Kirk Sink Villa

Kirk Sink villa at Gargrave was excavated over several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The site appears to have been occupied as a villa between the late 2nd century AD and the 4th century and consisted of a country house and several other farm buildings. Possibly owned by Romanised Britons, the farm may have provided food for the nearby Roman garrisons at Ilkley and Elsack.

The excavation

The dig was led by Mr Hartley from the Roman Archaeology Department at the University of Leeds, assisted by the Friends of Craven Museum.

Trial trenches were first dug on the farm land in 1968 in order to explore the area which had been previously excavated in 1911 by Francis Villy. This initial work indicated this was a highly planned site showing signs of Romanisation, with brick structures dating from 2nd to 4th centuries. Excavations were then held annually until 1975. The site, extending to the earthworks surrounding the villa, measures five acres.

The Site

The site appears to conform to a pattern of gradual elaboration of estates, with conversion of older barns and the addition of further buildings, creating a villa complex of a Romanised type. The Romanised style can be seen through the use of rooms for specific uses. Nearly all the buildings appear to have been altered at some point.

The estate went through several stages of development. Two buildings appear to have been built together in the early 3rd century AD and are of similar layout, containing four rooms and a corridor. Both these buildings had rooms decorated with mosaic floors. Only one room contained enough surviving fragments to show that these were of an unfigured pattern.

The walls of the two buildings were brightly painted, with pink borders along the bottom. The floors of some rooms were covered in lime mortar, which were later embellished with plain mosaic panels.

The building to the north of the site was altered in two stages. Firstly in the mid 3rd century AD, an addition of three further rooms was made, along with a covered walkway. Then a construction of a hypocaust system in the large south –western room was added. As this hypocaust raised the level of the floor in the room, new floors had to be put down in all the other rooms also. The finds of Huntcliff ware pottery in the building suggests its use continued into the late 4th century.

Two methods were used to make the rooftops. Some were made from tile and some from stone slabs fastened with nails. The tile roof tops were more elaborate and used the tegula and imbrex style of tiling. The tegula were flat tiles with raised edges which were laid flat, and the imbrex was a curved, half pipe shaped tile which was put over the joints of the tegula.

A square building also existed. This is thought to have been used as an office, perhaps used by the estate manager or bailiff, to meet tenants, collect rents etc. This building was originally linked to the main structure by a covered walkway and contained mosaic floors and some painted plaster walls.

There is also evidence of an earlier, round timber structure which survived into the villa period. It is thought that such a building could have remained in use as a shelter for workers in bad weather, and not actually used as housing.


Several of the rooms used hypocaust systems for heating. This was a form of under floor central heating. A hypocaust system is made up of raised floors, supported by short pillars, allowing hot air which would have been drawn from an external furnace, to circulate and flow beneath the floor. This hot air was also carried up through some of the walls which were made from hollow box flue tiles, called tubulae. These box shaped tiles also helped to remove the hot air from the room.

The Bathhouse

The complex contains two bathing areas; an internal bath suite and an external bath house. The separate bath house, in the north east corner of the site was excavated in 1973. It suggests that the estate owner may have been providing bathing facilities for his workers and tenants. This would have been an expensive activity, both in the construction and the provision of a continuous water supply. The site provides evidence for the way water was brought to the villa from the nearby hillside, with the discovery of some wooden pipes with iron collars.

The bathhouse also went through two stages of development. The second phase was mainly concerned with refurbishment. Many features have been identified including: a dressing room; a frigidarium (the large cold bathing pool) complete with a drain for the waste water; the caldarium (the hot bath) and the tepidarium (the warm bath); the laconicum (the dry sweating room); and the furnace.

The finds

Much of the building materials were excavated at the site, along with the water pipes. Fragments of tessellated flooring as well as mosaic floors were discovered in several of the rooms.

Fragments were also discovered from timber framed buildings, thought to date to the 2nd century. In the clay flooring of one of the three buildings found, was a bill hook blade, usually associated with craftsmen, farmers and woodcutters.

Other finds can be seen on display at Craven Museum & Gallery.

Information compiled by Elizabeth Faley.

Archaeological Plan of the Kirk Sink Villa

Archaeological Plan of the Kirk Sink Villa

Fragment of a wall decoration

Fragment of a wall decoration

Diagram of roof construction

Diagram of roof construction

Photograph of the Remains of the Hypocaust Heating System

Photograph of the Remains of the Hypocaust Heating System