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Several years ago (May 2012 to be precise), we posited a mobile app that would allow visitors to heritage sites to report any damage or details of other heritage crimes direct to the appropriate authorities. Heritage crime is any offence which targets the historic environment.

We spent some time thinking about the design of such an app, and how it could work in practice; what functionality would be necessary or desirable, how the lines of reporting would work, and so on. We received a couple of feedback comments to say that a couple of groups were also researching such a thing, but sadly we did not have the resources (or the skills and experience) to take the idea any further ourselves. And we never heard back from those commenters about any progress on their work.

However, an app has recently come to our attention that would appear to meet many of our suggested requirements. Historic England in partnership with Country Eye has made reporting heritage crime quick and easy with a free app. The app looks to be potentially useful according to the introductory video:

After downloading, the app requires the user to register, with the usual details; name, email address, postcode and mobile phone number. Sadly, we were unable to progress beyond this point as every attempt to register was met with a 404 error. This may be due to the app’s one serious shortcoming: it is (currently?) only valid for users in the county of Kent. As we tried to register with a non-Kent postcode, this may have led to the error.

Despite our failure to be able to give the app a tryout for review, it’s encouraging to finally see an attempt by the market to provide something which we first envisaged six years ago. We can only hope that the wider Kentish population becomes aware of the app and that its use is successful in reducing heritage crime in the area.

But dare we hope that this app, or something very similar, will become available on a nationwide basis in the not too distant future?

Last weekend, I attended a one-day conference organised (and fully funded) by Wessex Archaeology at the Greenwich University Medway Campus on 12th September 2015. The theme of the conference was ‘Celebrating Prehistoric Kent’.

The programme was set out as follows and despite some minor overruns, all went very smoothly, ably m.c.’d by Wessex Archaeology’s Regional Team Leader for London and the South East, Mark Williams.

Programme
9.30: Welcome (coffee and selection of teas provided)
9.50: Introduction
10.00: Paul Garwood (University of Birmingham): Seas of change: the early Neolithic in the Medway valley and its European context
10.40: Sophie Adams (University of Bristol): We dig what you dig: exploring later prehistoric bronze working from the excavated evidence
11.20: Break with coffee and selection of teas provided
11.40: Phil Andrews (Wessex Archaeology): Digging at the Gateway: the archaeology of East Kent Access 2
12.20: Andy Bates (University of Kent): Investigation and Survey of the Oppida at Bigbury and Oldbury
1.00: Lunch (not provided) displays etc
2.00: Jacqueline McKinley (Wessex Archaeology): The Late Bronze Age-Middle Iron Age mortuary landscape at Cliffs End
2.40: Ges Moody (Trust For Thanet Archaeology): Prehistory in our place and our place in Prehistory; Thanet and the Trust for Thanet Archaeology
3.20: Andrew Mayfield (Kent County Council Heritage Team): Public perceptions of prehistory
4.00: Discussion & Close

I tried to take notes throughout the day, and I hope I haven’t misrepresented what was said by anyone in the following summary. Please comment if you were there and feel I’ve got anything wrong.

Paul Garwood kicked off the day, talking about the Medway Valley Megaliths, “discovered, forgotten, rediscovered etc. but not quite fitting in”. He postulated a two-phase Neolithic: The ‘Formative’ (4000-3750BC), which included the spread of farming to previously Mesolithic cultures, and the ‘Early Developed’ (3750-3400BC) which included the long barrow culture.

Evidence from each of the megaliths in the Medway Valley, which we’ve visited before, was examined in turn. As the size of the monuments increases (4000BC for White Horse Stone, Kits Coty etc) up to large enclosures such as that at Burham Causewayed Enclosure (3700-3500BC), this indicates a time of huge social change and activity, and suggests a new chronology for the British early Neolithic period.

Sophie Adams then ran through a wealth of evidence for Bronze Age and Iron Age metalworking in Kent, and provided several samples and reproductions to be passed around the audience. The evidence for metalworking usually consists of ingots, crucibles, moulds (often made of clay) or smithing tools.

There are many metalworking objects recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme from Kent relating to the Bronze Age, plus a lot of Iron Age coins.

Some 25 sites in the county provide evidence of metal working. This is a high number for such sites in a single county in Britain. Sophie examined the finds from several of these sites in detail, such as Holborough Quarry, Mill Hill in Deal, Highstead Chislet, and the Boughton Malherbe hoard.

After a short coffee break, Phil Andrews took us back to 2010 and the largest excavation in Britain, where over a period of 9 months some 48 hectares of land were stripped from a rich archaeological landscape for the East Kent Access route. The project was overwhelming but the road was completed on time. The site was divided into 25 ‘zones’ for ease of reference.

Among the earliest remains found were a palaeolithic flake from Telegraph Hill, along with Mesolithic axes. Zone 6 included a concentration of Neolithic Flint in pits, while zone 14 exposed pits with pottery. There are a large number of barrows in Thanet, almost all of which have been ploughed flat. There were at least 12 large barrows under the course of the road.

One ring ditch barrow produced up to a dozen burials at Cliffs End near to a possible henge – a 50 metre wide monument. A total of 8 late Bronze Age hoards were all found on the Ebbsfleet peninsula as part of the excavation.

Zone 6, over 300m long, also produced evidence of a very complex Iron Age site, with trackways, ditches, roundhouses etc. The settlement grew through to Roman times. The most significant discovery? A possible link to Julius Caesar in the form of a very substantial ditch, part of defences dating from around 100 bc or so. The ditch was recut in 100 AD, and investigation continues.

Andy Bates then described his work, surveying two under-researched hillforts in Kent, those at Bigbury and Oldbury.

Bigbury is an are dominated by gravels, much of the area has been quarried, some of the surrounding fields are being surveyed using metal detector, magnetometry and resistivity geophys, with some encouraging results including an intriguing rectilinear feature which bears some resemblance in form to a possible shrine found on Cadbury Castle in Somerset.

Oldbury, one of the largest hillforts in Europe, has been largely inaccessible to geophys due to being heavily wooded to the south with agricultural use (orchards) to the north, but an opportunity opened up for some survey work in a northern field. Not much showed on the geophys here, some features but all were very disturbed.

After a lunch break Jacqueline McKinley described some of the major findings from the Cliffs End farm site (see the article in Current Archaeology issue 306). This was a very busy mortuary site, with burials from the late Bronze Age, middle Iron Age and some Anglo-Saxon burials too. There were no bones in many of the graves, due to the acidity of the soil, but fortuitously in one area of redeposited soil, 14 articulated burials were preserved. This find increases by around 30% the number of articulated bodies found in Kent to date. Unusually, the majority of the bones were from teens.

The main find was the burial of a Bronze Age woman, found with two lambs on her lap, holding a piece of chalk to her face, and her other hand pointing to a central enclosure. Two youths were also buried with her, one with their head resting on a cow skull. The woman had died from four blows to her skull with a bladed instrument – a violent death, but possibly a sacrifice?

Ges Moody then gave us a brief history of Thanet, the Trust for Thanet Archaeology and the background to many of the antiquarian (and more up to date!) archaeological investigations in the area.

The Trust recently completed their ‘VM-365’ project, with a blog post every day for a year looking at Thanet archaeology and many of the finds available in their ‘virtual museum’. An interesting site, well worth a visit.

The day finished (for me) with Andy Mayfield giving a lighthearted look at how the public view prehistory. he then went on to explain a little about his work as a Heritage Environment Records Officer in Kent (what a H.E.R.O.!), and a review of the enormous amount of prehistory available in the county.

After the meeting, an invite was extended to all to continue discussions in a nearby pub, but as we had a long trip home in front of us, we left as the organisers were packing up the display materials.

All in all a very entertaining, interesting and educational day, and Wessex Archaeology are to be applauded for covering the cost of the event. I’ll certainly be looking out for other events in the future. Maybe they could consider covering each county in turn? Personally I’d like to see a similar review of archaeology in my local counties of Hertfordshire and Essex (hint hint!)

We visited the Coldrum Stones previously, about 3.5 years years ago, so it’s time for a revisit as part of our occasional A-Z series.

The best preserved of the Medway Megaliths, Coldrum is a Neolithic Longbarrow, one of several in this part of the country. Recent radiocarbon dating of at least 16 individuals buried within the chamber at Coldrum, has shown that this particular monument was probably constructed nearly 6,000 years ago. This date from Coldrum makes it one of the earliest known monuments in the British Isles. Similar dates have been suggested for the Early Neolithic Long Hall buildings found during excavations for the HS1 railway, at the White Horse Stone site, on the other side of the River Medway.

The Coldrum monument now sits on the edge of a deep lynchet down which some of the stones, including the capstone, have tumbled. A rectangular enclosure of sarsen stones sits behind the monument to the west. it is this enclosure which led to the early identification of Coldrum as a ‘stone circle’, later rebuffed by Petrie, among others.

Coldrum looking East

Flinders Petrie and Benjamin Harrison surveyed the site prior to the first excavations at Coldrum being undertaken by F. J. Bennet and colleagues in 1910, though some pottery finds had been unearthed in 1856.

‘No sooner had I put my fork in, than I at once turned up some human bones, under only a few inches of soil’.

Five skulls, and bones of up to 22 individuals were excavated, along with pottery sherds, and a flint ‘saw’. The finds were split between the Royal College of Surgeons, and Maidstone Museum. Bennet’s excavations were written up and published in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 43 (Jan. – Jun., 1913), pp. 76-85. and can be accessed via JSTOR.

Folklore has it that an underground tunnel existed between the stones and the local church, containing ‘treasure’, and it may be that attempts to find this tunnel in antiquity caused the escarpment to collapse, as Bennet makes reference to a ‘cave’ in the slope.

Coldrum East

The name ‘Coldrum’ comes from a farm lodge which lay nearby to the south, but which is now demolished. Using the National Library of Scotland facility to search older OS maps, shows that on the 1870 survey, the Coldrum site is marked as the remains of a stone circle.

Coldrum Lodge, snipped from Kent Sheet XXX 1870

Coldrum Lodge, snipped from Kent Sheet XXX 1870

On the 1909 map, two further stone circles are marked in the vicinity of the lodge, but by the time of the 1936 survey, these have been demoted to ‘sarsen stones’ whilst the monument itself is now in the care of the National Trust, having been purchased by the Trust ten years ealrier. The site is now dedicated as a memorial to Benjamin Harrison of the Kent Archaeological Society, who spent much of his adult life looking for evidence of Kent’s earliest settlers.

Coldrum Lodge,snipped from OS Kent Sheet XXX.NE 1909

Coldrum Lodge,snipped from OS Kent Sheet XXX.NE 1909

Coldrum Lodge, snipped from OS Kent Sht XXX.NE (surveyed 1936, published 1948)

Coldrum Lodge, snipped from OS Kent Sht XXX.NE (surveyed 1936, published 1948)

An excellent review by Paul Ashbee of the various investigations at Coldrum can be found in Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 118 1998, available for download from the Kent Archaeological Society archives (pdf link)

The Dover Bronze Age Boat, when first discovered in 1992 during a road-building scheme and construction of an underpass, sparked several frantic days of rescue excavations to save it from destruction.

It was dated as being some 3500 years old (cue museum curator joke “I guess that makes it 3521 years old now then”). The boat was made using oak planks sewn together with yew lashings. This technique has a long tradition of use in British prehistory; the oldest known examples are from Ferriby in East Yorkshire (upon which the recent Falmouth Log Boat reconstruction was based).

Unfortunately, as the remains of the boat continued under a nearby building, the entire boat could not be rescued as part of the excavation, leading to speculation as to it’s true size. In total 9.5 metres of boat were excavated for preservation. At it’s widest point, the boat was 2 metres wide, ample room for two rowers to sit abreast.

In its buried situation, the boat was in an anaerobic environment, which meant that the wood was largely preserved. However, once uncovered, like the timbers of the Mary Rose and the ‘Seahenge’ timber circle,  the wood started to decompose.

However, this process seems to be well understood, the timbers were kept in a waterlogged state and shipped to the Mary Rose Trust  in Portsmouth for conservation. The preserved timbers were eventually returned to Dover for reassembly and display in 1998.

In March of 2012, a project was launched to build a half-sized replica of the boat, using mainly tools which would have been available at the time of the original (1550 BCE). Sadly, unlike the Falmouth project which launched successfully in 2013, the Dover boat did not fare so well.  It would seem that the Falmouth project learned valuable lessons from the Dover experience.

The Dover Boat Reconstruction in progress

The Dover Boat Reconstruction in progress

The replica boat has since been ‘on tour’ in museums in France and Belgium, but has now returned to the UK where a Kickstarter project has recently been launched to raise funds to enable the replica to be ‘reworked’ to make it more watertight. The project will only be funded if at least £5,000 is pledged by Wednesday Jul 31, so visit the Kickstarter page, watch the video and make your pledge!

The eventual hope is to see it ply along the Kent coast, and possibly even across the Channel, as it no  doubt used to do all those years ago. A new exhibition ‘Beyond the Horizon’ has also opened recently in Dover Museum. It celebrates the cross-channel connections of 3,500 years ago, when the coastal communities in Kent probably had far more in common with communities on the other side of the channel than with most of the rest of Britain.

Update: The original goal of £5000 funding pledges has now been reached, with more than a week to go to the end of the funding period. Additional ‘stretch’ goals have now been added, with additional benefits for funders if these new goals are reached. See the KickStarter page for current details . 

Useful links:
Wikipedia article
Current Archaeology magazine article
Canterbury Trust publication

Previously in Part 1, we toured the eastern group of the Medway Megaliths. We now turn our attentions to those sites grouped to the west of the river, in Addington and Trottiscliffe (pronounced ‘Trosley’). Note: Two of the sites in this group are on private land. Tours of the Chestnuts and Addington Long Barrow can be arranged for a nominal fee with the landowner, who provides an entertaining talk and lots of information about the sites. Appointments should be made in advance via Joan Bygrave, Rose Alba, Park Road, Addington, West Malling, Kent, ME19 5BQ

Addington is a small village, just to the west of Junction 4 on the M20. From the motorway junction, take the A228 south to the A20, then turn west (right) onto the A20 itself. About 1.5 miles west of the A228 is a side road on the right, ‘Trottiscliffe Road’ signposted for West Malling Golf Club. Turn right here. After half a mile, the road forks. Take the left hand fork, Park Road. Pass some new-ish build houses on the right, The Chestnuts, then look for somewhere to park before you cross the Addington Long Barrow

Addington Long Barrow (TQ653591)

Addington Long Barrow
Addington Long Barrow © Alan S

This barrow can be easily viewed from the road, mainly because in an act of historic vandalism, the road passes straight through it! Without the road, the mound would measure some 200 feet by 35 feet, and rises to a height of some 3 feet in places. There are several megaliths at the northeast end which originally made up either a chamber or a false portal. A survey in 1981 identified that some 25 stones could still be located on all four sides of the structure, thus forming a peristalith. The mound forms a truncated wedge shape, narrowing toward the southwestern end.

Just past the barrow on the right is the entrance to ‘Rose Alba’, where the Chestnuts are located.

The Chestnuts (TQ653592)

 

The Chestnuts
The Chestnuts © Creative Commons via Wikipedia

This Neolithic chambered tomb, excavated and part reconstructed, is not visible from the road and permission to view must be obtained from the landowner (see address above). A nominal fee is charged, and a tour can last up to an hour, which includes a hands-on dowsing session around the stones. A lot of mesolithic scatters have previously been found here, indicating an earlier settlement and the owner has a small collection which can be handled on request.

The site consists in the main of 12 large sarsen fragments forming an oblong E-W chamber with a facade at the east end. Cremated fragments of up to a dozen bodies were excavated within the chamber. There is significant evidence that the site was disturbed in medieval times, making accurate interpretation of the site difficult.

Leaving Rose Alba, turn left to return to the earlier fork, turning left on the main Trottiscliffe Road again. Follow this road, which crosses over the M20 motorway until you come to the village. After the George pub, take the first right (School Lane) and continue on into Church Lane. This leads to a T junction where the village church can be seen to the left and a signpost for Coldrum points to the right. Follow the road to the right, and after a sharp left turn, take the second right hand lane (signposted for Coldrum Long Barrow). There is a small car park here, from where you can proceed on foot. Follow the pathway directly east across a couple of fields and down a slope which can be boggy at times, until you come to a tree lined trackway. Turn right onto the trackway and in a few yards you’ll see Coldrum towering over the hedge above you to your right.

Coldrum (TQ654607)

Coldrum
Coldrum © Chris Brooks

Coldrum is another Neolithic chambered tomb, but in a precarious position, sitting on top of a sharp incline. In fact, the facade and capstones have tumbled and lie scattered at the foot of the slope. Despite this, Coldrum is the best preserved of the Megway Megaliths.

The rectangular mound, approx 90 x 60 feet is oriented E/W, and is bordered by sarsens evoking visual comparisons with some of the smaller stone circles in these isles. So much so that the centre of the mound, despite being fenced off, has become a favourite picnic/camp fire spot. Indeed, evidence suggests the fencing is often vandalised and used as kindling for such fires. A nearby tree is often festooned with ‘clouties’, a practice often associated with wells and springs. The bogginess of the ground suggests springs are not too far away.

 

Coldrum
Coldrum, looking East © Alan S

Being situated on a rise, the view to the east is extensive and for those interested in alignments, the entrance chamber would have pointed almost directly to Kit’s Coty five miles away, and visited in Part 1. Excavations at Coldrum in the late 19th and early 20th Century uncovered extensive bones of up to two dozen individuals, possibly all related.

Legend suggests that a tunnel containing treasure existed between Coldrum and Trottiscliffe Church. It’s thought that attempts to find this treasure may have led to the erosion of the escarpment and the collapse of the facade stones. There is also a story of an avenue of stones connecting Coldrum and Kit’s Coty. Agriculture has doubtless destroyed any evidence of such, though it could be an interesting area to research.

And thus ends our brief tour of the Medway Megaliths. A Google Map is available, showing the sites visited in both parts of this article. If you’ve enjoyed this tour please let us know in the comments, and if you’ve any ideas for future tours, please let us know those too.

The Medway Megaliths consist of two clusters of sites either side of the River Medway in Kent. These sites are the only groups of megaliths in eastern England. They all date from between 2500 and 1700 BCE and are largely the remains of burial chambers and long barrows. We’ll start our tour with the eastern group, the western group will be covered in part 2 of this tour.

The easiest approach to the eastern group is to head south on the A229 from Bluebell Hill (Junction 3 of the M2 motorway) towards Maidstone. Take the first exit slip which loops under the main road to become Rochester Road. After the crossroads, park in the lay-by on the right at National Grid Ref TQ747606. You now have some walking to do. Continue west until you come to a road junction. At this junction, a footpath heads to the north and to the southeast. Both paths lead directly to two of the sites in this area. Turn right onto the northern path, which heads up a gentle hill.

You are now on the Pilgrim’s Way, a trackway much more ancient than Chaucer’s Tales. Some 300 yards up this track, there is a break in the hedge on your left. Go through the gap to see Kit’s Coty House.

Kit’s Coty House (TQ745609)

Kit's Coty House

Kit's Coty House © Chris Brooks

The remains of this long barrow stand forlorn, graffitti’ed , and fenced in. Originally, the barrow would have extended to the west, but all that remains are three upright stones with a horizontal capstone which rises to a height of nearly 10 feet. Another stone, known as the General’s Stone, once stood at the west end of the barrow, but this was destroyed by explosives in 1867.

Samuel Pepys, the famous naval administrator and diarist, once visited here and described the site site thusly:

“Three great stones standing upright and a great round one lying on them, of great bigness, although not so big as those on Salisbury Plain. But certainly it is a thing of great antiquity, and I am mightily glad to see it.”

Kit’s Coty has the distinction of being one of the first sites in Britain to become a Scheduled Ancient Monument (1885), and a few years later metal railings were placed around the stones for protection. Unfortunately the rest of the barrow seems to have been omitted from the scheduling, being outside the fence, and was subsequently ploughed away. Several stones possibly uncovered by this ploughing can be found scattered in nearby woodland to the southwest. There is the briefest suggestion of a rise in the ground to show the barrow’s previous extent, approx 75 yards long.

Return to the trackway and retrace your steps down to the road junction. Take the middle of the three roads (immediately opposite) and walk down it for 200 yards, taking care of the traffic which can be fast and dangerous here. A small fenced pathway will be found on the left, with a kissing gate leading to the Countless Stones.

Little Kits Coty House, or The Countless Stones (TQ 744604)

Little Kit's Coty House

Little Kit's Coty House © Chris Brooks

Sitting under the buzzing electric pylons nearby – so many old sites seem to have pylons near them – is a pile of stones, the ruin of another neolithic chambered tomb, known variously as Little Kit’s Coty, Lower Kit’s Coty or The Countless Stones. This is reported to have been demolished sometime in the 17th century, and as the name suggests, there are various folk tales of difficulties in counting the stones here. All I can personally vouch is that there 19 or 20 stones visible. Evidence from an evaluation suggests that the monument did not occupy one end of an elongated mound as at Kit’s Coty House to the north.

Countless Stones by Stukeley

Itinerarium Curiosum 1776 © William Stukeley, M.D. F.R. & A.S.

William Stukely attempted a reconstruction of the site in plan in 1722 based on information from a correspondent who remembered the monument before its destruction (circa 1690). One recent interpretation of the site based on Stukeley’s plan was as follows:

“Stand to the east, looking back over the stones and along the access path. The closest stones [the mouth of the chamber] were all pushed over to the north, ie, to the right. The capstones lay tangled between the uprights on either side. The rear of what Stukely described as a semi-circular chamber was pushed in and to the right”

For the third site on our list, return to the road and cross to the other side, taking care of the traffic once again. Find a gap in the hedge, and almost immediately in front, some distance away is the Coffin Stone.

The Coffin Stone (TQ740606)

Coffin Stone

Coffin Stone © Creative Commons via Wikipedia

This stone is a thick slab, some 14 feet long, 6 feet wide and 2 feet thick. Other nearby stones, and the discovery of a considerable quantity of human bones near these stones in 1836, including at least two skulls, suggests that this may have also been a neolithic burial chamber. Sadly, the site only identified as a natural feature and is not currently scheduled. The stone stands on private property and is not publicly accessible, but can be plainly seen in the satellite view on Google Maps. The farmhouse to the south is Tottington Farm, and nearby is a spring head, where several other large sarsens can be found. An interesting article on the Tottington Sarsens is available for download from the Kent Archaeolical Society .

For the last site, return to the road junction and take the southeast track of the Pilgrim’s Way. This is the longest part of the walk, and the track across to the A229 is often very muddy here. An alternative is to return to the car, return to the A229 southbound and exit at the next sliproad, parking near to the caravan dealership. Again, see Google Maps satellite view for details. The Pilgrim’s Way crosses under the A229 and tracks alongside the caravan dealership and on to cross the high speed train line via a new bridge. A short distance after the train line, a large stone can be found on the left hand side of the path. This is the White Horse Stone.

White Horse Stone (TQ753603)

White Horse Stone

White Horse Stone © Alan S

This large stone, approx 9 feet by 4 feet, and some 2 feet thick, is accompaning by several smaller stones streching in a line for some 30 feet. It is more correctly called the Upper White Horse Stone. The accompanying nearby Lower stone is long gone, and the Upper stone has inherited the legends and stories of its lost companion. Identification of the stone as part of a Neolithic burial chamber is condidered highly speculative. During works for the high speed rail link, a Neolithic long house and undefined bronze age timber circle plus a late bronze/ early iron age settlement were found in the area, and the site of Smythe’s Megalith (or Warren Farm Chamber – nothing now remains to be seen) is only 200 or so yards away to the northwest.

This concludes the first part of our journey around the Medway Megaliths, readers are encouraged to carry out some internet research for more information and history of the individual sites listed above. Part 2 coming soon!

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