Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

St Mary’s Church, Chartham

When an archaeological input was required as part of a scheme of repairs to the rainwater drainage system at St Mary’s in Chartham, the opportunity was taken to develop a small community project. Archaeologists from the Trust were assisted by members of the parochial church council and St Mary’s congregation as well as helpers from the wider parish and other volunteers.

The project ran from October 2010 until March 2011 over a particularly harsh winter. It began with the location of previous drainage runs. These were traced from the position of down pipes on the church building. With the old pipe trenches identified, excavation of their backfills and removal of old pipes commenced. Some partial re-routing in order to rationalise the system proved necessary. In addition, two new soakaway pits (to north and south of the church), an associated drainage run on the north side, a drainage gully adjacent to the south transept and a pit to house re-used stone as hardstanding for the west porch were excavated.

Works underwayNorthern soakawaySouthern extension

During the work prehistoric, Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon material was recovered from cemetery soils and burial backfills in the form, respectively, of fragments of burnt flint, sporadic fragments of Roman tile and two infant femurs recovered from the old pipe trench backfill. Significantly these little bones were found in an area crossed by the projected alignment of an earlier church identified during excavation in 2001, so may have originally derived from an ‘eavesdrip’ child burial, several of which were recorded in the earlier excavation.

The backfilling of a probable burial next to the southern wall of the chancel with what was clearly medieval foundation material was interesting in that this material presumably derived from either the current or a previous incarnation of the church building. In an adjacent burial a large void was encountered, possibly created when several coffins that had been interred either together or in quick succession, disintegrated en mass.

The cemetery soils encountered during the work within the line of the transept and toilet block on the north side of the church appeared on surface inspection to contain no finds later than medieval – a rim sherd of early fourteenth-century date was recovered from one area. Beyond this area on the north side the ground was far more intensively disturbed by post-medieval burial, with individual graves very difficult to discern amid a mass of backfilled and loamy material containing redeposited human remains.

The nineteenth-century drainage system was found to have some noteworthy quirks, such as the cavalier way in which it had impinged upon medieval foundations; in the case of the pipe trench near the north side of the chancel, avoidance of the buttress foundation would have meant only a minor detour. On the other hand, apparently arbitrary ‘minor detours’ characterised the pipeline on the south side of the nave near the porch, its meandering course requiring rectification during the current works.

The buttressMetal detecting spoilEmily looking at finds

Several residual medieval and post-medieval finds were retained for later display in the church, including medieval potsherds and fragments of painted floor tile, a musket ball and a clay pipe stem celebrating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

While the archaeological findings of the excavations were admittedly perhaps of little research significance, the project provided ample opportunity for community outreach and involvement.

An open day, held on 30th October, took advantage of the outlying position of the northern soakaway pit to allow visitors to watch the digging and learn about excavation and recording practices, including proper treatment of human bones. In the church, information boards and a display of finds attracted many interested visitors.

Open Day at the excavationVisitors view findsOpen Day at the excavation

Open Day at the excavationOpen Day at the excavationOpen Day at the excavation

This was a project conducted by the church community and parishioners, but Nikko Hicks (Churchwarden), who promoted, designed and drove the St Mary’s Chartham rainwater drains project, leading from the front in all weathers, demonstrated his particular dedication to a very fine building. Part of the funding for the project was derived from a legacy left by a former PCC member, Paul Hill, whose dual contribution to the maintenance of the church building and its value as a heritage asset is gratefully acknowledged. Thanks are also extended to Churchwarden Gerard O’Sullivan who helped to articulate the various aspects of the project as well as being a core member of the team from a practical point of view.

Other helpers from the church included Gordon Steadwood, Andrew Goddard, Tony Frost and members of St Mary’s junior church (thank you Alex, Greg, Matthew, Isobel, Alexa, William and Tom).

Diocesan Archaeologist Paul Bennett and Ian Dodd of the Diocesan Advisory Committee provided useful advice and support throughout and Emily Weekes assisted with archaeological supervision of volunteers, conducted finds processing and organised the open day display. Thanks are also extended to Richard White of Horton for his archaeological assistance throughout and to Stephen Rawling for his contribution. Hayley Jedrejewski, now of the Trust, kindly volunteered osteoarchaeological expertise, and Gordon Steadwood and Val Goddard carried out the spoil heap metal detecting which produced some interesting finds (such as the musket ball). Tamsyn Steadwood ably photographed the public events for us, and Gill Hicks is thanked for making sure that hot drinks and biscuits arrived with perfect timing (even catering for the gluten free!).

St Mary’s Priest-in-Charge, the Rev Phil Brown provided moral support and brought the project to a close by conducting a short service for the reburial of the bones. This final act of the project was as important as any other, and was greatly appreciated by parishioners.

Bones reburied

For more about this project and previous work undertaken by the Trust at St Mary’s Church, Chartham, see Canterbury’s Archaeology 2010–2011 and Canterbury’s Archaeology  2001–2002.

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