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Kirk Sink

A fragment of mosaic. It is arched with three rows, the top pieces are black, the middle are red and the bottom is white,.

Mosaic fragment, made from tesserae, excavated from Kirk Sink. © Skipton Town Hall

Kirk Sink Roman Villa

Date c. AD 150-AD 350

Outside Gargrave

 

What is Kirk Sink?

Kirk Sink was a large Roman-style villa near Gargrave.

The Romans first invaded Britain in 55 BC, but didn’t settle in the north of England until around 100 years later. Military forts at Ilkley and Elslack were built around AD 100, and the first building at Kirk Sink dates to around AD 150-175. This coincides with a more peaceful period in local history, as the Roman frontier pushed further north and the fort at Elslack was abandoned.

Kirk Sink was lived in for hundreds of years, and over that time buildings were added and renovated many times. The properties were abandoned in the late AD 300s which corresponds with instability in the region, with Scottish tribes attacking further south into England. Roman rule ended in Britain around the early AD 400s.

Kirk Sink is an important site because it shows several phases of development over a long period.

A colour photograph of archaeologists excavating in a field. The stone foundations of a building are visible in the ground, with six square rooms.

Archaeologists excavating Kirk Sink in the early 1970s. © Skipton Town Hall

A fragment of wall with coloured paster on top. The plaster is mostly yellow with a stripe of red to one side.

A fragment of painted wall fresco. © Skipton Town Hall

What were the buildings like?

Roman villas were not just extravagant country houses. Villas were central to farming estates, and had many buildings and people living on them, working the land and rearing animals.

Unfortunately, we do not know who built or lived at Kirk Sink, or whether they were Roman themselves or simply locals building in a Roman style, but it is clear that they were wealthy. The first Roman-style building at Kirk Sink was a large house with mosaic floors, under-floor heating and a detached bath house. Over time, more Roman-style houses were built, each with multiple rooms and often decorated with painted wall plaster and mosaic flooring. Other structures were also added, related to farming at the site, and a complex field system is still visible on the ground.

Where did our collection come from?

The site was first identified in the 1700s as a Roman villa, but the first archaeological excavation of Kirk Sink was done in the early 1900s by Francis Villy, an amateur archaeologist from Keighley. He donated his finds to Cliffe Castle Museum. Then between 1968-1975, further excavations were carried out by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society and the University of Leeds. The finds from these excavations were donated to Craven Museum, and we hold a substantial amount of material from the site. These pieces include tesserae, oyster shells, amphora jugs and pieces of frescoes.

Two pieces of white oyster shell. One is triangular, and one is circular.

An almost complete oyster shell found at Kirk Sink. © Skipton Town Hall