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Extracts from a text written by Paul Bennett, Director Canterbury Archaeological Trust

for the FCAT newsletter winter 2014.  (http://www.canterburytrust.co.uk/community_archaeology/friends/join-the-friends/)

London Road, Canterbury

The London Road site is particularly sensitive. It lies immediately west of Cranmer House, where a substantial Roman cremation cemetery was identified, together with an inhumation burial, a robbed grave and a cremation burial containing Anglo-Saxon finds. The finds included two glass palm cups and a gold pendant dating from c AD 600 and a silver sceatta dated to c AD 700, all recovered and recorded during a hectic salvage excavation in 1982 (Frere et al 1987, 56-74).

The site was evaluated by trenching earlier this year and traces of a Roman metalling and a curving, perhaps contemporary ditch were discovered, sufficient to suggest that a further level of archaeological work was required. The Trust carried out an excavation at our own expense with the backing of our Trustees, the practical help of Trust staff and the wholehearted support of our loyal, hardworking weekend volunteers.

The excavation has produced some remarkable results. We have discovered a section of the Roman London road extending north-east to south-west across the front garden of the former houses. This is the first time the road has been located this far from the town walls, although we have assumed for decades that the present London Road follows a Roman line. The street was formed in a shallow construction hollow, cut into natural brickearth. Associated with the hollow was a deeper subcircular disturbance, possibly formed when a tree stump was removed during road construction. The disturbance was filled with loose-textured old topsoil and at least eight full wheelbarrow-loads of large flints. The hollow and depression were capped by a single layer of graded road gravel. Cutting into the road surface was a series of wheel ruts, formed perhaps during periods of wet weather by heavily-laden carts. Two axle-widths were discerned in the group of ruts.

Most interesting was the date of the road, indicated by pottery recovered from the matrix of the street and embedded in the gravel surface. All the material appears to date from the last quarter of the first century AD and suggesting not only an early metalling but a short-lived street. The road was not accompanied by a side drain, but a substantial ditch located 3m to the south and set parallel to the street, probably a field boundary, was of contemporary date. The road was capped by a thick deposit of colluvium (a soil that has been washed down-slope as a slurry). One possible explanation is that the road was re-aligned further to the north in the last quarter of the first century AD and that at least this section was abandoned.

Although road and ditch were not identified under Cranmer House in 1982, the road extended immediately north of the building, continuing to the line of St Dunstan's Street, where banded road gravels cumulatively 1,20m thick were discovered in a service trench outside St Dunstan's cemetery in 1984 (Frere et al 1987, 55-6). The ditch perhaps turned to the south before entering the Cranmer House site, perhaps under the present line of Prince’s Way, to form the corner of an agricultural field and a western boundary for the Roman cremation cemetery. Two Roman pits and a post-hole were located in the present excavation south of the ditch, together with a circular ring-ditch 8m in diameter and a short length of a second circular earthwork. Although the curving ditches contained a few small, worn Roman potsherds, the features are perhaps remnants of Anglo-Saxon burial mounds, suggesting that the graves and spectacular Anglo-Saxon finds discovered in 1982 formed part of a potentially larger Saxon cemetery which extends into the present site and beyond.

The early features were uniformly sealed by an agricultural soil that largely developed throughout the later Anglo-Saxon and medieval period when this site formed part of an extensive Manor for the Archbishop and lay close to the estate farm (Westgate Court Farm). Late features found cutting agricultural soils included pits, garden features and animal burials dating from the eighteenth century to the present. One of the Iatest finds was a large fragment of iron casing from the fuse of a First World War incendiary device, part of a bomb dropped by Zeppelin on the suburbs of Canterbury.

The part-time and mainly volunteer excavation at 65 London Road has added significantly to our knowledge of the area.

My thanks go to the Trustees, to my staff and above all to our marvellous band of volunteers for all their help and support.

Paul Bennett

S.S. Frere. R Bennett. J.Rady and S. Stow Canterbury Excavations Intra-and extra-mural sites 1949-55 and 1980-84, The Archaeology of Canterbury, vol. viii (Maidstone, 1987)

London Road, Canterbury