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Kent Archaeological Review extract

An Iron Age Farm and Roman Villa at Warbank, Keston.
by Brian Philp.

As the excavation at Lower Warbank continues more and more evidence of highly interesting and complex Iron Age and Roman settlements slowly emerges. It is now clear that a considerable amount was missed by the 19th century and later excavations. The Group's programme of re-excavation is thus now nearly completed.

The next phase is the rescue-research programme aimed at recovering as much evidence from the site before it is totally destroyed by Ringway 3. This new road, which is likely to be a major four-lane highway of motorway specifications, forms part of the Greater London Development Plan. If unopposed this road will effectively destroy the merits of both the Shire Lane and Jackass Lane valleys. Its line also cuts through more than a dozen important archaeological sites recently discovered by the Group. The Council for Kentish Archaeology and the West Kent Group have lodged formal objections to the proposed line and an enquiry is to be held.

The Group began work on the site in 1967, at the invitation of the Bromley Council, when it re-excavated the cemetery at Warbank. This work revealed large circular and rectangular monumental tombs, a small unopened tomb containing a fine lead casket and another 13 burials. These included adult cremations, children buried in wooden coffins and stillborn infants. The tombs and burials were probably contained in a stone-walled enclosure, in use from about AD180-300 (KAR Number 11, page 10).

In 1968 the Group opened its first trench in Lower Warbank field, adjacent to the cemetery, where two, Roman masonry buildings had been partially excavated in the 19th century. In addition to uncovering pits, an enclosure and a water-main the work also involved the reexcavation of the 'Roman Villa' uncovered at the lower end of the field in 1854. This revealed the building, probably occupied from about AD250-350, was larger than supposed and had replaced earlier wooden structures (KAR Number 15, page 6).


The third season's work, in 1969, was concentrated on an area reported in 1854 as containing substantial walls on the west edge of the field. A large area excavation revealed the outline of a building over 100 feet in length which in the absence (so far) of larger masonry buildings may have been the main villa-block. It comprised wide east and north corridors which flanked the main range and a projecting room, or wing, at the north-cast corner. The outer walls were 2 feet thick and the inner walls of the main range of rooms nearly 3ft. The projecting room measured internally about 12 by 11 feet. At the south end of the building was another projection, or wing, with substantial masonry walls cut down deeply into the underlying chalk. It seems probable that this room contained a hypocaust and it may have related to a bath-house wing of the village. The almost total absence of floors and internal features makes detailed interpretation difficult, but from scattered tesserae it seems fairly certain that the main east corridor was tesselated. Otherwise the winged-corridor form of the village-building was a familiar one in the Romano-British countryside. More work may reveal further details of this building.


As the work on this building advanced it became clear that beneath it ran the east and south ditches of an early rectangular enclosure with an entrance on the cast side. The ditches had been V-shaped in profile, but the fillings had been badly disturbed by large, burrowing mammals. The ditches did produce a considerable quantity of pottery, both of early Roman and Iron Age date though this was thoroughly mixed. It seems probable that the enclosure was of first century AD date and that it was deliberately filled just before the villa was built. The soil for the filling was probably obtained from the area intended for the villa and this would account for the presence of the Iron Age pottery, as pits and a hut of Iron Age date were found under the east corridor. Further work is required before the precise date and function of the ditched enclosure can be determined.


A series of more than a dozen circular post-holes was found under the east corridor of the villa and abruptly cut by later features. These form part of a sub-rectangular outline which must certainly represent a wooden structure, probably a but. The cast-west length is about 17 feet, but the north-south length could not be determined. Pottery from adjacent pits and from the filled-in enclosure ditch suggests that this was probably a hut constructed in the early part of the Iron Age. Broadly similar structures in Britain and Abroad have been dated to about 550-300 BC.

DRAWING: Excavations at Lower Warbank, Keston, 1969.

Lower Warbank, Keston, 1969.

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