This article appeared in the Autumn 1977 (Issue #49) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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Rescue-excavations continued at Dartford.
Members of the Unit have continued the programme of rescue-work in the centre of Dartford under the joint direction of the writers, working on behalf of the Dept. of the Environment. The preliminary work (KAR Number 47, 1977) was completed ahead of the contractors arriving on the site in the few areas, such as flower- beds and waste-ground, which were available. This proved highly significant for it showed the extent of the buried archaeology. The main phase of the rescue-work started in February, 1977 and has continued for the past four months, virtually non-stop, as part of the main contract sharing the site with George Wimpey Ltd.
The current work is genuine rescue-archaeology at its most severe. At the start the excavations had to be carried out alongside the demolition of huge steel-framed warehouses. It then had to suffer the smashing up of huge areas of concrete and constant traffic from large machines. Recording had to be carried out instantly in the deep trenches dug by Wimpey which were mostly filled with liquid concrete inside three hours of excavation. It is to the certain credit of G Wimpey Ltd that they agreed to the joint operation on what for them was anyway a very tight schedule. This co-operation also extended to Hall Thermotank Ltd, who as owners of the site, had allowed the earlier work and encouraged the rescue-excavation programme. Both these firms deserve the congratulations of the archaeological world for their concern and help. So far the archaeological work has kept up with the builders progress and there have been no delays. Equally important, perhaps, is the fact that the archaeological team can supply information about soil conditions and also act as guards on the site when the contractors men have gone home for the week-end. How sharply this co-operation contrasts with other parts of the country and the bad old days when the national heritage was smashed to pieces, totally unrecorded, for the sake of quick profits. Even so future success depends on archaeologists producing a system and methods that are acceptable to contractors and developers and also a sensible hardworking programme.
The results of all this hard work look highly promising at this stage of the operation, both in terms of the little-known medieval monastery buildings and the great Tudor palace known to be over much of the site. Dozens of walls and foundations have been revealed of a variety of constructions over the whole three acres of the site. However, a great deal of careful work now needs to be done on the many plans and sections from the various parts of the site before a comprehensive picture can emerge. Even so it seems that the total effort will have been very worthwhile.
The individual finds from the site have not been prolific, but several have been outstanding. The largest single group of material consists of carved masonry mostly found re-used inside the Tudor walls. It includes a large amount of 12th century Normandy caenstone which is known to have been brought to the Dartford Palace site in the mid-16th century. Much of this probably came from Barking Abbey then being demolished, but stonework also came from Canterbury and Westminster. The bulk of the decorated fragments have been placed temporarily in the safe custody of Miss Parke, curator of Dartford Museum, until the Unit can carry out a detailed study. Of several very interesting pieces one is part of a medieval statue of a probable Madonna and Child which may have formed part of an elaborate architectural feature. This is likely to have related to the medieval nunnery that occupied the site from the mid-14th century. Other finds include fragments of decorated floor-tile, again of monastic date, and window glass and pottery. Almost inevitably several skeletons have also been uncovered.
It is planned to continue work on this major site for several weeks and it must be hoped that nothing will be allowed to jeopardise the good working relationship built up over the past few months. The Unit gratefully acknowledges the help and support of many members of the Reculver and West Kent Groups with this major operation over many months.