Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

Excavations at the Beaney 2010

The redevelopment of the Beaney Institute has provided a fantastic opportunity to investigate part of the heart of Roman Canterbury (Durovernum Cantiacorum).The site is located next to the Roman Forum, the focus of the town’s trade and political activity.Whilst the general layout of the Roman town is known there are many gaps in our knowledge and this excavation, though in its early stages has already provided new information.

For instance the route of one of the principal roads through the Roman town passed the site and we have not only identified this road, but found the edge of it, showing that it ran parallel with the north side of the modern High Street. We have found a piece of preserved timber forming the revetment of the edge of this road in the basement of Kingsbridge Villas.

Beaney: Roman CanterburyBeaney: Roman timberBeaney: medieval pottery
We have a sequence of deposits with gravel levelling layers at the bottom which contain very fresh and unworn first-century pottery. These layers were laid down when the Roman town was first formalised.A portion of a large Roman wall has been found as well as courtyard surfaces. Due to its location next to the Forum, the building must have been a high status one. The courtyard may well have been filled with market stalls and been a very busy place.A further metre depth of Roman deposits lay above the early levelling layers, with very late Roman and Anglo-Saxon buildings at the top of the sequence.The site has been very cut about by medieval pits. These pits are full of pottery and other finds, some from shortly after the Norman Conquest. Some of the material from these pits is waterlogged and soil samples should recover all kinds of organic remains.Two pottery lamps known as cresset lamps were found in one of these pits. They would have been filled with fat and mounted on a wall. These date from the early medieval period.

Various items of worked bone have been found, including unfinished items which suggest that there was a workshop in the area.

The Beaney Institute is located on the site of a medieval inn known as the George & Dragon. The inn was one of several in Canterbury which served to accommodate and feed the scores of pilgrims that came to the cathedral. This timber-framed inn survived until the nineteenth century. It seems likely that a collection of eighteenth-century stoneware tankards, some with their owner’s name on them, were associated with the inn.

Excavation continues …
Beaney: cresset lampBeaney: bone objectsBeaney: stoneware tankards
Update 16 April: work continues. The remains of several buildings have now been found.One is a very distinctive form of Anglo-Saxon building with a sunken floor (sometimes known as grubenhäuser). This shows that the centre of town was occupied after the Romans had left. A number of buildings of this type have been found in Canterbury, many concentrated in the area of the Marlowe Arcade and Whitefriars precinct. Others are known, though not so many have yet been found on this north side of the High Street.There are at least two buildings of the late Roman period constructed using substantial timbers placed on huge stone pads. The stones have clearly been taken from earlier buildings to be re-used. Those here could have come from the Forum.
Beaney: excavations underwayBeaney: Anglo-Saxon buildingBeaney: large ragstone block
A Roman building with a timber frame, clay walls and a wooden floor has been found. This can be dated to AD 270–325 from the pottery found under the collapsed walls. Some of the pottery has been burnt as have many of the building’s timbers so it is evident that this building was destroyed by fire. Closely packed timber buildings would have been very vulnerable to fire, especially with naked flames used for lighting, cooking and heating.Further buildings exist below this timber-framed building, as indicated by a sequence of clay floors. Some of these clay floors contain large quantities of painted wall plaster. The plaster is in fragments and amongst rubble used as make-up layers for the floors. Some of the pieces are elaborately decorated.
Beaney: burnt wooden floorBeaney: excavating building with wooden floorBeaney: Roman painted plaster
A mid to late second-century building has also been excavated. This had a brick and clay oven with a large amount of animal bone associated with it. The bones were almost all the lower jaw bones of sheep, presumably animals that had been cooked in the oven.The way the bone was strewn on the floor beside the oven suggests the area would have been quite unpleasant by modern hygienic standards.Excavation continues.

    open all | close all