This article appeared in the Spring 1970 (Issue #19) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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Springhead 1844 -- As seen by A. J. Dunkin (with interpolations 1969).
Reading some of the flowery prose favoured by Victorian antiquarians, it is very easy to dismiss as fanciful exaggerations, many of the theories expounded. To reject any evidence, however slight, because of the inadequacy or unacceptability of the conclusions, would be carrying the process of critical analysis too far. An effort to penetrate the smoke screen of verbiage can sometimes be rewarding.
In his chronicles of Kent-Lib II, Alfred J Dunkin paints a highly coloured picture of the early history of Springhead which I will pass over quickly, picking up the story with a description of a visit he paid to Springhead with his father. This is full of allusions and inferences which tantalise without revealing the foundations on which they are based. Instead of the: straight-line diagram which he used to identify the various features discussed, the identifying letters have been introduced into a sketch map on page 18 of the road system as it then was.
"August 22, drove with my father through Betsome and thence to the Watling Street, which we crossed (G) on the accompanying diagram and then turned to the left, to Springhead. The Watling Street from Stone Wood is now unused and either covered with wood or else cultivated to this point (G); thence, however, it continues a good road to Singlewell. The whole of this road (A) on the accompanying diagram was, during the present autumn, distinctly marked out by the long line of corn which stood upright, luxuriantly waving in the wind, while on all the rest of the surrounding highly cultivated soil it was broad to the surface by the summer storms. This circumstance also enabled us more plainly to see the course of the foundations elsewhere remaining in the same field. We then proceeded down the original road (C) on the accompanying diagramto the British watering place now called Springhead..."
"Arrived at these grounds and after an introduction of my father to their proprietor, Mr Silvester, who then threw open his cabinets and exhibited his hoards of antiquities, showing us at the last 400 Roman coins, varying from the size of a copper penny piece to some even smaller than a silver penny of the present maundy money, and a great many fibulae, two of which were so perfect in their springs, that even now they could be used for brooches. Only two British coins have hitherto been met with, and these Chas. Roach Smith, Esq., has engraved in Number 1 of his Collectanea Antiqua. Mr Silvester told us that his plan for obtaining these treasures was, to give his workmen four pence each for all antiquities they brought to him indiscriminately, provided they were just dug out of the ground."
"Mr S. next took us to see a continuation of the road we had come, which ran through his gardens, turned off at a right angle, till it joined the Watling Street, marked D in the plan (A is the Watling Street). It was in a new plantation -- some cabbages were growing thereon and they appeared withering for want of depth of soil. In the centre of this road was found this summer the quern of a hand-mill of so hard a material that a cement manufacturer told him he would give £10,000 for the secret of its composition."
In other writings A J Dunkin develops a theory that these querns were manufactured in the area. From the description there seems little doubt that the querns were made from conglomerate rock of natural origin, colloquially known as "pudding-stone."
"Mr S. informed us that his predecessor had dug up above a ton of horse-shoes which he had disposed of for old iron... Mr S.'s son then accompanied us to the place where the baths were some years since discovered by his father's predecessor, who built, on their foundation, the cottage at the entrance of the grounds (marked F in the plan). From thence we went into the opposite field (marked ABD) to a spot which, till this season, had remained in its primitive condition covered with brushwood, and then some of his men were permitted to plant potatoes if they grubbed up the stumps. Whilst accomplishing this, they found an enormous Roman foundation (B) constructed of surface flints embedded in mortar. At the southern side of the same field are indications of the foundations of a large building in the form of a crescent."
The "enormous" feature to which he refers could have been one of the temple buildings or the temenos wall which was certainly robbed in Victorian times or possibly the large building near the present entrance to the Springhead nurseries, the final traces of which were destroyed in the construction of the second carriageway of the M2 a few years ago. The vagueness of Dunkin's description makes it impossible to be more precise.
More interesting is the brief reference in the final paragraph quoted to the "foundations of a large building in the form of a crescent." It may be inferred that this was indicated by crop marks in a similar manner to the roads and buildings previously mentioned. If this is so, it provides a direct link with observations made during the late summer of 1969. Barley planted in the field to the southeast of the railway embankment (this now divides the field described by Dunkin, into two parts), was "laid" by late summer storms, except for an area where the growth was stunted and the straw remained substantially erect just as described by Dunkin a hundred and twenty five years ago. Furthermore, as the photograph on page 15 shows, the area had a crescent shaped form and the location is approximately that described.
This area will be subjected to a detailed resistivity survey as part of the winter activities of the Springhead group and it is to be hoped that this will prove rewarding. We are aware of other features in the same field, including part of the military ditch, and the masonry foundations of at least one building and it will provide a good testing ground for the resistivity meter.