Reports of our 2018 meetings

9 JANUARY 2018 - LULLINGSTONE: THE RISE AND FALL OF A ROMAN VILLA

The 300 year rich history of Lullingstone told to us by Rod Shelton was much enhanced by his own beautifully constructed model of the villa to add to our understanding.  

Excavations in 1949 revealed a mosaic floor and, in 1956, a flood revealed a niche (now known as the deep room) and two frescoes of water nymphs. This was obviously an important villa. Roman occupation began in AD 120 when a simple farm house with two rooms was built and wheat grown on the land. Communal farming on a large scale was the Roman way of farming as they had an army to feed.  

Soldiers during the reign of the good Emperor Antonius Pius were generously paid and so the next owner of Lullingstone was wealthy enough to build a temple behind the house to demonstrate his Roman standing in Britain. The villa’s next owner was a very high ranking army officer who had lived in the Middle East and wanted a country home. He was a man of taste and created in AD160 fantastic heated baths to the south of the house, decorated by Roman artisans and boasting a gym, cold, tepid and steam baths all heated by a wood burning furnace stoked by servants. There was a well in the house, a nymphaeum and palm trees decorated the walls of the temple. After five years this officer was moved onto another posting and the villa became state owned property.  

The current Roman military leader and governor of Britain then was Pertinax who commanded 150,000 soldiers. Two busts were found in Lullingstone, one of Pertinax and one of his father in law. 

In AD190 there was a military mutiny in Rome. British legions were required to fight in Gaul, leaving Britain and the villa undefended. It was stripped of its fittings and left empty, becoming semi derelict by AD198. A tannery occupied the kitchen block for the next 30 years until a landslip covered it in.  

Finally in AD285 an elderly man bought the villa and rebuilt the baths using British materials and artisans. He bought land and grew wheat. Following the turbulent years of war on the continent, the wheat fields of Germany were devastated and  there was a shortage of grain. Wheat was being exported from Britain to feed the Roman army and Lullingstone had a very large granary, so that the owner became wealthy following the demand for grain.   

However by far the most important discovery was the Christian chapel dating from 350 found in part of the villa, said to be one of the earliest in Britain.

It was a sad end to this 300 year old story when the owner was murdered during a reign of terror and the crops burnt. The remnants of the family left, vandals overran Kent and an accidental fire in AD490 destroyed the wooden buildings of this once beautifully restored villa, leaving only the front façade.

V. Dussek

Copyright: Plaxtol Local History Group 2018

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