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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Romano-British Pottery Kiln on the Upchurch Marshes.
by Ian Jackson.

With the kind permission of Mr W H Mouland of Barksore Farm, a watch has been kept over the gradual erosion of a Romano-British pottery kiln (Site 012.02). This watch was necessary because the kiln is situated in a marsh reclaiming area in which, understandably, the Group has been unable to carry out an excavation.

The kiln is 2 feet below the surface of the marsh bank and although sections and plans were taken periodically, it was not until quite recently that the Group was able to complete the plan of the kiln.

It was the circular updraught type and of a simple and practical construction. The furnace pit had been dug into the natural clay forming a hole approximately 3 feet in diameter and 1 foot in depth. At the bottom of the furnace pit and just off centre were two preformed pedestals which supported a floor. This floor consisted of prefired clay bars (3 inches wide and of varying lengths, up to a maximum of 1 foot 2 inches), one end of which rested on the preformed pedestals and the other on the circumference of the pit. Although the stokehole has yet to be exposed, the position of the flue has been located and the sides of this were made up of preformed, wedge-shaped pieces 10 inches long and 6 inches high. No evidence of a firing chamber was found, but it seems fairly certain that it consisted of a temporary, domed structure.

GRAPHIC: Barksore Kiln.

Caption: Plan of the Barksore Kiln showing the position of the preformed pedestals which supported the fire-bars. The fire-bars formed the floor of the kiln and it was on these that the pottery would have been placed for firing.

The kiln had been abandoned when the floor collapsed during firing depositing fire bars and the last pottery load into the furnace pit. The pottery, about 50% of which had been hand-made, was oxidised and all sherds contained an additive (grog) of crushed flint and pottery. All examples are of a mid first century date, the most common form present being the bead-rim.

The discovery of the preformed pedestals in the kiln has answered a question which has been puzzling us for some time, for a pedestal for the same type and almost exactly the same dimensions was found in a domestic rubbish pit at Slayhills (Site 001.02) and although at the time it was considered to be some form of kiln furniture, this recent find confirms the matter.

The Barksore kiln brings the total number of actual kiln constructions found in the Group's area to only three (Arch. Cant. 1962, page 190), which is rather disappointing when one remembers that they are situated in an area which is considered by some to have supported a substantial pottery industry. To these we can add three sites at which the remains of kiln furniture has been found and although this would improve our statistics somewhat, it would be rather unwise to interpret this as evidence of an industry producing pottery for regional distribution. On the contrary, the evidence so far seems to indicate that the pottery was being produced for a localised demand, possibly by the consumer himself.

We cannot, however, completely brush aside the possibility of a larger industry existing somewhere in the area. Although there is no instance of wasters of black pottery (a type generally associated with the Upchurch area and examples of which can be seen in various collections at Rochester Museum) being found in relation to kilns or kiln furniture, several examples have been found in other deposits. This fact, coupled with the vague but enthusiastic reports by our Victorian predecessors, does lead one to believe that a pottery industry on a scale capable of supplying markets other than local ones did exist here. This may have been situated in the area most frequented by our Victorian counterparts -- Otterham Creek, where evidence for such an industry may no longer be found.

It is possible that there is further evidence yet to be uncovered. The Upchurch Group may still find itself recording a kiln containing its last load of Poppy head beakers in years to come!

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