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Report on CAA Summer Meeting Canterbury and East Kent 18 - 24th July 2010

Photos by Jeff Evans and Heather James

Monday, 19th July


Paul Bennett, Director of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, talks to the Cambrians at Canterbury Castle

A total of 55 members and guests attended, most for the whole week. Accommodation was at Becket Court, University of Kent and members, suitably badged and ticketed, soon became used to the morning and evening walk for meals to Rutherford College and the evening stroll to Keynes College where the lecture hall and bar were in welcome proximity. Most arrived on the Sunday afternoon and for the two days in Canterbury we used the regular bus service between the campus and the town. Accordingly, all were assembled for a 9.30 start to a perambulation of the southern half of the city. Paul Bennett, Director of Canterbury Archaeological Trust was a most fluent and informative guide, giving us a summary of the origins and development of the Roman town walls and gates – visible as a backcloth as we traversed the Dane John Gardens. The Trust’s excavations at Riding Gate had revealed the worn gate socket, hinges and nails securing the bottom beam of the wooden gate closed for the last time in the late 4th century. The core of the Dane John mound is a Romano-British burial mound, the only survivor of others attested from antiquarian records within a Roman cemetery which had been bisected by the construction of the late Roman city walls. Its survival is no doubt due to it being used to construct a motte within a large bailey by William the Conqueror. In its latest form, surmounted by a towering column, the mound was the focal point of landscaped gardens laid out in 1790. On next to Canterbury Castle where Paul’s detailed explanations of the above- and below- ground archaeology and close examination of the varied stone, both local and imported, used in the building of this 12th century keep brought home the high quality of the castle despite the ravages of its more modern uses as a gas works and coke store. Something of the Anglo-Saxon history and archaeology of the city was introduced against the backcloth of St Mildred’s church. Paul’s tour concluded outside the Canterbury Museum in the Poor Priests Hospital but not before we were informed of what precisely lay - or had lain prior to excavation beneath our feet – namely part of the huge and impressive Roman Theatre and temple complex, a focal point of Durovernum.

Members then dispersed for lunch and many managed to visit both the Canterbury Museum and the medieval Eastbridge Hospital, built to care for poor pilgrims, before reassembling outside Christ Church Gate in Burgate for our guided tour of Canterbury Cathedral. We were divided into three groups and each guide tackled the formidable task of explaining the architectural development of this large and complex cathedral in slightly different ways. For all however, the events of Archbishop Becket’s murder in 1170, in his own cathedral, and the rapid development of his cult were made vivid by seeing the actual site of his martyrdom and the successive places where his body was entombed before, finally, being placed in the now- all- but vanished tomb and shrine in the Trinity Chapel. The subsequent development of the east end of the cathedral was driven by the management of vast numbers of pilgrims to the shrine and the ongoing liturgical needs of the monastic congregation of Christ Church. There was time after the tour for members to further explore the Cathedral and the Precincts. The first day concluded with a lecture by our member and recently retired County Archaeologist for Kent, John Williams. He used the large- scale, commercially-funded excavations, together with air photography and geophysical surveys, that have in recent times preceded the major infrastructure developments of the Channel Tunnel and the new high speed rail link and the expansion of Ashford to show how whole buried landscapes, not just individual sites, had been revealed. To take just one example, a totally unknown large Roman roadside settlement covering some 20 ha was uncovered at Westhawk Farm Ashford in advance of housing development which showed strong elements of continuity from Iron Age lifestyles.

 

Tuesday 20th July


Cambrians gather at the pharos (Roman Lighthouse) at Dover Castle

A 9 o’clock start on Tuesday, but from a bus directly outside Becket Court, got the party down to Dover Museum at 10 o’clock where we were met by Keith Parfitt of Canterbury Archaeological Trust, the finder and excavator of the Dover Boat. This Bronze Age plank-built boat is on display in the splendid new gallery at Dover Museum. Its unexpected discovery, the race against time to excavate and record, and then the decision to cut the boat into sections to lift and preserve it were vividly recounted and Keith remained on hand to answer a multitude of questions. Some two thirds of the original boat has been rescued. Cambrians were able to closely examine the boat’s construction techniques of worked oak planks stitched together with yew withies, caulked with moss and strengthened by rails, cleats and wedges. The gallery contains other finds of Bronze Age metalwork notably the large hoard of mainly French types of bronze metalwork, almost certainly from a vessel wrecked in Langdon Bay and engaged in cross-Channel trade. Many of the group thought that this was the highlight of the week’s visits. There was not time to visit the rest of Dover Museum and after coffee provided at the Museum, we visited the adjacent ‘Roman Painted House’. Here are the rooms with wall paintings of a Roman mansio, or official inn discovered by Kent Rescue Archaeology Unit in 1970. The lower parts of the painted walls were, paradoxically, preserved by the building being truncated and covered by debris when the walls of the late Roman Saxon Shore Fort cut across its site. Roofed over and surrounded by displays and finds and with working and education areas, the Museum was largely created and is maintained by volunteers. It was a pleasant surprise to find that Brian Philp himself was in the Museum and prepared to give the Cambrians a talk on the circumstances of his discovery and the forts of the Classis Britannica in Dover. The Museum itself and the whole ethos of its management and presentation are in a sense a monument to what now seems the rather distant era of Rescue Archaeology in the 1970s – but Brian Philp and his team are ‘still digging’ and their contribution to archaeology in Kent were evident from the many excavation reports for sale at the desk.

The party then returned to the bus to be transported uphill to Constable’s Tower and entry into Dover Castle – and lunch, for many, at the NAAFI canteen where the ante room contains ‘Queen Elizabeth’s Pocket Pistol’ a magnificent, ornate, bronze ‘basilisk’ capable of firing 12lb cannon balls over a mile and a half. On the walls of the canteen are archive photographs of NAAFI canteens, officers’ and mens’ clubs and mess rooms from World War II – a fitting prelude to the ‘Secret World WII Tunnels Tour’. The majority of the party had opted for this which was organised through two special Cambrians tours . The Tour focuses on the underground hospital, the command centres and the role played by Admiral Sir Bertram Home Ramsey in the organisation of Operation Dynamo – the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. Realistic sound effects, film clips of the events and above all seeing the underground rooms and passages themselves made this an unforgettable experience. In true Cambrian fashion however, this did not preclude most of the party from returning to the core of this vast castle to visit the Great Tower. Here, English Heritage has recently reconstructed through fittings and furniture and narrative ‘spoken’ by hologrammed figures, Henry II’s keep when newly complete and about to receive a visit by Philip, Count of Flanders in 1186. Most, but not all, liked this imaginative recreation where interpretative panels are wholly absent – back ground information, at a basic, popular, level, is provided by an exhibition in King Arthur’s Chamber. Some of the party also managed to fit in a visit to the Roman pharos or lighthouse and the adjacent late Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro where Heather James gave a brief talk.

Paul Bennett’s illustrated evening lecture on recent archaeological work in Canterbury gave more detail through the excavations that have taken place in Canterbury of the Roman city and the nature of Cantwaraburh, its Anglo-Saxon successor. Only his imminent departure early the next morning for an archaeological workshop in Libya persuaded him to draw to a close. Passionate enthusiasm matched by a great depth of knowledge made this an enthralling talk.

 

Wednesday 21st July


Marjorie Lyle guides the Cambrians at St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury

This, the second Canterbury day, began with a guided walk led by Simon Pratt, a member of Canterbury Archaeological Trust who had begun digging in the city with the late Dr Frank Jenkins. Only the outlines of excavation plans etched into the concrete and Simon’s account of ‘The Big Dig’, which had preceded the construction of the Whitefriars Shopping Centre, allowed us to understand what had been a core area of the Roman and medieval city. This part of Canterbury had been devastated by bombing in World War II, and what the German bombs had left standing, the city planners of the 50s and 60s continued to clear away, such as the ruins of the nave of St George’s Church, leaving only the tower. Crossing St George’s Street, we once more regained a sense of medieval Canterbury and Simon pointed out buildings in and around Burgate where Georgian brick facades covered jettied, medieval timber-framed buildings. A substantial part of one of the largest of the Pilgrim’s inns, the ‘Cheker’ Inn survives and one could imagine Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims lodging there. The morning ended with a visit to the Roman Museum in Butchery Lane where a large area of intact mosaic floors were discovered in post-war excavations of Longmarket, part of a possible mansio or official inn and staging post. Finds displayed amongst reconstructions of Roman shops included a remarkably complete set of horse harness fittings and a silver hoard of c. 410 AD where a spoon and a ligula bear chi-rho monograms, indicative of Christian belief and perhaps liturgical use.

After lunch we reassembled at St Augustine’s Abbey where the redoubtable Marjorie Lyle gave two consecutive guided tours, indefatigable despite a leg injury and steady rain for most of the second tour. The site is vast but has been much robbed and levelled. Nevertheless its history from Augustine’s mission of 697, as an important Anglo-Saxon monastery, then a reformed Norman Benedictine House, to use as a royal palace after the Dissolution before piecemeal but steady decay and stone robbing was brought vividly to light by Marjorie’s fluent and lively narrative. The line of Saxon churches of various dates was of particular interest to members, St Pancras in particular with its square plan and shallow apse giving a good idea of 6th and 7th century churches. The only rain of the week set in late in the afternoon but armed with rain ponchos purchased from the English Heritage shop, the second group made their way up to St Martin’s Church. The core of this church is of Roman build and may have been a Christian martyrium. Churchwarden Derek Beddell welcomed both groups and in true Cambrian fashion an animated debate was opened up by the President-elect in the second group on the significance of a possible pillar now embedded in the nave wall and visible from the outside.


Ex President Professor Anthony Carr shakes hands with our newly installed President, the Rt Revd J. Wyn Evans, Bishop of St Davids, before his inaugural address

The group reassembled at Darwin College at 7 pm for a wine reception where some visiting Cambrians and invited guests joined us for a very pleasant formal dinner with groups sitting around large circular tables. Time – and acoustics – allowed for lively conversation before we assembled in the adjacent lecture hall where former President Anthony Carr (on behalf of President Richard Keen, unable to be present) handed over the Presidential medallion to our new President, the Rt Revd J. Wyn Evans, Bishop of St Davids. Bishop Wyn delivered a characteristically lively but learned and many-layered lecture on his ecclesiastical Cambrian predecessors. This was linked to the struggles and debates between the ‘Georgians’ and the ‘Gothicists’ what should be restored, and how, in St David’s Cathedral in the early to mid 19th century. The two schools of thought were more than just architecturally opposed and the Association was by no means a bystander. As former Dean of St Davids, and prime mover in the recent reconstruction of the Cloisters and St Mary’s Hall, Bishop Wyn’s knowledge of the fabric of the cathedral is unrivalled.

 

Thursday 22nd July


John Grigsby addresses the Cambrians at Richborough Roman Fort

Richborough Roman Fort was the first port of call and here English Heritage custodian John Grigsby welcomed the group in Welsh as befits a former student at Bangor. He gave a lively and thought- provoking tour, undeterred by the presence of his former and present research supervisors, Frances Llewelyn and Anthony Ward. He explained that the most immediately striking feature of the site – the great lengths of flint stone and brick walls - were in fact very late in the lifetime of the site when Richborough became one of the Saxon Shore forts. His evocation of the great triumphal arch spanning the start of Watling Street took us back to the early Roman period when Richborough was the gateway to the newly conquered province of Britannia. Despite problems of display in very windy conditions, Cambrians were shown some of the remarkable geophysical surveys of the fort environs which have revealed a large 2nd century town. John also explained his own ideas, based on a knowledge of welsh place names, on the location of Ebbsfleet, Augusine’s landing place – it was here, he argued here at Richborough.


John Grigsby and Dr Anthony Ward hold on tightly to a geophysical plot of Richborough Roman Fort

A short bus drive took us to Sandwich, one of the medieval Cinque Ports, where the group walked from the Quay to the Guildhall. Here we again split in two for consecutive tours of the Guildhall itself visiting the mayor’s rooms and council chamber and also the court room itself, with many of the 17th century fittings and furnishings in place. These rooms also contain a superb series of paintings of former mayors and panels depicting a visit by Catherine of Braganza on her way to marry Charles II. All this was greatly enlivened by our guide, Kevin Cook, the Town Sergeant, wielding and demonstrating the remarkable civic regalia including blowing the Moot horn and explaining his duties in regard to the yearly procurement of a blackthorn wand. Some of the party actually handled the small mace which Queen Elizabeth had been presented with during her visit to this town. The small accompanying Museum provided more information through maps, drawings and exhibits of the importance of medieval Sandwich as a port and its post medieval history.


Kevin Cook, Sandwich Town Sergeant explains the functions of some of the civic regalia in Sandwich’s Guildhall


Mary Dodd handles the mace that was presented to Queen Elizabeth I on her visit to Sandwich

Lack of time led to the cancellation of the proposed perambulation after lunch back to the coach where Heather James had hoped to point out more of the town’s topography and the late medieval defences. All of this and the early Saxon origins of the town and port have recently been subject to a multi-disciplinary English Heritage funded survey, one of whose maps was reproduced in the Programme Booklet. Nevertheless everyone had a chance to appreciate the remarkable survival of many medieval timber-framed buildings and the attractive streetscapes of what the Pevsner guide has termed ‘the completest medieval town in England’.

On time therefore, the first group were dropped off outside Deal Castle and the second group proceeded to Walmer Castle, stewarded by Rhiannon Humphreys Jones. Several of those who had chosen Walmer had done so to see the relics of the Duke of Wellington, a former Lord Warden, who had died in office at Walmer Castle. A tour of the interior was combined with a walk around the fine gardens and some members actually glimpsed the present Lord Warden, Admiral the Lord Boyce, who is also constable of Dover Castle, departing for a ceremony there. Meanwhile at Deal, the group had a brief introduction to the castle from one of the English Heritage staff and then explored for themselves. Whilst Walmer is identical in plan to Deal it is only at the latter that the full plan of these concentric Henrician artillery fortresses can be fully appreciated. The first floor at Deal was remodelled in the 1720s when the captains of Deal Castle and the Georgian garrisons demanded a more comfortable life. Fortunately it was a bright sunny day so a good view of the coast could be gained from the gun platforms. Heather James pointed out the area out to sea of the all-important anchorage of ‘The Downs’ sheltered by the Goodwin Sands, the reason for Deal’s existence as a port and naval and ship victualling town. She then led the group along the Prince of Wales Terrace, pausing on the shingle beach on the seaward side of the street to view some of the traditional clinker fishing boats and to briefly outline the story of the Deal luggers and Deal pilots. By great good fortune, we arrived at The Time Ball Tower just before the hour and waited to see the large black ball fall down its mast on the top of the tower. This used to mark the exact time of one o’clock to ships in the offing and anchored in The Downs. The Time Ball Tower is all that remains of the former Navy Yard and is now a small Museum focussing on naval timekeeping and communication.


The Cambrians wait for the timeball to drop at Deal’s Timeball Tower

Shutter telegraphs in the Napoleonic Wars and then the Time Ball system (and much besides) were enthusiastically explained to us by Dr Stephen Chappell and his colleagues, all volunteers staffing the Museum. They themselves have purchased several of the unusual clocks on display, and good use has been made of the cramped space on each of the three floors built around the central mechanism of the time ball itself.


Dr Stephen Chappell explains the mechanism for hoisting and dropping the timeball in Deal’s Time Ball Tower Museum

The AGM of the Association was held in the evening in Keynes College.

 

Friday 23rd July


The Cambrians set out at The Historic Dockyard, Chatham

The final morning of the Summer Meeting was spent at The Historic Dockyard, Chatham. Even though this is but a part of the former Naval Dockyard closed in 1984, the site still covers 80 ha and contains a vast array of Georgian buildings, as well as ships and many other displays. Two tours had been booked for the Cambrians of The Ropery, built and extended in the 18th century. Our guide, ‘Mister Steve’ had (convincingly) assumed the persona and costume of a late 19th century supervisor of the the Ropery. His explanation of the successive processes from ‘hatchelling’ the raw hemp, through to spinning into yarn , tarring in the yarn house and then finally to the ropewalk were detailed and enlightening. Our President and other ‘volunteers’, under Mister Steve’s tutelage, spun some very creditable lengths of rope on a hand-operated winch. The tour finished in the Ropewalk itself where laying machines replaced hand winches operating down a staggering quarter of a mile to make the long cables and ropes required by naval vessels in the Age of Sail. Most also saw the ‘Wooden Walls’ display, a recreation based on the 18th century Journal of William Crockwell, an apprentice ship builder. Successive stages with figures and voiceovers traced the construction of the Valiant, in 1758-9, a 74 gun ship of the line. Other Cambrians fitted in visits to ships, including HMS Gannet and HM submarine Ocelot and all found their way to a simple but welcome lunch in the Achilles Room in the Museum of the Royal Dockyard.


“Mister Steve” explains the mysteries of rope making to the Cambrians on their tour of The Ropery

After lunch a short coach trip took the party to the entrance gate to Rochester Cathedral where we met our three guides. After the vast size of Canterbury Cathedral, Rochester is more intimate and (although there are of course later developments) strongly conveys a sense of the early Norman Romanesque. Themes – and characters- from earlier parts of the week came together here – the first Bishop, Justus, being one of Augustine’s companions and the Norman builder, Bishop Gundulf being a protégé of Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury. This writer’s group and guide spent some time discussing the iconography of the sculpture on the west front of the cathedral – as well as admiring a venerable catalpa tree in full flower close by. We then looked at the southern exterior of the cathedral and the ruined cloisters re-entering into the choir and then the crypt with much Norman work, concluding the tour by looking in detail at Bishop Hamo’s superb 14th century Chapter House door.


Cambrians outside the west front of Rochester Cathedral

Most of the party, forgoing tea, were able to progress, with a passing glance at the massive keep of Rochester Castle, down to Rochester Bridge and the Bridge Chapel. This had been opened specially for the Cambrians by our member Paul Oldham who is member of the Bridge Trust and was Warden between 1997 and 2001. Paul gave an excellent talk on the history and present activities of the Rochester Bridge Trust in the former medieval chapel, restored by the Trust. He then led members on a guided tour of these impressive buildings including the Bridge Chamber Courtroom with its splendid Hepplewhite chairs bearing the Trust’s coat of arms in marquetry panels. Everyone was given a copy of a well-produced booklet on the Trust which made very clear the scale of the Trust’s operations in maintaining the Bridge and funding and building the Medway Tunnel as well as planning for a future crossing and also its multi-million pound charitable work. The visit made an impressive and memorable end to the Summer Meeting.

Most of the party remaining in Canterbury gathered in the Bar on Friday evening for a pleasant social evening, enlivened by Jeff Evans’s photograph albums of previous meetings.