Kent Archaeological Review extract

Excavation of Yalding "Town Bridge" site, Kent.
by John Parsons.


The "Town Bridge" at Yalding, Kent, is the longest ancient stone bridge in the County with a total length of some 450 feet. It is one of the series of magnificent medieval bridges built along the Medway valley; although in this case, the "Town Bridge," Yalding, spans the River Beult (main tributary of the Medway), as it flows through the village flanked by the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul. Much has been written about the Medway Bridges, especially by the author Mr R H Goodsall, FRIBA, ARPS, in his book 'The Medway' published in 1955 However, earlier authors such as Samuel Ireland in 1793 published detailed descriptions of the Medway Bridges, illustrated with fine pictorial prints of that period. Earlier still, in the 1540's The Royal Antiquary of King Henry VIII, John Ireland, wrote of Yalding: -- "A pretty tounelet and ther is a bridge!"

Medway bridges are sometimes mentioned in medieval wills, by which benefactors bequeathed money towards the repair of these local bridges. In the case of 'Town Bridge,' Yalding, a sum of money was left by Thomas Brodyngbury in 1474 for the upkeep of the bridge; a year later a certain John Church in 1475, 'left three shillings and fourpence for the repair of Twyford Bridge, and a similar amount for the repair of 'Ealding Bridge.' However, such monies were never enough and local rates were introduced for the repair of bridges.


Although scheduled as a Grade 1 Ancient Monument of 15th century date, it will be seen on closer observation that, in fact, the 'Town Bridge,' Yalding consists of two major constructions; one alongside the other, in order to increase the width of the carriage-way. The later addition blends with the original stone bridge and cannot be seen until one examines the arches underneath. It appears that the earlier, more ancient were built of rough slabs of Kentish Ragstone; no doubt, brought from the local quarries of Boughton Monchelsea, which are reputed to have been worked in Roman times.


DRAWING: Section through medieval archway.

Section through medieval archway.
(A bigger picture -- 110k, 1000 x 1143 px.)

Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, (1207-1228 AD) requested the building of more bridges across the River Medway. Donald Maxwell in his book "Unknown Kent" (1921) states on page 110 that Yalding Bridge was built by the 'Hospitarii Pontifices.' Acting under ecclesiastical orders, a company of mason-monks may have been responsible for the building of these beautiful bridges and churches of the Medway Valley. Certainly, the stonework of both the Town Bridge at Yalding and the adjoining Parish Church, have much in common; whilst other stone bridges in the vicinity, such as Twyford Bridge, appear similar in many respects to that at Yalding in original design and construction.

Robert Goodsall draws attention to the fact that in 1325 an "inquisition" was held to determine people responsible for the upkeep of Yalding Bridge. In 1327, some two years later, it is reported that a new "stone-bridge" was built some six miles down stream at Maidstone. The question arises as to whether the stone-bridge at Yalding, could have been built originally at this period, some hundred years or more prior to the 15th century date given to its present construction.


The opportunity for an archaeological examination of the "Town Bridge" Yalding occured, when some property known as "The Old Swan" was sold; formerly an ancient hostelry, abutting the bridge at its northern end. The new owner, Miss Mercia Akers, readily gave her kind permission for an investigation to be carried out on her land. During a series of week-ends in 1969, the author excavated a deep trench, some five feet square, to a depth of seven feet below present ground level when undisturbed soil was encountered just prior to the river flooding into his excavations! Fortunately, however, he was able to extract his archaeological notes, 'finds' and himself in time.


In the debris of flood-water deposits upon the modern ground level under the northern most archway of the "Town Bridge" were collected two 18th Century 'Pipkins' (see Figures B1 and B2), the larger of which appeared to have been smashed into three pieces during the September 1968 floods, judging by the fresh fractures. (How these two vessels arrived on the site is not known, but they may have floated in from the ancient cellars of the "Old Swan" adjoining.)

Archaeological excavation began with the removal of 20th century debris (see (Figure A, layer 1). A 19th century layer of Victoriana (2), then appeared, including Willow-pattern china, fluted clay-pipes of that period, together with a lone 'slate-pencil,' possibly used in the local National School (erected 1857). Another interesting discovery was a cache of six stoneware 'Ginger beer' bottles stamped "J. W. Maskell, Maidstone" (circa 1870-1900). This deposit rested upon a thick clay layer (3), which sealed the remains of a cess-pit (4), (which was hurriedly removed), to reveal a sloping layer of mortary droppings (5), which may indicate evidence for the re-fashioning of the archway, which appeared to be re-faced over its original medieval profile at this point (see Figure A). Certainly, under the mortar rubble was a hard "tread-level" (6), which was possibly made by masons engaged upon the work?

This hard "surface-crust," being broken through, revealed a most interesting 18th century Georgian layer (7), which yielded a mass of objects. Amongst the items were pieces of some thirty clay-pipe bowls, stem-stamped BR;IC;IH;IM; fragments of Fulham "Stonware" Tankards; Lambeth Delft drug-jars; apothecaries glass medical-phials; wine bottles and pottery of the period, some of which are illustrated (Figures B3-B8). All this occupational debris lay upon a rough level of large Kentish ragstone blocks (8), which may have been the original cellar-flooring of the ancient 'Old Swan' hostelry, (of which the archway formed part in earlier times). On this stone flooring, also, was found a mass of smashed window glass of Tudor date, whose diamond-shaped latticed panes measured 3 inches by 2.4 inches wide (across middle), together with a few pieces of the lead frames.

On removal of the ragstone blocks, there appeared a thin, grey darkish layer (9), which yielded two sherds of green-glazed ware of the Tudor period; besides pieces of grey cooking pot which appeared to be a 'waster,' These occupational remains rested upon a thick layer of silt (10), which contained one sherd of medieval pottery.

The medieval level itself appeared as a layer (11), of rusty-coloured gravel, which contained masses of oyster shells, butchered bones, and nearly two hundred pices of medieval pottery, besides a small 'Long-Cross' silver penny of Edward 1st. (This coin was kindly identified by Dr J P C Kent, BA, PhD, FSA, of the Department of Coins and Medals, British Museum, to whom the writer is deeply indebted). Amongst the medieval material recovered was part of a "Cresset-Lamp," the first of its type found in Kent (see Figure C 18) apart from several roof tiles with crude "push-stick" holes for pegging. From which building they came at this period (1300-1325 AD) is not known, possibly the Church roof or, perhaps, a little Bridge Chapel if one existed?

The medieval layer was removed to reveal several structural features which included the solid stone foundations (12), in mortared Kentish ragstone on which the present bridge stands. However, upon investigation, this solid stone base was found to be resting upon a layer of brushwood (13), which, itself, rested upon the river bed (14).

Running at an angle to the present bridge structure at this level, was a narrow trench (15), 11 inches wide which contained heavy timbers, including portions of oak-planking 6 inches wide by 2 inches thick, besides an oak-pile (6-inch square) driven into the river bed. Whether these timbers constitute evidence for an even earlier wooden bridge across the river at this point could not be ascertained (due to flooding of excavation), but it is certainly a possibility as wooden bridges across the Medway were known at this time, (circa Henry III, 1216-72 AD) and this could well be the fact in this case, as Yalding was an important centre on the trade route from the Weald to the Medway and its river transportation.


DRAWING: Figure B. 18th Century Wares.

Figure B. 18th century Wares.

This material, dated to the first quarter of the 18th century, is interesting in that it follows, chronologically, the group of similar items (dated 1670-1700 AD) discovered at Rochester and reported in KAR Number 12 (1968); especially so in respect of the Wrotham Ware' types recorded. It is hoped that these Yalding items will furnish more evidence for the dating of this ware. (see John Ashdown's article KAR Number 14 (1968).

  • B.1. LARGE SPOUT-LIPPED 'PIPKIN' with black-flecked, mottled- brown, interior glaze, similar to Wrotham Ware. (Earthenware, with extended hook-handle').
  • B.2. SMALL EARTHENWARE 'PIPKIN' with black-flecked, dark-brown internal glaze of Wrotham type (without pouring-spout). Handle broken in antiquity. Note. Two identical vessels, dated early 18th century, are on display in Canterbury Museum, whilst another is at Maidstone Museum.
  • B.3 WINE BOTTLE of pale green glass, with applied string-course neck. (Compare Figure XXV Page 110. In Professor Noel-Humes, book 'Archaeology in Britain' (1953).
  • B.4. WHITE PIPE-CLAY BOWL STEM, stamped "H.I." (one of some twenty found). Probably made in London. (see JBAA Volume XXXIII (1969). Page 212).
  • B.5. STORAGE JAR. earthenware with honey-glazed exterior and partially glazed interior. Poor glaze, possibly earliest piece in collection?
  • B.6. SMALL RIM-LID of highly glazed, greenish-brown, earthenware. (Similar to Wrotham Ware).
  • B.7. PIE-DISH. (lid recessed) earthenware, with internal black-flecked, ginger-glaze only. No wear on recessed lip, possibly due to the use of a wooden-cover?
  • B.8. 'CISTERN RIM (lid recessed) with internal and external brown glaze, earthenware, with heavy pronounced profile which includes H-angled lower lip-rim. Wrotham type, kindly identified by Mr John Ashdown. (already mentioned).


DRAWING: Figure C. Medieval Wares (1300-1325 AD).

Figure C. Medieval Wares (1300-1325 AD).

Regarding the Medieval Ware (circa 1300-1325 AD) from the "Town Bridge" Yalding site, it is interesting to record that similar ware was recovered from excavations (unpublished) in my own cottage at the Southern enclave of the 'Town Bridge.' This Medieval ware is closely identified with that found at Maidstone in 1889, on the site of the present Museum (in which it is permanently displayed). However, from published sources, one must quote the 'Excavations at Hangleton, Sussex.' (SAC Volume CI (1963) Figures 23 and 25) in which most of the Yalding pottery is closely paralleled.
  • C.9-14. STORAGE VESSEL AND PAN-RIMS in smooth grey ware, containing shell-grit. Compare "Hangleton" examples Numbers 149, 153, 169, 181. (dated 1300-1325 AD)
  • C.15-17. FLAGON HANDLES in sandy grey ware (without any shell-grit) Decorated with 'knife and fork' stabbing to reduce damage during firing. (Compare "Hangleton" examples Numbers 205, 207, 209. Dated to 1300-1325 AD)
  • B.18. CRESSET CUP-LAMP. (Three fragments). Blue clay-core with buff exterior, and having an olive-brown internal glaze. (pedestal base missing). This interesting item, the first of its type found in Kent, is well known elsewhere on medieval sites such as 'Jewry Wall' Leicester. (see Society of Antiquities Report of Excavations (1948) Page 229. Figure 61. Number 6). Two other medieval lamps have been reported from Kent, one at Canterbury, and another at Dover. (see JBAA Volume XXXII (1969) Pages 90-91, Figure 13.) NOTE. Maidstone Museum has an example of this type (from London).
  • C.19. SILVER 'LONG-CROSS' penny of Edward I. (1272-1307 AD) Kindly identified by Dr J P C Kent, BA, PhD, FSA, as of London Mint. (1282/83 AD) and he adds that the coin was well worn, and could have circulated into the 14th Century.
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