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Kent Archaeological Review extract

by A P Detsicas.

The third season of excavation at the site of the large Romano-British villa at Eccles, near Aylesford, was completed in early November 1964. The work was undertaken by kind permission of Messrs A.P.C.M. Ltd and the Reed Paper Group Ltd, and with the full cooperation of their tenants, Messrs A A and A C Southwell; it was financed by grants from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, the Kent Archaeological Society, the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Craven Fund and the Haverfield Trust of the University of Oxford.

Five periods of occupation have so far been recognised. Period 1, dating to about AD 55 is at the moment represented by a short length of a ditch found towards the end of the excavation; it was some 6 feet wide, a rounded V in shape and contained a large amount of pottery some of which is dated to pre-Conquest times. This ditch was filled in at the beginning of Period 2, about AD 55-65, when a granary was constructed partly over it. In its turn, this granary was demolished to make room for the corridor leading from the villa living quarters to the earliest bath building in Period 3, about AD 65-100.

This was a large establishment with many rooms, some of which presented outstanding features, and had been re-built three times. The dry hot-bath (laconicum), with its 18-foot diameter, is the largest known on a villa site in this country; it was heated by a hypocaust, was decorated with painted wall-plaster and, externally, its vaulted wall was whitewashed. The cold room (frigidarium) and its cold plunge-bath were both floored with mosaics, amongst the earliest in this country, which had been removed so their tesserae could be reused; fortunately, enough fragments remained to allow for a partial restoration of their design and, thanks to the patient work of Mr David Neal, it is now known that a stag was the central theme of the frigidarium whilst an aquarium scene with a dolphin may have been the design of the other mosaic. The furnace-room contained both a boiler and a testudo, the arched flue of which was preserved intact.

This baths suite was destroyed, probably by fire, and replaced by another in Period 4, about AD 100-150, which though rather smaller than the first baths contained many hypocausted rooms and showed many reconstructions. In its turn, it was succeeded by the third bath building in Period 5, between AD 150 and 290, which approaches the size of such establishments known on the Continent, with many heated rooms and a large swimming-bath (piscina, 11 by 44 feet) enclosed on three sides by a corridor whose wallplaster was richly decorated.

Few rooms, belonging to Period 4, of the living quarters have so far been exposed, but the location of the villa itself in its various periods is known. Similarly evidence does exist for at least one more period of occupation during the 4th century, but very little of this late phase in the history of the site can be said at the moment.

After three seasons work, it is quite clear that much more work needs to be done before anything definite can be suggested about the economic background of the villa, its large size and occupation so soon after the Roman conquest, etc.; yet, it seems very likely that the original landowner must have been somebody of sufficient high standing locally and wealth to be able to afford building to such a scale at a time when his immediate neighbours are thought to have been living in elementary farmsteads. Whatever the answer that further work may provide, one of his descendants, thoughtfully, left his name behind for posterity: Bellicius lanuaris, a graffito on a silver spoon read by Mr R P Wright, FSA, and a name which occurs again as another graffito on a samian bowl!

Current work is already establishing that a pre-Roman farm may have been the initial occupation of the site, of some opulence from both the quantity and the quality of the material left behind, and it is hoped that, eventually, the site will provide a continuous sequence of occupation from at least Belgic times to the beginning of the 5th century.

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