Skip to Content.

Kent Archaeological Review extract

The Medieval Tile-kiln at keston.
by Brian Philp.


This site lies within the grounds of Holwood House, Keston, now a private estate belonging to Seismograph Service Ltd. The kiln was discovered accidentally when the area was being planted with young trees in about 1955. A small hole for one of the trees revealed a cavity in which could be seen courses of neatly-laid tiles.

PHOTO: Figure 1. The site of the medieval
tile-kiln before excavation.

Figure 1. The site of the medieval tile-kiln at Holwood, Keston, before excavation in 1972.

PHOTO: The medieval tile-kiln after excavation.

Figure 2. The medieval tile-kiln at Holwood, Keston, after excavation in 1972.

PHOTO: One of the
furnace flues.

Figure 3. Detail of one of the furnace flues inside the med- ieval tile-kiln at Holwood, Keston.

Although the discovery was reported at once to local archaeologists (the West Kent Group was not formed until 1960!) nothing was done and the find was not reported. In 1972, however, the site was relocated by Mr D O'Sullivan who at once reported it to the West Kent Group. Members of the Group carried out an immediate inspection and tentatively identified the structure as a tile-kiln. At Easter 1972 the Group carried out a preliminary excavation clearing away the undergrowth and opening up a square over the original discovery. This work positively identified the structure site as that of a medieval tile-kiln and detailed examination of the structure then followed. This work was permitted through the generous help and encouragement of the directors of Seismograph Service Ltd and in particular through the kindly interest of Mr D C Bradford. Further work was undertaken during the winter of 1972-73 by when a protective building had been wisely constructed over the site by the owners. In October 1972 the Group, working in conjunction with Seismograph Service Ltd., held an 'Open Day' at the site and more than 2,000 people visited the excavations in a single day. These were given conducted tours of the site and of the adjacent hill-fort by members of the group. As regards the excavation more than 40 members of the Group assisted with the work and of these special mention must be made of Mrs J Newbery, Mrs P Crozier, Mrs M Broadfoot, Miss A Buckle, Miss S Turner and Messrs D. Broadfoot, P Cauldrey, M Godfrey, P Grant, J Halligan and C Martin, who has kindly prepared the site-plan.

The Excavation.

The work at Holwood revealed the substantial and largely complete substructure of the tile-kiln. It had been constructed within a large pit dug into the underlying clay at about 400 yards from the present Holwood House. It consisted of two long flue-chambers typical of the medieval tile-kilns at Tyler Hill (KAR Number 19 [1970], page 26) and Hartley (publication pending). These flues passed through the main wall of the kiln which had a vaulted construction into the main chamber itself. Here the floor was constructed of rows of vertical tiles, evenly spaced out, in a chess-board pattern. This allowed the hot gases to pass from the flue-chambers up through the floor into the area where the tiles were stacked for firing. All four walls of the kiln survived to a height of at least three feet and were constructed of broken roof-tiles laid flat to create an even internal face. The backs of the walls were made of rubble held in clay. Little is known of the superstructure employed here, but the floor was found to have been built of small bricks laid on edge. The stoke-hole to the west, probably 10-15 feet in length, was not examined in detail. The kiln produced a mass of broken roof tiles and others were found scattered nearby, the majority originally about 10 by 6ins. with two rough peg-holes at one end.

Discussion and Dating.

Apart from three small potsherds of indeterminate date the only finds from the area were fragments of roof-tile. It seems clear from this that the kiln was built to fire roof-tiles and its similarity to Kent tile-kilns elsewhere makes this virtually certain. The structure, does, however, contain a number of refinements not normally found in medieval tile-kilns of the 13th and 14th centuries and this suggests that it may be of slightly later date. In addition the bricks in the floor are unlikely to be much earlier than about AD 1400. What is clearly of great interest is a document of AD 1485 which records the site of the kiln as "Tylelathefeld." This suggests that the area was even then known to contain tiles or perhaps even the kiln itself and if so then the site must have been known at that time. On the available evidence, therefore, it seems probable that the kiln was constructed some time between about AD 1400 and 1480. The site chosen was rather unusual being situated at the top of a hill with a steep slope only yards away. It did, however, have the benefit of good supplies of clay, wood and water all essential factors in the manufacture of tiles. Just what buildings it served and to what extent tiles manufactured in it are to be found in the parish of Keston are problems for the future.

DRAWING: A plan of the kiln.

A plan of the kiln.

Kiln plan: The bigger picture. (62k)
Close Window
Accessed this page via search engine or bookmark? Full K A R Index here.