Channel Tunnel Rail Link Section 1

Stuart Foreman, 2004 (updated 2009)

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Thurnham Villa, Kent - Integrated Site Report


Thurnham Villa: The villa building (view to the southwest).

As part of an extensive programme of archaeological investigation carried out in advance of the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL), Oxford Archaeology (formerly Oxford Archaeological Unit) was commissioned to undertake an excavation at the Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM KE 299) of Thurnham Roman Villa (OS NGR 579950 157110) and trench excavation of earthworks located in the adjacent Honeyhills Wood near the village of Thurnham in Kent. In addition, a watching brief was undertaken on the surrounding CTRL route section from Sittingbourne Road, Detling, to Crismill Lane, Thurnham. In the course of the watching brief, a concentration of archaeological features was encountered to the east of Hockers Lane, near Detling (OS NGR 579200 157485).

The earliest evidence of human activity was represented by individual flint artefacts distributed across the site. No significant in situ scatters were present although a single microlith points to an early presence on the site. The first substantive remains were represented by an isolated large ramped waterhole. This appears to be of Middle Bronze Age date (c 1600 BC-c 1100 BC) and contained a pin and a dagger of that period, possibly deposited as part of a closing ritual when the feature was back-filled.

Evidence for permanent settlement first appears in the Late Iron Age, first at Hockers Lane, followed by the establishment of a large enclosed settlement at Thurnham. Activity at Hockers Lane consisted of a sequence of curving gully enclosures. Little physical remains of structures survived within the enclosed area, although a fairly large material culture assemblage points to probable domestic occupation from the second half of the 2nd century BC at the earliest, extending up to the conquest period but probably not much beyond.

Occupation at Hockers Lane may have been succeeded by, or slightly overlapped with, the earliest settlement at Thurnham. This consisted of a large rectilinear enclosure of two phases, containing traces of two roundhouses and two four-post structures, occupying an area of raised ground. The rectilinear enclosure was modified and extended c AD 60. At the same time a Romanised proto-villa building, with a tiled roof and painted plaster walls, was constructed as the settlement focus, complimented by a similar-sized possible temple building to the south. The pottery and other finds from this period hint at continuity of site ownership or tenure on either side of AD 43. Outside the enclosure, another possible religious or ritual focus was present, in the form of a massive free-standing post, raised on the approach to the entrance. The structural changes at this time were accompanied by a large increase in the quantities of charred cereal remains deposited in features, indicating an intensification of agricultural production at the site.

Thurnham Villa: Aerial view of the villa building cropmarks.

A larger stone built villa replaced the proto-villa structure in the early 2nd century, and the enclosure was extended and modified at the same time. The stone villa was built over the top of the Iron Age enclosure ditch, which was deliberately in-filled. The replacement enclosure boundary was defined by substantial fences that enclosed the rear and side of the villa building. Slightly after the completion of the villa, an aisled building of similar dimensions was constructed to the north-east. The enclosure was also extended to the north, beyond the limit of excavation, and an evaluation trench in this area suggests that a further building may exist here.

The possible temple was demolished in the later 2nd century, and a large gated entrance was added, roughly central to the axis of the villa. Possibly as part of these changes, or shortly after, a small bath house was added to the southern end of the villa and a large square extension, with a forward projecting apse, was added to the northern end. Relatively good dating evidence places this work in the last quarter of the second century. Further development included the construction of a 14-post timber agricultural building outside the core enclosure.

No further structural additions were made after the early 3rd century, and later activity at the site is characterised by a distinct change in the character of occupation. None of the boundaries were maintained and the bath house was either demolished or allowed to collapse by the late 3rd century.

There is no evidence for occupation or land-use after the start of the 5th century, until the establishment of Corbier Hall moated manor (SAM KE 309) on the low lying ground to the east of the former villa. Evidence from this area includes peripheral features of the manor, containing artefacts of 12th to 13th century date. The moat ditch was maintained into the post medieval period and incorporated into a system of post-medieval land drainage ditches. Post-medieval land use was characterised by pasture and woodland, until the intensification of arable farming after the Second World War, when all upstanding features of Corbier Hall and the surrounding woodland were removed and levelled.

The fieldwork events covered by this report are:

  • Hockers Lane Watching Brief - Area 420 (ARC WB420/62+200-63+000) - Watching Brief
  • Honeyhills Wood Watching Brief - Area 420 (ARC WB420/63+000-63+400) - Watching Brief
  • Thurnham Roman Villa (ARC THM98) - Excavation
  • Thurnham Roman Villa Watching Brief - Area 420 (ARC WB420/63+400-63+900) - Watching Brief
  • Honeyhills Wood (ARC HHW98) - Excavation
  • Thurnham Lane to West of Crismill Lane Watching Brief - Area 420 (ARC WB420/63+900-66+350) - Watching Brief

Other material from the programme linked to this report.

Phase 2

Specialist Research Reports

Below is a list of specialist research reports associated with this report.

Ceramic Building Material Ceramics
Roman Pottery Ceramics
Post Roman Pottery Ceramics
Small Finds Small Finds
Small Finds - coins Small Finds
Dating Dating
Human Remains Human Remains
Charcoal Environmental
Charred Plant Remains Environmental
Fauna Environmental
Molluscs Environmental
Moss Environmental
Pollen Environmental
Waterlogged Plants Environmental
Integrated Site Report

The integrated site report and data for this site can be found on the downloads page.

Phase 1

Evaluation and Interim Excavation Data

Below is a list of other evaluation and interim excavation data from sites and field work events associated with this report.

East of Hockers Lane (ARC EHL99) Evaluation
Honeyhills Wood (ARC HHW98) Evaluation
Thurnham Roman Villa and South Of Corbier Hall, (ARC THM96) Evaluation
Thurnham Roman Villa (ARC THM98) Excavation
South of Corbier Hall (ARC CHS95) Geophysical Survey