On a recent Saturday morning 13 Members of the ATU Research Group assembled at Lullingstone Roman villa for our first research expedition. The morning promised rain but we were lucky to avoid any heavy downpours. The morning began en route with a really interesting introduction by Ian Coulson to the topography and history of the Vale of Holmesdale, a seam of rich agricultural land that stretches across Kent on a SE-NW axis from Folkestone and lies beneath the line of the chalk downs, past Maidstone to Surrey. To the north of this sits the Darent River Valley and Lullingstone villa, one of several Roman villas in this agriculturally rich landscape.
Ian also gave us some background to East Kent in the C1st and C2nd including its trade patterns and political significance. As part of this we discussed other sites that contribute to the story of Romano British society in this area including Thurnham Roman villa and also the site at Westhawk Farm near Ashford, which was overtaken by Canterbury as the civitas or regional capitalin the C1st AD; the relationship with London whose growth skewed trade in the Roman period , and the significance of the Darent river and its barges in the export of grain and other agricultural produce to London.
Once we arrived we had a further orientation to the site and its history before watching the English Heritage introductory film to the site. We then were able to look around and learn more about the history this fascinating villa. The comparison with Folkestone proved extremely interesting. Lullingstone it seems was a smaller site than Folkestone but survived and prospered for a longer period ( well into the C4th) whereas urban living in Canterbury and the use of the Folkestone site seem to have ended by the this period, perhaps because in less profitable and more exposed areas.
The visit was a good opportunity to look at the sorts of out-buildings that would be expected within an agricultural villa site and also to consider the style and design of buildings over a period of time.
Other highlights were: the mosaics, the burials and mausoleum.
The group also looked at the new interpretation in place at Lullingstone which features drawings by the children’s illustrator Jane Ray. Aspects of this were attractive but overall we felt that there was too much emphasis on a young audience and not enough explanatory text.
One aspect of interpretation that did take our fancy were the various Roman clothes that were available for visitors to try on. So, with characteristic efficiency ATU volunteers Silvia, Sheila and Fiona took measurements and we will try to reproduce a Roman cloak for visitors on-site this summer
Following the visit to Lullingstone a smaller group of us went on for a visit to Trottiscliffe , a small historically interesting village. We were interested to learn about the dispersed nature of the village which is characteristically Kentish (rather than nucleated) At the church Ian led a ‘taster session’ on church architecture and its key identifying features. We hope later in the project to produce a key of this sort for Folkestone sites such as the Bayle.
Finally having learnt about Mediaeval and Roman history we finished our day with a visit to Coldrum long barrow, an extraordinary Neolithic burial chamber made from Sarsen stones taken from a local geological layer. The site has a impressive view over looking the Vale of Holmesdale and so we returned to the organising theme of the day : landscape, history and settlement.