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Slatters Hotel Site

Client: Slatters Development Limited

 

Excavations at the former Slatters Hotel site in Canterbury took place between December 2017 and July 2018. This deeply stratified excavation, located in the heart of the city, revealed a continuous sequence of occupation stretching from the late Iron Age/ early Roman period through to the present. 

 

The site lay just outside the known location of the Roman theatre and therefore it was not surprising that Roman remains were uncovered. Both timber and masonry buildings were revealed, one of the latter of unusual design, the single room exposed containing a series of deep channels, lined with opus signinum (Roman mortar) which abutted rectangular pillars formed of clay, chalk and flint. The pillars appeared to be fulfilling the function of pilae stacks (formed by tiles) seen in other Roman buildings, for example in Canterbury within the nearby St Margaret’s Street bath-house. Here and elsewhere in the town they formed the basis for underfloor heating, but why a different technique was adopted in the Slatters building is as yet unclear. ‘Closing’ the structure at the end of its life were a cattle skull and a pig skull, both laid within the entranceway of the primary flue.

Slatters Hotel excavation
Slatters Hotel excavation

Surrounding what would have been the monumental theatre structure, first built in the first century AD and rebuilt in the early decades of the third, was a flint metalled surface, renewed and repaired a number of times, demonstrating that it continued in use for a significant length of time.

An interesting burial was uncovered in the corner of the site closest to the theatre, one that might shed light on activities during the sub-Roman period. The articulated remains of multiple adults, apparently buried somewhat unceremoniously within a narrow ditch, were revealed. The skeletons lay in various postures, both face down and on their sides, and none complete other than the primary burial laid within an underlying grave. Also included within the ditch were mixed human remains including single articulated legs, but curiously no skulls. A similar burial was uncovered at Whitefriars (Canterbury), where the evidence tentatively suggested a late Roman date for burial, perhaps cut at a time when the taboo associated with intramural burial was ignored. One suggestion is that the people were the victims of an epidemic in the town, hastily buried when occupants returned after it had run its course.

Machine watching at the Slatters Hotel excavation
Slatters Hotel excavation

Anglo-Saxon occupation was revealed across the site, the earliest being five sunken-featured buildings and the latest represented by two cellars, one of which was first exposed during excavation in the 1970s. The other was particularly impressive, measuring approximately 5m by 4m with a depth of 1.7m, and therefore forming one of the largest excavated within the city. It was of a classic design, cut deep into the natural brickearth and with a surround of post-holes bordering an outer edge of stake-holes. The cellar would have lain below a timber structure, nothing of which survived.

 

During the medieval and post-medieval periods, St Margaret’s Street to the north was flanked by buildings whilst ground to the rear, where the main excavation area lay, contained a complex of remains comprising walls, workshops and industrial features. A lovely double oven lay on the eastern side of the site, each oven built with circular brick side walls and compact burnt clay floors. Further west was a series of walls and yard surfaces and, to the north, a small building containing a room with clay floors and a small hearth, the latter constructed from an upturned column base hollowed out to form a bowl. The feature may have been used for metalworking, perhaps of bronze or lead, since metal droplets were visible throughout the fill lying within. Other pits containing metalworking debris cut the adjacent yard surface, one containing droplets of lead which had dribbled into the surrounding ground.