Kent Archaeological Review extract

Archaeology and Chalk Quarrying at Darenth.

The Proposed Development.

One of the very largest developments in Kent, other perhaps than the ongoing Motorway programme, is a proposal by APCM to quarry chalk at Darenth Park. Several hundred acres are involved and the initial application was refused. The scheme has since had the qualified approval of the Kent County Council and the matter went to Appeal in April-May, 1978. The area is about half a mile from the famous Darenth Roman Villa, excavated by the West Kent Group, under the direction of Mr Brian Philp in 1969, and published by the Kent Unit in 1973.

Only two archaeological sites are known to exist in the new area, but it is likely that others will be rapidly exposed and destroyed in a few hours as the area is reduced. In order to learn the archaeological implications of the scheme the KCC called two meetings at County Hall for interested bodies to comment. The agreement reached at the meetings was circulated to those taking part and at once four agreed with the contents. The KAS Secretary (on 20.11.77) suggested minor alterations as did the Dartford Group (in a letter dated 28.11.77), and these were incorporated in the final statement.

It was of course essential that the archaeological comment at national, county and local level should agree on the archaeological implications and thus present a united front. The inability of archaeologists to do this in the past has resulted in the destruction, unrecorded, of many sites. It was equally important that the agreement should be kept. The agreed statement is printed below.

APCM Development: Application DA/75/557 Darenth.

The archaeological implications of this development have been considered at Government, County and local level and the following conclusions mutually agreed.

  1. That the area contains two major sites of particular local interest and importance and that both will be substantially destroyed by the planned development. One of these sites is that of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in the grounds of Darenth Park Hospital. The other is an extensive medieval earth- work in Darenth Wood.

  2. That ideally neither of these sites should be destroyed.

  3. That if it was found impossible to save both these sites then every possible attempt should be made to preserve the Anglo-Saxon cemetery. Alternatively, it might be possible to exclude the Darenth Wood area.

  4. In the event of it being quite impossible to save either of these sites then it is essential that a proper archaeological investigation should take place in advance of their destruction. To achieve this, the following contingency plan should operate.

    1. That the local Dartford Group should be given adequate time (at least twelve months) to carry out survey and excavation at week-ends on the Darenth Wood earthwork.

    2. That the full-time Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit should be given time (at least ten weeks) to excavate the Anglo-Saxon cemetery.

    3. That once soil stripping begins anywhere on the scheme, a full-time watching-brief by the Kent Unit be allowed and that additional facilities in terms of time and access be given to the Unit to deal with any new sites that are revealed.

  5. That the cost of these operations should be financed by the APCM.
    • Dept. of the Environment (Ancient Monuments)
    • Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit
    • Council for Kentish Archaeology
    • Kent Archaeological Society
    • Dartford Archaeological Group
    • West Kent Archaeological Group.

Dated 7th December 1977 (date sent to Kent County Council).

The Appeal Held at Dartford.

On Wednesday 17th May 1978 the DOE Ancient Monuments Inspector, the Kent Arch. Unit, the Council for Kentish Archaeology and the West Kent Group read statements that were in good accord and in complete agreement with the statement of 7th December 1977. Unfortunately, the local group, in a long carefully prepared document, suddenly announced that they had actually started excavating on the Anglo-Saxon cemetery some eight weeks before. This was in spite of their endorsement of the joint statement of December. Other conflicting opinions were also most unfortunate and unhelpful, particularly as the County Council had called the earlier meetings to prevent just this. Happily, under cross-examination the situation became clearer and the majority DOE, KARU, CKA and WK Group views were carefully noted by the Appeal Inspector.

Saxon Glass Bowl.

One of the side effects of the breach of the agreed statement was that only two more, damaged Saxon graves were revealed in the known cemetery area. By some chance one was found to contain an unusual glass bowl of 5th century date. This was found on 19th March and taken to the British Museum. Mrs L Webster provided a provisional comment on the bowl and this was read at the Appeal, handed round to those present and at a special press-conference in the afternoon. On the base is a moulded Chi-Rho monogram and a ring of meaningless letters. Mrs Webster suggests that the bowl could be an import from the Rhineland or Northern Gaul. Some 20 others are known from Continental and one British site, the latter being near Canterbury. Few have survived complete and none has the same decoration as the Darenth bowl. Whether it reached West Kent as loot, or was imported as just an interesting glass vessel, must remain a matter for conjecture. Clearly the Christian symbol does not mean that the occupant of the grave was a Christian for as such he would have been the only one in 5th century Saxon England! Ironically it was found some 50 metres beyond the area threatened by the intended quarry. The owners of the ground have stopped further excavations owing to the growing crops and because of the intense publicity given to the find. It was unfortunate that the statement read at the Appeal described the site as "much richer than average" and also as showing the possible "survival of Christianity in the Saxon period following the departure of the Roman civilization". Unfortunately, both comments were picked up by the invited press and printed the following week. It is hoped that all this will not arouse Treasure Hunters who could destroy much of this site, just as they have elsewhere. In addition the danger of emphasizing `finds' is that it gives the general public, and also senior officers of local authorities, the idea that archaeology is almost entirely concerned with finding objects. This is just not the case and it was suggested recently, at national level, that objects form no more than about 5% of the total archaeological spectrum.

DRAWING: Sketch of bottom of Saxon Bowl, based on material provided for press conference.

Sketch of bottom of Saxon Bowl, based on material provided for press conference.

APCM Offer 10,000 for the Archaeological Work.

At the end of the evidence the APCM spokesman said that his Company had considered the various comments from the archaeological bodies and was very willing to deal with the Kent Unit and its sensible programme and would pay up to 10,000 towards the cost of the archaeological work. This splendid news was warmly applauded. It represents the largest sum ever offered by a private company towards archaeology in Kent. It reflects a new attitude and understanding between responsible archaeologists, planners and developers. Indeed the lack of such under- standing has, in the past 60 years, resulted in the destruction of dozens of sites wholly unrecorded. Clearly archaeologists must demand preservation for genuine prime sites and for good facilities for recording those others which are to be destroyed. Neither of the two known Darenth Park sites is a prime site in terms of preservation and it is impossible to stop development with claims of what might be there! The result of the Appeal is still awaited when the impact of the much wider environmental issues will be known.

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