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 (concluded).
Harold Gough, who lives at Herne Bay, is a well known figure in East Kent. Apart from being the Honorary Curator of the Herne Bay Records Society he has been deputy director of the Reculver Excavation Group for several years. He is the leading authority on the history, Bygones and top graphical matters relating to the Herne Bay district.
Our last article in this series introduced readers to Thomas Fisher's guidebook "The Kentish Traveller's Companion," extracts of which showed evidence of archaeological discoveries along the line of Watling Street as far as Faversham. This second instalment will carry the journey to Canterbury, then on into Thanet, down to Dover and back towards Canterbury, through the eyes of an antiquary who died in 1786.
page 135. Faversham.
"Of this abbey ... none of its extensive buildings now remains entire, its two gates being lately taken down, after attempts to preserve them had proved fruitless, being, by age, become dangerous to passengers. The external walls, with those of two or three skeletons of offices, unknown but by tradition, being all that are left."
page 140. Faversham, continued.
"A considerable manufacture of that dreadful composition gunpowder, is carried on near this town by means of the delightful rivulet before mentioned, and also by horses .. "
page 145. Canterbury, and its ideal situation.
"This perhaps is the most authentic voucher in favour of their opinion, who make it a city almost 900 years before the birth of Christ. Tokens of high antiquity are hardly to be found unless Druid beads and the ancient brass weapons called Celts, which have been dug up in the neighbourhood, may be looked on as such. But of Roman remains there are abundance; for besides gates of their building, mosaic and other pavements, curious earthenware, and coins innumerable, some preserved in collections, and others sold to the goldsmiths and braziers, 'have 'been discovered from time to time . . . Ridingate, in the road to Dover. Contiguous to this gate are two Roman arches, turned with the large and thin bricks of those times . . . but the ground having been raised, the top of a stone pier . . . is but breast-high from the road, and the arch itself cut away to give the necessary height to the present gate."
"The old arch of Worthgate, built also entirely with Roman bricks, and through which formerly was one of the principal avenues to the City."
page 155. Jewry Lane.
"About twenty years ago, a fair mosaic pavement, of a carpet pattern, was discovered here, in digging a cellar, between three and four feet below the level of the street. The tesselae were of burnt earth, red, yellow, black and white."
page 165. Reculver.
"Severus, emperor of Rome, is said to have built a castle at Reculver, like that at Richborough. Great quantities of Roman and Saxon coins, urns and other curiosities have been found here. Ethelbert, king of Kent, built a palace and resided here, as did many of his successors; and Bassa, an English Saxon lord, founded here a rich abbey, in 650; but there are now scarce the least remains of either."
page 168. Dent-de-lion, near Margate.
"Near this place in the year 1724, were found, in digging a way to the sea, about two feet below the surface, twenty-seven instruments made of bell metal, of various lengths and breadths, some about seven inches long and two broad, with a hollow at one end for a wooden haft; they are supposed to have been the chizzels used by the Roman soldiers."
page 174. King's Gate.
"Hackendown Banks; two tumuli or barrows of earth which mark the spot where a bloody battle was fought between the Danes and Saxons in 853 ... One of these banks was opened on the 23rd of May, 1743, by Mr Thomas Read, owner of the land, in the presence of many hundred people. A little below the surface were found several graves, cut out of the solid chalk, and covered with flat stones; they were not more than three feet in length, into which the bodies had been thrust, bent almost double. Several urns made of coarse earthenware, capable of containing about two or three quarts each, had been buried with them, which crumbled into dust on being exposed to the air . . . The best historians ... inform us, that the battle was fought so near the sea, that great numbers were pushed over the cliff during the action; and it seems probable, that most of the slain were thrown over afterwards, as no other remains of bodies have ever been found near the place."
South of Sandwich as we go along upon the seashore, are six large and broad celtic tumuli equidistant; the second from the town has been dug away, to raise a little fort upon the road; they all stand in a line east and west.
page 128. St Margaret's on Cliff.
"In two places, are a great number of tumuli. of unequal bulk, close by one another, like those about Barham Downs, and between Hardres and Chilham, and other places."
Dover is described without more than speculation on the site of Dubris, but as regards the Castle --"the strongest place in the world"--"the greatest curiosity here is the Pharos or Roman watch-tower . . . notwithstanding it is so much disfigured by new daubing with mortar, casing and mending, we may easily discover its primary intention."
page 244. Barham Downs; quoting Stukely's Itinerarium Curiosum, on Watling Street:
"it traverses a group of Celtic barrows, then leaves a small camp of Caesar's; further on it has been inclosed through two fields, and levelled with ploughing; then it passes by a single barrow, whereon stood the mill, which is now removed higher up; then it ascends the hill to a hedge-corner where are three barrows, a great one between two little ones, all enclosed with a double square entrenchment of no great bulk; I fancy them Roman, because parallel to, and close by, the Roman road; the great barrow has a cavity at top, and an entrance eastward; whether casually, or by desigh, I know not."
Our "Kentish Traveller" is now steadily making for Canterbury; he notices the race course on the Downs, Bourne Place, then famous for the paddock where cricket was played by the nobility and gentry, the carvings at Patricksbourn, then Bridge, ending at St Lawrence, "the end of our intended rout" as he says. His last words promised a further volume dealing with another part of Kent, but this never materialised. The interest derived from his first volume makes one regret that he did not live to fulfil his promise. One is left wishing for a similar guide to the wayside antiquities of the rest of the county.