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Dartford & District Archaeological Group (DDAG)   -    Rediscovering Dartford - Page 22

Although archaeological material has been found on this site in the form of Saxon and Roman pottery and possibly a Saxon stone cresset lamp during the late 19th century, it was not until 1913 that an archaeological excavation was attempted. The work was carried out by A. W. Clapham. F.S.A. (l883-195O) who then published his findings in the 'Archaeological Journal’. According to Clapham his work had revealed foundations of what he identified as the priory church. He had also uncovered various drains and foundations relating to the later manor house of Henry VIII. In 1926, further excavations were carried out, this time by the then Dartford District Antiquarian Society who concentrated their work on an area north of the ‘Priory I—louse’. Their excavations showed that the ‘Priory House’ had originally extended much further forming one corner of a quadrangle as Clapham had suggested earlier. Apart from foundations, drains and a well were discovered by the Society during their work. Since 1926, when alterations were carried out to the factory buildings, various other discoveries have been made. It was fortunate that several members of the Antiquarian Society were employed at J & E Hall Ltd. (as it was then called) so that it was possible for them to record these subsequent discoveries.
   The Group has itself kept in close touch with the owners of the site and when plans were finalised in 1976 for a further extension of the factory, the owners readily agreed that we could carry out a limited excavation before construction work started. The area made available to us was a plot of land adjacent to the then pattern store and situated about 30m (1OOft) to the north of the surviving gatehouse. Our excavation started in October 1976 and was completed in February 1977. Flanking our site on the north was a stone wall over 2m (6ft 7ins) high and running east to west. Investigations confirmed that this wall had at one time formed part of the priory buildings but had subsequently been incorporated into the Tudor manor house and had been partly faced in red brick. The Tudor builders had extended the wall to the east and in Elizabethan or later times it had also been extended to the

west to meet the boundary wall in Priory Road. The wall showed evidence of where other walls had joined it and our excavations soon revealed a complex of walls of Medieval and Tudor periods running both parallel and at right angles to each other. Two of the walls traced, lined up exactly with the surviving gatehouse proving that the building formed the end of a complete wing, with a courtyard at the rear. Furthermore, the foundations were of Medieval date but the superstructure was Tudor. It is obvious that James Nedham, the King’s Surveyor General, was shrewd enough to ensure that the new manor house made use of the previous walls wherever possible and even where a brick wall was necessary the priory foundations were retained.
   James Nedham also ensured that little was wasted and he utilised heavily carved stones taken from this and other religious sites, in new foundations and also to build underground cisterns for garderobes (toilets). Two of these garderobes were excavated adjacent to the east-west wall. They were not connected to drains but relied on liquid seepage into the sub-soil, coupled with periodic clearing out. An interesting find within the cistern of one of them was a green glazed, double bowl condiment dish dating back to the 16th century.
   The more important carved stones from the garderobes and elsewhere on the site were carefully recovered by the Group and are now safely stored by the Dartford Borough Museum.
   As work proceeded we were able to relocate the well and also to trace the full course of a Tudor drain to a ditch which ran along the side of Priory Road. The ditch had subsequently been filled and a wall which still survives contains quantities of 'Frobisher’s Stone’ mentioned earlier.
   The main area of our excavations revealed a large room containing an extensive hearth which was over 5m (l6ft 5ins) long and about 1m (3ft 3ins) in depth. Nearby were the foundations of three ovens and large scatters of wood ash. This was undoubtedly the site of one of the main kitchens serving the manor house.

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