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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Medieval Kiln Sites in Blean Forest.
by Brian Philp, John Swale.

In 1960 extensive field-surveys were started in the Blean Forest area some three miles south of Whitstable. These were undertaken by members of the Reculver Group living at Canterbury, Herne Bay and Whitstable. The survey started as a result of discoveries made inside the Roman fort at Reculver in 1959 when two large pits containing medieval pottery were excavated. It seemed probable that this pottery had been manufactured in the Blean Forest area where kilns had been seen, but not recorded.

The only account of the discovery of a kiln in the area was in 1942 after a German bomb had exploded on a previously unknown pottery waster-heap near Tyler Hill (Arch. Cant. LV (1942), pages 57-64). A short study of the pottery of this Tyler Hill type was later made by Gerald Dunning (Arch. Cant. LXIX (1955). page 145) who was able to list seven sites east of Blean where similar material had been recovered in purely domestic contexts. It seemed clear that the area was an important industrial centre in medieval times and that its products, both tile and pottery, must have been reaching many sites in East Kent.

The present survey conducted under the name "Forest of Blean Research," has been pursued on a systematic basis. Large areas of woodland and farmland have been searched as time and weather permitted and careful note made of any signs of industrial activity. As the work progressed more and more evidence was collected, and by 1966 a dozen seperate sites had been recorded. Samples from waster-heaps, including tile and pottery, were taken from previously disturbed sites and much of this is now at Reculver for study. A brief talk on some of the very early discoveries was given at Canterbury in 1961.

The material from the bomb-hole site was dated to the end of the 13th century, but this must remain only tentative. John Hurst has recently pointed out (Med. Arch. 6-7) the difficulties of dating medieval pottery, and has suggested that the subject should be approached with an open mind. Perhaps all we can really say is that it seems likely that the industries in the Blean Forest area were active for most of the 13th and 14th centuries and probably beyond.

In the summer of 1967 a damaged tile-kiln was excavated and recorded by members of the Group. This was rectangular in shape and of the double-chamber type. Its width was about 10 feet and its length greater than 4 feet. Each of the chambers was just over 3 feet wide and divided from the other by a central spine wall just 8 inches wide. The oven floor (missing) had been supported above the chambers on a series of arched flues springing from the sides and from the central spine. The bases of two of the supports survived and these indicated that the piers had been 6 inches square and spaced at intervals of 9 inches. The kiln was constructed of fragments of glaze-splashed roof-tile doubtless wasters from an earlier kiln on the same site. The stoke-hole appears to have been on the north side.

The surviving portion of this kiln closely resembles another excavated by the Group at Hartley in 1964. This related to a substantial earthwork known to contain medieval buildings. Another very similar structure was excavated at Beverley, Yorkshire (Med. Arch. V (1961), page 137) which was some 12 feet by 10 feet. The chambers there were 8 feet 10 inches in internal length and just under 3 feet wide. The spine wall was 9 inches wide. The Beverley kiln was used for the manufacturer of roof tiles at the end of the 13th century or very early in the 14th century. It, too, had replaced an earlier kiln on the same site.

The survey in the Forest of Blean will continue during 1968 when it is hoped that further kilns will be located and excavation, where appropriate, attempted.

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