Saturday, 22 July 2017

Crofton Roman Villa

Crofton Road
Orpington, Kent
BR6  8AF

Friday July 14 2017

“Adjacent to Orpington Station” is one of the selling points of this volunteer run Museum, under the watchful eye of the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit so we left our train and walked through the car park and the story of the museum proved to be a tale of car parks various. 

Research has shown that the Roman villa was built following the Romanisation of England in the 2nd Century and occupied and altered over the following 250 or so years. Its site was on a ridge overlooking the Cray valley below, though now what you notice most is that it appears to be on a slope between the station and the road both of whose foundations, back at the start of the last century, evidently destroyed much more of the remains than the comparatively small section available for public view today. Seemingly the building of the railway did not cause a stir amongst the archaeological community but by 1926 when the foundations for the new Civic Building were going up the first remains were discovered. Both the former town hall and the station did and do have car parks and while the latter were being extended again in 1955 (Orpington has always been prime commuting territory) there were some limited excavations but the site was given proper attention in 1988 and was opened in its current configuration four years later.

Research has also revealed that the original villa probably had about 16 rooms, until at some stage late in the 3rd Century the family retrenched to one end of the property at which point they updated the heating system seemingly as part of their ‘downsizing’. The building was sophisticated enough to have glass windows and a heavy roof, with pottery shards from ‘round the Empire’. The remains are such that you can walk round most sides and peer into the foundations – the rooms are numbered and the education officer pointed out the two styles of heating (both underfloor in the modern way) some with underfloor ducts and some with the floor raised on small pillars in part reconstructed. This was not a really sophisticated villa (or maybe multi coloured floor mosaics had gone out of fashion)   but the original floors were etheropus signinum (mottled pink concrete) or tessellated terra cotta tiles.

What was really impressive about this display was the wealth of educational material on display on small tables round the ruins. Here groups of visitors, particularly young visitors, could get seriously involved in a variety of activities. There was a table of Roman games complete with rules and replicas, dolls to dress, dressing up clothes from farm boy to senator, quiz sheets, trails and a range of Roman ‘brass rubbings’ figures dressed appropriately for their stature and place in the well explained Roman society. The walls are covered in charts explaining the life of a legionnaire, a child, a family, what they ate, and so on…

There is also a touch table with fragments from the dig (you can also dig for finds in a sand tray with appropriate archaeological trowel and brush) with numbers to indicate where they were found. Those artefacts which were found whole are available in reproduced forms to handle.

The volunteer on duty said when they were open they were fully booked with school groups and had just said good bye to the last one – it being the end of the school year. However they also run holiday activities.

For the more serious student there are large volumes covering all the ‘digs’ in Kent as a handy map shows there were far more villas around then you might think. Lullingstone Roman Villa  is more extensive and complete but lies beyond the M25. Because of two millennia  of building there are comparatively few Roman remains within Greater London and this is certainly the only villa  open to the public. Though the display is small the volunteers who manage it have maximized the impact and it makes a surprisingly refreshing visit.  
TheTown Hall building that started it all.....

PS Cray Picture from Stage II of London Loop 

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