Category Archives: Minster

VM_365 Day 322 Church of St Mary the Virgin, Minster in Thanet

VM 322The image for Day 322 of the VM_365 project shows the eastern end of the church of St Mary the Virgin, Minster in Thanet.  The church was constructed with a mixture of water rounded flints and Thanet beds sandstone, with Caen stone , Reigate stone and Ragstone used as dressings in the medieval period. Bathstone was used to construct some of the 19th century elements.

A nunnery was founded at Minster in the late seventh century, which existed until it was destroyed by Viking incursions in the early 11th century. A church on or near the location of the present church would have been associated with the nunnery from its foundation. This church would also have been the main church in Thanet. Minster became the mother church to the four chuches of St John the Baptist at Margate, St Lawrence at Ramsgate, St Peter at Broadstairs and All Saints, Birchington.

The church and the manor of Minster was given to St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury in the early 11th century, when the monastic grange of Minster Abbey near the site of the present church which featured on Day 310 of the VM_365 project was established. The fabric of the present church originates in the Norman period, probably on the site of the earlier Anglo Saxon church building, although no evidence of the earlier church seems to survive in the the building.

The four churches  of Minster, St John the Baptist, St Lawrence, and St Peter were possessions of St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury unlike St Mary Magdalene, Monkton which featured on Day 317 of the VM_365 project and belonged to the estates of Christchurch Priory, Canterbury.

Parts of the early Norman church at Minster survive in the nave. The nave walls were pierced for arcades In the mid 12th century, to expand the space into newly constructed north and south aisles. In the late 12th century the western tower was added and in the lower sections of the tower reused Roman brick, probably originating from the nearby Roman villa at Abbey Farm, was used in its construction. The reused Roman brick can clearly be seen in the image above.

The eastern part of the church was rebuilt in the early 13th century, forming a cruciform church with large lancet lights.  The outer walls of the south aisle and east part of the north aisle of the nave were rebuilt and new windows were inserted in the early 14th century.

Crown-post roofs were built in the 15th century and at the same time the top of the tower was rebuilt with a  timber spire and a crenellated parapet. The stair-turret which can be seen on the right handside of the tower in the image above may also have been rebuilt at this time.

The church was heavily restored in the 1860’s, when the north aisle was completed as part of the restoration work.

References/Further Reading

Jones, H, and Berg, M. 2009. Norman Churches in the Canterbury Diocese. The History Press.

Tatton-Brown, T. 1996. St Mary Church, Minster in Thanet. Canterbury Diocese: Historical and Archaeological Survey.



VM_365 Day 316 Roman pot lids. One size fits all?

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The image for Day 316 of the VM_365 project continues from yesterday’s post with our lid theme and shows part of an early Roman lid seated vessel from the Roman Villa at Minster.

 The post for  Day 315 of the VM_365 project showed a rare Mid Iron Age lid used for slow cooking. Deliberately-made lids became much more common during the Late Iron Age (c.50 BC-50 AD) – and from thereon were a common item in Roman kitchens. However, the deliberate provision of rim top or inner-rim lid-seating, so that the lid rested snugly in place over what was cooking, mostly only occurs during the Roman period and from Medieval and Late Medieval times onward.

The example shown above is Early Roman and of a Canterbury grey sandy ware cooking-bowl made between c.100-150 AD. Although the rim is flat it has been provided with a series of grooves in order to receive a lid. This feature occurs regularly on contemporary cooking-bowls.

The interesting issue is – why provide the rim with two grooves when one would do just as well? Is this to accomodate unavoidable productional irregularities in lid sizes or as a ‘help-meet’ to distracted or over-busy Roman cooks – when one lid will do as well as another?

The images and information above were kindly provided by Nigel Macpherson-Grant.


VM_365 Day 310 Early Medieval foundations at St Mildred’s Priory, Minster

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Today’s image for Day 310 of the VM_365 project continues  our theme of keyhole excavations and the important archaeological information that can be gleaned from them. The image shows two views of the remains of a rammed chalk foundation that was recorded during the work in 2010 to re-lay drains at St Mildred’s Priory, Minster. The Priory is located on the the eastern edge of the village of Minster, on low lying lands overlooking the marshland in the former Wantsum Channel.

The standing buildings at St Mildred’s Priory, which has also been known as Minster Abbey and St Mildred’s Abbey, date from the  11th and 12th centuries and were constructed as a monastic grange by the Benedictine Monks of St Augustine’s Abbey Canterbury after the land was granted to them by King Canute.

The site of the monastic grange had previously been occupied by a nunnery, established at Minster by Domneva, a niece of  King Egbert of Kent in the 7th century. Domneva’s daughter later became known as St Mildred, after whom the Abbey was later named. The early nunnery was reported to have been destroyed during the Viking incursions in the 9th century after which the land became a farm, or grange, for St. Augustine’s Abbey.

The buildings of the monastic grange were renewed and altered in the early 15th century and the standing remains include herringbone walling, Norman doorways and windows and a medieval brewhouse. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid 16th century, the grange passed into private hands and the former monastic grange has been used as a Benedictine nunnery since 1937.

In 2010 work was carried out to re-lay the 19th or early 20th century drainage pipes located on the western side of the northwestern range of buildings known as the Saxon Wing. This involved digging out the backfill of the old pipe trenches, exposing the existing pipes and then relaying them with modern pipes.

In one of the trenches a demolished wall or wall foundation of rammed chalk was exposed, forming a corner of a structure with a different orientation to the standing buildings of the former monastic grange.  In the picture on the left the foundations are visible below the original pipes and in the image on the right the foundations can be seen after the original pipes have been removed.  The interior of the wall appeared to have originally been faced with pieces of sandstone. Crushed fragments of sandstone found in the demolition deposit above the chalk foundation suggest that the upper part of structure may have been formed of sandstone blocks.

Two fresh sherds of North Kent shell filled sandy ware pottery from a sagging base cooking pot, dating to 1150-1225 AD, were found in a deposit built up against the outer face of the wall suggesting the structure dated from this period or earlier. The building materials associated with this wall foundation are similar to those of the west wing, part of which was constructed before 1085. In the 12th century the grange was enlarged and the west block was converted into kitchens and living quarters.

It is not clear whether the structure exposed in the pipe trenches relates to a new structure, built when the west block was converted, or whether it was a structure demolished to make way for the 12th century rebuilding. However this small keyhole excavation has indicated the location of the footprint of an early structure associated with this important medieval building and may provide a guide to future investigations when a more extensive investigation of the structure  may be possible.

VM_365 Day 281 Roman Spoon-Probe

VM 281The image for Day 281 of the VM_365 project shows a copper alloy cast Roman Spoon-Probe  found during the 1999 excavation season of the Roman villa at Minster.
This alarmingly named object would originally have been double ended, with a spoon at one end and a probe at the other. The spoon end of this example has broken off. The shaft of the instrument has been cast with barley sugar twisting.
These instruments were multi-purpose, the spoon end would have been used to extract cosmetics from containers and the probe end used to apply them to the face, possibly also to mix them too. The probe could have been used rather like a cotton wool bud if wrapped in wool or cloth to remove the cosmetics from the face. These instruments were also used medically for the application of medicines to the ears and eyes as well as being used to excise and clean wounds.

VM_365 Day 280 Roman Brooch from Monkton

VM 280The image for Day 280 of the VM_365 project shows a Bow Brooch or Fibula of late Iron Age or Early Roman date, which was found in 1992 when trial trenching was carried out between Monkton and Minster in advance of the expansion of the old single lane road into a dual carriageway.

The Bow Brooch is made from copper alloy and has a perforated catch plate to cover and secure the pin. Classified as an early Colchester type, it dates to the period between 25 BC and 50-75 AD.

Like many clothes fastenings and small personal items, Bow Brooches like this formed part of the Late Iron Age costume and continued to be worn into the Early Roman period, despite the many material changes the Roman invasion brought to the country. Because of the continuing influence of indigenous costume and the fastenings and ornaments that were associated with them, a distinctive Romano-British hybrid culture eventually emerged, drawing on elements from both cultures.

VM_365 Day 276 Recycled pottery spindle whorl

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Today’s image for Day 276 of the VM_365 project shows two sides of a ceramic spindle whorl that was found during excavations at Minster, Thanet in 1990.

This Roman spindle whorl  has been recycled from a sherd of a flagon dating to the second half of the 1st century A.D. The pottery sherd has been carefully shaped into a disc and a hole pierced through the centre. The disc is slightly curved, rather than flat, following the  original profile of the flagon. In the picture on the left, marks left from turning the flagon on a potters wheel can clearly be seen as stripes in the fabric.

Other objects associated with weaving including spindle whorls of Iron Age and Late Iron Age/Early Roman date, as well as Iron Age loom weights and an Iron Age weaving comb have previously featured in the VM_365 project


VM_365 Day 273 Coins and Iron Age Minster

VM 273The image for Day 273 of the VM_365 project is of another coin dating to the Iron Age, a struck Bronze of a Late Iron Age King called Eppillus, which was found at Minster on the southern side of the Isle of Thanet .

The biography of Eppillus is largely based on the evidence, using the tiny scraps of written evidence derived from the inscriptions on coins. Eppillus became king of the Cantiaci, the tribe that lived in Kent, around 15 A.D. , possibly after he was deposed or replaced as King of the Atrebates by his brother Verica.

The powerbase of the  Atrebates was in the region around Chichester, which was known to them as Noviomagus. The Atrebates began a political relationship with the Roman Empire as its influence expanded on the continent. Coins of Eppillus issued from Noviomagus were marked Rex, indicating that the King’s power had been recognised by the Roman state.

Like many of the coins issued by Late Iron Age regional rulers in Kent, the example shown in the image today (Type: Van Arsdell 178) is based on a coin issued by Phillip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Although the images on the coins went through many incremental distortions and abstractions, the bust and chariot on either side of the coin can be traced through their evolutionary changes to their ancient Greek origins. The imagery reflects the independent connection of the Iron Age states with the classical Greek world.

Coins struck by the pre-Roman Kings of Kent provide material and written evidence that was independent of the control of the Roman state, although its influence on the iconography and texts can be detected in the years before the Empire expanded to Britain.

As our extended written evidence of pre-Roman Britain comes almost wholly from writers who lived in the dominant culture, the study of the Late Iron Age coin series allows us to perceive, however dimly, an alternative point of view to the Romans. The scatter of Iron Age coins, pottery and other artefacts from Minster in Thanet provide an indication of what came before the almost overwhelming amount of cultural information about the Roman period which is represented by sites like the Villa that was discovered in Minster.

VM_365 Day 248 What did the Minster Roman villa look like?

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The image for Day 248 of the VM_365 project is a reconstruction of the main winged villa building at Minster in Thanet. The image is based on an architectural model of the building, based on the ground plan traced from the truncated foundations revealed in the series of excavations sponsored by the Kent Archaeological Society.   The building is viewed from the south east, across the central courtyard toward the north west corner of the building.

Although the two wings and the central range of the villa appear to be symmetrical, the east wing stands slightly further to the north than the western wing. To compensate for the offset and to link the two wings, the  central range was slightly slanted,  each room being slightly trapezoidal in plan rather than rectangular.

At some point an extension had been added to the southern end of the west wing,  adding an apse and and an L shaped tunnel to form an access from the outside to a furnace. This extension may have been a heated dining room.

Corridors on the front, sides and rear of the wings and on the rear of the main range, provided access to the series of rooms within each building range. The structural evidence indicates that screen walls blocked some of the corridors creating specific routes around the building.

The central range of buildings are fronted with a corridor and portico, linked to corridors attached to the east and west wings, covering three sides of the central yard with a roof. The yard was enclosed at some point with a screen wall at the southern end, with a gatehouse or buttress located on a square  foundation at the western end of the wall.

Part of the roof covering the heated apse attached to the north side of the  central building in the east west range can just be seen to the rear of the building. The corridors to the rear of the east west range provided access from the east and west sides into the central hall with its heated niche at the northern end.

On the western side of the winged villa, the roof of the detached  bathhouse is conjecturally reconstructed with a pair of barrel vaulted roofs covering the various baths and heated rooms.

One of the elements that the reconstruction does not reproduce are the various chimneys and flues that would have allowed the smoke from domestic heathers, heated rooms and bathouses to escape from the roof-line of the building. Perhaps this would have given the villa a more industrial appearance than the usual bucolic views that are given in similar reconstructions of similar Roman villas.

VM_365 Day 247 More bath houses and buildings at Minster Roman Villa

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Day 247 of the VM_365 project is our penultimate post on the series of images of the main buildings of the Roman Villa at Minster in Thanet, a view facing north west across a building located at the south west corner of the villa complex.

The post for VM_365 Day 246 featured a two roomed corridor house, Building 4,  added to the south eastern corner of the boundary wall surrounding the main winged villa building.  The image today shows the foundations of a similar two chambered structure that had been added to the outside of the south west corner (Building 6).

The excavation of building 6 revealed a more complex story where at least three phases of structure were traced in the same area.  The original two roomed building that had been added to the south west corner of the boundary wall was similar in plan and construction to the core of Building 6. However, soon after it was built it was converted into a bath house through the addition of extra rooms and a furnace feeding a hypocaust. As the villa had a detached bathhouse within the western side of the walled compound, it is not clear whether the two bath houses were operated at the same time.

Small finds from the bath house excavation included copper alloy toilet sets for personal grooming and several of the bone pins that were found during the excavation were recovered form this area.

Later still the extra buildings of the bathhouse were removed and the furnace and hypocaust were backfilled with debris. The two chambered structure was restoredmon a new set of foundations.

Behind the building at the far end of the trench, a circular pit can be seen in the image. The pit was the upper cut of a deep well, sunk into the crest of the valley beyond, which may have supplied water to the bath house adapted from the two room building. The fills of the well contained large quantities of broken pottery and some more delicate finds such as the leaf shaped pendants shown in the post for VM_365 Day 31.

The complex  series of construction, conversion and replacement demonstrated how a major building like the Minster villa was frequently altered and adapted to suit the present needs of the two or three generations of people who may have occupied it, despite its relatively short life and eventual demolition in the Roman period.

VM_365 Day 246 Corridor House in Minster Roman villa complex

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The image for Day 246 of the VM_365 project shows a  north west facing view across another of the elements of the Minster Roman villa complex, a small corridor house (Building 4). This structure stood approximately 80 metres to the south of the main villa, immediately outside the south east corner of the wall surrounding the winged villa building.  The building was placed on the southern limit of the plateau occupied by the villa and its boundary wall and outer structures. Along the top of the picture the break of slope of the plateau, leading to a valley on its western edge, is visible.  The detached  bath house shown in the post for Day_245 had been placed on this crest so its drains could discharge into the valley. The location of the bathouse in this image is approximately in line with the gap at the right hand end of the row of trees at the base of the valley.

Several phases of construction could be identified from the foundations of the structure at the southern corner of the villa compound. In the first stage a rectangular building, which was  divided into two square rooms by a central wall, had been  erected on the south side of the boundary, using the wall as the northern gable. The rectangular building was surrounded on the south, east and west sides by a narrow corridor. The small hypocausted room, which was featured in the VM_365 post for Day 243, was inserted into the south western corner of the corridor. Later the northern end of the corridor was widened and extended northwards beyond the original line of the boundary wall, which had presumably been removed.

Much of the building had been robbed of usable materials when it was abandoned in the Roman period.  The pottery recovered from the buildings suggests that it was constructed soon after the mid 2nd century, abandoned by the mid 3rd century and robbed of its building materials in the late 3rd or 4th century.  Intensive ploughing had also reduced much of the surviving structure and only the sub floor of the small hypocausted room survived because it stood in a rectangular cutting that extended to a depth below the  level of the wall foundations.

The trenches cut to remove the building materials were backfilled with soil,  fragments of  Roman brick and tile and loose flint cobbles, which had not been collected to be used again. Fragments of crushed mortar and small pieces of painted wall plaster in the trenches probably derived from the building, indicated that the small building was finished and decorated to a similar standard to the main range of the villa, suggesting it was a small detached house rather than a service building.