Skip to Content.

Kent Archaeological Review extract

The Excavation of a Medieval Tile Kiln near Canterbury 1971.
by Duncan Harrington.

The University of Kent Archaeological Society has been continuing its researches into the tile and pottery industry that was centred on Tyler Hill (KAR Number 10, page 15, Number 19, pages 26-28 and Number 21, pages 11-12). With the permission of the farmer Mr F Stevens, a chance to conduct a further excavation occurred earlier this year when a field some 200 metres from the previous sites was ploughed for the first time in 14 years and the second time in living memory (NGR TJ 14436023). I should like to acknowledge the able assistance of Alan Gidlow, Shaun Theobald, Ian Jackson, John Gaunt, Douglas Crellin and Fred Wall together with many others too numerous to mention.

A survey of the field showed the existence of large areas of broken tile and pottery and a series of test holes eventually revealed the site of a kiln. It is thought that the field contains another kiln further down the slope and it is hoped that a systematic survey with the proton magnetometer will provide us with a better idea of its location. Like the two previous ones excavated at Darwin College this kiln is constructed entirely of tile, mostly broken roof tile, although pieces of hip tile and ridge tile are visible, bonded together by a sandwich of clay which has been baked hard. The roof tiles are of an approximately standard size: 240 millimetres by 150 millimetres by 10 millimetres. The kiln is rectangular in shape, approximately six metres in length by three and a half metres in width (1:10 plans and sections of the whole site have been prepared). Two-thirds of a metre still stand and part of the baking floor, making it possible to reconstruct entirely the lower portion of the kiln. The kiln differs from the other two mentioned above In that it is composed of roof tile laid on edge, the longest length parallel with the length of the kiln. There is evidence that the kiln was lengthened by extending the arch at the stoke-hole end. About the period when this addition would seem to have been made a rectangular working area in front of the stoke-hole was constructed of shaped stone and flints. Within this constructional alteration has been found the only visible "waltyle." For the time being the working life of the kiln remains undetermined.

We have yet to complete our work on the present site. We think that the kiln was built during the fourteenth century. However, as the kiln was itself the product of another kiln, it is possible that much of the pottery associated with it may have come from an earlier source. Our finds include a large range of pottery and examples of practically all the medieval building materials: roof tiles, ridge tiles, hip tiles, floor tiles plain and glazed (in this latter category we have also found those carrying inlaid designs) and pieces of chimney pot, one piece of which came from the construction trench.

Although natural undisturbed soil was found at the southern limit of the excavation we located ash and tile to a depth of nearly two metres from ground level at the stoke-hole end. As yet we have been prevented from digging further by water at this level. At a distance of 35 metres to the north of the stoke-hole there is evidence of a large waster heap about a metre and a half deep. This waster heap has yielded printed tiles as surface finds. The roof tiles are somewhat larger than those used to construct the kiln, being about 180 millimetres in width and 15 millimetres in depth (length as yet undetermined) and some baying lead glaze on the lower half of the upper surface.

What can documentary evidence tell us about the site or for that matter, about our particular kiln? Our site lies in the parish of St Stephen at Hackington and in the Manor of westgate. we might have expected to find a considerable amount of information from manorial incidents of the 13th to 16th century -- but unfortunately researches have revealed that the rolls for 1749-1835 were definitely destroyed by enemy action whilst the whereabout or fate of the earlier ones is unknown. Although there are early thirteenth century references to the tile industry in the Canterbury area it is not until 1292 (Kent Assize Rolls) that we find a specific reference to the Tyler Hill industry in descriptions of persons as of Theghelere, i.e. of the tile (kiln) slope. In 1363 there is a sale of a piece of land and a tylhost in the parish of St Stephen's Hlackington and a further sale in 1465 describes a tyleoste and work shops at Tylernehelde in Hackington. So far we have failed to identify our site with any of those referred to in ancient documents.

This leads us conveniently on to the point that the kiln is only one part of the process in the manufacture of tiles and pottery. The evidence seems to be that while roof tiles formed the major part of the production a fair amount of pottery and specialised building materials were made in the same kiln. The basic requirements of the industry, clay, wood and water are readily available in the area. Canterbury with its many eclesiastical buildings and houses provided a market and distribution centre. We hope that we can now spend some time working on the site to locate associated buildings. Future work both in surveying and excavating will we trust considerably increase our knowledge of an industry that lasted some 600 years. As a result of initial survey work we have already found other kilns in the area, one of which lying about a mile away in Timber Wood may tell us something of the superstructure about which so little is known.

Close Window
Accessed this page via search engine or bookmark? Full K A R Index here.