Keston 55BC


Keston in Kent Since 8000BC

Wave after wave of invaders has arrived and integrated with the native population of Keston from Iron age settlers, to Anglo-Saxons, Romans and, in this century, refugees from around the world.

What makes this so interesting for the archaeologist and the historian is that consequently, Keston manages to combine some of the most ancient and modern strands of British culture in its rich history. something which few regions can boast.

Cavemen, otherwise known as Paleolithic Man, were around from about 8,000BC. There is no evidence that he roamed Keston’s virgin forests, although flint and stone axes from this period have been found at Ramsden, Orpington and Green Street Green, although probably deposited by soil movements.

There is significant evidence of Neolithic and Bronze age settlements in Kent, which is thought to get its name from the Cantiaci tribe, but it was the arrival of Iron Age warriors in around 200BC that has really left its mark in Kent. No more so evident than the massive Hill Fort at Keston, now within the grounds of Holwood House. A Fort which provided the defences for perhaps hundreds of small farming families.

Holwood Hill fort, named “Caesar’s Camp” by the Victorian historians unable to grasp the astonishing fact that things could actually be older than Roman, is the most interesting of the prehistoric remains to be found in Kent.

Although part of the land was destroyed for a landscaped garden in the nineteenth century, much of it can still be seen. A mile long outer wall enclosed 43 acres of land, and within the wall were two ditches and three ramparts some of them 40ft tall.

The secretary of the Kent Archaeological Rescue unit Edna Mynott is suitably impressed by the site.”It must have taken hundreds of people a number of years to build, when you think they were just using flint tools and axes, it was a real feat of organisation,” she said “this fort was massive the ‘civic centre’ of the tribe.”

Julius Caesar arrived in Keston in 55BC for two weeks only; the following year he returned with 30,000 men but this time he turned North near Westerham to ford the Thames above Kingston. the arrival of the Romans did not spell the end for the Iron age tribes, all the evidence suggests they were able to co-habit quite peacefully.

About 100 years later another Roman army came. This time Aulns Phantins was in command. He found the Britons a bit much so he sent a messenger for Emperor Claudias and waited at Holwood. (In about 1798 –1800 a stone coffin, coins, a dagger and a spur together with many pieces of pottery were found). A Roman terracotta lamp was unearthed in 1882 by a gardener close to Keston Common. The name Keston was thought to be a corruption of the name Casterton or Chesterton or as the Briton’s would pronounce it Kasterton.

In the Doomsday book the name is given as Cheston.

Holwood in 1754 became the rendezvous for political heads of the time. In 1784 the Right Hon. William Pitt purchased the Holwood Estate, and by building the Manor House that now stands, destroyed most of the Roman camp.

William Wilberforce was a frequent visitor to Keston to see his friend William Pitt. He would often visit the oak tree now called “The Wilberforce Oak” and contemplate matters on the stone seat that still remains. This now bears the following inscription from Mr Wilberforce’s diary in 1788. “Just above a steep descent into the vale of Keston, I resolved to give notice on a fit occasion in the House of Commons of my intention to bring forward the abolition of the Slave Trade.” This was well remembered after a conversation with Mr Pitt, in the open at the root of an old tree at Holwood.


The “Wilberforce Seat” (43 K JPG)


The “Wilberforce Oak” (36 K JPG)

Near to the Holwood Estate lies Keston church dated 1216. The nave of the church turns a little to the North. This is thought to be because of the belief that the head of Our Lord fell upon his right shoulder when he died upon the cross. Such a chancel is called the weeping chancel. There are four nave windows “faith” “prayer” “love” and “hope”.

The windmill at Keston dates from 1716. The upper structure was renewed and framework strengthened in 1913 and still stands today although it is in a sorry state of repair.

One thought on “Keston 55BC”

  1. In the 1960s the family from Rouse Farm in Coney Hall was able to use part of Holwood Houseland to keep horses. It allowed some people to have ‘grass liveries’ there and I kept a pony there. Our base was next to Caesar’s Camp earth works and the old cricket pitch. We used the bomb craters on the estate to help strengthen the horses by trotting or cantering up and down their sides. I remember jumping the stile onto the footpath running behind Holwood and jumping out at the other end; traffic would prevent this now.
    Holwood Park and the seismograph station held a historical magic for me as a teenager with so many different associations and Keston features in one of J M Surtees equestrian novels too.

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