This article appeared in the Autumn 1977 (Issue #49) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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Excavations at Church Field, Milton Regis.
Many of the surface deposits in the Sittingbourne area have been removed during brickearthing operations during the last hundred years. Areas which have been 'brick- earthed' are therefore archaeologically of no interest, and this neutrallization has occurred extensively in the region to the south of Milton Regis. Individual fields, however, have escaped, one such being the 2.7 acre Church Field (NGR TQ 908 654) which adjoins the graveyard of Holy Trinity Church. Church Field falls within the Development Plan for the Milton/Kemsley area, and is destined for 'medium density settlement" with building operations scheduled for the early 1980s.
The archaeological interest of Church Field lies in the fact that Roman building materials occur in the fabric of the nearby church and that Roman building founda- tions were discovered in the graveyard. George Payne reported that many sherds of `Upchurch ware' were found between 1872 and 1878 during gravedigging operations, as were pieces of Samian ware, amphorae, coarseware and ornamental roof tiles2. When, during this period, the graveyard was extended to the North into Church Field, gravedigging brought to the surface further amounts of pottery, glass and tiles. These finds had been situated about 1.3 metres from the surface. More significantly, masonry of a "very substantial nature" and claimed by a "trustworthy informant" to be Roman, was exposed (see Figure 1 for reported location). Payne examined the feature, presumably in another grave, in 1881 and confirmed it to be of "pure Roman work" composed of flints set in concrete with a bonding course of tiles embedded in mortar mixed with pounded tile2. A large brass (sic) of Antoninius Pius was associated with these foundations.
Following this discovery the Kent Archaeological Society proposed to carry out an exploratory excavation, but the then vicar refused permission and there is no record of any excavation since. Additional material had been discovered in the locality, including the lead coffins at Bex Hill to the South of the Church' and pottery, tiles and ancient human bones at a site to the North-East of the Church.
Although there was no indication in the earlier references to an orientation of the foundations, there seemed to be a good chance that the foundations could extend into Church Field. In view of the limited amount of time before redevelopment was due to begin, and because the field is under cultivation and access is therefore limited, the Sittingbourne and Swale Archaeological Research Group decided to attempt to determine if evidence of a building structure could be detected.
Church Field is an irregularly shaped arable field which was once under orchard. It is bounded on the W by Grovehurst Road and on the East by Holy Trinity Church, and its graveyard (Figure 1). The fields to the North and North-East have been brickearthed and their present surface is well below that of most of Church Field, although there is a depression at the North-West corner of the latter. The Southern end of the field is occupied by "Green Porch" Childrens' Home, and this property is surrounded by a hedge (Figure 1).
The excavation plan was swiftly to dig 1 by 2 metre trenches at intervals of 20 metres, down to undisturbed brickearth. It was hoped that the excavation of a gridwork of such trenches would serve to delimit the extent of the foundations of the building, if any, in preparation for a possible 'rescue' operation under expert direction at a later date. Trenches were to be dug at the intersections of lines 1 to 6 with rows A to G (Figure 1), lines and rows being parallel to two walls (approximately at right angles) of the graveyard.
The first phase of the operation, carried out in September and October 1976, consisted of the excavation of seven trenches in line 4, which ran parallel to, and 10 metres from, the West wall of the graveyard. During the course of digging in Church Field proper, permission was obtained to excavate an eighth trench (G4) in the garden of Green Porch. This trench was set out 1 metre to the North of its intended position so as to avoid the edge of a tarmac yard. In all, sixteen members of the Group took part in this phase of the investigation. The existence of deep-running worm-casts containing fragments of charcoal, top-soil and tile chips made the interface between subsoil and undisturbed natural deposits difficult to determine. The excavated depths of each trench were as follows: A4, 1.4 metres; B4, 1.2 metres; C4, 0.6 metres; D4, 0.6 metres; E4, 0.6 metres; F4, 1.0 metres; G4, 1.6 metres.
Although evidence of Roman occupation was revealed, no trace of foundations, mortar, or walls were detected in any of the trenches. The disturbed, cultivated layer of humic soil occupying the surface 20-30 centimetres contained a scatter of pottery, tile and glass, mostly recent, but with some material which could be recognised as Romano-British. Worked flints, including a Mesolithic 'flake-scraper' (Figure 2.1) were found in this layer. The underlying yellowish brickearth contained several further worked flint fragments, including flakes, and, from B4, an 'arrowhead' (Figure 2, 2) of Mesolithic type.
Building materials were few, but 4 associated tile fragments with combed markings, identified as Roman box-flue tiles, were found in G4. A further box-flue fragment was discovered in E4. Pieces of Roman roof-tile (tegula) occurred in B4. Several soft, orange-coloured tiles, Roman, or possibly Georgian, were found in B4, E4 and G4.
Pottery fragments were found in the subsoil of A4 (3 fragments), B4 (3), D4 (3) and F4 (2). Nearly all were unglazed coarseware of several types and similar in fabric and structure to 1st and 2nd Century materials from the Romano-British site at Radfield, 4 km to the South-East. An exception was a fine-textured, dense rim which was probably of recent origin.
Numerous fragments of bone were found. They appeared to be of domestic animals and probably casual recent burials. One large square-sectioned nail was found in the subsoil of A4. Evidence of fire (charcoal, 'crazed' flints, ferrous 'slag', soot) was widespread. No coins were found.The finds from this excavation are housed in the Old Court Hall, Milton Regis.
No evidence of Roman, or other, building foundations was discovered in any of the trenches along line 4. The presence of Roman roof- and flue-tiles was indicative of a building in the vicinity, and is enough to encourage a further phase of excavation, initially including an array of trenches along row C, when the opportunity next arises.
The Group is grateful to Royco Homes Limited for permission to dig on the site and to Mr E Epsley, the farm manager, for his interest and co-operation. For permission to excavate at 'Green Porch' thanks are due to the Kent Education Committee. The interest and support of Mr D Gosling of 'Green Porch' Home is gratefully acknowledged, as is the advice and encouragement of Messrs B J Philp and E Newnham. Members of the Sittingbourne and Swale Archaeological Research Group are thanked for their enthusiastic help, in particular C D Armstrong, I Alldritt, C Baker, G Barry, A Crane, P Ditchfield, S Dootson, E Grisdale, K Hill, I Lewis and P Vujakovic.
- G. Payne, Jr., Arch. Cant. 12, pages 428-424 (1878).
- G. Payne, Jr., 'Collectanea Cantiana' Mitchell and Hughes, London (1893) pages 30-33.
- G. Payne, Jr., Arch. Cant. 34, pages 157-158 (1920).