Kent Archaeological Review extract

Excavation of the Ospringe Roman Cemetery.
by Edward Higginbotham.
(Central Excavation Unit.)

During January and February 1978 excavations were carried out by the Central Excavation Unit on part of the Roman cemetery at Ospringe, near Faver- sham, Kent. The site of Whiting's Yard, a disused builder's yard, is earmarked for redevelopment as a housing estate later in 1978 by G Wimpey and Co Ltd. Prior to their building programme they have kindly allowed investigation of the site of the cemetery known from excavations in the 1920's by the late W Whiting, FSA. Not only was Whiting a building contractor but, on locating an extensive Roman cemetery near Ospringe, devoted himself to its excavation. This was subsequently published and it is upon this information that our knowledge of the site is based. See Reference [1].

The Roman cemetery spread from Whiting's Yard, (TR 0015 6090) along the Roman Watling Street, westerly towards the presumed settlement of "Durolevum", shown on the 6-inch Ordnance Survey, (First Series), as being situated on the summit of the low hill, now the site of the Mumford Arms Hotel, but previously Syndale Park (TQ 9940 6015). Further burials were located by W Whiting and Col W Hawley to the east of Judd's Wood in gravel pits (TQ 9880 6050). Recent excavations have shown that the Stone Chapel in Syndale Bottom (TQ 9920 6130) was rebuilt around the core of a Roman temple or mausoleum.See Reference [2] In 1965 the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit made further investigations near Stone Chapel and located remains of Roman settlement along the north side of Watling Street in Syndale Valley.See Reference [3] Whether the settlement spread to the top of the hill previously marked on the Ordnance Survey maps as the site of the settlement is open to discussion since little archaeological excavation has been carried out here.

The present excavations on the site of Whiting's Yard opened up all the threatened area up to 50 metres from the main road, on the line of Watling Street. The depth restrictions imposed in the area of the proposed access road to the housing estate made it impossible to extend the trenches further to the north of Watling Street, but it was thought that the majority of the Roman remains would be located close to the road.

The 1920 trenches were located but the clearance of the present area to natural geological deposits revealed no further burials and only scanty remains of Roman activity. A Roman hearth, constructed of flints and tiles, similar to those excavated by Whiting See Reference[4], was excavated, but there was no indication as to its function, in the form of cremated bone or other debris. The hearth may have been octagonal, 1.5 by 1.5 metres, and was surfaced with tiles, some burnt, on a foundation of flints in soil. This hearth directly overlay a similar though smaller example, similarly constructed with flint foundations but with only a scorched clay surface. Apart from this only a handful of Roman pottery, mostly 3rd Century, was found, all of this being well worn indicating that it had been transported some distance from its original Roman context.

The excavations did however show that there were insubstantial remains of medieval activity along the side of the main road, and this may be associated with the important medieval foundation in Ospringe itself, the Hospital of St Mary, or Maison Dieu. Furthermore a small number of flint flakes and worked pieces and two sherds of coarse pottery in a good state of preservation indicate the presence of prehistoric activity on or near the site. The flint and pottery may be dated to the Neolithic or Bronze Age.

The excavations have shown that Roman burial was infrequent this far east of the main Roman settlement, all the evidence of burial in fact having been located previously by Whiting. The depth of the present excavations and the level at which archaeological remains appear also indicate that if burials occur elsewhere on the site they are likely to be situated below the level of disturbance by the building programme. Thus the threat to the archaeological remains is largely removed.

In conclusion the author would like to thank G Wimpey and Co Ltd for permission to excavate and for their kind cooperation throughout. Furthermore the cooperation of the local archaeological groups is recognised with gratitude, the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, and especially Brian Philp and the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit have given much help and advice.


Reference 1.

W Whiting, W Hawley, T May 1931 "Report of the Excavation of the Roman Cemetery at Ospringe, Kent". Society of Antiquaries, Research Report 8.
Also Arch. Cant. 9, 31, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 41, and 48. Return to the paragraph.

Reference 2.

E Fletcher, G W Meates, 1969. "The ruined church at Stone-by-Faversham" Antiquities Journal 49. Pages 273-294. Return to the paragraph.

Reference 3.

B Philp, 1976. "The probable site of Durolevum" Kent Archaeological Review 43. pages 62-64. Return to the paragraph.

Reference 4.

Arch. Cant. 36. page 65. Return to the paragraph.
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