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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Medieval Site at Dover.
by Douglas Crellin.

Dover Harbour has been of paramount military and commercial importance since before the Roman invasion although the harbour, affected by shingle brought by the longshire drift, has occupied at least four different locations in that time.

The Roman settlement of Dover (Dubris) was on the west bank of the river Dour and the main centre of habitation has always remained there. Almost all archaeological excavation has been in this area and the Dover 1970 excavation (KAR Number 23, page 74) was no exception. Nevertheless, for a period extending at least from Norman times until the end of the 14th century, at a time when the River Dour had two mouths, the harbour at Dover was at the mouth of the Eastbrook which flowed into the sea below the Castle cliffs. There is, however, no recorded excavation of the medieval settlement which must have formed around this harbour. When, therefore, the construction of a new swimming bath commenced on a triangular site bounded by the Castle cliffs, Woolcomber Street, and Townwall Street (NGR TR 323 414) it presented an excellent opportunity to add to the archaeological record of Dover.

The swimming bath lies on a north-west to south-east axis, the north-west being the deep end and this provided a section 50 feet long by 13 feet deep to OD + 17 feet. Below the top two feet of modern fill marked stratification revealed six main occupation layers separated by chalk rubble, layers varying in depth from six inches to three feet. At the western end the strata had a marked downward convex slope and the upper layers terminated in the foundation trench of a greensand block wall conjectured to date from the sixteenth century. The eastern 16 feet of the section was in danger of collapse, but it was possible to establish a concave downward slope continuing the same occupation layers and chalk rubble filling.

Potsherds revealed that below the modern level the whole depth of 13 feet was medieval. This is in marked contrast with the shallow medieval layers about 18 inches in depth revealed by excavations to the west of the River Dour, and it appears that on at least six occasions it was necessary to build up the level of the ground with large quantities of chalk from the cliff nearby.

The reason for this considerable effort is not clear. Possibly the land subsided over the centuries and it was necessary from time to time to build it up to prevent flooding. Some subsidence may also be due to the nearness of the Eastbrook distributory of the Dour. Apart, however, from a possible robber-trench there were no traces of structures and it is only conjecture that the repeated building up was related to the medieval harbour not far away.

At the western side of the swimming bath site and at right angles to the section, substantial mortared chalk-block foundations were recorded. A well on the main central axis of the bath 24 feet south east from the north-west section was partially excavated to OD + 13 feet, and contained 19th century refuse and brick and tile rubble.

Members of the New Dover Group who located and prepared the section were fortunate to have the assistance of the Reculver Excavation Group in the recording of this interesting site.

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