Discover Roman Otford Project was formed in 2015, to investigate a large Roman villa at the head of the Darent Valley, in north west Kent.
Throughout the last century it had been suggested that there may be a Roman building buried beneath Church Field, Otford. The field was probably pasture for most of its existence, but from the late 19th century (until at least the 1930’s) it was a traditional Kentish hop garden. Fragments of Roman tile and painted wall plaster were prevalent on the ground’s surface.
In 1934, local historian F. Godwin, carried out a small excavation. This revealed a greater density of these finds, along with the possible suggestion of a ragstone ‘surface’. Unfortunately, this work did not continue, and the field received one of its rare ploughings.
1980s – 2013:
By the 1980s the site was generally regarded as a possible villa. Then in 2011, West Kent Archaeological Society was engaged in carrying out a resistivity survey of Otford Palace. They were given permission by the landowner of Church Field to survey the field, in exchange for some renovation work on the adjacent medieval site of Becket’s Well. In just one afternoon the footprint of a substantial Roman building was revealed!
Further geophysical survey and test pitting, by WKAS in 2012-13, showed the building to be a winged corridor Roman villa, possibly the second largest known in the Darent Valley, only surpassed by South Darenth that had been discovered in the 1890’s. There is some old footage from 1979 where you can see the excavations taking place.
2013 – present day:
In April 2015, WKAS carried out a week long excavation of Church Field, Otford. This confirmed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was a very large Roman building. One with a potentially complex history. The landowner kindly gave permission for further fieldwork, but this would have been beyond the limited resources of WKAS. Moving to the summer of the same year, the Discover Roman Otford Project was formed.
This was principally to work on Church Field, but also with a remit to look at the wider Roman aspects of the Darent Valley. This includes areas of immediate interest. Another Roman villa, called Progress, is 500m away from the Otford site. Although this had been excavated in 1927-28 it was not well recorded. A resistivity survey by WKAS in 2015 showed that the remains were likely to be at least 1m deep.
DROP has been working at Church Field every year since 2015, mainly at weekends, but with the occasional week-long excavation. In 2016 WKAS completed the resistivity survey of the east side of Otford Palace. This also revealed the likely extent of the Church Field buildings, and showed that the main range of the villa appears to be a similar size and shape to the internationally known Lullingstone Roman Villa, about 5km down river.
DROP now has an active team of over 40 members. We are currently concentrating on the Church Field site, while also investigating connections with both Progress villa, and Lullingstone villa. Our remit includes keeping Becket’s Well in good order – so there’s always lots to do!
We have become involved with other projects run by the Kent Archaeological Society, and also the Darent Valley Landscape Partnership.