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Kent Archaeological Review extract

The Castle Rough Training Project --
1972, Part 1.

(The Sittingbourne and Swale Archaeological Research Group.)

Abstract: A limited examination of "Castle Rough," Kemsley, Kent, carried out as part of a local training scheme, provided evidence that the site hitherto ascribed to the Danes of the ninth century AD in fact was constructed in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries.

PHOTO: A view of the site.

A view of the site.

An investigation of the remains known as "Castle Rough," situated at the foot of Kemsley Down, near Sittingbourne, Kent, was carried out in the winter-spring of 1972 by the Sittingbourne & Swale Archaeological Research Group under the direction of Ralph Mills, BSc, ARCS. We must thank the landowners -- Bowaters United Kingdom Paper Co Ltd -- and the tenant farmer, Mr E G Vidgen, for allowing us access to the site, which is a scheduled ancient monument. We also thank the Council for Kentish Archaeology for supporting the training project with their first ever excavation grant and the following for their sustained hard and cheerful efforts in sometimes difficult circumstances; Eddie Newnham, Peter and Pam Cox, Colin Baker, Vanessa Ashworth, Mick Green, Edmond Tullett, Ian Bethune, Paul Fosbraey, Bob Baxter and Reg Turner. In all, over thirty volunteers worked on the site, and we are grateful to them all for their hard work.

The site has always been popularly regarded as the fort erected by Haesten in 893 (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle -- "Then soon after this Haesten came with eighty ships into the mouth of the Thames, and made himself a fort at Milton Royal, and the other host at Appledore".) and referred to as such by a string of successive writers, including Kilburn (1659), Harris (1719), Fisher (1779) and Hasted (1798). Objections have been raised, for example in the Victoria History of the County of Kent (1908), to this theory and it was in the hope of supplying some new evidence that the investigation was instigated.

DRAWING: Section diagram.

Section diagram.

Bigger version (63k).

The site lies at the eastern foot of Kemsley Down (perhaps originally Campsley Down), between the Down and Sittingbourne Creek. A freshwater stream skirts the Down and feeds a square moat of average width 7 metres which surrounds a mound 45 metres by 43 metres in size and of average height above water level 3 metres. The subsoil is predominantly brickearth, and some nineteenth century brickearth diggings run up to the site on the North side. The ground is at present pasture, although the site itself is covered with a dense clump of blackthorn, hawthorn, roses and bramble -- perhaps the same bushes that led earlier writers to suggest that the site got its name from the covering of bushes and shrubs (Hasted, 1798). A trackway, which ran originally to Grovehurst Dock, passes the site on the west side, and bears traces of its use during the period of the brickearth digging which ultimately caused its abandonment. There are traces of an upcast on the outside of the moat, differing in height from a few centimetres to 0.5 metres. Outside the site, on the south side, there is a small oval mound of maximum length 15 metres and height 0.5-1 metres which, it appears, was cut by the digging of the moat and thus would merit investigation at some future date. The moat still contains water, although it is being invaded by vegetation in several places and its banks are being eroded by the action of the feet of grazing and drinking cattle. There is no obvious trace of any structure crossing the moat.

The training project started with a large amount of vegetation clearance and then both resistivity meter and proton magnetometer surveys were carried out on the mound. Both were unsuccessful in indicating any subterranean features and, although useful training exercises, will not be referred to again. (We must thank, however, both the Kent Archaeological Society and the CKA for the loan of these instruments). A single trench, divided into three sections, was opened on the southern flank of the mound. The only feature revealed on removing the topsoil was an indistinct loam-filled slot 25 centimetres wide, running parallel to the moat at the top of the bank and containing fragments of a jug which can be confidently dated to the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries AD. See Footnote [1] The topsoil itself surrendered a silver penny of Henry VI which had been issued between 1454 and 1460 in the York of Archbishop Booth. See Footnote [2]

On cutting through the make-up of the mound it was found that it consisted of alternate dumps of brickearth, sand and blue clay, throughout which was scattered a number of mesolithic scrapers and flakes. In the lowest dumped deposit, just above the natural undisturbed brickearth, several sherds of Romano-British pottery were found, accompanied by some sherds of undoubtedly thirteenth- fourteenth century green-glazed pottery. See Footnote [2] All the artifacts seemed to have been brought in with the dumped clay/brickearth.

It was found to be impossible to venture too near the moat due to the high water level and so we were unable to obtain any information as to its depth, or from its silt.

DRAWING: Castle Rough: Schematic Plan.

Castle Rough: Schematic Plan Only. (Not strictly to scale.)


The presence of thirteenth-fourteenth century pottery in the mound make-up obviously suggests that the "Castle" was constructed at least five hundred years after the visit of the Danes, but leaves several problems unsolved. What purpose did such a massive structure serve? Why so few traces of any structures? Why so little documentary evidence? Perhaps a more extensive investigation might solve much of the mystery that still surrounds "Castle Rough."


Footnote 1.

The pottery was kindly examined by Mr G B Clewley and Mr B J Philp of the CIB Rescue Corps, Dover, who agreed with' our dating of the sherds. Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 2.

The coin was examined by Mr S Mullineux, who noted that it was unusual that a coin should have travelled so far from its mint and suggests that it was perhaps not lost by one of the fairly static agricultural population, but by a traveller of some sort. Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 2.

The coin was examined by Mr S Mullineux, who noted that it was unusual that a coin should have travelled so far from its mint and suggests that it was perhaps not lost by one of the fairly static agricultural population, but by a traveller of some sort. Return to the paragraph.


  • Kilburn, Richard of Hawkhurst Esq. "A Topographie or Survey of the County of Kent," P Thomas Mabb, London 1659.
  • Harris, John. "The History of Kent," 1719.
  • Fisher, Thomas. "The Kentish Travellers Companion," 1779.
  • Hasted Edward. "The History and Topographical Survey of Kent," Volume VI page 154, 1798.
  • Page, William. (Ed.) "The Victoria History of the County of Kent," Volume I page 432, 1908.
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