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Lecture Report 9 Nov 2004 Durolevum

November’s lecture was given by Dr Paul Wilkinson, Director of the Kent Archaeological Field School (KAFS) at Faversham, which offers training to archaeology students as well as to members of the general public. His subject was the ‘lost’ Roman town of Durolevum.

The first reference to Durolevum appears in the second Antonine Itinerary of the late 2nd century, which lists a road station of that name 13 miles from Rochester and 12 miles from Canterbury, placing it fairly well near the village of Ospringe, near Faversham. Flinders Petrie quotes the mediaeval chronicler Tysilio who names the gathering ground of the British at the time of Caesar’s invasion as Doral, probably a British form of Durolevum.

Judd’s Hill, situated in Syndale Park near Ospringe, has long been identified as a possible site of a Roman fort or camp. The hill dominates the surrounding area and has access to the sea via Oare Creek and the tidal Swale river – until the 19th century the main navigation route into London. When ploughing turned up pottery and a brooch in the 1780s, Hasted carried out an excavation and reported a square enclosure typical of Roman construction, defined by the remains of a ditch. A 1920s Ordnance Survey map identifies “Remains of a Camp (supposed remains of Durolevum)”. Later maps, however, show only fragments of ramparts. The cutting of a gas-pipe trench through the park in 1931 uncovered parts of Watling Street as well as storage pits, hearths, animal bones, oyster shells, Spanish oil jars and pottery; while east of the hilltop enclosure a cemetery was found containing over 380 burials.

KAFS has undertaken excavations on and around the site over a number of years. Their initial excavation found sections of a ditch with ‘ankle-breakers’ at the bottom. Pottery found in the ditch has been dated to the time of the Claudian invasion. Iron Age pottery has also been found, suggesting a long occupation of the site. However, owing to damage by extensive landscaping and gas-main trenching, no continuous ditch has come to light. There is also little evidence of permanent structures on the site. A Time Team excavation uncovered Roman ditches but concluded that there was no evidence for a fort. Interpretation has to remain inconclusive, but the site could have been a defended farmstead or a camp.

Geophysical surveys and excavations have uncovered ribbon development stretching about 2.5km along Watling Street. Although high-status artefacts were found, the buildings themselves were low-status timber constructions, suggesting ‘squatter’ developments built to take advantage of passing trade. The main town may lie under the village of Ospringe. The site appears to have been occupied from the 1st to the 5th century.

On the other side of Watling Street from Judd’s Hill lie the ruins of the Stone Chapel. The ruins were noted by Hasted as containing Roman remains, although a 1870s excavator concluded that they were “far too Roman to be Roman” and suggested that they were a Norman pastiche. KAFS excavations have identified a Roman building about 20ft square with an Anglo-Saxon and mediaeval church butting up to the remains. The entrance was located on the west side and a free-standing altar alongside the east wall. Since most Roman pagan temples had the doorway on the east and the altar outside, it is believed that this building was a Roman Christian church dating from at least the 4th century, with burials extending into the 5th century. It is the only known religious building in Britain showing continuity of worship from the Roman period into the 14th century. The area abounds in Roman remains. Dr Wilkinson pointed out on the map 18 Roman villas strung out at intervals of about 2.5 miles, set back from Watling Street along a line of springs. Most of the estates are located in the more fertile land between Watling Street and the coast, and cover about 2,000 acres, while those to the south of Watling Street, where the land rises towards the North Downs, cover about 3,000 acres. Some modern Parish boundaries can be shown to follow the Roman estate boundaries.

Our thanks to Dr Wilkinson for a most interesting and through-provoking talk on a area which is little known as compared to the familiar sites of Richborough and Rochester. HADAS members interested in the work of KAFS can visit their website at The museum of the Maison-Dieu at Ospringe holds a collection of artefacts found in the area.