Andrew Selkirk Editor in Chief writes:
Lullingstone Roman villa Last word...
he Lullingstone Roman villa has just been reopened after a year-long £1.3 million refurbishment by English Heritage. Lullingstone is one of the best-known Roman villas in south east England, having been the subject of a one of the great heroic amateur excavations in the 1950s conducted by Col. Meates. Following this, the Ministry of Works erected a cover building over the villa in 1961. However, the roof has been leaking, so English Heritage has now completed a major refurbishment.
Lullingstone is one of the nearest Roman villas to London. It lies some 10 miles south east of London along the Darenth Valley in Kent, just off the M25 London ring road. There is a considerable density of villas along the Darenth Valley, which would have been within a day’s reach of London itself.
Above The villa as illuminated during the opening film. Inset The refurbished building. It is just possible to see that the villa’s back is cut into the hillside, which meant that expansion had to be planned laterally with a kitchen at one side and the baths at the other. T
verses from Virgil’s Aeneid.
The main impression of the new layout is of Stygian gloom. Windows have all been removed and the lighting is now all artificial, in order to accomodate the film show which is now the centrepiece of the visit. A visit begins in the elevated gallery, which looks down over the villa. Then, as the film plays, different parts of the villa are illuminated on the ground. Only at the end are all the lights turned on and the whole can to some extent be seen.
The villa is best known for its Christian wall paintings, now displayed in the British Museum. However the building itself has some quite unusual features. It is basically a standard winged corridor villa, but the central corridor part is unusually narrow. The model shows only four pillars in front, which is probably too narrow — the computer reconstruction in the film shows eight pillars along the corridor. Instead of the corridor fronting a row of rooms, there is only a single large entrance hall with a splendid formal dining room at the back, which has a fine mosaic showing Bellerophon and the Chimera and two
Experts on Roman villas will note that the dating differs from that given in the excavation report. When David Neal carried out his study of the mosaics for his Corpus of Roman Mosaics, he studied the villa and produced a reassessment of the date (as yet unpublished). The main results suggest that the first stone building was not built until the second century and that total abandonment in the third century was unlikely, though there probably was a period of decline between the second and fourth centuries.
A visit to the villa makes a popular day out, as there are two other major attractions in the vicinity: Lullingstone Castle, with its fine Queen Anne house and World Garden, and Eynsford Castle, which is a virtually untouched early Norman castle. In the 13th century, there was a family quarrel which meant that the castle was never developed. So, there is just the curtain wall (with no motte), hall and solar, which are well displayed on the ground. ca archaeologycurrent 223