This article appeared in the Spring 1971 (Issue #23) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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The Excavation of the Medieval Town of Stonar, 1970.
Rescue-excavations for the Ministry of Public Building and Works, on the Medieval town of Stonar, have been underway since March 1970, and are expected to continue for some time. The town itself was sited on the Stonar gravel bank, which accumulated during the Roman period. It is this gravel which is now being commercially worked and has been since the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Prior to the present excavations little work apart from rescue-collection and limited face excavation was done on the site. Unfortunately, what was done was not accompanied by sections or plans relative to the site as a whole, so any idea of the original extent of Stonar town has been virtually lost. Certainly rather more than half has gone.
As to the date of the town, the first reliable documentary reference is to 1087, though this is not a direct mention of an occupied site, this comes in 1090 when Stonar is described as a "town." The settlement was certainly in existence before this date and occupation was continuous till the supposed sacking by the French in 1385. However, the present excavations have failed to confirm either of these dates, as yet. The earliest safe date that can be given at the moment is circa 1100-1150, due to the presence of imported Andenne ware. It seems that Stonar during this period was no more than an oversize village, with an economy based partially on trade, but in the main relying on fishing and farming. Very little structural evidence remains of this phase, apart from a few hearths, occupation filled hollows and one artificial gravel bank. The same is true for most of the thirteenth century prior to about 1280, even though the town was increasing in prosperity, as indicated by the larger quantities of English and foreign imported wares.
From the archaeological evidence it seems that it was not until the late thirteenth century that Stonar grew in size and prosperity and became a significant threat to Sandwich as a rival trading port. This latter point is well attested, now, by excavation -- more substantial structures, roads, possible warehouses, coin evidence, large amounts of imported ware (Dutch, French, non-local English and occasionally Spanish) and a greater frequency of metal objects. All indicate beyond doubt, a town and inhabitants of wealth and substance.
It is only now after nearly one year of excavation that any satisfactory pattern to the town's layout is emerging -- of the final period that is. The layout in the present area excavated consists of rows of houses and streets running north-west to south-east which link-up with a road running north-east to south-west, i.e. at right-angles, the latter possibly bordered by warehouses. Virtually all the structures of this phase, have been destroyed by fire and in the more extant examples even the direction of collapse can be determined. Whether this destruction phase should be equated with the French raid, will depend entirely on a detailed analysis of the pottery when the excavation is complete.
Finally, very considerable thanks must be given to all the numerous people who have helped in one way or another, with the success of these excavations.