The Roman Painted House, the finest Roman House on show in Britain, was discovered by Kent Archaelogical Rescue Unit. Forty years of excavation across ancient Dover by the Unit have uncovered 50 major structures. The Painted House was the best preserved and is now a major tourist attraction. Built about AD 200 it formed part of a large mansio or official hotel, for travellers crossing the Channel. It stood outside the great naval fort of the Classis Britannica, but in AD 270 it was demolished by the Roman army during the construction of a larger fort.
The long-lost Roman 'Saxon Shore' fort, predicted by Sir Mortimer Wheeler and found by the Kent Unit in 1970, lies buried under modern Dover. A large section of its west wall, together with a major bastion, survive inside the Roman House cover building. These cut through Rooms 3, 4 and 5.
After discovery in 1970 the Kent Unit promoted a major tourist-preservation scheme and the House was opened in 1977, on behalf of the Dover Roman Painted House Trust. Over 700,000 visitors have seen the Roman House which is open for 150 days each year. Admission charges and voluntary effort almost cover the running-costs. The Scheme won four national awards, including "The Best Preservation of an Archaeological Site in Britain" (Country Life Award). "Outstanding Tourist Enterprise" (B.T.A. Award) and "Museum of the Year Award". The Unit also won the famous Silver Trowel Award, presented to it by H R H Prince Charles.
Roman Central Heating
The walls in four rooms survive to a height of 4-6 feet and the hard red concrete floors cover substantially complete central-heating systems. Visitors can see the large arched flues, the various heating channels and the vertical wall-flues that kept the building comfortably warm 1,800 years ago.
Unique Roman Wall Paintings
The burial by the Roman Army resulted in the unique survival of over 400 square feet of Painted plaster, the most extensive ever found north of the Alps. Above a lower dado, of red or green, visitors can still see an architectural scheme of many coloured panels framed by fluted columns. The columns sit on projecting bases above a stage, producing a clear 3-D effect. Parts of 28 panels survive, each with a motif relating to Bacchus, the Roman God of wine.
As with the Crofton Roman Villa in Orpington, we take bookings for school visits, which include fun activites and facinating facts about Roman life in Dover. Please see our 'Information for Teachers' section below for further information.
All proceeds go towards further rescue work in Kent.
Dr. Philp’s new book, ‘Archaeology on the front line - 70 years of rescue 1952 - 2022 across Kent and S.E. London’ is out now!
A fascinating record of his 70 year career, the book covers sites across Kent and S.E. London.
These booklets are also available to purchase for £6.00.
Excavations in the Ancient Town of Sandwich (Part 1)
Excavations in the Ancient Town of Sandwich (Part 2)
Rescue Excavations in West Kent
The Discovery of a Roman Settlement in the Centre of Gravesend, Kent
Prehistoric Sites on the Kent M25 Motorway
Kent Archaeological Review
Although the Council for Kentish Archaeology (CKA) has ceased to function the Kent Unit holds most of the back numbers of the Kent Archaeological Review and these can be purchased from KARU (at £1 a copy, plus postage), presently only by post, but normally also from the Roman House, Dover.
This major tourist attraction is managed and staffed entirely by volunteers, who have worked here for the past 39 years. There are no paid staff. Occasionally, through illness or other problems, some volunteers may not be available as planned and (rarely) days may be missed. If your visit involves a long journey, you might consider phoning the Painted House in advance to ensure that it's open when you arrive –01304 203279.
Activities at the Roman Painted House
Please note that activities may be limited until further notice.
Graphic displays of the excavations and RPH
The Touch Table with a selection of Roman finds from the excavation for handling
Replica Roman everyday objects, including pots, jewellery, lamps and writing tablets
Activities for children - Roman games to play, mosaic making, dressing up as Romans and digging for finds in the excavation tray
Roman soldier 'rubbings'
Gift shop selling guide books, postcards, souvenirs and books on local archaeology
Special Exhibit of Finds
Following the publication of the Roman shore-fort at Dover in 2012 (KARU Volume 11 of Kent Monograph Series) a special display of some of the outstanding Roman artefacts discovered during the rescue excavations are now on display.
It is well worth making a visit to the Roman Painted House at Dover just to see these and several other amazing pieces in this special display!
On display we have this fine sculpted marble head of a woman. It has been suggested she could be the Empress Sabina, Consort of the Emperor Hadrian or of a woman who copied Sabina's hairstyle. It might have been set in an alcove in a wall and used as a shrine during the Classis Britannica period.
Part of a well-cut inscription is also on display. The fragment consists of just parts of two lines with faint traces of red paint in the letters. The upper three letters (VSI) is unusual and the lower sT suggests a Classis Britannica link. It is suggested this piece was part of a monumental dedication inscription.
This headless sculpture ia a fine example of a statue representing a third life-size Roman wearing a full toga.
Information for Teachers: School Visits to the Roman Painted House
Please note that we are unable to take school bookings at present. We are keeping a close eye on government guidelines. Please keep checking our website for updates.
Managed by the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit staff
Your school is cordially invited to visit this major Roman site at Dover and to take part in its special Roman Life Activity Workshops.
Bookings and Other Details
Workshop sessions: Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10am or 12.45pm
£3.00 per child; teachers and helpers free (maximum 5 per class)
Teachers and helpers are asked to help with supervision
Each session lasts about two hours
Telephone 01304 203279 (9am - 5pm: Tuesdays and Wednesdays in October - December, and March (from the 18th March); Tuesdays to Fridays in April to September) -- or Write to Roman Painted House, 25 New Street, Dover, Kent CT17 9AJ
The Roman House is close to Dover Town Centre and 600 metres from Dover Priory Station
There is a forecourt for limited car parking and off loading coaches
An introductory talk by an archaeologist on the exciting discovery and excavation of the Roman forts and the Roman Painted House. To illustrate one aspect of life in the Roman Dover, three children can be dressed as Romans -- as a Roman lady, a Roman senator and a Roman slave boy.
A guided talk on the key elements of the Roman House -- its in situ wall paintings relating to the god Bacchus, its well preserved underfloor central heating system (hypocaust), its construction by the Roman navy in AD 200 and partial demolition and burial later (AD 270) by the Roman army when it built its new fort.
Other activities include:
Handling, drawing and labelling Roman artefacts: each child has a tray of 'finds', including pottery, oyster shells and building materials from the Dover excavations.
'Brass-rubbings' of 14 centimetre high Roman figures to take back to school. These include various ranks of Roman soldiers, Julius Caesar, a Roman marine, the Dover lighthouse (pharos) and a Roman merchant ship.
Mosaic making: each child has a tray of multi-coloured 'tesserae' and Roman patterns to follow.
Sample worksheets can be provided for schools to copy, if these are preferred to one of the above activities.
Touch table of Roman artefacts combined with a visit to the sales desk. Items, mostly under £2.00, include a guide book, postcards, colouring book on Dover and souvenirs.