Kent Archaeological Review extract

A Look at Kent Archaeology.
by Derek Garrod.

The successful production of this the 50th issue of the KAR, now very well established and widely read, marks a milestone in the story of Kent archaeology. It provides an excellent opportunity to look back over the past decades,at some missed opportunities, and much good progress and also to look forward to the years ahead.

About the CKA.

In twelve years the Review itself has gone from strength to strength since it started out in 1965 as an humble, duplicated, newsletter with an order of a mere 175. More than 80,000 properly printed copies have since been sold and the list of subscribers covers the whole of the British Isles and includes countries scattered around the World. It has had the benefit of several very good editors such as John Home, Ronald Fendt and Wendy Williams; the latter managed more than half the total number and set a high standard in an exemplary manner.

The Council, since its formation in 1964, has had a series of good hard-working officers. It has been particularly fortunate in having excellent chairmen such as the late William Penn, Norman Cook, Arnott Johnson (who sadly died in office) and now Mrs R Johnson. Of its very hard-working secretaries, Graeme Horner and Jenny Lock deserve a special mention for outstanding work, a tradition being upheld by the present secretary Duncan Harrington. The Council is also most fortunate in having Edna Mynott (Conference Organiser) and Colin Martin (Treasurer) as officers of the very highest quality. In emergency rescue-work the CKA has had the advantage of the tremendous energy and dedication of Brian Philp for more than 13 years. Many others, such as Valerie Smith, Thelma Dutton, Syd Harker and John Gaunt have provided good service in other capacities or when serving on the executive committee.

DRAWING: Excavation of a Kentish Barrow 1844.

Excavation of a Kentish Barrow 1844.

Kent Archaeology 1900 - 1964.

Predictably as in other antiquarian matters progress in methods, decision-making and even basic philosophy has been decades behind the times. This has been particularly true in Kent. The Victorian concepts, the method of excavation and little publication outlived both World Wars, save for a sudden injection of energy by two progressive young men, Norman Cook and Ronald Jessup, during the 1930's. By the late 1950's the archaeological scene in Britain generally was a disgrace by international standards. There was no protective legislation worthy of the name; sites and historic buildings could be smashed largely without recourse. In Kent the few excavations were largely inadequate, often carried out for the wrong reasons, sometimes by the wrong people and rarely published. The very slender resources of money and expertise were mostly misapplied to sites largely unthreatened (except by bad excavation) Excavation of a Kentish Barrow 1844 whilst important complete sites nearby were often totally destroyed without a second glance. Work was rarely done except in good weather in the summer. The few exceptions to the misapplication mostly failed the final test of proper publication. Several excavations were left open to the elements for years after they were finished, there were no training schemes or conferences, young people had no encouragement and publication (if any) was stuffy, dull and years behind the event.

Kent Archaeology 1964 - 1977.

It was largely to remedy these defects that the CKA was born, inevitably in the face of some vocal and reactionary opposition, in 1964. It followed several years of helpful co-operation between teams of young Kent and Surrey archaeologists. By then several good local groups had been formed in Kent and were busy on the ground. The first (Reculver Excavation Group) started in 1957, the second (West Kent Border Group) in 1960 and the third (Lower Medway Group) in 1961.

From this and formative meetings at Sidcup and Rochester in 1963-4 the Council was formally created in November, 1964. Its objects were to help co-ordinate work in Kent, to have a quarterly journal, to hold two conferences each year, to develop an emergency rescue-system, to determine priorities and to help the young. Even with these worthy aims (all subsequently achieved) there was opposition and some mistakes were made. The first mistake was the choice of name (Kent Archaeological Research Groups Council) a ghastly mouthful, mainly agreed to please its elderly proposer. The second mistake was in supposing that everyone involved in Kent field archaeology welcomed the new ideals, the priorities and the much broader base. Several did not and this led to a stormy meeting and at least one resignation.

There were several early incidents that now raise many a smile. When discussing the merits of a county-wide rescue-scheme, one member insisted that it was quite unnecessary as any builder finding anything on a building site immediately telephoned him. This does not even happen now and it may never do so! On another occasion there was a long debate on the production of the journal, which was then an irregular, stapled, duplicated 'Newsletter' with no illustrations and subscribers who all knew each other. One member suggested that it should be properly printed, that it should contain illustrations and perhaps sell 1,000 copies on a regular quarterly basis. This was immediately ridiculed by two of the less responsive members. In fact these targets were reached within two years and subsequently exceeded.

With early obstacles overcome the title KAR soon replaced the hackneyed `Newsletter' and the name CKA soon replaced the KARGC. The Review flourished; the annual conferences regularly attracted several hundred people; the annual teach-ins on specified subjects catered for the practitioners; a new 'Friends of CKA' catered for those wishing to support but not to take any part; annual awards were made to Young Archaeologists; insurance and equipment was made available; the first Research Report was published in 1968 and there were many 'Open Days' in conjunction with local groups. There has been a steady increase in the number of member-groups which now stands at 21, a total which highlights the one or two who seem unwilling to co-operate and who still jealously guard their 'tribal' territories.

Perhaps the main area of CKA success was the emergency rescue-scheme. Affiliated groups mostly agreed to watch their local areas for threats to sites and to deal with small-scale work within their reach. Most also agreed to call in the larger county-based team when rapid large-scale excavation was urgently needed ahead of destruction by development. These non-stop operations over many weeks depended almost entirely on the CIB team (drawn from the Reculver and West Kent Groups), on individuals giving up large amounts of time and also on good support from responsible member-groups. Successes were soon recorded at Faversham Abbey (January 1965), Faversham Roman Villa (July 1965), Polhill Saxon Cemetery (1964 and 1967), Darenth Roman Villa (1969) and Dover (1970-1) to name only the major projects.

By the end of 1972 the threats to sites in Kent, mainly from massive Motorway construction, increased building work and town-centre developments, had reached such a scale that a full-time team was then essential. Those who had already proved their dedication to rescue-work over the years then gave up their careers and took up rescue-work on a subsistence basis. The Ancient Monuments Division of the Department. Horton Kirby Roman Villa Rescued in 13 hours Excavated in 14 days! of the Environment was, as ever, quick to appreciate this spontaneous Kent development and note its merit and its outstanding cost-effectiveness. They provided some of the basic funding for the work and thus the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit (CIB) was born. The Unit has since dealt with more than 70 important rescue situations,many with the willing help of affiliated groups. Of these Dover (1972-77), Horton Kirby Roman Villa (1972), Otford Palace (1974) Motorways (1974-6) are just the more obvious. Indeed such has been the rapid progress that Unit members were able to take on the whole preservation scheme of the Roman Painted House at Dover in 1976-7, including all the building work, displays and conservation. The scheme is now open to the public at a saving of about 130,000 over original estimates.

PHOTO: Horton Kirby Roman Villa -- Rescued in 13 hours -- Excavated in 14 days!

Horton Kirby Roman Villa -- Rescued in 13 hours -- Excavated in 14 days!

Perhaps the best guide to the success of the CKA over the years is how its various functions have been imitated by others. Within four years of the full development of the Review it had been copied (with full acknowledgement) by Current Archaeology, The London Archaeologist and the Hertfordshire Archaeological Review, all splendid publications doing a grand job. The Hertfordshire Archaeological Council was set up and several rescue-teams in the Kent style have since appeared in different parts of the country. By 1970 the call to 'rescue sites' had become a national issue and that year saw the formation of a new body called Rescue, clearly seven years behind the CKA and even repeating much of the dialogue and some of the mistakes. Finally, in 1975 the DOEitself set up a central flying-squad based almost exactly on the Kentish model; but so far this is rather controversial and only half as effective.

Kent Archaeology 1978 - 2000.

What of the years ahead? No doubt there will be a continuous crop of exciting new discoveries; and more destruction on building sites and by motorway construction. Clearly the CKA must continue with its many events and publications catering for everyone genuinely interested in the archaeology and history of Kent, and at a reasonable price. It must continue to improve its standards, expand its services and agitate for realistic legislation to protect archaeological sites and buildings. It may need to continue to restrict its membership by setting a minimum standard of excavation and publication and it will probably still need to take the lead in the battle against the treasure-hunting vandals. Of various problems one will certainly be inflation!

Another area of concern may be the ever increasing professionalism in archaeology, mainly prompted by the university pre-occupation with career-structures and high salaries. Sometimes even the very best amateur groups and vocational archaeologists are being disregarded and attacked. It seems the 'closed shop' is already on the way! In one or two other counties a steady flow of 'imported' archaeology graduates, often with very limited experience in excavation and none in publication, has suddenly appeared upon the scene. Employed by various official bodies on large salaries they often produce a flurry of paper, slick terminology and after two years disappear to some distant corner to mount the next rung in their careers; often leaving behind unfinished work. Their loud cries for large sums of money, about `tremendously' important sites, of 'enormous' discoveries and 'huge' threats are becoming tedious. Cost-effectiveness, good management and earthy common-sense are often lacking.

At least in Kent the natural evolution of a full-time team, based on local groups and made up of Kent people who have proved their dedication and high standard of excavation and publication over many years of hardship, should ensure a thoroughly Kentish interest and stability. Not only this but the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit have shown themselves to be the most cost-effective unit in the country as a recently published DOE list quite clearly shows (KAR Number 48 (1977) page 201). It is hoped that the CKA, all responsible local groups and individuals will continue their support and thus ensure that the problems suffered by other counties are kept at bay. Without such vigilance 'closed shop' archaeology could come to Kent within the next ten years.

Even with this brief glimpse at the past, the present and the future it is clear that there have already been substantial and much needed changes and reform. In many of these the CKA has led the way and it is clearly ready and willing to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

DRAWING: Kent Archaeology 2000--.

Kent Archaeology 2000--.

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