This article appeared in the Autumn 1972 (Issue #29) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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Digging up the Past -- An 18th century trip along the A2 (Part 1).
It is interesting to find numerous references to archaeological discoveries in a Kentish guide-book published in the eighteenth century. "The Kentish Traveller's Companion" (2nd edition 1779), is on the face of it, an anonymous work, but the author makes frequent use of the standard county historians, Lambarde, Philipot, Harris, and Hasted's "new and valuable History," as he travels the road from London to Canterbury, Margate, Dover and back to Canterbury, but he has clearly travelled every mile of that road himself, with eyes and ears open, and notes many recent activities by antiquarians and chance-finders.
In fact he was no hack nonentity, but a distinguished Rochester bookseller and printer, Thomas Fisher (died in 1786), the father of a pioneer of brass-rubbing in Kent, and While his observation is always good, his interpretation is occasionally a little credulous but this was in the manner of his time. Dartford Brent and Hackendown Banks are examples of sites where he took the easy way out.
Probably our readers in the various areas concerned will already know about the discoveries quoted here. Some indeed are now classic sites or undergoing investigation even now, but it is hoped that the following extracts will be of interest as a record by the thoughtful writer of a guide popular enough to go through five editions from 1776 to 1799.
"Some judicious antiquarians have imagined the Roman Station called Noviomagus to have been situated very near the town of Crayford, nor can the arguments on which they have grounded their opinion be easily disproved. . . . . In the open heath near Crayford, and also the woods and enclosures in most of the adjoining parishes, are divers artificial caves or holes in the earth, whereof some . . . are ten, fifteen or twenty fathom deep; the passage is narrow at the top, but wide and large at the bottom, with several rooms or partitions in some of them, and all strongly vaulted, and supported by pillars of chalk. Many learned writers have supposed these were dug by our ancestors to be used as receptacles for their goods, and as places of retreat and security for their families in times of civil dissensions and foreign invasions. But the more probable opinion is that for the greater number of them were opened in order to procure chalk for building and for the amendment of lands."
page 47. Dartford Brent.
"In digging the gravel pit at the north-eastern corner of this ground a few years since, the labourers discovered the skeletons of several bodies, eight in one part and four in another. When the assizes were held at Dartford, the Brent is supposed to have been the place of execution, and therefore these were imagined to have been the bones of criminals . . .; but if the encampment of the Duke of York" (in the reign of Henry VI) "consisted of 100,000 men, and they remained here a few weeks, might not these be the remains of some of his followers."
page 50. Southfleet.
"In this lane, which can be but a little out of the tract of Watling-street, is a small brook called Spring-head . . . The plough has often turned up in an adjoining field large stones that seemed to have been used for the foundations of buildings; and as coins have been also discovered, it is not unlikely that there may have been a street of houses in this quarter of Southfleet parish for the accommodation of fishermen and mariners."
At Wingfield Bank,
"not many years ago a stone was discovered which when dug up was judged to be a Roman milestone; it lay on its side about a foot below the surface of the ground on the remains of the Watling-street road.'
page 110. Rochester.
"Bully or Boley Hill. From the Roman urns and lachrymatories found on this spot there is no doubt but it was the burying place of the Romans during the time of their being stationed at Rochester."
page 128. Newington.
"On an elevated situation to the southward and just beyond the town is Standard-hill, where tradition says the Roman eagle was displayed. It is generally agreed by such as have searched most into the antiquities of this county, that this was the Durolevum of the Roman's. In an adjoining field, called Crockfield, have been dug up several hundred of Roman pots, urns, and other vessels; some of the urns were of very large dimensions, and embroidered with particular inscriptions; 'one,' says Philipot, 'had Severianus Pater insculpted on it; another was endorsed with Priscian, and another with Fulvius Linus.' It was observed, that whenever a great urn was found, several lesser vessels were found about it, and generally covered with a laying of the same earth with the body of the pot; from this circumstance, as well as from the number of pots found empty, and laying in various positions, it is conjectured the Romans had a pottery near this place."
page 130. Milton.
"Within a mile to the east of the church is a large open field or marsh called Kelmsley-down, derived, it is imagined from Campsley-down, or the place of camps, because there the Danes under Haesten, in 892, encamped on their arrival from France with eighty ships. On the east side of the downs are the remains of a castle, said to have been built at that time by those free booters; it is now called Castle-ruff. All that appears of this fortress at present, is a square piece of ground, surrounded with a large moat."
page 131. Tong.
". . . near which are the vestiges of an ancient castle said to have been built by Hengist and Horsa about the year 450; part of the south wall is discernable within the large moat that surrounded the castle. A corn mill has been erected on the moat for upwards of two hundred years; the courteous miller informed me that in digging within the castle, he found a brass helmet and a few earthern urns."
page 132. Teynham.
"About a mile South-West from Tenham church, on the left hand of the high road, is a field, called Sand Down, inclosed on all sides with a rising bank; where is a large tumulus, situated in the middle of a small wood."
"About ¾ths of a mile north east from Green-street is Castlegrove in which are some vestiges of an ancient fortification."
page 134. Faversham.
"A Roman burying ground hath been very lately found at Davington, adjoining to the high road, and near the northern bounds of the liberty of the town, which contained upwards of twenty urns, and some other vessels of various sizes, and different coloured earth; besides several single urns dug up elsewhere in its environs, as well as some medals of the Roman emperors, from the reign of Vespasian to that of Gratian."
Having now reached Faversham, on our journey down the road from London, this seems a good place to call a halt, before pressing on to Canterbury. The next article in this series will continue into East Kent and return finally to the Canterbury area where the Traveller's Companion leaves us.