fourth century, the villa was occupied on a
reduced scale. From this time, parts of the former domestic ranges fell out of
use, or were utilised as workshops or storerooms. The excavations also
revealed several contemporary trackways, a tile-built oven, and large
quantities of Roman coins and pottery sherds.
Partial excavation during the construction of a pipeline in 1972 indicated
that the western periphery of the villa complex, immediately adjacent to the
river, overlies traces of the earlier use of the site during the prehistoric
period. The earliest deposits were found to be an assemblage of over 2,000
pieces of worked flint and around 90 flint tools dating to the Mesolithic
period (10,000-3,500BC), all covering an area of 32 sq.m. These have been
interpreted as representing a tool making site. Several nearby pits and other
features, now destroyed by the construction of the pipeline, were dated by
pottery sherds and flint flakes found within them to the Neolithic period
(3,500-2,000BC) and the Late Bronze Age (900-600BC). Pottery sherds dating to
the Late Iron Age (300-50BC) indicate that the site was also inhabited during
Also destroyed during the construction of the pipeline, and overlying the
western periphery of the earlier villa, were five buildings dating to the
fifth-sixth centuries AD, representing an Anglo-Saxon settlement. Further
traces of the settlement will survive in buried form in the unexcavated areas.
The largest building discovered measured c.7m by 5.18m and was east-west
aligned, rectangular, and made of wood. This would have had at least three
bays capped by a ridged roof with gabled ends. Nearby were four, east-west
aligned, sunken-floored buildings, the largest of which measured 4.27m by
2.59m. Associated, contemporary artefacts discovered during the excavation
included pottery sherds and loomweights.
The modern fences which cross the monument are excluded from the scheduling,
although the ground beneath them 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.
Legacy System number: 25497
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Philp, B, Excavations in the Darent Valley, Kent, (1984), 72-94
Black, E W, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in The Roman Villa at Darenth, , Vol. XCVII, (1981), 159-183
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