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Dartford District Archaeological Group (DDAG)   -    Rediscovering Dartford - Page 4

1. Bridge House
The Groupís first opportunity to explore the heart of Dartfordís origins came in 1974. The town grew up at a communications crossroads where the River Darent running into the heart of the county from the Thames was forded and bridged by the main road running from the coast to London. It was this road which had been a trackway from the very earliest times and which was later to be adopted by the Romans as their main invasion route into the country. The Romans worked their way along it trying to find a place where the Thames could be forded. This place was eventually found at London but it has always been a source of amusement to the Group that had they been able to cross at Dartford our home town would have been declared the capital!
   The same road later became the Pilgrimsí route to Canterbury, Dartford being one of the many staging posts for the journey and there then followed a ceaseless flow of other travellers, merchants and men of business over the centuries to the present day. For much of that time the river was simply forded but the first known of a succession of bridges was built in the early 15th century.
   From an early stage it was clear that the townís redevelopment would involve a re-channelling of the River Darent. With this in mind permission was granted to the Group to carry out an excavation on the lawn of Bridge House immediately opposite Holy Trinity Church. Two initial grids were opened which were later merged into one excavation. The first obstacle to be tackled was a meandering chalk path of Victorian date which could be clearly identified on the Ordnance Survey map of the area. 
   To one side of this we found red brick foundations thought to be

 the remains of a cellar.
   Layer after layer of the sub-soil and then gravel was removed. A variety of sherds of pottery served to indicate that Medieval and then Roman levels were being recorded. Just before the transition from Medieval times, an at first mysterious assembly of large mortared flints was uncovered widening out at one point to a rectangular base. This was identified to be the revetment wall of one of the earliest bridges.
   Below this level the gravel clearly revealed the successive fording points which had preceded the bridge. At least two metalled trackways approaching the ford in Roman times were identified. These layers were also the richest in finds although no complete vessels were recovered. This would seem to indicate that the river was used for the disposal of refuse. Finds ranged from coarseware including patchgrove wares to fine and coarse sandy wares to samian forms, one sherd of which was embossed with a lionís head. One base of a small vessel of terra nigra (blackware) and a variety of other sherds were also found. In addition there were fragments of a small oil lamp filler or babyís feeding bottle and many large sherds of beakers, amphorae and mortaria. A considerable amount of Roman building material was also located including brick and tile. Metallic finds including four coins, one of Constantine I and another of Julian 11(4th century A.D.) and a lead weight from a balance.
   Beyond these levels at a little over 2m (6ft 7ins) in depth the water table was reached reminding the diggers of their close proximity to the present course of the river and indeed to the origins of this particular site. 

Revetment wall - Bridge House, 1974

Page 4

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