Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

Church Street, Maidstone

Following evaluation undertaken in November 2011, an excavation has recently been completed on the site of a former tennis court and gardens in Church Street in advance of a new housing scheme.

The site lies east of Maidstone town centre on gently sloping ground. To the west is the River Medway and the main Roman road that links Rochester to the Weald and beyond. Whilst the medieval settlement of Maidstone is assumed to be largely bound by the river and to the south by the Archbishop’s Palace, the extent of earlier prehistoric and Roman settlement remains largely unknown. Random finds of prehistoric material have been recorded within the general locale of the site, as have Roman objects and even possible buildings. Medieval occupation activity was noted during redevelopment of the Ophthalmic Hospital, located immediately north, whilst much later, during the nineteenth century, the site was formal gardens. The tennis court was constructed in the early twentieth century, bordered by trees and shrubs and had become very overgrown in recent times.
Site planWork in progress
The area was stripped by machine and this immediately revealed a series of ditches, pits and post-holes. The earliest features were five ditches running the entire length of the site on a north-east to south-west alignment. These were all backfilled with quantities of ragstone and domestic material consisting of animal bone and late Iron Age–Roman pottery. A few fragments of metalwork were also retrieved, including a fine example of a complete Roman brooch dated to the first century AD and two Roman coins. A ditch running across the eastern extent of the excavation area had been cut by a later, deeper ditch that ran parallel to the former, clipping its western edge. The second ditch may have been dug to re-establish a boundary. A third ditch running parallel to the boundary ditches was of narrow width and current interpretation suggests it could have been a track-way. The remaining two ditches were located within the western half of the site on the same alignment, following on from one another, separated by a gap of approximately 3.5m. Together these ditches represent part of an enclosure with the gap forming an obvious entrance-way.
Boundary ditchesEnclosure ditchesRoman brooch
A cluster of five pits was identified within the western extent of the site, one pit cutting the earlier enclosure ditch. With the exception of one larger pit, all were of similar size and were generally sub-circular in shape; depths ranged between 0.39 and 1.37m. Depths of some had clearly been influenced by the natural bedrock, a compacted sandstone and ragstone. This was clearly difficult to dig through in the past, just as we found it challenging in the present! As with the ditches, large quantities of ragstone and domestic material, consisting of animal bone, late Iron Age–Roman pottery, tile and metalwork, was retrieved from the pit fills. Two items of note were a large Roman key and the base and lower section of a white clay figurine. All of the pits also contained a fill of greenish hue, strongly suggesting a cess element. The similarity of fills and retrieved artefacts indicates a contemporary date for these pits.
Roman keyRubbish pitLarge rubbish pit
Other features included a possible hearth in the north-eastern corner of the site, cutting into the upper fill of a ditch and surrounded by a spread of daub and yellow clay mottling. Redeposited clay formed a roughly circular outline with a possible flue entrance-way infilled by carbon and pottery sherds. Full analysis of the pottery is required for dating purposes and will help with the identification of this feature. If indeed a hearth then it has been virtually eradicated through heavy truncation.
Fragment of figurineHearth
Three shallow post-holes of unknown date formed the remaining archaeological features on site. No cultural material was retrieved from their fills, but their alignment and location between the possible track-way and enclosure ditch tentatively suggests they may be related to these features.

A large subrectangular shaped pit was located towards the centre of site. Clay pipe and pegtile fragments were retrieved from the fill and it is likely this feature is a garden pit perhaps associated with the Victorian almshouses neighbouring the site to the east.

Excavation finished in early March and analysis of the finds and records is now in progress.

Laura O’Shea
Site Supervisor

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