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Dartford District Archaeological Group (DDAG)   -    Rediscovering Dartford - Page 5

2. Wilmington Romano-British Villa
The remains of this villa which lie buried under housing, gardens and allotments are situated close to the Orange Tree public house. The first recorded evidence of the whereabouts of the villa complex came in a report by the late F. C. J. Spurrell, F.S.A., a local antiquarian. He visited the site in 1886, presumably whilst houses were being built in the vicinity (possibly those fronting Hawley Road and/or Powdermill Lane). The relevant extract from this report reads: "About three years ago I saw numerous tiles and some extensive foundations showing wide rooms and narrow passages with coins all of Roman date about 137m (150 yards) south eastward of the inn called the Orange Tree".
   Alerted by these accounts and by the knowledge that the Romans had built their villas along the banks of the River Darent at a reasonably standard distance apart, the Group set out its quest to locate the ‘missing’ villa. For two years or more the search went on. A series of trial holes were sunk at sites in Walnut Tree Avenue and at the corner of Hawley Road and Oakfield Lane. The few fragments of Roman roofing tile uncovered, although a meagre return for a lot of effort, gave encouragement and credence to the view that the villa remains must lie nearby. In 1975, therefore, when both the Kent County Council and the Wilmington Parish Council gave permission for the Group to investigate a plot of derelict land at the end of Trafalgar Road, a major effo
rt was called for. 

   A line of trial holes were sunk along a north-south line on the western side of the plot. Almost immediately the easily recognisable pieces of Roman roofing tile came to light and then about midway along the line a piece of Roman walling was located. Mechanical assistance was enlisted to strip the top soil from the whole area, leaving a thin layer of soil to protect the remains. This done, the careful scraping away of the remaining soil was commenced and in time a number of significant Roman features were uncovered.
    The first piece of Roman wall ran the full width of the site, west to east, and disappeared under the gardens on both sides. This south facing wall was some 17.4m (57ft) long, and was constructed of flint with a mortar of lime, crushed tile and sand, although the footings in the northeast corner were of stone. Robbing and plough damage had reduced the height of the wall to three or four courses about 1m high and the same in width. At the west end of the wall, a fragmented ‘foundation deposit’ pottery vessel was found close to the footings. To the west, where the wall disappeared under the back gardens of houses in Hawley Road, two small adjoining holes were excavated, with the kind permission of the residents, revealing the ‘Y’ shaped channels of an underfloor heating system (‘hypocaust’). These were constructed of roofing tiles and led west, away from the site. The recovery of some pieces of painted wall plaster lends considerable weight to the theory that much richer rooms of the villa lie buried beneath Hawley Road, which at this time are beyond investigation and recovery.

   Most of the building and features excavated exhibited an agricultural bias. The large mortared flint structure with walls some 0.7m (2ft 4ins) thick was most likely a stockyard in which stables or cow byres were located along the south wall under a substantial lean-to tiled roof. This left about two thirds of the area on the northern side as an open courtyard. The remains of three solid tiled bases were uncovered nearly 4m (l3ft 2ins) from and parallel to the south wall which would have supported some very solid timber posts to take the load of the roof at mid-span. The finding of the remains of a collapsed chalk block wall indicates that the front of the covered area was at least partially closed in, possibly with open stud timberwork above, just short of the eaves. After the departure of the Romans, the timbers that supported the roof would have decayed and collapsed bringing down the roof and scattering broken tiles over a wide area which we were later to discover.
   It is estimated that the length of the building uncovered would not have been less than 32m (l05ft).
   Pottery finds from the site are of 3rd and 4th century date, and the four Roman coins found are all ‘Radiates’ which serves to confirm this dating.  Animal remains found, indicated that horse, oxen, pigs, dogs and sheep or goats were among the domestic livestock of the estate.
   Pre-Roman finds included many Mesolithic and Neolithic flakes and some Iron Age pottery. The post-Roman finds denoted Saxon occupation of the by then ruined building, and in addition the presence of Medieval sherds indicate the close proximity of a 14th century house structure.

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