This article appeared in the Autumn 1972 (Issue #29) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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Darent Valley Rescue Operation.
In addition to the rescue-work at Dover which has continued well into 1972, the Corps has found itself dealing with a whole series of sites throughout Kent. This has shown that the team can maintain an effective rescue-service over a wide area (often more than 75 miles). The major project since Christmas has been in the Darent Valley in West Kent on behalf of the Department of the Environment. There a large, new sewer has been laid between Dartford and Farningham. The trench for this sewer was 20 feet wide and nearly 20 feet deep and sometimes dug and backfilled within 24 hours. There was a need for constant watch in this area known to be rich in sites and at the time of writing eleven sites have so far been encountered. The operation could not be advertised and the considerable danger generally demanded no visitors and only the most experienced diggers.
The first site came up during a snow-storm in January and thereafter sites appeared at fairly regular intervals. Often they had to be recorded in a matter of hours and on several occasions members were still at work out in the open long after dark. Indeed for the last ten weeks members of the Group have been sleeping on site so that they can work throughout the hours of light. This also overcomes trouble from several groups of local treasure-hunters who are now becoming a serious threat to archaeology.
Of the eleven sites so far located one was Neolithic; two were Iron Age; two more were Roman villas; another was a Roman cemetery; another a Roman occupation-site or farmstead; there were two Saxon sites and two medieval sites, one of which was a fine fortified manor with a defensive wall 14 feet thick.
The largest operation so far has been on the famous Darenth Roman Villa excavated by George Payne in 1894-5 and where the Group undertook rescue- excavations in 1969 on two more important buildings (KAR 18, page 18 and KAR 19, page 16).
One local expert had advised us that the villa was in no way threatened and that he had the situation under control! A careful check of plans, however, showed that the sewer was to pass right through the west side of the Roman villa (in spite of it being scheduled) and would have destroyed a great part of this important site. Happily, last-minute negotiations with the engineers, the DOE and Darent Valley rescue operation. Pipe-laying and archaeology at Farningham Manor, 1972 the CIB. resulted in the sewer being laid about 50 feet outside the villa, and this avoided a major archaeological disaster. In addition the team was able to excavate 800ft. of trench ahead of the contractors and to recover much evidence that would otherwise have been lost. The operation on the villa site lasted seven weeks and was supervised by Howard Davies and Gerald Clewley.
The Group gratefully acknowledges the help of Dover, Fawkham Historical, Faversham, Otford, Reculver, Sittingbourne, Springhead, Upchurch and West Kent Groups for help at various times. The ready support, both financial and practical, of the West Kent Sewerage Board and of Alec Fishlock and Steve James is also acknowledged with thanks. The work continues.