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
2. How large was the
Saxon cemetery which was known to lie
main entrance drive?
1. The Missing Roman Road 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.
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.
We were hoping to find two V shaped
ditches about 20-30m (65ft to l00ft) apart. with stone metalling between
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
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
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
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.