SD9395 5356. The faint earthworks of the Roman villa known as Kirk Sink are located on a flat area of fertile farmland close to the river Aire, half a mile south-east of Gargrave. At the southern edge of the Roman site is the railway line to Gargrave station and, just a little beyond that, a lane leads to the eastern side of Gargrave village. The earthworks are on private land and in that respect access is difficult. A private house takes part of the far south-eastern part of the field in which the earthworks lie, though this does not appear to have caused any underlying problems with regard to the ancient site. Thank goodness for that! Surrounding the Roman site are traces of a ditched field-system covering upto 100 acres.
Today the earthworks consist of two faint enclosures set slightly apart. These are probably different phases of construction. The site measures 300 feet by 180 feet. But the actual site was late Iron-Age in date, and there was some sort of settlement belonging to the Brigantes with timber and turf circular huts, one of which was still in existance during the Roman period but, then in the 2nd century AD the villa was built. This building had a corridor with central entrance, a mosaic floor and under-floor heating system. The bathhouse with it’s pillared hypocaust was detached from the villa. There was also a temple. At some point in the 3rd century the villa was abandoned; however, in the late 3rd or early 4th century AD, two new buildings were added along with a single square-shaped building, an administrative block, that may have been linked by a covered walkway to the other buildings/houses. These buildings appear to have been added to from time to time. In the late 4th century the place was finally abandoned altogether, or was it?
Archaeological excavations took place here in the 18th and 19th centuries, but a major dig took place between 1968-75 conducted by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society in conjunction with Leeds University. Many of the finds were deposited at the Craven museum, Skipton, and at Cliffe Castle museum, Keighley. These include Samian ware, glass, bronze artefacts, cheese presses and many large and small pieces of tessera.
Garlick (1988) tells us that: “The site, in flat fields at Kirk Sink between the railway and the factory, has been examined by Mr. B. R. Hartley for the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. Finds in 1969 included coins, pottery, a large key, bill hook and an iron stylus or pen used for writing on wax tablets. The pottery and structural evidence shows the farmstead occupied down into the late 4th century. Gargrave is one of the few villas identified in the military zone and its total excavation will throw interesting light on Roman farming in an area of predominantly native farmsteads. Perhaps at one period it was the farm of a retired veteran from a nearby fort? Finds from the Kirk Sink excavations can be seen in the Craven Museum, Skipton. No villa sites are yet known further west.”
The original St Andrew’s church in the nearby village of Gargrave was built with robbed stone from the Kirk Sink site in the 10th-11th century, on what was a pre-Christian, pagan site. The present-day 16th century church houses a number of carved fragments of 9th century Anglo-Saxon/Norse cross(s). But was St Andrew’s the first church here? There is “some” evidence suggesting that an early British church was built on the site of Kirk Sink Roman villa – hence the name “Kirk”. This would perhaps have been a building something similar to a Celtic-style church. But there is a big question mark with regard to this. There was almost certainly a Roman temple here. So was the site occupied in the 5th or 6th century AD by a Celtic chieftain, quite possibly.
Sources / References:
Garlick, Tom, A Dalesman White Rose Guide — Roman Yorkshire, The Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, 1978.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2012 (up-dated 2020).