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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Digging up the Past (3) --
"The Amazing Ecclesiastic Mow'.
by Harold Gough.

The learned high jinks recalled in Part 2 were of the 19th century-the Age of Reason and Organisation in archaeology, as in many other fields. Perhaps a little more excusable, because some generations earlier, was the less public spoilation of more than 700 Kentish turmuli and graves, Roman and Saxon, by the Revd. Bryan Faussett, at intervals from 1759 to 1773.

The wealth of finds amassed by this industrious barrow-burrower found their way ultimately to Liverpool when the Trustees of the British Museum could not be persuaded to buy them. In 1856 a well-illustrated edition of his notebooks was published under the title "Inventorium Sepulchrale," edited by C Roach Smith. From this outwardly forbidding volume we can find some of the flavour of this clerical delver, and the way he worked. While staying at Crundale, near Wye, in June, 1757, he discovered that the parish clerk had been among the labourers engaged in a local dig half a century earlier, when but a few Roman graves had been dealt with. A gang was got together and put under the clerk's direction, with orders to be on site early next morning "but on no account to begin till I came to them. But they being over eager, could not it seems wait my coming; but began ..."

When Faussett and his host arrived, after inspecting the painted windows of the local manor house, two Roman graves had been summarily dealt with, and heaps of sherds, glass and burnt bone awaited them. "I was much vexed at this misfortune," he wrote, but would not blame the men for their excusable eagerness to oblige him. These two graves-or nests as the diggers called them-as well as the third, all included a fine "coralline patera- among the goods, and it turns out that these were Samian 18/31, and all had been smashed by the frantic picks. The fourth grave also yielded its 18/31, almost intact-until someone dropped it!

So Faussett continued, during the day, collecting material from eleven graves, and his final paragraph is worth quoting in full.

Here ended my search for this day, in which, I think, I met with uncommon success, if we consider either the number of things found or saved. For they were all of them so very rotten, while they were moist, that it was not without much care and great difficulty that I was able to save as many as I did. And with what I had already got, a person less enamoured of venerable antiquity than myself might, perhaps, have gone home satisfied. But it was not so with me; my appetite was not so easily cloyed. I flattered myself that there still remained many graves and barrows unopened. And as Mr. Filmer ... very genteelly gave me leave to dig, when and as often as I pleased, I determined within myself to continue my search, till I should have thoroughly examined the whole spot. I had no doubt of these remains being Roman; but in what age they were deposited did not, as yet, at all appear. But I flattered myself that a further search would enable me, by the finding of a coin, or some such thing, to give a near guess even at that."

Later work at Crundale produced 16 more graves, and he continued almost to the end of his life digging away on the Downs. On July 16, 1771, for example, he got through nine barrows in two hours of the early morning at Bishopsbourne, before riding on to Kingston to tackle another 24 the same day. The reason for his very early start that day is that the Bishopsbourne tumuli were very near the main road, and he wished to avoid the presence of sightseers. "We had little or no interruption, either from the curiosity or impertinence of passengers, or other idle spectators, the teazingness and plague of whose ill-timed attendance in business of this sort, is not to be conceived but by those who, like myself, have had the disagreeable experience of it." The reverend antiquary obviously had no need for a "dig-funds" box, and cared little for public relations!

There is a delightful episode in late 1760 at Gilton, not far from Sandwich, when two mill-workers demonstrated their method of "rifling" a grave in a sand-pit "in a horizontal manner, as if they had designed to have made an oven." As they were up on ladders, and Faussett was below with his servant, showered with blinding sand, he "desired them to desist but they were rather carried away and would not use more care until he tried "a little persuasion and a little brandy (without which nothing, in such cases as the present, can be done effectually)." Directors and Site Supervisors, please note.

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