Kent Archaeological Review extract

Medieval Fortified Site, Wilmington Manor, Boughton Aluph.
by Brian Philp.

This site (NGR TR 0306 4641) lies near the southern limit of the parish of Boughton Aluph, Kent on farmland (Park Farm) about one mile south of the parish church. It is a prominent and well-known site consisting of a large, raised platform surrounded on all four sides by a broad, partially water-filled moat. It stands on a gentle south-east facing slope on brickearth at an elevation of about 150 feet OD very close to the suggested line of a Roman road from Canterbury. In 1962 it was scheduled by the Ministry of Works as an Ancient Monument under the heading 'moated sites'. The OS record-card for this site lists it as an Homestead Moat and notes a flint bridge-abutment on the east side.


Early in December, 1974 the farmer cleared the trees and undergrowth from the central area and deposited this and rubbish into the wet moats. He then stripped the topsoil off half the central area, the west and south margins and then began pushing large quantities of subsoil into the west and south moats which were then covered again with topsoil. This process, which caused very serious damage to the archaeological deposits, was designed to produce a level, vermin-free area to facilitate continuous ploughing.

On Saturday, 14th December, 1974 Mr J Bradshaw of Challock observed the work, then about half complete, and immediately contacted the owner and the farm manager and alerted the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit the following day. Some preliminary work by Mr Bradshaw on the 15th relocated the bridge abutment and a masonry wall on the east side. On Monday, 16th December the extent and implications of the damage were discussed at a site-meeting of all parties and the matter immediately reported to the Ancient Monuments branch of the DOE. An inspector attended another site-meeting the following day when the farmer said that he was unaware that the site was scheduled.

The Unit carried out rapid recording on the 20th December to show the extent of the damage and to provide a brief survey of what had been revealed. No attempt was made to excavate. This work traced the moat on all four sides, the bridge abutment, a curtain wall, four possible structures and four areas of roof-tile. Apart from building debris no finds were revealed though Mr.Bradshaw reports finding a dupondius of Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-180) on the site.

PLAN: Wilmington Medieval Manor. Boughton Aluph 1975. Plan showing extent of damage to scheduled site.

Wilmington Medieval Manor. Boughton Aluph 1975. Plan showing extent of damage to scheduled site. Plan by John Willson.
The big picture (178k).

On the 1st and 2nd of January, totally without warning, bulldozing operations began again resulting in further serious damage to the central area and the east margin. This work was detected in darkness on Thursday, 2nd January during a snap inspection of the site by a Unit member who asked for work to stop at once in accordance with the Ancient Monuments Act. Further representations were then strongly made by the DOE and the outcome of these is now awaited with keen interest.


This consisted of a well defined rectangular platform, about 60 metres square, raised generally about 1 metre above the surrounding ground-level and almost certainly created by the soil derived when the moats were dug. The corners were well marked and the platform surface was devoid of obvious structures, though heavily tree-covered before the bulldozing began.


This had been clearly visible on all four sides and there was no trace of an earthen causeway. The moat, containing about a metre of water in December, 1974 was steep sided and flat bottomed and generally about 2 metres deep below the platform surface. Probing suggested at least another 50 centimetres of mud-silt in the bottom. The East Moat was about 10 metres wide at its top and the North Moat was about 13 metres wide. Both the West and South Moats had been substantially filled by the time the destruction was stopped.


The bulldozer had partially destroyed a substantial masonry structure in the south-west corner of the platform. The west end of this consisted of large, unshaped chalk blocks set in a bright yellow mortar. This masonry returned on the north and south sides for about 3 metres. Thereafter these lines were continued in the form of unmortared flint foundations about 40 centimetres wide, for another 7.90 metres. If these two quite distinct types of foundations do represent a single structure, then the overall dimensions were about 10.40 by 7.90 metres. An area of scattered roof tiles on the east side probably represents a tile fall. The adjacent South Moat containing at least a dozen large sandstone boulders with yellow mortar adhering which must certainly have been bulldozed from this structure and may have constituted part of the actual super-structure. One was a tooled block, perhaps part of a 13th or 14th window reveal. Traces of burnt soil and tiles were seen within the structure and an area of carbon noted 8 metres from the south-east corner.


Another area of rubble, flint, gravel and tile towards the south-east corner suggested the site of another structure. Part of the east and south foundations, of greensand and flint set in pale yellow mortar about 40 centimetres wide, were found and the area suggested was at least 14.50 by 5.60 metres. More mortared masonry appeared on the south side of this large rectangle, but this was not examined in detail nor was an adjacent area of roof-tiles.


A substantial bridge abutment was found close to the centre of the east side, the upper part of which had been exposed for many years. This consisted of flint walls set in white mortar on the north, west and south sides which were still standing at least 10 courses (90 centimetres) high. The walls were at least 60 centimetres thick and the structure was at least 2.93 by 1.90 metres internally. It was recessed about half a metre into the internal platform and presumably served to support the inside end of a wooden bridge. A mass of mortared flint, not examined in detail, on the corresponding outer lip of the East Moat may have formed part of a similar external abutment some 10 metres away.


A substantial chalk block wall set in bright yellow mortar was traced for 28 metres from the bridge abutment to the south-east angle from where it turned at right-angles for a minimum of 1.40 metres along the south side. This wall butted up to the bridge abutment and was not observed anywhere else on the site. It survived to a maximum height of 25 centimetres and was at least 55 centimetres thick, but nowhere had its outer facing survived. It was situated about half way down the slope of the inner bank though it seems likely that the earthern platform once backed the wall itself. This wall, if taken to any reasonable height, would have constituted a curtain wall.


Faint outlines of masonry and flint footings were detected about 20 metres from the north-east corner, but these were not examined in detail and whether these formed a single structure is not known. Certainly the east end consisted of chalk blocks set in familiar bright yellow mortar, but no trace of this survived further west. The debris covered a broadly rectangular area and it is possible that a building about 10 by 7.50 metres had existed here. A hearth, at least 30 centimetres in diameter, was observed within this possible building.


A small rectangular structure was disclosed by the bulldozer close to the north edge of the platform. This consisted of the west, south and east walls of chalk blocks set in bright yellow mortar. The west and east walls were 45 centimetres thick and the south wall only 37 centimetres. The overall east-west length was 4.25 metres and the internal width was 3.35 metres. No corresponding north wall was seen, but the internal north-south width was at least 90 centimetres and it is unlikely to be much more owing to the close proximity of the North Moat. A tile scatter was noted immediately to the south-east and a similar scatter 12 metres to the east.


Roughly two thirds of the platform area had been affected by the bulldozer operations leaving only the central strip substantially untouched. The rest had been both topsoiled and subsoiled and it seems certain that all archaeological deposits and structures here have been severely damaged. The northern end of this strip had already been covered again with topsoil so the extent of the damage is unknown, but the South-West structure was both truncated and stripped.

Most of the eastern strip had only been topsoiled and the damage in that area was at first less severe, probably being limited to slight crushing and damage through tracking. Two possible structures (North East and South East structures) had then not been damaged, but on the second occasion both had suffered considerable damage.

A thin strip along the north side had also been topsoiled with some damage to the archaeological deposits and one structure (The North Structure). Finally, the bulldozer had subsoiled a narrow strip near the south-east corner and in the process had smashed through the very substantial mortared chalk block curtain wall which had clearly flanked the platform on this side and which had been previously unknown.


It is clear that this was one of the finest medieval moated sites in Kent and that the extensive damage to it by the bulldozer operations is one of the worst disasters in Kentish archaeology in recent years. The situation is made all the more regrettable by the fact that it was scheduled, an act principally designed to avoid the unrecorded destruction of such major sites.

Although no excavation was carried out a minimum of four major structures, two at least substantial buildings, were located and others could survive. These structures all incorporated masonry and the close proximity of tiles suggests that most had tiled roofs. The probable abutments on the east side almost certainly mark the site of a substantial wooden bridge. A total of about 30 metres of curtain wall on the east and south sides could indicate that most or even all of the central area had been enclosed.

In the general absence of dating evidence and immediate documentary research it seems likely that most of the structures recorded fall within the 13-15th centuries. The difference in mortar between the abutment and the curtain wall may imply two periods of construction, the bridge being earlier. So, too, may the difference in mortar between the South East structure and the other structures. If the bright yellow mortar is an accurate indication of a specific period of construction, then the curtain wall, South West, North East and North structures could be of the same date.


Thanks are due to Mrs Edna Philp, Mrs Wendy Williams, Messrs John Guant, John Willson, Tony Emms for their help with the work. Special thanks must be extended to Mr J Bradshaw, firstly for reporting the destruction on the site, and secondly for maintaining close local liaison during the critical stages. John Willson has kindly drawn the site-plan for publication.

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