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Romano-British villa, Anglo-Saxon cemetery and associated remains at Eccles

A Scheduled Monument in Aylesford, Kent

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.318 / 51°19'4"N

Longitude: 0.4702 / 0°28'12"E

OS Eastings: 572235.207111

OS Northings: 160552.169655

OS Grid: TQ722605

Mapcode National: GBR PQK.CPG

Mapcode Global: VHJM6.34FG

Entry Name: Romano-British villa, Anglo-Saxon cemetery and associated remains at Eccles

Scheduled Date: 5 October 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011770

English Heritage Legacy ID: 25471

County: Kent

Civil Parish: Aylesford

Built-Up Area: Eccles

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

Church of England Parish: Aylesford St Peter and St Paul

Church of England Diocese: Rochester

Details

The monument includes a Romano-British villa, an earlier Iron Age farmstead, a
later Anglo-Saxon cemetery and traces of medieval occupation situated on low-
lying clay on the eastern bank of the River Medway, around 6km north west of
Maidstone. The remains survive in the form of below-ground archaeological
features, some of which are visible as crop marks on aerial photographs.
Investigations carried out between 1963-76 confirmed that the large villa
complex, in use between around AD 55 to AD 400, took the form of a group of
north west-south east aligned domestic, agricultural and ancillary buildings,
situated on the north eastern side of a rectangular courtyard. Traces of a
contemporary, north west-south east aligned track were found to the north west
of the main buildings. The villa underwent at least four main phases of
construction, preceded by an earlier phase represented by a small, rectangular
granary and an associated length of boundary wall, dating to AD 55-AD 65. The
first known villa was in use between AD 65-AD 180, and its domestic range took
the form of a north east facing, rectangular building 75.5m long and 13m wide,
constructed upon ragstone footings. The building contained at least 12 rooms
flanked by a wooden verandah to the rear. A detached, ancillary building
containing workshops lay to the north west and utilised a well-preserved
water-supply system constructed of wooden pipes held together by iron collars.
The villa was served by an unusually elaborate detached bath house, with
mosaic floors and a loconicum, or circular bath, heated by a hypocaust, or
underfloor heating system. This first bath house was found to have been
damaged by fire, leading to the construction of a replacement bath building.
Enclosing the villa buildings at this time was a boundary ditch 3m wide and
around 1.4m deep. The second main phase, from AD 120-AD 180, involved
alterations to the domestic range, including the replacement of the wooden
verandah by a stone built corridor and the construction of a servants' wing
adjoining its north western end. A period of radical rebuilding and alteration
took place between AD 180-AD 290, when the villa was reorientated to face the
river to the south west. A further corridor was built on the north eastern
side of the main range, and large projecting wings were added to either end.
Each new wing contained grain drying ovens and, along with the rooms at the
south eastern end of the main range, was found to have been used for
agricultural and industrial processing. The bath house was extended and linked
to the main range by a roofed corridor. A cobbled courtyard and garden were
laid out to the south west, and a stone boundary wall enclosed the courtyard
and villa complex.
Building phases between AD 290 to AD 400 involved the modification of existing
structures, and by this time the main range contained at least 37 rooms.
However, from around AD 367, the villa complex appears to have been occupied
on a reduced scale.
The 1963-76 investigations revealed a number of human burials of Roman date
deposited beneath the villa floors, a common practice during this period.
Further finds included fragments of Roman pottery, coins and building debris,
and a rare lead defixio, or curse tablet, dating to Late Roman times. A group
of regular linear features visible on aerial photographs in the south eastern
sector of the monument, and also identified by a geophysical survey carried
out in 1996, may represent a contemporary, associated field system. Situated
beneath and around the villa are traces of an earlier, Iron Age farmstead,
represented by a group of linear boundary ditches and pits.
A later Anglo-Saxon inhumation cemetery was found to have partially disturbed
the eastern end of the main range of the earlier villa and the adjacent
ground. The cemetery is formed by at least 200 east-west aligned graves
containing extended human skeletons. Some later graves were found to have been
superimposed upon earlier burials, suggesting that the cemetery was in use
over several centuries. Some of the earliest burials were accompanied by grave
goods, or artefacts deliberately deposited with the bodies, indicating pagan
burials during the period AD 450-AD 600. Towards the south east of the
cemetery are a group of post holes which have been interpreted as a shrine,
temple or small chapel.
Signs of the subsequent reuse of the site during the medieval period include
cesspits and rough cobbling beyond its courtyard boundary wall. Analysis of
pottery shards associated with these features has dated them to the 13th
century. During this period the earlier villa was disturbed by the systematic
removal of Roman building material, much of which was reused in the
construction of the monastery at Aylesford 2km to the south east.
A group of indistinct crop marks and magnetic anomalies picked up by the 1996
geophysical survey in the area beyond the monument to the south west may
represent further, associated archaeological features, although these are not
well enough understood at present to merit inclusion in the scheduling.

MAP EXTRACT
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
important.

Partial excavation and geophysical survey have confirmed aerial photographic
evidence for the survival below-ground of Eccles Roman villa, a particularly
large and grand example of its kind. Its association with contemporary pottery
wasters, discovered at the nearby site of a later, medieval pottery kiln
(since destroyed), helps illustrate the nature of the mixed industrial and
agricultural economy necessary to support the sophisticated lifestyle of the
villa's inhabitants.
The investigations also revealed an earlier Iron Age farmstead, an Anglo-Saxon
cemetery which reused the site of the abandoned villa, and traces of
subsequent occupation in the medieval period. Taken together these remains
provide important evidence for changing settlement and land-use over a period
of almost 2000 years.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Barker, P , Report for Lawson-Price Environmental on a Geophysical Survey
'Romano British Countryside' in Romano British Countryside: Volume II, , Vol. BAR 103, (1982), 442&444
Other
Detsicas, Dr A, A Roman Villa at Eccles. 15 interim reports from 1963-1977, 1963,
Detsicas, Dr A, A Roman Villa at Eccles. 15 interim reports from 1963-1977, 1963,
Detsicas, Dr A, A Roman Villa at Eccles. 15 interim reports from 1963-1977, 1963,
Detsicas, Dr A, A Roman Villa at Eccles. 15 interim reports from 1963-1977, 1963,
Dr A Detsicas, (1994)
Shaw, R, Anglo-Sexon cemetery at Eccles: A preliminary report,

Source: Historic England

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