Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

Augustine House, Canterbury Christ Church University 2006

Work has begun at the rear of Augustine House, Rhodaus Town as part of Canterbury Christ Church University’s programme of redevelopment, which entails the demolition of the existing Augustine House office block (formerly known as Clarkson House) and the construction of a new £30 million library complex. The work has so far included a desk-based assessment and archaeological evaluation, undertaken by the Trust in 2006, and will now continue as an area excavation (presently underway), to be followed by a programme of watching and recording brief work when construction begins. Augustine House is situated immediately outside the circuit of the late Roman and medieval town walls and south of Watling Street, the principal Roman route between Canterbury and Dover. The area is believed to have been the focus for early Roman industry and later Roman suburban development, as well as being located within an area of dispersed Roman burial.

Augustine House: Aerial view.Augustine House excavation.

Early Roman quarries

During evaluation trenching extensive evidence for large-scale quarrying was unearthed across the development area and the current excavation has now exposed at least three of these quarries. Archaeological works below the adjacent Canterbury Police Station and along Old Dover Road has already indicated that this quarrying took place during the later first and early second century AD, and it is our plan to investigate at least one of the quarries to confirm this date. The quarries would have been cut to extract natural brickearth for tile and brick production, as well as for the underlying gravel to provide material for road surfacing. It is known that the quarry pits were not immediately backfilled once abandoned and would have been visible features in the local topography, at least until the early post-medieval period.

Late Roman suburbia

Previous excavation south of the Old Dover Road has identified traces of late Roman occupation, perhaps as ribbon development along Watling Street. Pits, post-holes, a trackway, and later metalled yard surfaces were recorded and all appear to represent activity continuing to the late third and early fourth century AD. Within the present excavation, similar features have been identified between the quarry pits. Initial assessment suggests we might have evidence of timber-built structures, with associated floor and occupation deposits. Finds have so far included over forty coins, with a narrow date range of c. AD 320–360, in addition to the more usual pottery and animal bone. A detailed strategy for environmental sampling of these deposits is being followed to recover evidence of the economy and land use in this area.

Roman burials

Three inhumation burials and a possible cremation burial have so far been unearthed during our excavation, and are all believed to date to the Roman period. Further Roman burials are known to exist in the area between Station Road East, the Dane John and Old Dover Road. This dispersed pattern of burial suggests an informal distribution of small-scale family plots, in contrast to the more formal extra-mural cemetery excavated by the Trust at St Dunstan’s, Canterbury.

Augustine House: One of the Roman burials.Augustine House: Hob-nailed footwear associated with the cremation.Augustine House: One of the Roman burials.

After the Romans

Occupation along the southern frontage of Watling Street is believed to have continued into the Anglo-Saxon period, with some evidence for occupation and industrial activity recovered during excavations to the north-east of Augustine House. A large ditch has been discovered, crossing our present site from the north-west to the south-east and cutting through the partially backfilled Roman quarry pits. Significantly, this boundary runs parallel to and some 70m south of Watling Street, and is known to have been in existence from at least AD 1200 when early Christ Church rentals record a boundary south of properties fronting Old Dover Road, separating those properties from lands of the Dane John Manor to the south-west. The ditch has yet to be excavated, but surface cleaning has indicated that it was in use for a long time, with evidence for several phases of gradual infilling and clearance.

News of further discoveries and finds will be updated regularly, so watch this space to find out how the Augustine House project is helping to unravel Canterbury’s suburban past.

The excavation work is being undertaken whilst the demolition of Augustine House is underway. The Trust would like to thank the Augustine House Project at Christ Church University and the demolition contractors, John F. Hunt Demolition, for their ready help and cooperation.

Richard Helm
Project Manager

    open all | close all