Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

28 St Dunstan’s Street, Canterbury

This site, which will be developed by Churchill Retirement Homes, was excavated in advance of construction.  The site lies outside the medieval West Gate, in an important suburb of the Roman, Anglo-Saxon and medieval town which has been intensively occupied for the past 2000 years. A complex sequence of buildings and features was excavated under the supervision of the Trust’s senior field officer, Jon Rady.

The earliest deposits encountered comprised clay quarries and rubbish pits of the early to mid Roman period (first to later third centuries AD).  Such features, which were previously also found at the adjacent Hallet’s Garage site, provide more evidence to suggest development along the Roman road following the line of St Dunstan’s Street.  Canterbury at that time had a considerable population.  As an important administrative centre it contained a range of substantial public buildings (theatre, temple, forum and basilica and public baths), and a clearly defined network of streets lined with domestic dwellings, shops, and workshops.

View looking across the site towards St Dunstan's StreetThis Roman ceramic object might be the grip of a lid or stopperComplete pottery jar from a Roman pit

The Roman road from Richborough, having passed through the town, followed the line of prsent-day St Dunstan’s Street, and joined the Roman London road near St Dunstan’s church.  St Dunstan’s Street is therefore very ancient and follows the line of a road that was probably in existence by the mid first century AD.  A sequence of Roman ditches along the street frontage probably relates to this road.

The Roman town walls were built in the late third century. The Roman predecessor of the medieval West Gate would have been one of the most important gates to the town.  At the adjacent Hallet’s Garage site, a cemetery was established soon after the defences were constructed, but no Roman burials were found here at 28 St Dunstan’s Street.

The development of the built-up suburb of St Dunstan’s probably dates from the later Anglo-Saxon or early Norman period.  Occupation of the site during the early medieval period consists of numerous rubbish pits but by c 1300 a range of properties existed against the St Dunstan’s frontage with a further series of structures to the rear.  Subsequent development has been almost uninterrupted.

A corner of the site, with the West Gate in the distanceRecording the remains of early medieval timber structuresMedieval painted window-glass

A complex sequence of medieval buildings was excavated.  Masonry dwarf walls, built to support timber-framed structures were present together with clay floors, and in places elaborate sequences of tiled hearths.  There were at least six intercutting tile-on-edge and brick-built bread ovens to the rear of the frontage properties, suggesting the presence of a commercial bakery.  Evidence for a row of extra-mural domestic properties is preserved here together with gravel courtyards and a possible lane linking the complex with St Dunstan’s Street.

Medieval building levels being excavatedA medieval tile-on-edge fireplaceLate brick-built bread oven under excavation

Medieval timber-framed buildings gave way to more modern properties and the remains of their foundations crossed the site.  Capping the medieval sequence were the foundations of a large and long-lived town-house with large cellars and associated out-buildings.  Numerous brick cess tanks and drains were present to the rear of this property.

General view across the site.  Late medieval cellar in foreground.SurveyingExcavating a brick cess-tank

The town-house was destroyed during the Second World War, and the crater made by a high-explosive bomb was found within the excavated area.  After the war the site was redeveloped as a garage.

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