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Victoria County History of Kent Vol. 3  1932 - Romano-British Kent - Military History - Page 19

manifest in the defences of Pevensey is evidence of a somewhat later date than the more conventional geometrical planning of most of the other fortresses. But, on the whole, the Shore was probably organized as a single unit and most of its fortifications as we know them erected in a single epoch. In two cases only is there a suspicion that the work of an earlier period was incorporated in the new scheme. Good judges have wished to carry back the construction of the walls of Brancaster and Reculver to an earlier age. Excavations may sooner or later support their view. But, in the meantime, it presents certain obvious difficulties. Of Brancaster we know extremely little; of Reculver we can at least say that coins and other relics found there suggest an occupation of the site as early as the first century A.D. On the other hand, there is no evidence of Roman troops being stationed in southern Britain between the time of the first conquest and the end of the third century. If, therefore, the fortifications of Reculver should indeed be proved to be of early date, we may perhaps suspect some connexion between them and the classis Britannica rather than with a military garrison of the normal type. A base for the fleet at the mouth of the busy Thames estuary would not be difficult to explain. It may be hoped that Reculver will at least be probed sufficiently to determine this interesting problem.


   Reculver holds a significant position on the north coast of Kent, nine miles from Canterbury. Here the Blean hills, which divide the Stour valley from the Thames estuary, reach their eastern limit and drop to the marshes that encircle Thanet. The uttermost outlier of these hills, on the edge of the sea and the marsh, is a low detached mound, rising barely 50 ft. above high-water mark. The waves wash its northern slope. Eastwards it looks out over wide levels to the Isle of Thanet. Southwards it commands the same marshes, as they stretch round the south of Thanet to Richborough and the eastern sea. Westwards there is also marsh, but only a narrow strip, and the ground quickly rises to the hills. This mound bears the ruined church of Reculver with its far-seen spires, a vicarage, and a few cottages, standing amid the fragments of a Roman fortress-wall.
   In Roman times the scene was very different. The marsh to south and east was then open to the sea. Thanet was a real island, and ships could probably lie in shelter near the southern rampart of the fort. On the other hand, the shore, that is now so close to the north, was then far off. Here the sea has encroached largely during fifteen centuries.. We can trace at least the later part of the process. Our first informant, Leland, writing early in the sixteenth century (1530—7), tells us that ‘a quarter of a mile or a little more’ divided Reculver from the sea to the north of it. Since that date the intervening space has been more than swept away. A plan of A.D.1600 reduces the distance to 180 yards. Somner, who died in 1669, speaks of the church
   20 For general accounts see John Battely’s posthumous Antiquitates Rutupinae (Oxoniae, ed. I, 1711; ed. 2, 1745, which is here cited); Harris, i, 247, 377; Boys and Duncombe in Nichols’ Bibl. Topogr. Brit. vol. i (1784); Hasted, iii, 633 foil. (1790); R. Freeman, Regulbium (Canterbury, 1810); C. R. Smith, Richborough, Reculver and Lymne (London, 1850), p. 176; Dowker, Archaeol. Cantiana, xii, 1—13, 248—59; Lewin, Arch. xli, 431—3, brief and adding nothing; Fox, Archaeol. Journ. liii, 352—6; B. Willson, Lost England (1902), pp. 140—4, brief sketch of coast erosion; and Gordon Home, Arch. Journ. lxxxvi, 260. For special references see the following footnotes.

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