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Kent Archaeological Review extract

A Fort at Springhead?
by S R Harker.
(Excavations Director.)

Woven into the tapestry of Springhead there are many threads, building up a pattern of four or more centuries of Roman influence and occupation. The picture is slow to emerge and there are many gaps. One thread, of which we have so far had only tantalising glimpses, is what we call F.28 or more descriptively, the "Military ditch."

In the winter of 1963 the bulldozers, scrapers and JCB's were clawing their way through the Springhead area in the construction of an additional carriageway to bring the A2 road up to motorway standard. In particular a deep trench was being cut to a depth of 10-12 feet to accommodate gas mains. The rate at which this trench was cut; with pipes being laid and backfilling completed in 40-foot sections every 24 hours, did not permit much archaeological attention though observation was maintained as continuously as possible as the trenching progressed.

It was Brian Philp keeping closely in touch with developments in collaboration with members of the Springhead group, who first noted what appeared to be a large ditch North of the A2 at a slight angle to the new trench. This was visible for a distance of about 70 feet and was picked up again on the same alignment some distance farther on. Such an important feature obviously required further investigation and in due course a JCB was hired to cut a 250-foot exploratory trench on the south side of the carriageway across the line of a possible return.

This exposed two ditches approximately 45 feet apart, one of which corresponded closely to that already noted. The section showed a V-shaped ditch with a bottom slot to a depth of 9 feet below original ground level. (The road builders had deposited 2-3 feet of clay over the area). The depth from lip to bottom was 5 feet and the width across the lips approximately 9 feet. The ditch had evidently gone out of use at a very early date since it was overlaid by about 2 feet 6 inches of occupation debris dateable to the Antonine period. A Roman pit dug through these layers included a coin of AD 180.

The shape suggests a military ditch though the size is somewhat small and there was no indication of a rampart at this point. A large post hole on the outer lip provides a possible explanation since it could have housed a support for a bridge by an entrance. Whatever its original purpose, it seems to have gone out of use in the 1st century from the evidence of the filling and the presence of an adjacent building in use during 1st half of the 2nd century which would have blocked entrance in this area.

The evidence therefore suggests a military construction of which we have located only the North-East corner. (The second smaller ditch [F.29] is assumed to be part of the defences). If this is so the size and function remain to be established. Three possibilities come to mind -- a marching camp, a Claudian fort or perhaps construction camp used when the Watling Street was being built. (It is in fact associated with the only major re-alignment for many miles in either direction).

The ditch cannot have been less than 316 feet along its North-East face and assuming a square plan would therefore have enclosed an area of roughly 2 acres. On the other hand it is unlikely to have exceeded 700 feet because of the nature of the ground and the presence of the creek. This would suggest an upper limit of 11 acres. This range of area does not preclude any of the possibilities outlined in the previous paragraph.

Unfortunately resistivity surveys have proved surprisingly uninformative. Even in the area where the ditch is known to exist there is no clear indication, although less obvious features have been readily identified. There is, however, some slight evidence to suggest a length of 550 feet for the East and West sides. Since we are currently excavating in a strip of ground nearly at right angles to the known section and 450-750 feet distant, there is a distinct possibility that 1969 may provide the evidence we need to support one or other of the postulations made in these notes.

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