Category Archives: Places

VM_365 Day 346 What about the box? Imports from Colchester.

VM 346

Today’s image for Day 346 shows the wooden box that was used to store some of the Roman pottery excavated at the Roman building near Drapers Mill by Joe Coy in the late 1950’s and 1960’s which featured in yesterday’s VM_365 post for Day 345. The wooden box holding Joe Coy’s Roman pottery dates to the late 1950’s – 1960’s, comtemporary with the time the dig at Drapers Mill was carried out and itself has a story to tell us.

Museum stores house thousands of artefacts and when visiting the stores it is often not long before you see an old tobacco tin, wooden matchbox and the like from the 20th century that had been pressed into service as a make-do receptacle for a find. This was a time when Tupperware, cardboard and plastic wrapping were generally less common and before there were stricter museum curation policies (that specify how materials are to be received by the curating museum). So, just as with a visit to the family shed, you can see how, what were familiar items of recent times, were opportunistically utilized for safe storage.

Coming across such containers can jog the memory and be a fascinating encounter as sometimes what was ubiquitous, valueless and discardable packaging, say 70 years ago, now has a story to tell. Occasionally this is as insightful as the artefact within. In those times we consumed less, things were less easy to replace, and there was more of an attitude of ‘make-do and mend’; what items came in were often carefully designed and very well-made: here was a chance for the prudent 20th century recycler to find a new use for old packaging. What was to hand was helpfully taken into service, not so much to save cash but more likely because there were limited alternatives.

We only have to go back a few decades to the 1960s to be within that time and we can see that Joe Coy’s best pottery finds from the excavations at Drapers Mills from the turn of that decade came to be housed in a robust wooden box convenient for shelving and for transport for when the finds were needed for display or to show the pottery experts.

The box is made of thin ply-wood and its measurements and markings are in imperial standards for it pre-dates the switch to decimalization in 1971. Accordingly it measures 11 by 10 inches and has a height of 6¾ʺ. It had been marked in now fading black-ink by stencilling or stamping with the name ‘BETTS’. It was seen recently by Pete Nash who recognized it immediately as coming from the Betts toothpaste tube factory at Colchester.

Also marked on one side (more obviously by stencilling and in a different type-face) are the contents, described in light traces as ‘TUBES’ with what is likely to be the quantity given but which cannot now be read clearly. The price is given by means of the same stencil as ‘BETTS’ telling the reader ‘BOX CHARGED 4/-’ in what we call nowadays ‘old money’ namely four schillings (20p in today’s decimal currency). The ply-wood is ⅛ of an inch thick, with metal staples used to bind the sheets together. This makes for a container it is very sturdy but light and doubtless the dimensions relate to the size of the tubes inside and their safe transit and housing.

The tubes of toothpaste originally stored in the box were almost certainly of soft metal and shorter than today, so may have sat in two rows within the box. Masking-tape had been added at a later stage, probably to secure an improvised lid as the original top is missing (was that perhaps used in a role as a tray as we might use a shoe box lid today or had it been broken on opening?). Did the original lid say more about the content? A makeshift lid was provided when it was pressed into service to store the pottery, perhaps in the 1960s or 1970s, made of ‘hardboard’ which is another material that was ubiquitous at the time, being used in light carpentry, but now rarely seen. This was also something likely to be simply convenient to hand which has been cut to just lie over the top of the box. It too is inscribed, but this time with summary information on the present contents and in marker pen, short and to the point “Joe’s pots DM.”

Aptly the box and perhaps what it originally held were imports to Thanet, just as it contains imports from the Roman era in its present use. One of these, a whole globular beaker, as featured in yesterday’s post for Day 346 of the VM_365 project, is a type known from Roman Colchester, one that may have been made there, which would be a striking coincidence.

Of course the reuse of former packaging is well-attested through the ages: from Roman wine and oil amphorae seen reused as caskets for burials (with examples known on Thanet and in north-east Kent) to the tea-chests which were an everyday item seen in second use in ‘storage and removal’ through the second half of the 20th century. Doubtless old jam jars will be employed for new home-made jams this summer, some maybe first had jam from Tiptree, near Colchester.

The Betts factory which was still operating in the 1960s closed to be redeveloped recently for housing. Joe Coy’s box has become an artefact and its history ties it in time to the important excavations at Drapers Mills that occurred when the box was itself young. What happened to all the thousands of other boxes of this type dispatched from the Betts factory and are there other surviving examples from Thanet?

Dr Steven Willis (University of Kent), Photo: Lloyd Bosworth (University of Kent). Thanks to Pete Nash of Colchester.

VM_365 Day 345 Wooden box stores Roman pottery collection. Part 2

VM 345Today’s  image for Day 345 of the VM_365 project shows a selection of pottery from excavations carried out by Joe Coy at Draper’s Mill, Margate during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. These vessels and sherds were stored in a wooden box and a general exploration of the samian contents have previously featured on Day 86 of the VM_365 project.

A deeper dig into Joe Coy’s box of Roman pottery reveals more about the site and the collection. The ensemble features samian ware very prominently and some is shown in this photo; it is clear that this ‘boxed set’ is a selection of items considered particularly interesting by the excavator.

Samian ware was the fine imported table ware of the Roman period which was relatively expensive and, indeed, rather ‘flashy’ perhaps when set on the Roman dining table alongside other locally produced vessels. Several vessels here have the stamp of their maker present. Leaving aside the three complete or near complete vessels in the foreground of the post from Day 86 there are a number of vessels which are represented by several sherds and in these cases much of the vessel is present. This being so we might speculate: was there an accident one day when several vessels were broken and needed to be discarded?

Two of the larger samian vessels are bowls made at Lezoux in Central Gaul, now located in modern France (top right). From the reading of the names of the makers (or is it the name of the workshop?) impressed into the floor of the vessels, together with their shape, it is possible to say with confidence that they date to the middle of the second century AD. The makers stamps show them to be the work of Paterclinus and Patricius ii. The most frequent vessel form amongst the samian is, however, the conical cup (Dragendorff’s type 33) though this is present in a variety of sizes.

The small whole buff-coloured globular vessel is a beaker (Jason Monaghan’s type 2C6) and is a form seen at other sites in the region such as Colchester. Pots in this form have likewise been recovered at Cooling in north Kent (on the Hoo Peninsula) where there was a major pottery industry at this time.

The samian includes first century ware, while a little later in date is one of the type 33 cups which is a particularly fine example of Hadrianic date and more orange than red (bottom right). Later samian forms occur too. One of these late samian vessels came to the Drapers Mills site from Trier, then in Eastern Gaul, in the early third century and is noteworthy in lacking the finesse of earlier samian wares. Present too in the box are other non-samian Roman finer wares including a sherd from a beaker from the Nene Valley near Peterborough, and the lower part of a vessel with gold mica-dusting giving it an intentionally attractive glittery appearance (on the left but with glitter not caught in this photo).

Another fine table item present is of much more recent date being a decorated base fragment of black Wedgewood Jasperware (bottom, right of centre on top of a small pile of fine Roman greyware sherds) which was perhaps originally thought by the excavators to be fine Roman ware. Samian and Nene Valley beakers were the equivalent to Wedgwood products in their time and Jasperware often featured goddesses and other imagery drawn from the classical world so their companionable boxing-up here seems very apt.

Dr Steve Willis

Photos by Lloyd Bosworth, University of Kent.

VM_365 Day 341 Unique vantage points and prehistoric sites


The image for Day 341 is another in the series of Our Thanet posts, showing locations that play an important part in the exploration and appreciation of Thanet’s heritage.

The image shows a view taken facing south and south west from a downland hill top at Lord of the Manor, Ramsgate when part of the ring ditch associated with a Bronze Age round barrow was partly exposed in a training excavation in 2013.

Although it is partly obscured by trees and buildings that have grown up since a railway cutting was pushed through the chalk hillside in 1847, it is still possible to see the vista across the low lying bay that could be seen from the vantage point of the raised central platform enclosed by the ring ditch. From the centre of the mound the horizon falls away in a wide sweep from the north east to the south, giving a view across Pegwell Bay.

It can be no coincidence that a location commanding such an impressive view was chosen for the location of  such a major monument in the Bronze Age. Everywhere on Thanet where such unique points which command similar impressive views over the landscape can be found, there are also concentrations of prehistoric monuments, some unusually large in size or very complex such as the Lord of the Manor 1 multi phase monument which featured all the way back on Day 21 of the VM_365 project. Artistic reconstructions of the development of the landscape over time featured in an earlier series of VM_365 posts starting on Day 265.

This unique landscape is increasingly under pressure from development and it may soon not be possible to see what the prehistoric inhabitants of the Isle could see from the vantage points of the downland hilltops.

VM_365 Day 340 Holly Lane, West Northdown

VM 340Today’s image for Day 340 of the VM_365 project shows a series of images of another of our Hidden Hamlets in Thanet, located around Holly Lane at West Northdown, Cliftonville.

Holly Lane is located a short distance south of Omer Avenue which featured on Day 338 of the VM_365 project. Before the area aroiund Holly Lane became part of the residential suburbs of Cliftonville, it was occupied by two farms; Hospital Farm and West Northdown Farm, which later became Holly Farm. Between 1907 and the 1930’s the area around both farms began to be in-filled with residential housing as agricultural land was sold off. Hospital Farm was completely demolished. By the 1960’s most of the area around Holly Lane was completely in-filled.

Evidence of its former isolated and agricultural character still exists along Holly Lane and Old Green Road. The oldest building, Grapevine Cottage (top left), is located in Holly Gardens, set back off Holly Lane and is believed to date from 1620 or earlier. It was originally two labourers cottages constructed of brick with curved end gables.  In the 20th century the building was altered to become a single house.

Other evidence of the 18th and 19th century agricultural origins exist in the form of flint boundary walls and flint and brick cottages.

VM_365 Day 339 Downland landscape of Birchington


The image for today, Day 339 of the VM_365 project, is a north west facing view of the historic downland landscape of Birchington. The view of the horizon beyond the cornfields stretches from the complex of Glasshouses at Thanet Earth on the left side to the tree enclosed Quex Park on the right.

All across this landscape in the ripening corn, the secrets of the archaeology below the ground are revealed in a mass of cropmarks. Some of the earliest images of archaeological sites revealed by cropmarks were aerial views of this very landscape published by OGS Crawford, known as the father of aerial archaeology, in the Journal Antiquity in 1934.

Excavations in advance of the construction of the Thanet earth glasshouses gave an opportunity to investigate a set of the largely unexplored crop marks in the landscape. Archaeological features from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and even modern periods were revealed as each greenhouse was built.

The Iron Age settlement of the landscape stretches far across the rolling hilltops and one of the most remarkable discoveries of the era was of a large hoard of Iron Age potin coins discovered when trees were planted to surround the newly enclosed Quex Park in the 1853. The remaining unexplored landscape almost certainly holds archaeological evidence of the same range of dates in the wide sweep of linear features and circular enclosures that can be seen in aerial views.

Standing archaeology visible in today’s picture includes the spire of the Parish Church of All Saints at Birchington near the middle of the picture and on the far right the historic Gun Tower within the grounds of Quex Park. Beyond the horizon in the image is the coast at Minnis bay, whose remarkable archaeological landscape was itself explored on Day 334 of the VM_365 project.

VM_365 Day 338 West Northdown, Cliftonville

VM 338Today’s image for Day 338 of the VM_365 project continues our Hidden Hamlet series and shows the surviving elements of two farms at West Northdown, Cliftonville which are now completely surrounded by suburban development.

The main image at the top shows West Northdown Farmhouse which is located on Omer Avenue. The former farmhouse was originally constructed in 1652 and the date is recorded on the west side of the house in brick. This lovely Dutch gabled building is built of squared knapped flint with brick dressings; the first floor is decorated with red brick in a diaper pattern.

West Northdown Farmhouse was largely still surrounded by agricultural buildings and by open farm land until the early 1900’s when it is labelled on Ordnance Survey maps as being part of Dairy Farm.  A second farmyard located around 50 metres or so south east of the farmhouse is labelled as Omer Farm. By the publication of the 1936 Ordnance Survey map both Omer Farm and Dairy Farm have been sold off, the agricultural buildings demolished and new houses erected along the newly constructed Omer Avenue which extends north between the locations of the two farms.

The only surviving original element of Omer Farm appears to be a flint wall which extends along the western side of the street frontage on the opposite side to West Northdown Farmhouse. An interesting building (bottom left) is located on Omer Avenue, set back from the street front and located in what would have been one of the yards of Omer Farm. This building at first glance appears to be of a similar date to West Northdown Farmhouse but is in actual fact a cottage built in 17th century style in 1933 using old materials probably recycled from the demolished farm.


VM_365 Day 337 The Follies of Kingsgate Bay

VM 337Today’s image, for Day 337 of the VM_365 project and another in the Our Thanet series, shows four views of some of the ‘follies’ at Kingsgate Bay, Broadstairs that were constructed by Henry Fox, Lord Holland, in the 18th century.

Henry Fox served as a Whig politician between 1735-1765 and was the father of the Honourable Charles James Fox, another famous Whig Politician. As Lord Holland he held various posts including Paymaster-General of the Forces, a post that he used  to increase his personal fortune from the public purse and from which he was finally forced to resign in 1765.

Lord Holland came to Kingsgate in 1761 to escape his political life and public hatred. Kingsgate Bay had formerly been called called Bartholomew’s gate but gained its present name from the landing of Charles II at the bay in 1683.  A medieval arch and portcullis once defended the ancient gap through the cliffs, but it was destroyed by gales in 1819.

Lord Holland built a house and surrounded it with follies, structures built in the style of ruins from antiquity, which were then fashionable. Holland House (shown in the top left of the picture) was constructed in classical style around 1760. The house  fell into ruins around the end of the 18th century and most of the present façade dates to the mid 19th century when it was rebuilt. The original central portico of the  Holland House was removed to the Sea Bathing Hospital at Margate.

The follies at Kingsgate included a Bede-House, a Castle, a Convent and a temple, although most of the Follies concealed practical purposes. The Bede-House (in the top right of the picture) was constructed on the cliff on the western side of Kingsgate Bay in the late 18th century as a house of entertainment for visitors who flocked to see all of Lord Holland’s follies. By the early 19th century the building had become known as the Noble Captain Digby, after a nephew  of Lord Holland who commanded HMS African at Trafalgar. Much of the original structure was destroyed when it fell into the sea during a strong gale, but surviving parts of the earlier structure are incorporated into the mainly early 19th century construction of the present Captain Digby Inn.

The temple of Neptune on White Ness (in the bottom right of the picture) was built in the late 18th century as a miniature copy of the Tudor blockhouses at Camber and Deal which Henry VIII used to defend the south east coast. In the Second World War the temple tower served as a post for the Royal Observer Corps. In the same year that the Temple of Neptune was built, a respected local Vicar recorded his opinion that a tower named the Arx Ruohim, or tower of Thanet, had been built on the same site by King Vortigern in A.D. 448. The story was taken as fact and even gained places on reputable maps and in local guidebooks and as a result people came to to look at the ‘Saxon’ Tower.

Kingsgate Castle (bottom left of the image) was a copy of a Welsh Castle and was  constructed on the cliff top on the eastern side of Kingsgate Bay. This building was used as stables by Lord Holland but eventually fell into disrepair. A large round tower is all that remains of the original building. The structure was added to over the years and later rebuilt in 1913 by Lord Avebury, incorporating most of the original fabric. The building has been converted into residential flats in recent years .

Another of the follies was known as the Convent (not pictured). Originally built as five cells arranged around a central cloister it was intended to be used as a convent for Anglican Nuns, but they  never occupied the building. Instead the Convent was used as accommodation for the poor and industrious members of Lord Holland’s estate and also used as overflow accommodation for guests at Holland House. By 1831 the convent was rebuilt and renamed Port Regis. The remains of the medieval entrance to Bartholemew’s gate were rebuilt in the grounds.

Another commonly held ‘historical fact’, probably originating in similar circumstances to the Arx Ruohim myth, is still preserved in a local place name ‘Hackemdown’,  which is even recorded on Ordnance Survey maps. The name derives from an ‘historical event’, which was actually invented by Lord Holland. A barrow mound in the grounds of the convent was opened by Lord Holland and enough human remains were found for Lord Holland to suggest they were buried after a battle between Saxons and Danes. Lord Holland commemorated his invention by building a tower on the site of the barrow mound, complete with an inscription to the dead. The tower became known as Hackemdown Tower and other barrow mounds nearby became known as Hackemdown Banks. The cliff which Holland suggested the remainder of the dead from the battle were pushed became known as Hackemdown Point.

While Lord Holland’s battle was pure fiction, it was based on real archaeological finds. Holland was prompted to open his barrow mound after a farmer at Reading Street Farm had opened a larger mound nearby in 1743, in the presence of many hundreds of people. Records suggest that deep in the solid chalk under the mound several stone capped graves were found. Human skeletons bent almost double and several urns of coarse earthenware filled with ashes and charcoal were reported to have been found. Both the mounds opened by the Reading Street farmer and Lord Holland are more likely to date to the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age.

VM_365 Day 336 The landscape from Dumpton Gap to Viking Bay

VM 336Today’s image is another in the Our Thanet series of posts. This time it is a view of the coastline from Dumpton on the left side to Viking Bay at Broadstairs on the right.

This part of Thanet’s coast is also subject to heavy erosion, which has formed a distinctive wave cut platform which can be seen in the foreground and the high chalk cliffs that can be seen in the centre of the picture.

Like the other coastal areas shown in our two previous days posts, this landscape would not have been recognisable to the prehistoric inhabitants of Thanet, who may have lived and died on rolling downland slopes that have been cut away by the sea. Their coastlines were much nearer to the vantage point on the edge of the platform where the picture was taken, but were always advancing toward the high central chalk ridge of the isle.

If they were somehow able to return, even the later Iron Age people and the Roman settlers of the area would have trouble placing themselves, their settlements and their buildings which are known to exist at Dumpton on the far left and on the promontory next to Fort House on the extreme right.

Much of the archaeological evidence of past occupation in the landscape between has been lost to the cliff falls that occur regularly following storms at sea and we will now never be able to piece together the whole story of early settlement along the coastline that is shown in today’s image, which makes the knowledge we have gained from previous excavations, many of which were carried out by pioneering archaeologists like Howard Hurd and Dave Perkins and have featured in earlier posts, so much more significant.

VM 365 Day 334 The landscape of Minnis Bay

VM 334

Today’s image for Day 334 of the VM_365 project shows a view of Minnis Bay, taken from the east, facing west toward Reculver. This view begins another short VM_365 series showing you our Thanet; the historic isle that we as archaeologists see around us.

Before the Bronze Age this landscape would have been significantly different. Sea levels were significantly lower than they are in the present day and much of the coastal area visible here would have been dry land.  A freshwater creek extended along the approximate route of Minnis Road, just out of the picture to the right. The flat greyish green area of the beach visible in the foreground are the remnant of chalk cliffs that once formed the edge of the valley the creek flowed through, which has been eroded to a flat platform by the sea pushing into the creek mouth in the later prehistoric period.

Many prehistoric finds including Palaeolithic and Neolithic worked flint have been found off this foreshore, the tools used by the people who once lived on the land that has been lost to the sea.  The remains of a Bronze Age settlement was discovered on the wave cut platform around the mouth of the creek in 1938. A Bronze Age hoard discovered in one of the pits has previously featured on Day 202 of the VM_365 project.

Beyond the wooden groynes that can be seen in the middle ground of the image is the former northern mouth of the Wantsum Channel, which became more significant as the sea advanced from the Bronze Age onward and separated what would become known as  the  Isle of Thanet from the mainland of Kent.

The sea continued to eat away at the land that was occupied by communities in later periods.  The bases of Late Iron Age and Roman pits and other features, possibly wells, have also been identified as truncated pits on the wavecut platform on the foreshore. Artefacts retrieved from these pits included a Roman millstone,  a two handled wine jar, and a colour coated dish.

Eroding pits and archaeological features of Late Iron Age and Roman date have been identified in the eroding cliff edges at Minnis Bay. On the horizon on the far right of the image is the site of a Roman fortress built on land at Reculver,  overlooking the mouth of the Wantsum Channel and the west coast of the Isle of Thanet.  The Fort and the settlement associated with it is beginning to be claimed by the sea. Coastal erosion has exposed the bases of Roman wells which are sometimes visible at low tide on the wave cut shelf at Reculver.

Reculver was also the site of one of the earliest and most important  Anglo Saxon monasteries. The former monastery and the church that now stands at Reculver were built on the site of the Roman Fort and elements of all these structures have been revealed in a long series of archaeological excavations.

The vantage point of the cliff top at Minnis Bay provides a view of thousands years of Thanet’s history which the archaeologist’s eye can distinguish from the natural landscape.

VM 365 Day 333 Hidden Hamlet of Upton, Broadstairs

VM 333

Today’s image for Day 333 of the VM_365 project shows a series of views of surviving agricultural buildings in the now hidden hamlet of Upton which is located on the eastern side of Broadstairs.

The main focus of the former hamlet is located around the junction of Fair Street and Vale Road. This picturesque corner of Broadstairs contains a number of buildings and features reflecting its rural past that are easily visible from the road.

The oldest surviving building is Little Upton, shown in the top left of the image. This Dutch gabled house was constructed in the late 17th century in two sections with different roof levels and is located on the northern side of Vale Road.

On the opposite side of Vale Road you can see the remnants of Upton Farm which incorporates an Oast House, (bottom left)  probably originally constructed in the 18th century as a timber framed single storey barn. The pyramidal slate cap on the left side is a mid 19th century construction. If you look at the brick gable end that faces on to the footpath you can see where the roof has been raised probably in the 19th century.

Other buildings hinting at the area’s rural past can be seen along Vale Road (top right) where long, narrow flint built buildings are located side on to the street aligned along the edge of  the former farmyard. Near the junction of Fair Street is a long brick and flint wall forming the boundary to a cottage. This wall has many phases in its construction and once formed part of an agricultural building or barn that has since been demolished.

There are lots of other elements visible in the street scape around Upton that hint at its rural past which can be easily identified if we take the trouble to really look.