Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

You can follow us for regular updates on TWITTER and FACEBOOK
Jump down page to Woolcomber Street dig

Russell Street Dig: News bulletin 6

After 215 days in the field, it’s finally all over. We pulled the last digger out of their hole at 5.30 on Sunday night. In true archaeological style, the last few days on site were pretty hectic and, typically, all sorts of new observations and discoveries started coming in thick and fast, tying up many loose ends and sorting out some long-standing queries.

We finally reached the bottom of our medieval garderobe shaft (toilet) in Cellar 10 and found it to be full of waterlogged ‘organic material’ (shall we say). As a nice reward for the person digging it out, he recovered a complete German stoneware beer-mug, dating to about AD 1600, near the bottom. Elsewhere on the site, as we started to bottom-up several more deep pits and shafts, other impressive groups of pottery were found. Looking at the material recovered overall, there still seems to be no Anglo-Saxon finds present and our earliest discoveries look to be of around AD 1075 – so just after the Norman conquest.
Russell Street: end of excavationRussell Street: end of excavation
Immediately following the digging on Sunday, the last remaining field-staff retired to the nearby White Horse (said to be Dover’s oldest documented pub) where we enjoyed a splendid end-of-dig roast dinner, all washed down with a few well-kept pints.

I am now back in the office surrounded by piles of site-folders, plans and computers awaiting reconnection. Once we get ourselves sorted, we can start the long process of analysing the details of what we have excavated – I fear I will not be let out into the field again for some time to come. But do continue to visit the web site – I am sure there will be lots of new discoveries elsewhere in Kent coming along shortly.

Keith Parfitt,
6th March 2016

Russell Street Dig: News bulletin 5

We have now been digging in Dover for well over 200 days, surviving the worst of the winter weather. The end is in sight, with only one week left. Everyone is working frantically to make sure everything is fully recorded before we pull out – there is nothing worse than sitting down to write a report only to find that someone forgot to record some important detail or other. With thousands of individual context records to check, keeping track of it all is no small job. Indeed, we have an on-site ‘Records Officer’ – Julie – who checks the field records as they come in. She is always helpful and very nice, until such time as you are called into the office to explain why information is missing from your recording sheet! Fortunately, I have had good marks for most of my records, certain other diggers have not fared so well.

Checking paperwork

We are still working on the garderobe shaft (medieval toilet) discovered in the north corner of Cellar 10. It seems to be quite deep and there is more rubbish to come out, but already we have recovered some very interesting seventeenth-century pottery. This must be connected with the final infilling of the shaft and we are hoping for some earlier material lower down.

At several points on the site we have now reached the natural geology. This consists of marine deposited sandy beach shingle. It contains occasional pieces of water-rolled Roman brick and tile indicating that it can’t have been deposited earlier than the Roman period. Pottery recovered from the layers immediately over this beach dates to Norman times. A general picture thus begins to emerge: the original estuary (known to have been used by the Roman Imperial navy during the second-century) must have become steadily choked with sand and shingle and was probably unusable by the time the Romans abandoned Britain in the early fifth century. Over the following centuries silting must have continued, creating ever more stable ground. By c AD 1100, just after the Norman Conquest, certain areas seem to have become firm enough to allow permanent habitation. So began the development of Dover’s St James’s district, soon now to be occupied by new restaurants, shops, a cinema and hotel – far removed from those simple chalk-floored timber buildings first erected here some 900 years ago.

Keith Parfitt,
26th February, 2016

Russell Street Dig: News bulletin 4

On even the best-managed sites there always seems to be one area that lags behind the rest of the dig eventually becoming a scruffy little corner ignored by everyone. Such was the case with the north corner of Cellar 10 – our big medieval building. Things started off well enough a few days before New Year when we began clearing away modern soil and rubble to reveal the walls of the structure. These had been damaged by post-War building work but enough seemed to remain to allow us to make a complete plan of the medieval structure. We got rained off one day, leaving the job half done, but with perhaps no more than a couple of hours needed to finish things. Other jobs intervened and we only managed to get back into this area last week.

One of our new diggers was given the straightforward task of cleaning the area and getting it ready for planning and recording – it should have been done in a morning, but things started to take an unexpected turn almost immediately. First, a few large, mortared stones, set at about 45 degrees, appeared in a position where no cellar wall was expected. These were quickly followed by more stones, clearly undisturbed medieval work, but again positioned where nothing had been anticipated. More digging eventually showed what we were looking at – a vertical, stone-lined shaft built into the corner of the cellar. Moreover, this had originally been provided with a vaulted stone roof. The whole thing was clearly an integral part of the cellar’s construction and it was soon apparent that we had discovered a garderobe shaft – that’s a medieval toilet. Stone-lined shafts such as this, built into the main structure, tend to be found in important houses.
Garderobe shaft
The ‘heavy gang’ moved in over the next two weekends and cleared a much bigger area around the shaft so that more of the detail could be seen. It now seems that the shaft has several separate elements, including an arched access doorway in its north-west wall. Much of the filling of the shaft was disturbed during the post-War building work but we are hopeful that some original, undisturbed medieval deposits survive at the base. There are several more days work needed before we find out.

Keith Parfitt,
14th February, 2016

Russell Street Dig: News bulletin 3

It has been a long while since last I gave an update on progress – what with Christmas, New Year, too many days of wet weather and the fact the we must be finished on site by the end of February, I have been otherwise engaged. We had Meridian TV on site earlier in the week and they did us a good piece about the war-damaged cellars that we have uncovered, interleaving film of the dig with original wartime footage of the devastated town.

I have actually managed to get out digging during the last few weeks – in my own little trench. I rarely get the chance to do much in the ground these days, so naturally I picked myself an interesting job. What I have been doing is examining the early line of St James’s Street. The course of this historic street runs along one edge of our site and we have been able to identify a length of its tarmac metalling and kerb line, just below the modern surface. But a full two metres below this final road lie successive layers of earlier road surfacings, and pottery recovered from these levels suggests that the street was first laid out sometime during the Norman period, perhaps around AD 1100.
Cleaning the walls of war damaged cellarsNorman cobble surface of St James’s Street surviving below a later cellar floor
While I have been busy working on St James’s Street other members of the team have been looking at the line of Clarence Street, another lost road running roughly parallel to St James’s. Here the story seems to be much the same – a thick accumulation of successive road surfaces, the earliest of which again seem to be of medieval date. We still have to reach the primary road here so it will be interesting to see if this also turns out to be Norman in date.

In the area between the roads the rest of the team have been working on the buildings that once fronted onto these two early streets. It is clear that there had been intense occupation here throughout the centuries, with building after building being crammed into the available space, frequently following earlier established property boundaries and butting up to pre-existing structures.

As we move into the later stages of the excavation, we are expecting to refine our understanding of just how this part of old Dover developed. In some ways, it seems similar to the nearby Woolcomber Street sites but in other ways, it is quite different.

Keith Parfitt,
21st January, 2016

Russell Street Dig: News bulletin 2

We are now settled into our new site off Russell Street and have spent the last few weeks getting to grips with exactly what we have got on the site. Typically for this part of Dover, it is not straightforward: in one area, the top of stratified deposits begins at a depth of no more than a foot below present ground surface; elsewhere modern foundations have removed everything down to at least 8 feet.

Running along the north-western side of the excavation, we have relocated a lost section of St James’s Street, closed and built across in the post-War years. Along its south-eastern side is a line of early nineteenth-century cellars relating to houses that stood here until they were damaged by enemy action during the 1940s. Further south, a large stone-lined cellar looks to be much earlier – medieval, perhaps fourteenth or fifteenth century. This seems to have continued in use until at least the late nineteenth century and probably into the twentieth. It shows evidence of various alterations and additions, and preliminary excavation suggests that a sequence of early floors is preserved below the final one, presently exposed.
Everyone hard at work on siteCellars fronting onto old St James’s Street
Terry has now finished the door to the new public viewing area – and what a splendid thing it is, gliding open and closed on the finest Homebase hinges. Unfortunately, we are not quite ready for visitors yet, as we still need to hire in some fencing to create the viewing area. We are working on it!

The most important event this week will be the grand diggers’ Christmas dinner, to be held after work at the White Horse public house, regularly used by the excavation team, and only 150 yards across the road. I am not expecting to have to make any speeches but I am expecting everyone back on site at 8.00 am sharp the following morning – we shall see…

Keith Parfitt,
7th December, 2015

Russell Street Dig: Latest drone photos

As the Dover development (DTIZ) continues, we have now fully cleaned our new excavation area on the site of the former P&O Building. Here are some drone photographs of the area.
(Pictures courtsey of Atec – 3d)

Russell Street Dig: News bulletin 1

Well, here we are on our new site, not 100 yards from the Woolcomber Street dig where we spent the summer. The new dig is just off Russell Street on the site of the former P&O Ferries office. Over the past two weeks we have completed the heavy machine work, clearing away many tons of modern overburden to reveal the archaeology. Already exposed is a line of cellars, filled in during the 1950s. These belonged to terraced houses, probably dating from about 1800, that were destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War. Elsewhere, some interesting medieval remains are just showing.

Yesterday was a bit hectic as we moved all our site huts over from the Woolcomber Street site to the new one. Space is rather more limited here so we spent quite a time trying to work out how to get everything in and still be able to get access all round (scaled-down, this could make a very interesting new board-game). Through the good offices of John Ryeland of George Hammond PLC, we have been able to get power and water laid on to the site which should be of tremendous benefit over the coming winter weeks when we need to be thawed out with hot tea and coffee. Thanks John.
Cleaning up old St James’s Street surfaceClearing the Russell Street site
In a week or so, we should be able to open up a small viewing area where the public can pop in and see how we are getting on. Having outlined my plans for the new access door to Terry, one of our local volunteers and a highly skilled craftsman, it was suggested that perhaps he might be able to produce something a little elaborate, with high-tech features such as moving hinges and a sliding bolt, but I am still going to be allowed to dig the post-holes required. So if you are passing by, do be on the lookout for the new green door.

Keith Parfitt,
12th November, 2015

Some of the ‘small finds’ from Woolcomber Street

The excavations off Woolcomber Street produced vast quantities of archaeological finds, mostly dating to between 1150 and 1850. Many thousands of sherds of pottery were recovered, huge amounts of building material and a range of kitchen waste including animal, bird and fish bones and marine shell (particularly limpet). Just over 1,600 small finds were recovered. All of these await cleaning, conservation, analysis, close dating and illustration and this work will take many months. These are some preliminary notes on the small finds with a selection of ‘as excavated’ photographs of some of them.


Three medieval silver coins were recovered from different contexts within the Central Area excavation. All are probably residual in their excavated context. The coins are:

Coin, Sf. 489 (Context 1180)
Edward III halfpenny, London mint, 3rd coinage. Date, 1344–1351. Worn.

Coin, Sf. 923 (Context 1285)
Edward I penny, class 3c, London mint. Date, 1280–1281. Slightly worn but it may well have found its way into cobbled yard, context 1285, before AD 1300.
SF0923 Edward I penny (reverse)SF0923 Edward I penny (obverse)
Coin, Sf. 1230 (Context 1398)
Henry III penny, VLC; class V. Date, 1251–1272. Poorly struck. Very worn; broken.

Other coins and jettons (counters)
Several post-medieval coins and jettons were also discovered. Amongst the jettons is at least one example of a common type issued by Hanns Krauwinkel I or II of Nuremburg (SF 92). This dates to somewhere between AD 1562 and 1635. It came from the general filling of Grave 5 wthinin the Quaker cemetery and must be residual in its excavated context.

Objects of copper alloy

A significant quantity of copper alloy objects (i.e. of brass or bronze) were discovered. These include a number of buckles (SFs 379, 487 & 1092), strap ends and other small fittings (SF 733), a finger ring (SF 350), pins and needles (SF 1354), the handle from a key (SF 1385), and a balance for weighing out small amounts of material (SF 1601). There are also several coffin handles from the post-medieval Quaker cemetery (SF 249).
SF379 copper alloy buckleSF487copper alloy buckleSF1092copper alloy buckle
SF0733 copper alloy clothes fastenerSF350 copper alloy finger ringSF1354 copper alloy sewing needle
SF1385 copper alloy key handleSF1601 copper alloy balanceSF249 copper alloy coffin handle

Objects of iron

Most of the small finds recovered are of iron, the majority being hand-made nails, including a number clenched and associated with roves. Other medieval iron objects include a significant number of fish hooks (SFs 491 & 1235), a range of knives (for gutting fish?) and various other small fittings. The shoe from the cutting edge of a wooden spade represents a more unusual find (SF 1557). A great many amorphous lumps of corroded ironwork still await cleaning and x-ray analysis. It may confidently be predicted that amongst these, other significant objects will be identified.
SF491 iron fish hookSF1235 iron fish hookSF1557 iron spade shoe

Objects of lead

A number of lead items were recovered, although many are pieces of waste from casting. Of the recognisable objects, most seem to be weights. These were produced in a variety of shapes and sizes. A proportion of the weights are probably fishing equipment. More unusual was a lead token associated with the early line of Arthurís Place (SF 1197). This appears to be of late medieval date.
SF1197 decorated lead token

Objects of glass

A significant amount of glass was recovered during the excavations but the majority of this is post-medieval in date, with much Victorian material. Earlier finds include vessels of sixteenth and seventeenth date, such as the wine glass illustrated (SF 374).
SF0374 decorated wine glass

Objects of bone

A range of small bone objects were also recovered, including a number of handles, some decorated, others plain (SFs 383 & 1575). Amongst the more interesting items from medieval contexts the following may be noted: a small, rather poorly shaped gaming dice (SF 1010); a decorated lucet for making braids (SF 1535); a possible small flute or whistle (SF 1000) and a series of needles, some perhaps used for making and mending fishing nets (SF 1499). Of particular interest is a small, probably thirteenth century, pin with decorated head in the form of an animal (SF 630).
SF383 bone handleSF1575 bone handleSF1010 bone gaming dice
SF1535 bone lucetSF1000 bone whistle or fluteSF1499 bone needle
SF0630 bone pin

Objects of stone

A number of pieces of carved stone were found. These included architectural fragment of Caen stone, parts of at least three stone mortars, a cresset lamp carved from chalk (SF 860) and a crude chalk basin found in a thirteenth century building the South-East Area excavation (SF 1563). There are a number of hones and whetstones, many of non-local stone (SF 867), together with several spindle whorls (SF 419).
SF860 chalk cresset lampSF1563 chalk basinSF0867 whetstone
SF419 spindle whorl

Woolcomber Street Dig: News bulletin 12

We have finally reached the end, with all the excavation work on the Woolcomber Street and Russell Street car park digs brought to a sensible conclusion. ‘What are you going to do now?’ I hear you cry – well not to worry, we have many hours of checking and archiving ahead of us in order to bring the field records up to a good standard so that they are ready for preparing the final reports on our numerous discoveries. Not only that, whilst the rest of the supervisory staff have been office-bound, busily checking through the thousands of context sheets and field drawings, Ross and I have quietly slipped away to another site, less than 100 yards distant. Here, we have used two massive machines and a fleet of lorries to clear another big area down to the archaeology – not everyone has been over to look yet, but there is going to be several more months digging here without doubt.

So how did it all end on the main Woolcomber Street site? Well, in the South-East Area, we were able to partially excavate the earliest of the chalk floored timber buildings (perhaps late twelfth-century in date). This was found to have been erected on a supporting platform of chalk rubble and shingle that had been dumped onto grey alluvial clay. Judging by the slumping that had occurred in the overlying building’s floors, this must have been a pretty wet and unstable area – apparently a very marginal location situated on the edge of the medieval estuary.
Chalk and clay floors of a medieval buildingMedieval building remainsFinal recording
At the opposite end of the site, in the North-West Area, there was great rejoicing when we confirmed that the eighth surface down represented the primary medieval road of what was later to become Arthur’s Place. This had clearly been originally built across a swampy area and was forever subsiding into the marsh, requiring its level to be raised and the surface relaid many times. Quite why it was so important to maintain this route-way presently remains something of a mystery.

Over in the Russell Street car park, final recording of the various streets and houses that formerly occupied this region has been completed, but it is certain that much more archaeology remains untouched below. It will fall to future archaeologists to excavate these remains, but they should be well rewarded.

With these final notes, I will close the Woolcomber dig news – many thanks to everyone who has read the various bulletins and followed our progress and to the 2,200 visitors who visited the site and followed events on the ground.
Real strawberries!Terrier rig
When we get settled on our new site, another set of bulletins will commence and there should be another public viewing area – provided that my carpentry skills are up to hand-crafting a new door in the hoarding. See you soon …

Keith Parfitt, Site Director
5th November

Woolcomber Street Dig: News bulletin 11

Some new drone pictures of the central area, courtesy ATEC-3D
Drone photo of central areaDrone photo of central areaDrone photo of central area
After ninety days in the field we finally reached our mid-October deadline, still with masses left to do. Fortunately, the developers have been able to spare us just a couple more weeks so that we can finish off the most outstanding areas and bring the general story of the site together. As we pass dig-day 105, more and more pieces of the jigsaw are starting to make sense, combining to tell a fascinating story of this part of old Dover.

But autumn is now well and truly with us and dull, wet, rainy weather seems to have become the norm. The warm sunny days of late summer are gone, with the inevitable changing of the seasons being closely charted by the trees on the slopes of Castle Hill directly above us, which are showing a range of yellow, orange and brownish hues. Winter digging – every field archaeologist’s favourite!

On the main hotel site, excavations in the Central Area are now complete with just the all-important recording work to be finished off. Having worked down through a succession of fifteenth- and fourteenth-century pebbled courtyards opening off the south-western side of the lane that was eventually to become known as Arthur’s Place, we have reached the top of a sequence of thirteenth-century chalk-floored timber buildings. We will not be examining these complex structures because they lie below the general level of the new building work and will therefore be preserved for future generations.

In the two deeper holes, at the north-west and south-east ends of the site, work continues at a good pace. Down at the South-East Area, a complex series of probable thirteenth-century timber buildings has now been largely disentangled, with four separate, successive structures providing essentially complete ground plans. At the North-West Area, the quest to find the base of the Arthur’s Place road sequence continues, with the top of the eighth medieval road surface exposed this morning at a depth of 2 metres below the twentieth-century tarmac surface. What on earth is going on here?
Arthurs Place, North-West Area (probably early twelfth century)South-East Area: showing various chalk floors and buildingsSouth-East Area: showing various chalk floors and buildings
In the car park adjacent to the main Woolcomber Street site work on the various streets and houses that formerly occupied this region is really starting to show some remarkable details, telling a complex story of long-established building plots whose overall shapes and sizes generally continued unchanged over the centuries.

Keith Parfitt, Site Director
22nd October

Woolcomber Street Dig: Some great drone shots

These photos were taken on Friday 9th October, courtesy of Simon Spratley of ATEC-3D
The new area
The new area (Restaurant) during ‘strip and map’.
The Central and North-west areas
The Central Area (left) and North-west Area (right).
The new ‘Restaurant’ area
Another shot of the new ‘Restaurant’ area.
All excavation areas
All excavation areas (some cloud flaring). Top: new area under evaluation. Bottom: South-East, Central and North-west areas. Right: Restaurant area.
Demolition underway
Demolition underway in the western part of the redevelopment area.

Woolcomber Street Dig: News bulletin 10

Well, my plea for dry weather was heeded and we have been enjoying some rather fine autumn days – sunny, warm and dry; I had to take my pullover off several days in a row. Of course, the good weather has meant that the supply of doughnuts has dried up. This is probably just as well because there has been a lot going on lately and everyone needs to be kept lean and sharp.

We had our open weekend on 26th – 27th September and about 400 people came along for free guided tours and to see some of the excavated finds. Everyone seemed very impressed with our efforts, which was most encouraging. The following day on site we celebrated the Trust’s discovery of the Dover Bronze Age Boat in 1992, less than 400 yards away. Chocolate biscuits (but no doughnuts) were served at 1.00pm, the exact time of the boat’s discovery.

Work on the main site continues apace but a small team has been peeled off to undertake work on a new site nearby, which also falls within the redevelopment area. In the car park adjacent to our main Woolcomber Street site we have cleared a large piece of ground to reveal the outlines of the various streets and houses that formerly occupied this region. For the first time since about 1950 it is now possible to visualize the former density of buildings across this part of old Dover. Many of the walls exposed can be identified on large scale nineteenth-century maps, but what has not been previously understood is that a good many of these walls are of pre-Victorian date, with one or two lengths of medieval work surviving. Lots more work needed here to pick out further interesting details.
Detail of medieval walls that front Dolphin Lane, looking NorthArthurs Place, looking north-east. Medieval metalled surface.Arthurs Place, looking north-west, showing various surfaces - thirteenth century - Victorian
Back on the main site, excavation and recording work is in full swing. Examination of the early levels relating to the road which eventually came to be known as Arthur’s Place confirms that its original construction during the medieval period was a substantial undertaking, with successive layers of pebble metalling being laid down on a carefully prepared base of chalk rubble – not at all what we tend to expect during the Middle Ages.

The weather forecast for the next couple of days doesn’t look too good but hopefully we can keep things moving along. Time is now getting short and we really cannot afford to lose any more time if we are going to meet our deadlines.
Overall picture of the new stripped area, looking west out across Dolphin Lane to Russell Place
Keith Parfitt, Site Director
5th October

Woolcomber Street Dig: News bulletin 9

Continual rain is slowing up the work. The team are doing their very best but complex archaeology simply cannot be done in the pouring rain – which has fallen day after day (70mm in the rain gauge for the last 24 hours). The October deadline is now looming large and work is just beginning on another new site nearby. Seven day a week working continues, trying to make up for lost time but any gains we make seem to be cancelled out by yet more rain. In order to keep spirts up, management has been providing free chocolate buns and doughnuts to supplement our diggers’ meagre rations – And its costing (me) a fortune … PLEASE, can we have some hot, dry weather soon?

We have managed to do some excavation despite the rain and ever-more fascinating information is starting to emerge. But first, we need to report on how our crew paddling the half-scale replica of the Dover Bronze Age Boat fared in the great Thames River Race last week. Well, they didn’t quite manage to finish the full course, but they didn’t sink either (see here for more details). The crew returned to Dover somewhat disappointed, but by all accounts they made a first rate effort in very difficult conditions and as an exercise in experimental maritime archaeology it must constitute an extremely valuable piece of research. Better luck next year folks – have another doughnut.

Ever wondered what archaeologists do when it’s too wet to dig? They go indoors and wash their finds – as you might imagine, the pile of material to process has been greatly reduced over past ten days! Now the material is clean we can start to see exactly what we have got – a very great deal is the first thing which comes across. Looking through the pottery, I recognize lots of locally made medieval wares produced just outside Canterbury at Tyler Hill, but I am no expert and there is also a lot I do not recognize – foreign stuff, much of it coming from the near-Continent, I suspect. The pottery specialists are going to have some good fun with all this. I think some pieces are likely to turn out to be quite rare forms, seldom found in east Kent.

Checking the forecast they promise sun all day tomorrow – even if that is only half right we can get something useful done, but no rain means no doughnuts! One thing we do need to do is to tidy the site up in preparation for the coming weekend (26th – 27th September), when we have two special public open days. Come along and enjoy a guided tour, meet the archaeologists, see and handle some of the finds. Hope to see you then.

Keith Parfitt, Site Director
23rd September

Woolcomber Street Dig: News bulletin 8

After the recent rains the site has dried out nicely and work is progressing well.  Equally, however, the October deadline for finishing the excavation draws ever closer, with masses still left to do.  We are now working seven days a week with the full-time digging team being reinforced by local volunteers.

This weekend, however, we will be slightly down in numbers as half-a-dozen of our team have another, rather exciting, engagement away from Dover – the Great River Race, along 24 miles of the River Thames through London.  What is the Dover connection you ask?  Well, they will be paddling our half-scale replica of the Dover Bronze Age Boat as part of the race.  We are not expecting them to be the fastest vessel in the event but they will certainly represent one of the oldest designs of water craft there.  So good luck to the crew; we wait to hear how they get on with great interest.
Jug from cess tank NW Area Fish hook Woolcomber Street River Race crew
Talking of the Bronze Age Boat – it’s coming up for the original vessel’s birthday.  It was 28 September 1992 that we discovered the boat in a deep excavation at the end of Bench Street, barely 300 yards from our current dig in Woolcomber Street.  ‘Looking for another Bronze Age boat’ is the cheery quip from many a passer-by as they head to or from work ‘No, we are not going deep enough’, I call back (with a certain amount of relief).  Actually, the people of Dover are very proud of their boat.  Now dated to about 1550 BC, it really is one of the town greatest archaeological treasures.

No remains of boats in the Woolcomber Street dig as such, but from what we are finding in the excavation it is clear that the medieval folk who lived in this area were closely connected with seafaring, fishing and other maritime activities.  There is plenty of evidence for this – vast amounts of fish bone, iron fish hooks, pottery and stone imported from the Continent, roofing slate brought up the Channel from Devon, and clench nails of a type often used in medieval ship building.  This surely is the fishermen’s quarter of medieval Dover, situated adjacent to the old shoreline.

Keith Parfitt, Site Director
10th September

Woolcomber Street Dig: News bulletin 7

With over 200mm of rain falling in torrential downpours over the past nine days, work on site has been somewhat intermittent. Our two colleagues from Mediterranean-lands remain singularly unimpressed by the English Summer and I dare not repeat the views of some of our more seasoned east Kent diggers.

Nevertheless, we have managed to keep things moving along and finds are coming out in increasing quantities – pottery, animal and fish bones, marine shells, by the bucket-full every day. Our volunteer team of pot-washers are doing a great job getting everything cleaned before it is packed up for cataloging and analysis at our Canterbury headquarters.

Down in the South-East Area the outlines of a chalk floored structure with slight traces of associated walls are starting to become clearer and we now seem to be able to identify the layout of a definite building here, probably belonging to the thirteenth century.
Woolcomber Street excavationWoolcomber Street excavationWoolcomber Street excavation
The last of the Quaker burials have been carefully removed to reveal a sequence of earlier deposits below every bit as complicated as those on other parts of the site. A chalk block lined cess-tank here has recently yielded fragments of a rather fine redware jug, perhaps of eighteenth-century date.

In the Central Area a series of late medieval rubbish dumps continue to produce masses of pottery, animal bone (kitchen waste) and shell. Also turning up here in some quantity are fragments of roofing slate – but not the nineteenth-century slate from Wales. This arrived in Dover in the thirteenth–fourteenth century, traded along the south coast from Devon. Where are the medieval houses these slates once roofed?

In the North-West Area work continues on the line of old Arthur’s Place and the adjacent buildings. The recent rains have washed up the pebbles of the earlier road metallings rather well and a sequence of medieval chalk floors fronting the south-western side of the road are now being examined in detail.

A steady flow of visitors continue to come to the site to see how we are getting on and we were able to conduct a special party of seventy-two around one (dry) evening last week. There is a lot of local interest in our work, which is most encouraging.
Woolcomber Street excavationWoolcomber Street excavationWoolcomber Street excavation
Keith Parfitt, Site Director
2 September 2015

Woolcomber Street Dig: photos Week 9

Woolcomber Street excavationWoolcomber Street excavationWoolcomber Street excavation
Woolcomber Street excavationWoolcomber Street excavation

Woolcomber Street Dig: News bulletin 6

Although work is generally going well we have been rained off this afternoon, so the team are either washing pottery or checking their plans and paperwork. This slight lull in the work gives me a chance to outline some of our latest discoveries. Perhaps you caught the short piece shown about the site which was broadcast on Saturday’s TV – we all thought Emily did very well!

In the South-East Area, down by Townwall Street, Phil and the gang are starting to make sense of the complicated medieval layers located there. Some quite extensive chalk floors are being exposed and overlying occupation layers are producing significant collections of pottery and other material. Examination of the whole area is being complicated by the fact that these layers are not level but subsiding into earlier features.

As an extension to the South-East Area, for the last few weeks we have been quietly and discretely working away at a small burial ground. It was in the seventeenth century that the Quakers first started burying their deceased in a plot located at the junction of Woolcomber Street and Clarence Street. Although much of the area has been previously destroyed, more than twenty individual graves have been excavated, the latest probably of nineteenth-century date.

Work is also advancing in the Central Area where a series of late medieval rubbish dumps have produced masses of broken pottery, animal bone (kitchen waste) and marine shell. There have also been some interesting individual finds. Rather fun is a ‘string’ of limpet shells originally threaded together to make a necklace – perhaps the product of bored medieval children playing with whatever came to hand. Also from these rubbish layers is our first medieval coin (silver), a bronze buckle and an iron fish hook.

In the North-West Area work continues on the line of old Arthur’s Place and the adjacent buildings. It would seem that the nineteenth-century cellar located previously had been built on the site of an earlier building that had developed through several stages, the earliest phase of which is later medieval in date. In the open ground behind the building George has found a complete pot, set into the ground – perhaps it served as a small outdoor oven – curious!
South-east arealimpet 'necklace'North-west area
The rain seems to be easing off now, so back to the trenches …

Keith Parfitt, Site Director
18 August 2015

Woolcomber Street Dig: News bulletin 5

Excavations in all three parts of the site continue to make good progress.

The South-East Area is now clearly showing some complex medieval deposits. These include chalk floors of timber buildings and flint cobbled surfaces – perhaps courtyards. Many successive layers can be seen but the sequence is confused by localised subsidence into earlier features which are more deeply buried and still to be revealed. What might these be?

In the Central Area work is progressing and has been advanced with the assistance of a special weekend team. Extensive traces of a heavily burnt clay floor are starting to show in several places and it looks as if a timber building, perhaps of Tudor date, burnt down here at some stage. Hopefully, we can discover more of this in the coming week.

The North-West Area continues to produce some impressive examples of seventeenth-century pottery vessels, including a number of imported wares. At a lower level, late medieval walls and earlier deposits very similar to those exposed in the South-East Area, are again starting to the show. These are appear to be set on either side of the narrow lane that later became known as Arthur’s Place.
Woolcomber Street excavation Woolcomber Street excavationWoolcomber Street excavation
Keith Parfitt, Site Director
12 August 2015

Woolcomber Street Dig: News bulletin 4

The excavation team now totals over twenty people and things are progressing at a steady pace. Work is going on in three separate areas. The remains being exposed are complex and relate to many different phases of activity.

In the North-West Area, adjacent to St James’s Street, the excavation has revealed the full width of Arthur’s Place – a lost lane branching off St James’s Street and running almost parallel with Woolcomber Street. This survived until just after the Second World War and seems to have been first laid out sometime before 1500.  The remains of buildings that once lay on either side of the lane have also been exposed.

In the Central Area a roughly surfaced yard opening off Arthur’s Place has been discovered.  A well lay on one side of this and a masonry building on the other.  These date between the seventeenth and nineteenth century.

In the South-East Area, adjacent to Townwall Street, most of the layers are medieval (thirteenth–fourteenth century) and comprise a mixture of rubbish dumps, levelling deposits and trodden chalk floors relating to lost timber buildings.  We will be attempting to unravel the details over the coming weeks.
Woolcomber Street Week 4 Woolcomber Street Week 4
* We now have a public viewing area open so do drop in and see how we are getting on.

Keith Parfitt, Site Director
1 August 2015

Woolcomber Street Dig: News bulletin 3

The past two weeks have seen the site really start to take shape, revealing the marvellous extent of the surviving archaeology. The heavy machine work has been finished, so it’s all pick, shovel and trowel work from now on. We had to clear some pretty hefty foundations relating to the garage that formerly occupied the site but we are now finding extensive evidence of earlier streets and buildings sealed below its floors. In particular, we have been able to relocate the line of Arthur’s Place – one of Dover’s lost lanes – which ran between St James’s Street and Clarence Street. This lane seems to have been laid out sometime before AD 1600.
Finds from Woolcomber Street dig
Two eighteenth-century wells have been partially excavated, along with several rubbish pits dating to between 1575 and 1875. These have produced some large collections of interesting pottery, clay tobacco pipes and other household rubbish. A substantial thickness of earlier layers await excavation over the coming weeks.

Keith Parfitt, Site Director
20 July 2015

Woolcomber Street Dig: photos Week 2

First week montageFirst week view 2First week view 3
First week view 4First week view 5First week view 6

Woolcomber Street Dig: News bulletin 2

Monday 29 June saw the official start of excavations.

Despite extremely hot weather good progress has been made, especially in the south-east part of the site where the basement walls of the Victorian Clarence Hotel have been revealed. These cut through earlier remains that include an eighteenth-century well and probable thirteenth-century floors.
Clarence HotelClarence Hotel
Prospects for exciting discoveries to be made over the next few weeks look good.

Keith Parfitt, Site Director
3 July 2015

Woolcomber Street Dig: News bulletin 1

Work has just begun on the largest archaeological dig to be undertaken in Dover for 20 years. The excavations are being conducted ahead of the construction of a new hotel. Investigations will be focusing on remains relating to the medieval and later town. During Roman times this whole area was under water, located in the estuary of the River Dour.

Prior to the Second World War the region had been densely packed with streets and houses, together with the grand Burlington Hotel, but these were all swept away during the post-War years. We are hoping to reveal the remains of many of the old buildings that once occupied this part of the town.

The buildings discovered so far are Victorian but these lie above a succession of earlier ones, built up like a layer cake, over the centuries. The earliest remains here are likely to date to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (the same period as Dover Castle). These will be examined and recorded over the forthcoming weeks.
Woolcomber Street excavation
Watch this space for regular news up-dates.

Keith Parfitt, Site Director
18 June 2015

    open all | close all