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On show in Dover Market Square

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

Following previous evaluation trenching, in August the Trust was commissioned by Dover District Council to conduct formal excavations in the central part of the Market Square at Dover, ahead of planned new development work. The area of the Market Square has a high to very high archaeological potential, the region being at the epicentre of the historic settlement since the late Roman period, even if its use as a formal market place did not occur until more recent times.

The three-week excavation, undertaken by Keith, Paul Armour, Matt, Frances and Katie, was conducted across two separate areas positioned about 7.00m apart. Together, these investigations represented the first detailed archaeological excavations ever to occur within the Market Square itself. Being located in the very centre of the busy town, the investigations attracted a considerable amount of public interest, with many passers-by stopping to view the work and provide cheery encouragement.

The full archaeological sequence present here could not be examined, and Roman levels were not reached. The highest undisturbed deposits were located at a depth of about 0.50m below the modern pavement. Perhaps the most interesting discovery was the remains of the lost seventeenth century Guildhall/Market Hall, first erected in 1605 and demolished in 1861. Traces of mortared walls and pier bases suggested that this structure had at least two phases of development. Below the Guildhall remains, a succession of earlier market place metallings were revealed, perhaps going back to the thirteenth century.

Before the market place was established, antiquarian tradition asserts that the area had been part of the graveyard of the great Norman church of St Martin-le-Grand, ruins of which are still exposed a short distance to the west. The discovery of part of an in situ burial (not excavated) and a number of loose human bones seem to largely confirm the point.

The excavations have now been backfilled but the main construction project is planned to start shortly, when a watching brief will be maintained, with the hope of some further significant finds being made.

Keith Parfitt

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