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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Lamp Chimney found at New Ash Green.
by Roger Walsh.

During our final season's work on the site of the Romano-British Villa (see plan and interim report in KAR, Number 20) further sections were cut across the large pit or pond which is, adjacent to the south wall of the Villa. In the rubbish and debris infill an unusual sherd was found which, after having been washed, was identified as a fragment of a lamp chimney.

The sherd has an even orange fabric with a grey reduced core and the apertures were obviously cut with a sharp knife whilst the clay was still malleable. The fragment measures 127 x 96 millimetres and is on average, 9 millimetres thick. The curvature of the sherd suggests it came from a chimney of approximately 140 millimetres external diameter.

The illustration shows that the chimney had not less than three tiers and was decorated by raised flanges between the tiers. The flanges were decorated by rouletting.

The sherd was submitted to Mr D Kelly at Maidstone Museum who confirmed the identification and kindly put the writer in touch with Mr G Brodribb, FSA, who has been making a study of these objects and who has sent the following note for which I am very grateful and which may assist others who discover similar fragments.

Among the many strange finds on Romano-British sites are certain objects made of brick or pottery; they resemble cylindrical towers or lighthouses (sometimes with a conical spiked top), and are made up of several tiers with flanges or rims between each tier; cut-outs of various shapes are made in the sides. The pieces found are usually fragmentary but three good specimens from Verulamium, Ashtead and Beauport Park show an average height to be about 510 millimetres on an open base of about 205 millimetres.

There are at least 30 sites in Britain which have produced such objects, and to quote from the various reports, they have been labelled as diversely as "lampchimneys," "roof finials "chimney pots," "votive lanterns," "flue-cowls," "ventilators," and "incense burners." The situation of the find has sometimes suggested its use; the Verulamium one was found in a temple area and is considered as an incense burner; that from Llantwit (made from stone and square shaped) is likely to have been a roof finial; that from Silchester has a ridge tile attached to it, while one from Chatham has a sloping base which would fit on the slope of a roof. It is a pity that there is so little evidence of internal staining by smoke (or incense).

DRAWING: Part of a Lamp Chimney from New Ash Green.

Part of a Lamp Chimney from New Ash Green.

The most complete published survey of these "lamps" has been made by A W G Lowther, FSA in Surrey Arch. Coll. XLII (1934) pages 61-66, and in Proc. Soc. Ant. Scotland, Sixth series, Volume X (1936), page 387. He considers that some specimens may have a religious significance and quotes S Loescheke, who suggests that those found in the Danube and Rhine area fall into two types, square and round; the round ones (such as those found in Britain) being 2nd Century and the others later in time. The argument against the objects being flue cowls to hypocausts is that many more would surely have been found if that was their use.The many differences in design may be the result of different usage and more evidence is required to establish all these various uses. There is at least one interesting modern parallel; in Somaliland, clay objects with similar cut-outs are used for burning aromatics as an air "sweetener."

It must be said that Mr Brodribb is very fortunate in having unearthed a complete "chimney" recently, whilst we, after much patient searching, have to content ourselves with the one sherd!

It may be that our particular "lamp chimney" was intended for use at a family shrine to the household gods, but as the sherd appeared to be in "mint" condition and with the complete absence of soot staining it could be that this particular chimney was broken before it could be put to use. This, is not the only site in this part of Kent to have "lamp chimneys" recorded as Vagniacae (Springhead) has turned up two fragments, (see Arch. Cant. LXXIV (1960) page 127).

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