West Kent Border Archaeological Group
The Group started work on this important site in May and work will continue until about October. The two Roman tombs, or mausolea, have been excavated on three previous occasions and the site is now heavily overgrown and the walls are in serious decay. Because of the condition of the structures the Bromley Council asked the Group to undertake work on the site and has, together with the Ministry of Works, provided funds for the project. The Group’s first aim is to totally excavate the area to see what evidence remains in the ground. The second objective will be the consolidation of the masonry and finally the site will be made level for permanent inspection.
The site at Warbank has been known for very many years. It was first mentioned by John Dunkin in 1815 in his “Outline History of Bromley” and the first excavation took place in 1828. Further excavations were carried out nearby in 1854 when a small basillican building was discovered. The mausolea seem to have been excavated again in about 1893 and in 1936 a large stone coffin was found two or three hundred feet further to the west. One of two stone coffins found in earlier excavations can still be seen outside the east wall of Keston parish church. Mrs Piercy Fox carried out excavations in Lower Warbank in 1951-53 and also partially excavated the mausolea in 1961.
It is clear that the structures relate to a substantial villa and that the site was occupied from 1st to the 4th century AD. To the north of the site is the massive Iron Age hillfort at Holwood and the main arterial Roman road, from London to Lewis, passes about a mile and a half west of the site. The buildings face southwest across a deep and beautiful valley and stand on the Upper Chalk at about the 400-foot contour.
The larger of the two mausolea is circular with an overall diameter of about 30 feet. Its walls are built of flint and have courses of brick-bonding. These are three feet thick and supported externally by a series of six large buttresses. The entrance appears to be on the east side. The other tomb is rectangular and appears to measure about twelve by ten feet. There are only a few tombs of this type in Britain. There is no exact parallel for the circular structure although a broadly similar building is known at Mersea in Essex. At the Lullingstone Roman Villa, some seven miles from Keston, is a substantial rectangular mausoleum built late in the 3rd century. Close to this is another circular building, but this is thought to have been a temple.
The site is owned by Bromley Council, but it is contained within private property. Visits by affiliated groups and other interested societies can, however, be arranged, but this must be done through the West Kent Border Archaeological Group. The work is not yet very far advanced, but the excavation should be completed by September. Visits on the 9th, 16th, 23rd and, 30th of September (all Sundays) will be welcomed and parties will be told about the work and site.
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