KENT ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY  -- RESEARCH    Studying and sharing Kent's past      Homepage

Dartford & District Archaeological Group (DDAG)   -    Rediscovering Dartford - Page 7

3.  Tenter's Hill Field
The Group was, for several years, tantalised by the thought that the town’s very own villa lay hidden beneath the slope of the hill, just above the River Darent. Ordnance Survey maps from the 1890’s onwards have shown foundations, following the discovery of walls at about that time. A photograph in ‘Dartford Historical Notes’ by S. K. Keyes heightens the mystery, by showing a wall configuration in the shape of a letter ‘H’.

Roman foundations, Tenter's Hill Field, c 1895
  In 1979 it transpired that the hillside was to be substantially remodelled and terraced. The allotment holders were given notice to quit, and the Group had a breathing space to survey the area, and to re-locate the villa, if it did indeed lie waiting to be discovered. ‘Excavation Law’ operated to the full and after several months’ work nothing had been found. Only two or three plots were left to be examined, straddling the footpath crossing the site. Patience was rewarded when the corner of a mortared flint wall was uncovered in the corner of one of the plots.

Roman foundations, Tenter's Hill Field, 1979
The wall was followed to the west of the footpath. and slowly a configuration emerged which corresponded exactly with the appropriate photograph in ‘Keyes’. The villa had been re-located after eighty years. Work then progressed on the eastern side of the path and more of the general picture emerged an entire eastern wing, comprising store rooms, a kitchen and a separate room with an opus signinum (crushed tile and mortar mix) floor. Wings ran down from each corner, no doubt to be completed by a fourth wing to form a rectangle, but for the heavy erosion which had taken place on the hillside over the intervening centuries.
The kitchen was identified from the unmistakable signs of a hearth and substantial burning in the floor. Alongside this to the extreme south east of the villa came the room with the opus signinum floor. The floor curved up towards each wall in the room, forming a sort of ‘skirting board’. The walls themselves were of a

                                 North-West area excavated 1979
substantial height to the rear rising when excavated to 1m (3ft 3ins), and traces of wall plastering were observed, both on the interior and exterior. The internal wall would have been painted red, white and blue and the exterior, predominantly red. This particular part of the building would therefore have stood out very clearly on the hillside. To one side of the room a base was located. It was thought that this might have been  the foundation of an altar, and this lends weight to the belief that this richly decorated room was a Shrine Room, forming a later extension to the villa. This theory was further reinforced by the later discovery of fragments of a mother goddess figurine. The figurine was of a standard mass produced type and it has proved possible to reconstruct this completely from illustrations of similar examples.
   It has been a misconception that the Romans were on the whole a hygienic people much given to bathing and cleansing themselves. Unfortunately, on occasions they let themselves down rather badly. To the east of the villa, running the entire length of the wall, a deep drainage gully had been cut. This had been used by the occupiers of the building as a long open rubbish pit directly outside the kitchen window! This lack of cleanliness was, however, to be our gain since the pit yielded a rich harvest of finds, including vast quantities of pottery and numerous artifacts. These artifacts included bone pins and needles, nails, a beam balance with its lead weight, and door keys. ‘the pottery included parts of a lamp chimney and an urn moulded on one side to form a face complete with eyes and a nose. A bronze brooch, ring and studs were also found along with some fragments of glass.
   These finds added considerably to the overall impression of life as it would have been in the villa, and established beyond doubt that the building would have been a prominent feature of Roman Dartford eighteen centuries ago. The villa would in all have been approximately 30m (100ft) long cast to west and about 15m (5Oft) wide north to south. The River Darent was in those days navigable by boats of some size and the villa would therefore have been in a good position to make use of this waterway. The transport of goods produced on the villa estate to local markets and to the continent would have been made a simple matter. There is a possibility that a granary (which unfortunately did not come to light during the excavation) lay close to the river bank, with maybe a convenient landing stage.
   There is evidence to suggest that the Romans themselves demolished much of the villa. Our pottery studies suggest that this occurred between 250 and 300 A.D. but it is not clear why they should have done this. Perhaps further evidence will come to light in the future.

Page 7

Previous Page          Back to Contents Page          Next Page

For details about the advantages of membership of the Kent Archaeological Society   click here

Back to D.D.A.G. Introduction   Back to Archaeological Fieldwork     Back to Research    Back to Homepage

Kent Archaeological Society is a registered charity number 223382
© Kent Archaeological Society March 2006

This website is constructed by enthusiastic amateurs.  Any errors noticed by other researchers will be to gratefully received so
 that we can amend our pages to give as accurate a record as possible. Please send details to