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A Romano-British villa and a possible Iron Age farmstead at Franks

A Scheduled Monument in Farningham, Kent

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Latitude: 51.3845 / 51°23'4"N

Longitude: 0.232 / 0°13'55"E

OS Eastings: 555414.093427

OS Northings: 167414.249464

OS Grid: TQ554674

Mapcode National: GBR VM.H59

Mapcode Global: VHHP6.ZG1H

Entry Name: A Romano-British villa and a possible Iron Age farmstead at Franks

Scheduled Date: 4 November 1975

Last Amended: 26 August 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009024

English Heritage Legacy ID: 25464

County: Kent

Civil Parish: Farningham

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

Church of England Parish: Farningham St Peter and St Paul

Church of England Diocese: Rochester


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.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

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.

Source: Historic England


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

Source: Historic England

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