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Kent Archaeological Review extract
 

The KARGC Award Winning Essay --
The Roman Posting Station of Durolevum.
by Terence Bernard Barry.

Throughout the centuries the exact position and nature of the Romano-British settlement of Durolevum has excited the interest of many scholars, antiquarians and archaeologists. The main evidence for its existence results from the entry in the second Inter. of the Antonine Itinerary which refers to the Kentish Watling Street. It records a posting station 16 miles from Rochester and 12 from Canterbury (Roman miles). The exact mileage has been worked out, see note [1] which puts the site near Norton Ash. However, there are no recorded finds of the Roman period in this area, so that the mileage is no reliable guide to the exact situation of Durolevum.

Thus the varied ideas of many scholars as to the exact position of the settlement have been allowed their full play. Hasted, the renowned Kentish historian, writes at some length as to the differences of opinion among the scholars of his time. See note [2]. Many thought, at that time, that the settlement was situated on or near Keycol Hill, which is near Newington. Their theory is based on the difference in the mileage from Rochester to Durolevum in different copies of the Antonine Itinerary. The Peutinger Tables make is only seven miles from Rochester. The discovery of many Roman urns in 'Crock field' beside Keycol Hill also supported their view of the site of Durolevum. But Hasted also gives the views of scholars who place it near Ospringe, because the majority of copies of the Antonine Itinerary give the distance as 16 miles from Rochester to the settlement. He was sure of the existence of a strong military fort on Judd's Hill, to the north-west of Ospringe, because of "the remains of a very deep broad ditch". He also describes the "Roman Culinary Ware" and relates the discovery of coins of several Emperors in the garden of Judd House on top of the hill. He maintains that this is the site of the settlement, especially as it is in the vicinity of a stream which runs into Faversham Creek. That this is the site is further supported by the fact that the Latin prefix Dur- to the name of a settlement has always suggested the presence of water, i.e. Dubris and Durovernum. In later times George Payne writes of the argument between Roach Smith and Godfrey Faussett over the probable site of the station. Faussett contended that it was on Judd's Hill but Payne sounds a warning note that landscape gardeners could have altered the landscape so that the top of the hill resembled a Roman station. See note [3].

The most conclusive evidence to date of some kind of Romano-British settlement being near Ospringe are the many burials, which numbered over 387 (including 172 cremations) at Ospringe in the 1920s. In fact the excavators could only uncover approximately half of the cemetery because of the road and the adjoining shrubbery. The three eminent writers of the small subsequent research report see note [4] were so sure of the site of Durolevum that they wrote "That the Romano-British station of Durolevum was situated in or near the town of Faversham may, we, think, be considered a fact." Since then hearths have been discovered on each side of Watling Street at Ospringe which is one more indication of a settlement in the vicinity. Even as late as 1966 the Faversham Archaeological Research Group under Mr John Rose found Romano-British occupation debris from the first to the third century AD in a pit exposed by workmen on the south side of Watling Street which cuts through Judd's Hill. See note [5]. Early in 1967 the Faversham Archaeological Research Group, together with the Sittingbourne and Swale Archaeological Research Group, in a week-end "trial" excavation found occupation debris, mainly pottery of the second and third century AD, in the field just south of Watling Street and just north-west of Judd's Hill. See note [6].

In August, 1967, the Sittingbourne and Swale Archaeological Research Group under the direction of Lt Colonel G W Meates, FSA, assisted by Sir Eric Fletcher, PC, FSA, MP, and Mr Dudley Jackson, FSA, excavated the Chapel at Stone which is just to the north of Watling Street at the base of Judd's Hill. A probable fourth century Romano-British pagan mausoleum was found beneath the medieval church. The building has not been dated closely within the century because the excavation has not yet been completed, but at the moment the pottery finds and the later type of construction of the building have both tended to suggest the second half of the fourth century.

The large number of finds in the area all tend to further the view of many archaeologists that the Romano-British settlement of Durolevum is either at or very near Ospringe. There is no other area in the near vicinity which has been quite so rich in Romano-British remains. Geographically, Ospringe is the most likely location for the settlement. Here there is a junction between the creek, which would have been much more extensive than now, and the main road, Watling Street, affording good communications. Keycol Hill is too near Rochester to be an effective posting station whereas Ospringe is almost in the centre of the route from Rochester to Canterbury. The only other probable location is Milton Regis where there is another creek which provides good water communications. Yet, although many Roman remains have been found there, including several cemeteries, the finds have not been on the same scale of those at Ospringe.

The majority of people who are convinced that Durolevum is situated in or near Ospringe also contend that the settlement is situated on the hill where there is some kind of earthwork. However there is no reason why the settlement should not have been situated on or near the present location of Ospringe, near to the creek. That there was an earthwork on the hill in Roman times seems improbable as Kent was one of the most settled and unmilitary parts of Roman Britain. The only Roman military sites in Kent are the forts of the Saxon Shore and there was no necessity for a fort in this area as the forts of Reculver and Richborough are nearby. In 1966 when a gas main was cut across the earthwork to a depth of 18 inches not one sherd of Roman pottery was discovered, so that it is possible that the ramparts and ditches on the hill are a result of landscape gardening.

The excavations at the Romano-British cemetery at Ospringe from 1920 till 1923, and at Stone Chapel in 1967, show a continuity of settlement (at Durolevum, from the end of the first till the beginning of the fourth century AD. There is no doubt from the date of burial goods that the peak period of settlement was in the second and third century, and especially in the Antonine period (AD 140-190). The settlement of Durolevum would most probably have been rural in character with perhaps some links with the sea via the creek. There is still much to be discovered in order that a more complete picture can be drawn of Ospringe in Roman times. I feel that the excavations already undertaken only give us a glimpse of what might be discovered if more time and effort were given to this area. If the site of Durolevum can be found it will throw a new light on the Roman settlement pattern of North Kent.

I would like to thank Lt Colonel G W Meates, FSA, and Mr John Rose for the invaluable information they have given to me. I would also like to thank members of the Sittingbourne and Swale Archaeological Research Group Committee for their encouragement.

References.

  1. Kent Archaeological Review Number 7 pages 20-21.
  2. A History of Kent by Hasted Volume VI (1798) pages 43-46; 502-504.
  3. Collecta Antiqua Volume VII page 97 C Roach Smith. Collecta Cantiana pages 34-35 (1893) G Payne.
  4. Research Report on the Excavation of the Roman Cemetery at Ospringe, Kent of the Society of Antiquaries of London Number VIII (1931) Whiting Hawley, May.
  5. Kent Archaeological Review Number 7 pages 5-6.
  6. Kent Archaeological Review Number 7 page 6.
  7. Collecta Cantiana by G Payne page 58. Archaeologia Cantiana IX pages 164-173. Archaeologia Cantiana XXXIV page 157.
 
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