Kent Archaeological Review extract

Excavations at Chalk.
by Sydney Harker.

In advance of projected building developments in agricultural land to the west of Castle Lane at Chalk, near Gravesend, the Springhead Excavations Group are investigating a structure of Roman date which is threatened. Its presence was first established in 1959 by Mr A F Allen who examined masonry remains which had interfered with cultivation. Circumstances did not permit thorough examination but sufficient work was possible to indicate the existence of mortared stone walls and a hypocaust. The site is not far from another interesting structure of the same period. This was an apparently isolated building of simple rectangular form with an upper storey over a deep basement, excavated in 1961 by David E Johnstone. See Footnote [1]

A preliminary soil resistivity survey was made and based on the results obtained, a grid system was laid out to cover an area of approximately 300 square metres. Results were quickly forthcoming. Removal of the top soil revealed a disintegrated layer of mortar rubble over the whole surface, representing the gradual smearing of the destruction layer of a substantial building by many years of ploughing and cultivation. Over much of the area only the lower foundations remained to indicate a pattern of small rooms and possibly a corridor with the floors completely missing. It soon became clear that this represented a late stage of occupation in which larger rooms had been subdivided. Two of the earlier rooms were provided with channelled hypocausts which were damaged when the sub- division took place and thus rendered inoperable.

Much of the remaining area proved to be covered by a mass of much heavier mortar rubble and opus signinum together with many broken flue tiles, voussoirs and pilae but with an almost complete absence of roofing tile. The latter did appear elsewhere on the site but not in any great quantity. A few pottery sherds of second and third century date and bones of small animals -- mainly cats -- were the only extraneous items. This was, of course, the hypocaust area which had evidently been systematically robbed of usable stone and tile down to the sub-floor. This had escaped complete destruction though only a few traces of the pilae remained. The base of the south wall was relatively intact and had survived in places almost up to the level of the suspended floor. Crumbling masses of much disturbed masonry closed the east end of the hypocaust area. The north and east walls and any internal walls had been almost completely robbed but the base of the stoke-hole was clearly evident to the east. A smaller stoke-hole led into a small, deep room from which the channelled hypocousts were fed. This was not contemporary with the main furnace and this is an anomaly which remains to be resolved. In the final phase the floor of this small room had been raised considerably and the channels blocked. A domestic hearth had been built on the raised floor and showed signs of considerable use.

PHOTO: The Roman bath buildings at CHALK, near Gravesend.

Plan of the Roman bath buildings at CHALK, near Gravesend. 1 - changing rooms; 2 - caldarium; 3 - tepidarium; 4 - unheated area; 5 - small deep room.

What we have found so far, suggests a compact fully equipped bath house comprising changing rooms with a modicum of heating, adjoining the bath block proper. This consisted of a hot room, or caldarium adjacent to the furnace, then a cooler room or tepidarium more remote from the heat source, the flue gasses being baffled to some extent by a cross wall. This area included a small tank lined with opus signinum which was presumably a warm bath. The suite was completed by an apparently unheated area containing a larger tank of similar construction to the smaller, which was evidently the cold plunge. The presence of many broken voussoir tiles suggests the possibility of a vaulted roof. Glazed windows at the east end are indicated by fragments of window glass found in this area.

Dating evidence is sparse, but the indications are that the building was occupied during the 2nd and 3rd century AD. Surprisingly the building was constructed over the intersection of two large ditches. These can be firmly dated to the first century AD and are undoubtedly associated with a similar ditch 50 metres away to the west. The bath block appears to be complete in itself but there must have been a large establishment close at hand to justify such an amenity and this still remains to be found. Many isolated discoveries have been made in the vicinity and the full excavation report will examine and discuss the possibilities based on available evidence.

PHOTO: The hypocaust area looking north-west.

The hypocaust area looking north-west.

Investigations have been completed in the 'shallower' areas of the site and these have now been back-filled. Adverse weather conditions at the end of the 1974 season prevented adequate detailed study of the hypocaust area which has been temporarily covered as a protection against winter conditions to await final cleaning and detailed study when conditions allow.

We are grateful to the farmer Mr McKenzie and to the Kent County Council for their permission to extend our tenure of the site and acknowledge their ready co-operation in the past.


Footnote 1.

Britannia, Volume 3, 1972 page 112. Return to the paragraph.
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