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An unenclosed Iron Age urnfield and Roman villa, 60m ESE of No.64 Wear Bay Road

A Scheduled Monument in Folkestone, Kent

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Latitude: 51.0885 / 51°5'18"N

Longitude: 1.1985 / 1°11'54"E

OS Eastings: 624088.35326

OS Northings: 136993.804818

OS Grid: TR240369

Mapcode National: GBR W1W.PTT

Mapcode Global: FRA F6D7.NS2

Entry Name: An unenclosed Iron Age urnfield and Roman villa, 60m ESE of No.64 Wear Bay Road

Scheduled Date: 19 March 1946

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1005158

English Heritage Legacy ID: KE 82

County: Kent

Civil Parish: Folkestone

Built-Up Area: Folkestone

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent


The monument includes an unenclosed Iron Age urnfield and Roman villa surviving as buried remains. It is situated on a cliff top at East Cliff in Folkestone overlooking East Wear Bay and the surrounding coastline.
The unenclosed Iron Age urnfield underlies the Roman villa. Partial excavation has uncovered several cremation burials within Late Iron Age pottery vessels, together with grave goods. These cremation urns were located beneath the wall footings of the Roman buildings. The grave goods included silver brooches, a foot ring, an armlet, a bronze ring and a flint implement.
The walls of an earlier Roman building underlie the main phase of occupation at the villa. It is constructed of calcareous tufa on flint and ironstone foundations. The villa was later rebuilt and expanded to include three detached buildings or blocks. The walls and foundations of these buildings survive up to about 2.4m high and are built of ragstone on chalk and pebble foundations with brick used for furnace arches and drains. These three buildings form a complex of some 60 rooms. The main block is nearly 60m long and orientated broadly north-east to south-west, roughly parallel with the cliff. The rooms are arranged off a long corridor on the seaward side. It has an axial entrance and large room beyond containing a mosaic with a design unique in Britain. It consists of a fragmentary square with a central medallion and further medallions at each corner. At right angles to this building is another block, over 40m long, orientated broadly north-west to south-east. It has a corridor on each side of a suite of rooms. The walls of this building survive to between about 0.3m and 1.2m high. The remains of a hypocaust with internal piers and a furnace arch survive in one of the rooms. These have been partly truncated by a trench dug during the Second World War. At the south-east end of this block is a detached bath house with an apsidal north-west end. The walls survive up to about 2.4m high. The apsidal wall contains a furnace arch with two large rows of bricks forming voussoirs. The furnace fed a hypocaust, which heated a plunge bath. Several of the rooms of the bath house have been destroyed through coastal erosion. The thickness of the buttressing on the exterior walls of the villa indicates that they were of considerable height and may have included an upper storey.
The villa was first exposed by cliff erosion in 1923. It was partially excavated together with the unenclosed Iron Age urnfield in 1924 and then the villa only in 1989. The Iron Age burials are thought to have been deposited between about 50 BC and AD 50. The villa is thought to have been constructed from the late first century AD and abandoned in the fourth century AD. The finds indicate that there may have been a gap in occupation from the late third to early fourth century. Several Roman tiles were recovered from the site featuring three different stamps of the Classis Britannica. It has been suggested that these may indicate that the villa was occupied by an officer of the fleet. The footings of the villa have been consolidated and the site back-filled following partial excavation.
The monument excludes the public conveniences, the surfaces of all modern pavements, all fences and fence posts, gates and gate posts. However the ground beneath all these features is included.

Sources: Kent HER TR23 NW109. NMR TR23 NW109, TR 23 NW 11. PastScape 465906, 465716.
Kent OS Maps (1:2500): 1907, 1937
The Roman Villa at Folkestone, Kent Archaeological Review (Winter 1989), Issue 98, retrieved from on 19th February 2010
Philp, B, Excavations on the Roman Villa at Folkestone 1989, Kent Archaeological Review (Spring 1990), Issue 99, retrieved from on 19th February 2010

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The unenclosed Iron Age urnifeld underlying the Roman villa is a rare example of its type. Unenclosed urnfields are burial grounds without a delimiting boundary comprising two or more cremations and occasionally inhumation burials. This form of cemetery represents a return to the predominance of the cremation burial rite during the late Iron Age and beyond (from the mid-first century BC to sometime after the Roman Conquest of AD 43). The similarity of British examples to contemporary continental urnfields and the occasional presence of imported, high status grave goods, or objects deliberately buried with the body, provide evidence for the gradual assimilation of south eastern Britain into the Roman world at this time. The cremations were often placed in wheel-thrown pottery vessels and deposited in graves dug into the subsoil or bedrock. In Britain, unenclosed Iron Age urnfields are found exclusively in south eastern England and less than 50 have been positively identified. All examples with surviving remains are considered to be of national importance.
The Iron Age urnfield at East Cliff holds potential for the recovery of further cremation burials and grave goods, which will provide significant information relating to the social structure, burial practice and cultural influences in the region prior to the Roman conquest.

The Roman villa was subsequently built on the site of the urnfield from about the late first century AD. Roman villas usually include a well-appointed dwelling house. Most 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 and 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. As a very diverse and often long-lived type of monument, a significant proportion of the known population of Roman villas are identified as nationally important.
Despite some damage and disturbance in the past, particularly during the Second World War, the Roman villa 60m ESE of No.64 Wear Bay Road survives well. The walls survive to a substantial height and the masonry remains are among the best preserved at any Roman villa site in Britain. The villa also contains a Roman mosaic with a tessellated design which is unique in this country. The site retains potential for further archaeological investigation, which will improve our understanding of the phasing of the buildings and the history of the villa.

Source: Historic England

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