Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

Beneath the prison

November 20th, 2019

An extensive archaeological investigation of the site of the former Canterbury Prison, now part of Canterbury Christ Church University, took place between July 2018 and June 2019. The work was undertaken in advance of and during the construction of Building 2 destined to house new Science, Technology, Health, Engineering and Medical facilities.

Many archaeological features were identified and excavated. Potentially the earliest was a cremation burial of second- to third-century date containing two semi-complete pottery vessels. This burial is part of a larger Romano-British cemetery excavated by the Trust during the extension of the Old Sessions House in the late 1990s.
CCCU HMP Roman cremation burial
Cutting the grave was a probable early medieval ditch from which large quantities of animal and bird bone, including slightly unusual species such as teal and red-throated diver, were recovered. It is likely that this bone represents the remains of food being consumed within the Abbey. Also excavated in this area were substantial Romano-British and medieval pits, with similar examples excavated in the 1990s. A large boundary ditch that ran parallel to Longport was also identified.

The most significant find in this area was an Anglo-Saxon grave containing the heavily degraded remains of an adult female. The woman had been buried with a silver garnet-inlaid Kentish disc brooch, a necklace of amber and glass beads, a belt fastened with a copper alloy buckle, a copper alloy bracelet and an iron knife. The brooch would have been made in east Kent during the final decades of the sixth century AD with the garnets likely originating in Sri Lanka. The brooch and the other finds suggest a date of burial between about 580 and 600.
CCCU HMP Digging the graveCCCU HMP The grave
CCCU HMP Bead necklaceCCCU HMP Brooch
This burial, close to the present boundary with St Augustine’s Abbey, almost certainly took place before the construction of the first church at St Augustine’s in the early seventh century. This suggests that high-status burial was taking place on the site in the years shortly before the establishment of the abbey. The subsequent burial of Augustine and his companions, archbishops, and members of the Kentish royal dynasty therefore represents a continuance of existing practice at the site, rather than a completely new development.

CCCU HMP Post Medieval quarryingCCCU HMP Boundary ditch along North Holmes Road
The archaeological work undertaken in the Old Sessions House area represents the final phase of investigations which have taken place as part of the Building 2 project. Within the main site discoveries included Romano-British and medieval pits and ditches, though much of the earlier archaeology in this area had been destroyed by post-medieval quarrying. Some of this quarrying may have been associated with the construction of the prison buildings in the nineteenth century. A substantial medieval ditch was recorded running along North Holmes Road which would have formed part of the boundary to the outer precincts of the Abbey.

Canterbury Journey update

November 18th, 2019

Anyone walking through the cathedral grounds over the past eighteen months or so is likely to have noticed archaeologists amongst those working on the Canterbury Journey landscaping scheme. The core team of Phil Mayne and Frances Morgan has been busy in the South Precincts since February 2018, with other archaeologists joining them during more intense periods of the project. The work has involved a combination of watching brief and excavation, a watching brief being maintained during the removal of upper levels of overburden, following which excavation proceeded to required formation depth. The ground was then left ready for the laying of new paving, and the archaeologists moved to the next area.

The investigations have certainly been fruitful. In the far north-west corner of the precincts, south of the gates of the current Archbishop’s Palace, structural remains associated with Lanfranc’s palace were identified. His Great Hall, forming the main range of the eleventh-century palace, extended westwards from the north-west tower of the cathedral church. The excavation work revealed walls of the hall, though inside only dumps of later infilling material were exposed, the floor levels lying below at greater depth.

Immediately to the south a series of medieval walls survived, underneath a depth of structural debris, in places just 15cm below the current ground surface. One of the walls was aligned east–west and formed the southern boundary of the Archbishop’s Palace. The walls abutting to the north comprised a building forming part of, or lying adjacent to, the palace, perhaps parts of the buildings represented on a tinted drawing dated 1683. At least three phases of wall were revealed, together with two fireplaces, a doorway and a window reveal. Areas of white plaster render survived in places adhering to the internal faces of the masonry. The bonded chalk and flint walls suggest a fourteenth-century or later date. The buildings they represented perhaps stood, with the modification of later brick structures, until the nineteenth century, when the southernmost range of the former Archbishop’s Palace was dismantled.
Aerial view of the west front of the Cathedral Church Archbishop’s Palace in 1683 (Tanner MSS cxxiii, 22–24) Building remains exposed outside the west front of the Cathedral Church
Another area to reveal significant remains lay immediately outside the south-west door of the Cathedral Church. Here, phases of masonry pre-dating the early fifteenth-century porch were observed during the laying of a new service run. They comprised what appeared to be two possible buttresses, offset both southwards and westwards from the upstanding porch masonry. The masonry was constructed predominantly of flint, though included pieces of Reigate stone. Curiously, the buttresses, if this is what they were, were not symmetrical, the easternmost protruding further south than the western. The remains are such that they suggest a structure extending further west than the current Cathedral Church, yet to date there has been no evidence of previous masonry in this area and we have no knowledge of what these masonry remains could have formed. It is hoped that future investigations which progress around the south-west corner of the church may reveal more.

To the south, outside the rapidly rising new Welcome Centre, ground reduction as part of the landscaping work revealed parts of two structures, one of internally rendered bonded brick and the other of mortared stone blocks. A conduit house is known to have stood in this general area, recorded on a plan of the precincts dating from 1669 (Wilkes) and again in 1680 (Thomas Hill). William Gosling, writing in 1774, described it as ‘a small stone house, with a cistern in it, which had a common cock for the use of the church tenants in the neighbourhood, and was supplied with water from the great reservoir in the Green-court’. A subterranean brick vault, interpreted as being associated with the conduit house, was observed in 1985–6 during construction of the former Welcome Centre but its location was never accurately recorded. Having wondered for over 30 years where the conduit house might have been, there now appear to be two candidates for its location!

Across other parts of the landscaping area, the remains largely comprised metalled and crushed stone surfaces which would have lain within the precincts during the seventeenth to early twentieth centuries. They have clearly been laid and relaid many times to aid passage around the cathedral and no doubt to accommodate the fairs held in the precincts, including the Michaelmas Fair. Also exposed have been a number of drains, including the Great Drain of Prior Goldstone, of late fifteenth-/early sixteenth-century date, seen in the pathway leading to the south door of the Cathedral Church. A small number of burials and the tops of graves have been revealed, but the depth of the landscaping has ensured that no articulated burials have required exhumation.

The works are projected to last until Christmas 2019, after which there will be a long period of post-excavation work, analysing what has been discovered and writing up the results into an appropriate publication. What is undoubtedly true, even at this stage, is that the scale of the works will have ensured that the remains significantly increase our understanding of activities within the precincts over previous centuries.

Alison Hicks

Canterbury Festival Walks

August 15th, 2019

The Festival programme is out and nestled on pages 43 to 45 you’ll find details of twenty fascinating Festival Walks. The Friends are the main providers of the walks, running t wo-thirds of those on offer. Once again, the list includes a ‘virtual walk’ for those of limited mobility.  If you haven’t yet obtained a programme, here are details of the walks. A word of warning: many of the walks sell out very quickly and tickets MUST BE BOUGHT IN ADVANCE from the Festival Office in Orange Street.

Saturday 19 October: 2 pm
The Village of Bridge. Pauline Pritchard
Roman soldiers, Canterbury pilgrims, race-course visitors, stage-coach travellers – the ancient Watling Street brought them all through Bridge.

Sunday 20 October: 2 pm
NEW! An Armchair Tour of Historic Tankerton and Whitstable. David Birmingham
A virtual excursion, enabling those of limited mobility (and others) to see images of places they can’t reach. Wheelchair accessible.

Monday 21 October: 10 am
Explore St Dunstans! Peter Berg
The final steps of the Pilgrim Way, an ancient church, site of the world’s first passenger railway – and much more.

Monday 21 October: 2 pm
NEW! A Day in the Life of a Monk. Geoff Downer
An introduction to medieval monastic life in the Benedictine Priory of Canterbury.

Tuesday 22 October: 10 am
The Roof Lines of Canterbury. Hubert Pragnell
What’s above the shops? An invitation to look up at the varied rooflines, facades, and brickwork of  Canterbury buildings.

Tuesday 22 October: 2 pm
Exploring King’s School. Peter Henderson
Find out about the history and buildings of the King’s School on a walk round the Cathedral Precincts.

Wednesday 23 October: 10 am
Canterbury’s Medieval Friaries. Sheila Sweetinburgh
Canterbury was home to three orders of friars, but little now remains. We will explore where they lived.

Weds. 23 October: 2 pm
NEW! The Old Dover Road and the Cricket Ground. Michael Steed
Discover Roman Watling Street, Jerusalem millwrights, the Holy Maid of Kent, medieval leprosy, Kent’s cricket history and much more.

Thursday 24 October: 10 am
NEW! Women of Canterbury. Doreen Rosman
From Queen Bertha to Catherine Williamson, Canterbury’s first female mayor: see places associated with famous, infamous, and forgotten local women.

Thursday 24 October: 2 pm
The Stones of Reculver. Geoff Downer
Learn about the history, construction, and building materials of the Roman fort and medieval church – and see a dinosaur’s footprint.

Friday 25 October: 10 am
A Walk in and about St Augustine’s College. Peter Henderson
A tour of the buildings of the former St Augustine’s College, now part of the King’s School.

Friday 25 October: 2 pm
Canterbury’s Medieval Hospitals. Sheila Sweetinburgh
Some ancient almshouses still fulfil the functions envisaged by their medieval founders: an opportunity to visit and learn about them.

Sunday 27 October: 2 pm
Victorian City: splendour and squalor. Doreen Rosman
Pigs in backyards, sewage in the Stour, elegant shops and grandiose banks: find out about life in Victorian Canterbury.

Monday 28 October: 10 am
NEW! A Walk around Jewish Canterbury. Kerstin Müller
Explore the lives of Canterbury’s medieval Jews. See where their eighteenth- and nineteenth-century successors worked, worshipped, and were buried.

Monday 28 October: 2 pm
A Literary Tour of the King’s School. Peter Henderson
An opportunity to see the Maugham Library and Hugh Walpole’s outstanding collection of English literary manuscripts.

Tuesday 29 October: 10 am
Frontline Folkestone. Liz Minter
On the frontline of trade and of war, threatened by invasions, explore how over the centuries Folkestone reacted and survived.

Weds 30 October: 10 am
The Director’s Walk. Paul Bennett
The Director of the Archaeological Trust can evoke the ancient city of Canterbury in a way that no-one else can.

Thursday 31 October: 10 am
NEW! War Memorials of Canterbury. Cressida Williams
An exploration of memorials to the fallen of nineteenth- and twentieth-century wars, in buildings as well as public spaces.

Friday 1 November: 10 am
Introductory Tour of Dover Western Heights. Keith Parfitt
Explore some of the most interesting parts of Dover’s Western fortifications, including a short low passageway, with an experienced archaeologist. Moderately strenuous.

Saturday 2 November: 10 am
‘Strangers’ in Canterbury. Doreen Rosman
Walloons, Flemings, and Huguenots sought sanctuary in Tudor and Stuart Canterbury. Find out about them, their descendants, and their new home.

Burglary update

July 30th, 2019

Raymond Roberts, a 37-year-old Canterbury man, has been jailed for handling goods stolen during the January 2018 burglaries at our store at Kingsmead. Kent Police issued a statement yesterday.

Roberts was arrested by police on two occasions and found to have a total of 31 stolen items from the stores on his person. These included Roman coins and bone hairpins, fragments of an Anglo-Saxon comb and replica objects from the Trust’s schools loans collections. In addition, he had multiple labelled finds bags from a number of excavations, although in many cases the finds had been removed.

Trust Director Paul Bennett said “We are very grateful to Kent Police for their efforts in bringing Roberts to justice. Anyone knowingly handling items stolen from the Trust’s stores also runs the risk of jail and we will certainly continue to support the police in investigating any further leads on this case”.

Many items stolen during the break-ins remain outstanding. Pictured are replica Anglo-Saxon jewellery, beads and coins from the school loans collection which are still missing. Anyone with any information as to the whereabouts of the stolen items should contact Kent Police on 01843 222289 quoting 46/ZY/4200/18. Alternatively, contact Canterbury Archaeological Trust on 01227 462062 or by email at

Bronze Age boat in Whitstable

July 30th, 2019

Dover Bronze Age Boat: The day after the launch

The replica Bronze Age boat will be at Whitstable Harbour Day on Saturday (3rd August).

Presented by Whitstable Maritime 10,000 visitors are expected to enjoy bands • boat trips • marine environment • coracle building • lifeboats • coastguards • boating pool • frontier force • inshore-fisheries • model boats • steam train rides • beach gardens • rope making • tipper trucks • traditional & modern boats • marine archaeology • coastal birds • children’s theatre • food stalls • gifts • crafts (and more).

And it’s FREE. Come and join us!

Summer outings

June 17th, 2019

strawberry bunting
It’s June! The sun is out (today at least), the strawberries are ripening and it’s time for garden parties, fetes and pageants.  Here are three local events where you can catch up with the Trust, handle some finds or have a Litte Dig.

First up is Charing Village Fete and Flower Show on Saturday 22nd June at Clewards Meadow, from 12.00 noon. Annie Partridge will be attending with Charing Palace Project with activities for children, including the Little Dig, and a selection of finds from our archive.

Next will be Canterbury’s ‘Medieval Pageant’ on 6th July. The pageant commemorates Henry II’s pilgrimage to Canterbury in 1174. It’s a colourful event with historical characters, local schools, community and re-enactment groups, giants, music and medieval mayhem all part of the day. In the past we have been outdoors at the castle, but this year we will be inside at St Paul’s Church, sharing the space with students and helpers from Canterbury Christ Church University.  To download your Medieval Pageant and Trail Booklet click here.

Take an evening stroll out to Chartham on Sunday 21st July and investigate ‘My place in time … Roman Canterbury’. St Mary’s Church will be open from 6pm where local Roman finds will be on display. There will be activities for children and at 7pm Jake Weekes will talk about the Roman town. Tickets for the event are £5 on the door, including wine. Children free and all proceeds will go to St Mary’s Church and Canterbury Archaeological Trust.

Do come and say hello!

It’s out

April 24th, 2019

Chalk Hill publication
This book considers the discoveries at Chalk Hill in terms of ‘landscapes’ and looks beyond the edges of the excavation area to try to understand the site in terms of its surroundings, from the perspective of topography and environment as well as the perception of the people who experienced and modified this chalky hillside over the millennia.

The excavations (undertaken in December 1997 and January 1998 as part of a new road scheme) were primarily aimed at investigating the remains of a possible early Neolithic causewayed enclosure visible on aerial photographs. However, the monument could not in fact be categorised as a causewayed enclosure, but instead represented a type of early Neolithic ritual monument unique to the British Isles.

The site description for each landscape is followed by a series of pertinent specialist reports focussing on a range of artefacts and ecofacts of different classes: flint, stone, pottery registered finds, human bone, animal bone, palaeoenvironmental samples, charred plant remains, shellfish and coprolites.

Available from Sidestone Press

NEW COURSE, new date: Exploring the Medieval and Early Tudor Cinque Ports

February 25th, 2019

Cinque Ports ship on Dover Seal
In a change to the previously published programme this new course will now take place on Saturday, 6 April.

Drawing on work previously undertaken by the Trust and documentary sources, this one-day course, delivered by Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh, will provide students with the opportunity to explore the development of the Kentish Cinque Ports from the Norman Conquest to the Reformation, with a special emphasis on the later Middle Ages. Through a combination of lectures and workshops, students will learn about the Ports, their citizens and communities of ward and parish, as well as having the opportunity to work with a range of primary sources.

Click here for more details and booking.

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