diamond geezer

 Friday, November 27, 2009

An alphabetical journey through the capital's museums
Crofton Roman Villa

Location: Crofton Road, Orpington, BR6 8AF [map]
Open: Wed & Fri 10-1 & 2-5, Sun 2-5 (Apr-Oct only)
Admission: £1
Brief summary: mid-suburban Roman remains
Website: http://cka.moon-demon.co.uk/villa.htm
Time to set aside: half an hour

[In a brilliant piece of planning, I visited today's museum in October before it closed down for the winter. In a none-too-brilliant bit of timing, you won't be able to visit today's museum until Easter. So don't get too excited by what follows]

Crofton Roman VillaLondon was once a Roman stronghold, but the centre of the City has been so wholly and utterly developed over the centuries that barely any trace remains. Modern London boasts just one Roman villa open to the public, and that only because the boundaries of the capital have been stretched out to encompass chunks of Kent. Originally a remote rural farmstead, it's now conveniently located immediately adjacent to Orpington station. Ideal for commuting, if only the former residents had hung around for long enough.

The first modern Britons to uncover Crofton Roman Villa were Victorian navvies working on a railway cutting. There were no preservation orders in those days, nor was there any knowledge of what was being churned up, so a large part of the foundations were irrevocably lost. Wiser workmen laying driveways for new council offices in 1926 quickly realised that they were carving through Roman remains, but archaeological interest was lacklustre and yet more damage was done. Only in 1988, when the council planned to raze the area for a car park, did the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit step in. They excavated what was left, then built a protective shed around the site, and the public are now invited inside to view what they managed to save.

Crofton Roman VillaFrom Crofton Road, the bland municipal exterior looks like it might hold a youth club, swimming pool or church hall. Indeed no expense has been wasted outside - this is simply a big shed containing Roman leftovers. No permanent staff are employed, just a group of kindly volunteers who give up their time in case any members of the public might open the door and step inside. I would have had the entire place to myself, but a well-intentioned local parent had hired the villa for their child's birthday party and so a crowd of well-behaved under-10s were quietly assembling mosaics on a trestle table.

My volunteer guide, having swapped one pound coin for a quaint old admission ticket, gave me a quick rundown of the history of the place. The villa was owned by well-to-do farmers in around the 2nd-4th centuries AD, and stood on a ridge above the fertile banks of the River Cray (now culverted beneath Orpington's main shopping street). Of the 20 rooms thought once to exist, remnants of at least 10 survive - all at foundation level. Don't come expecting grand walls and tessellating pavements, although there is plenty of ancient brick infrastructure and also some illustrative reconstructed tiling. Here context is key, with labels and plans aplenty to explain what everything in front of you used to be. But best to hear it all from the guide ("that bit used to be the hypocaust - you know what a hypocaust was don't you?"). Mine confessed to being a retired teacher, in common with many of the other volunteers here, and her enthusiasm and expertise were put to good use.

Crofton Roman VillaI managed to explore the fenced-off perimeter of the Roman remains whilst carefully avoiding getting too close to the assembled birthday crowd. They were still busy mosaicing while I perused the "touch table" of genuine ancient stuff and the sandtray in which children pretend to be archaeologists. Then we swapped places, and I went to stand on the raised platform at the rear while they went to sit in the dressing-up corner. I earned a different perspective on the old villa, including a close up of where the underfloor central heating used to be, while the kids were held distantly spellbound by a selection of animal bones.

This is a defiantly low-key attraction, with the emphasis very much on archaeology rather than entertainment. The admission charge is merely tokenistic and couldn't possibly support the building's upkeep. The bookshop contains dense volumes solely of local interest rather than popular sciency tomes. And the Roman remains themselves require not inconsiderable amounts of visualisation, far exceeding the passive spoonfeeding most tourists seem to desire. Oh that there were more London museums like this, ploughing their own specialist furrow with love, care and conviction.
by train: Orpington

V is also for...
» Valence House Museum (closed for refurbishment until May 2010)
» Vestry House Museum (in Walthamstow Village)
» Victoria & Albert Museum (I've been) (who hasn't?)
» Vinopolis (expensive swilling joint)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream