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Dartford & District Archaeological Group (DDAG)   -    Rediscovering Dartford - Page 14

6.  Darenth Park Hospital
The site occupied by this hospital, situated on the chalk downs to the east of Dartford, is well placed to have witnessed the passage of man from the earliest times. The North Downs, consisting of chalk with relatively shallow topsoil, supported only sparse growth compared with the heavily forested fertile valleys and thus became a main highway for early man. Not surprisingly the early Britons established a trackway which was later re-engineered and improved by the Romans, and became known as Watling Street.
   During the last few centuries some of these old roads have been considerably realigned for various reasons and the modern roads do not always exactly follow the original route.
   When the Group learned that it was proposed to close Darenth Park Hospital and that the site could possibly be used for chalk quarrying. permission was sought to carry out research to answer the following questions:-
     1. Did the Roman Road cut across the northern part of the
           hospital land and
     2. How large was the Saxon cemetery which was known to lie
           near the main entrance drive?

  1. The Missing Roman Road
In 1976, excavations were carried out in a field to the north of the hospital. This investigation followed inspection of aerial photographs taken in 1946 which showed unmistakable parallel lines crossing several fields just to the south of the present Watling Street.
   Unfortunately our dig took place towards the end of a long drought and even our mechanical excavator had considerable difficulty in penetrating the hard ground surface. Two long trenches were opened after carefully calculating where the position of the original 'crop marks’ would have been.
   We were hoping to find two V shaped ditches about 20-30m (65ft to l00ft) apart. with stone metalling between them.
   Regrettably. after carefully clearing the trenches by hand, no evidence emerged. Whilst the trenches were open we flew over the site and re-photographed the surrounding area. When the prints were examined it could be seen that many of the crop marks had disappeared and certainly nothing was visible in the area where we had been digging.
   The disappearance of the crop marks could be due to the fact that the crops were different (i.e. the field was down to grass in 1976 but may have been under wheat in 1946) or, most probably, intensive ploughing may have removed the last traces of the ditches from the more elevated and exposed areas.
   Our recent photographs do, however, indicate the areas where positive evidence may still remain and further investigation will he carried out in the future.
 2. The Saxon Burial Ground
Several graves had been reported in the grounds of the hospital, the earliest report being in 1881. Of three definite graves only one was scientifically recorded when the late Lt. Col. G. W. Meates, F.S.A. discovered the grave of an adolescent in 1972 whilst keeping a careful watch on the widening of Gore Road.
Local hearsay indicated further graves had been found near the front boundary wall and also adjacent to the
gatehouse (now 

demolished). In 1954. G.P.O. engineers digging a cable trench, cut through a grave and recovered a late 6th century silver gilt square headed brooch and parts of a bronze howl. These finds, which are now in the British Museum, indicated that some of the graves were burials of wealthy Saxons.
   The Group had carried out a limited survey of the field adjacent to the hospital drive in 1976 hut this was not a comprehensive research due to growing crops and nothing of importance was then noted. A further fieldwalk was carried out early in 1978 and this did reveal fragments of hone scattered along the top of the field.
   In 1978, in view of the planning application made by Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers Ltd. for chalk extraction. we felt it was essential to try to ascertain the extent of the cemetery so that if other important graves were discovered the cemetery could he scheduled as an Ancient Monument and thus he protected.
   The Group decided to excavate a 2m (6ft 7ins) wide trench along the top of the field where the bone scatter had been observed. This area was not too far from the other recorded burials and was already badly plough eroded.
   On the first day an anomaly was detected associated with fragments of coarse, badly fired, grass-tempered pottery. As excavation proceeded, the outline of a shallow grave was revealed. This grave was cut only 5cm (2ins) into the chalk. The grave had an approximate east-west alignment of 100° and contained a much plough damaged skeleton with the head at the western end, measuring I.815m (5ft 11ins) in height (excluding feet). The majority of the skull had been ploughed away, the feet and most of the ribs were missing and many of the other hones were crushed. An examination of the bones by Dr. H. D. Cheetham. M.D., F.R.C.Path., showed no evidence of disease or injury before death. The skeleton was male and aged about forty years.
   Over the right shoulder and in an upright position was a coarse pottery cooking vessel 18.2cm. (7ins) in diameter and 12.8cm. (Sins) high, decorated with incised lines and a stamped circle and dot decoration.
   Positioned over the left shoulder was a glass bowl 13.2cm. (Sins) in diameter and 5cm. (2ins) in height. The sides were less than 1mm. (e. 1/32ins) thick and the weight only 57.9 grammes (2oz). The howl was mould blown and decorated on the base with a Chi-Rho monogram, the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, surrounded by a vine scroll design and an apparently undecipherable Latin inscription. The inscription and the monogram were moulded to be read through the glass from above. Around the rim of the bowl is a trailed pattern of glass filament, formed in thirteen complete turns, which had been added after the howl was removed from the mould.
   The dating of both pottery and glassware seems to suggest mid to late 5th century.
   The bowl is undoubtedly the finest moulded glass vessel of the 5th century in England and it is the only howl in this country with a Chi-Rho monogram and inscription. The nearest parallels are to be found in Southern Belgium where some fourteen bowls of similar shape have been recovered with Chi-Rho symbols or derivatives thereof hut without inscriptions. The quality of the decoration on the Darenth Bowl could make it earlier than these, which could be considered as badly remembered copies of an original. In England, the nearest parallel is a mould blown howl from Westbere near Canterbury which had a nonsense inscription hut no Chi-Rho. 

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