Kent Archaeological Review extract

A Roman Wheel from West Wickham.
by Brian Philp.

A remarkable find has recently been made at West Wickham, Kent under rather dubious circumstances. An important Romano-British site was found on the west side of the parish by the West Kent Group some ten years ago. In June, 1976 whilst the area was still under crops a group of people from New Addington, Croydon, searched the site with metal- detectors. Their loot included Roman coins and brooches. Of various other objects was a large iron hoop (really a tyre) which they eventually handed to the farmer after he had warned them off his land. Happily the farmer, Mr C Pallant, immediately notified the writer as director of the West Kent Group, so that something might be salvaged from the sorry situation. It was at once apparent that the tyre was similar to the very few known Roman ones, but equally well it could have come from a wheel of much later date.

The only certain means of dating the object was by studying its archaeological context in the ground and particularly by relating the adjacent soil deposits. As usual no records of its relationship had been made by the treasure-hunters who had simply plucked the tyre right out of its context. Exactly the same thing had clearly happened to the coins and brooches. Thus by the use of metal detectors this sort of vital information is forever lost.

There was, however, a slender chance that something could yet be salvaged as regards the probable Roman tyre in spite of the treasure-hunters claim that it came from the upper ten inches of top soil. When the crops were lifted, at the farmer's invitation a special excavation was carried out by the Group at the spot where it had been found. By careful work the treasure-hunters ragged hole was soon found and emptied. At a depth of almost two feet a clear rust mark in the soil showed where the rim had been. This rust was traced for most of the circumference which was about 0.80 metres. Predictably the treasure-hunters had removed the object by undercutting and by chance this left three stratified layers intact above the rust mark. These contained Roman pottery. Thus by a splendid piece of good fortune it was possible to restratify the tyre and declare it to be Romano-British or earlier.

The controlled archaeological excavation by the Group also revealed some remarkable additional information totally missed through the use of the metal- detectors. This demonstrated that far from being in the topsoil the tyre and axle linings had almost certainly been on a large wooden wheel and that this had been discarded into a Roman wood-lined storage-tank (Figure 1), some 1.70 by 0.94 metres. Although the wood lining had long since gone its basic shape was revealed by careful work and a series of 19 small iron nails found which had secured its base. The wooden frame had itself been placed at the centre of a much larger pit and packed around with thick orange clay which also formed the base. The complexity of this important feature is obvious and so too is the fact that it is totally beyond untrained people, treasure-hunters or otherwise, to sort out the problems. The removal of the coins and brooches from their contexts is again a serious loss to knowledge.

The tyre is being given urgent treatment to arrest the decay since its discovery and a detailed report is being prepared. The site has now been recommended for scheduling. Thanks are due to Mr Pallant for his responsible action, to Group members for their hard work and to Mr T Woodman for preparing the drawing for publication.

DRAWING: Plan and section of discovery area.
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