Archaeology in Canterbury and Kent
I decided to leave the blog this week until today because I wanted to highlight a lecture that took place this evening at Canterbury Christ Church. For years Dr Paul Bennett, as Director of Canterbury Archaeological Trust, has been delivering his annual review of the work of the Trust. Indeed, as he said this evening, he has done this for several decades albeit its designation as The Frank Jenkins Memorial Lecture is more recent. The idea of the lecture as a memorial was especially fitting today because Paul began his talk by remembering four highly valued people: Crispin Jarman who had been a Trust employee since 1991 and whose particular expertise had been as a surveyor, including his work on the vast Thanet Earth site; Patrizia Macri who had also lost her battle against cancer and who had been part of the Trust’s team in the early 2000s before successfully completing her PhD in archaeology at Cambridge; Nick Spurrier who had been a key figure in ‘A Town Unearthed’ as the publicity officer of this Folkestone-based community project that had involved both Canterbury Archaeological Trust and Canterbury Christ Church; and perhaps the man who will be most missed, not least because of his involvement in so many projects and organisations. Readers of this blog will have read about Ian Coulson before, but I cannot miss him out because, as Paul showed, he was such a towering presence in so many aspects of history and archaeology in the county, and his untimely death has robbed the Trust, and History at Christ Church of a major friend, partner and inspirational presence.
To turn to the archaeological activities of the Trust, Paul began by recording the important work of Jake Weekes as the overseer of desk-based assessments and Andy Linklater’s similar role as organiser of the widespread watching briefs that are also conducted on sites both within Kent and beyond the county boundary. Paul then turned to several important projects that have been undertaken by Trust staff, volunteers such as the Dover Group and various other community groups, trainee archaeologists, schoolchildren and even pre-school children who enjoyed
‘The Little Dig’. For if the Jesuits understood the value of recruiting under sevens, this may be equally true for budding archaeologists!
Of the sites Paul featured this evening, I’ll give you a list to illustrate the richness and diversity of the Trust’s work, and note a few highlights that particularly interested me. So what did Paul cover? Well he started with the massive, multi-site excavations at and around Woolcomber Street in Dover led by Keith Parfitt. These have featured in the blog before so I’ll just mention two things. Firstly, the locals in the high Middle Ages didn’t believe in digging pits for their rubbish and instead apparently viewed it as useful material for raising the road surface and for dumping in their yards, perhaps as a rapid means to compensate for the swampy ground of the old harbour area. The other involves the finding a garderobe tower and shaft, beautiful barrel-vaulting and cess from several centuries.
Paul then moved on to three projects in which Dr Andrew Richardson is heavily involved as the Trust’s outreach officer. The first of these East Wear Bay also encompasses the Archaeological Field School offering participants the opportunity to learn good archaeological techniques on a Roman and prehistoric site. Some of the students came from within Kent but the School has drawn in others from mainland Europe and one from as far away as the Texas State University. As an educational resource this Folkestone-based establishment is a brilliant achievement and hopefully some of the nearer universities will begin to see its value in the coming years. It has already received a grant from Kent Archaeological Society, another endorsement of its importance and this partnership is likely to continue in the future – Andrew Richardson will be giving a talk about the project at the AGM of the Society later in the year.
Two further community-based grant-aided projects involving Andrew and the Trust are the South Foreland Lighthouse and further inland ‘Surveying 20th Century Defences in the White Cliffs Area’. The former has uncovered artefacts from the late Roman period in the form of coins through to a cricketer’s badge and a lighthouse keeper’s button. It has also provided the team with the opportunity to investigate how a pair of lighthouses worked, as well as the possibility of exploring several phases of lighthouse construction on the various sites. Similarly the investigations of Great and Second World War pill boxes and other defensive structures have offered volunteers the chance to explore the more recent past. By clearing undergrowth and exposing these structures, including one where construction had only reached one course of blockwork above ground before it was halted by those in authority in favour of a new design, the volunteers have gained considerable insights into the defence of the Dover area, as well as having a very enjoyable time.
Paul then went on to mention Christopher Sparey-Green’s examination, again with the help of volunteers, of Homestall Wood. So far some late Iron Age into 1st-century pottery has been found but this is still at an early stage and other discoveries are likely to follow. Similarly the community-excavations in the Westgate Gardens have proved to be both popular and encouraging in terms of what has been uncovered thus far. The trial trenches at Herne Bay Golf Club are also showing lots of potential. Work at the St Mildred’s Tannery site in Canterbury has been in progress for many years and it too is gradually releasing its secrets. This year Paul drew attention to Simon Pratt’s work there on a rainwater collecting tank that apart from being extremely deep has yielded an Anglo-Saxon timber culvert and also a small piece of Roman tessellated pavement.
The other major site Paul discussed is that ahead of the major redevelopment which will see large blocks of student accommodation beside and behind Augustine House. This too has been mentioned in the blog in relation to Andrew Richardson’s talk a few weeks ago, but again I’ll just mention a couple of matters that particularly interested me. The first concerns the finding of part of the massive early Norman outer ditch beyond the motte-and-bailey castle. Paul was very keen to highlight the sheer scale of the ditch and thus the necessary manpower that would have been required for its construction in the aftermath of William’s success at Hastings. The other item involves one of the 200 plus graves that have been found, for in this one there are some particularly important belt fittings. From their style they would seem to have come from the Danube or Black Sea area and date from the first half of the 5th century, thereby being a rare burial from the period after the Romans’ departure – a view into a particularly opaque period of Canterbury’s city.
Like Paul I don’t have space for a review of Rupert Austin and Peter Seary’s building recording, but needless to say they have been exceedingly busy. The list of buildings they have recorded and researched in long and encompasses both buildings in Kent and further afield. Among the former are the earlier Sun Inn in the Buttermaket, another inn, this time the Maiden’s Head in Wincheap and Canterbury Cathedral’s NW transept. Of those beyond the county boundary are places such as the Temple Church in London, St Alban’s Abbey, and this year Rupert will be examining the greatest medieval hall in England: Westminster Hall. So as always Paul presented a tour-de-force, his audience fascinated by the scale and detail of the Trust’s work in 2015, and Paul’s ability to bring it alive. Such skills will also be on display at the Medieval Canterbury Weekend when Paul leads two guided tours of iconic medieval Canterbury buildings; and it is also worth mentioning that Keith Parfitt will be one of the speakers at the conference on Richborough, the other major event in the Centre’s calendar during the next few months.