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More Classis Britannica tiles from East Wear Bay, Folkestone

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MORE CLASSIS BRITANNICA TILES FROM EAST WEAR BAY, FOLKESTONE

adrian weston

Large-scale excavation of the Roman villa complex above East Wear Bay at Folkestone was carried out by S.E. Winbolt in 1924 (Winbolt 1925). Amongst the finds made were seven tiles bearing stamps of the Classis Britannica (CLBR), the Roman fleet in British waters (Winbolt 1925, 103-6; plate XX). Three of the stamps occurred on undisturbed pilae tiles built into the hypocaust of Room 38, part of a bath-suite in the substantial winged-corridor house designated Block A (Winbolt 1925, 61; plate XX). Other stamps came from Room 24, the corridor along the front of Block A (Winbolt 1925, 10, 28).

The presence of these Classis Britannica-stamped tiles has led to speculation about the ownership and nature of the East Wear Bay site. Winbolt himself was the first to put forward the idea that the villa, set in a commanding position overlooking the English Channel, was the official residence of the Prefect of the British Fleet (Winbolt 1925, 114) and this attractive notion has been regularly repeated (e.g. Cunliffe 1968, 260; Percival 1976, 94; Salway 1981, 529; Philp 1981, 114). David Peacock, however, suggested that the relatively small number of Classis Britannica tiles found at the villa were more likely to represent re-used material brought in from elsewhere (Peacock 1977, 246), possibly from a lighthouse or signal station that Stuart Rigold speculated may have originally existed in the Bayle area on the western side of Folkestone (Rigold 1972, 36).

The purpose of the present note is to place on record the fact that there are now considerably more CLBR stamps known from the area of East Wear Bay than those originally reported by Winbolt (Table 1). Significant numbers of stamped tiles are likely to have gone unnoticed by site workmen in the original excavation, even though rewards were payable for important finds (Winbolt 1925, 46). The spoil from the 1924 excavation was tipped over the edge of the adjacent cliff and remnants of this dumped material have been slowly eroding out onto the beach some 45m below the villa for more than twenty years. The author has made frequent searches of this eroding material, regularly collecting tile, pottery, bone and other significant finds. Study of the Roman tile recovered has resulted in the identification of another ten CLBR stamps, four of which are substantially complete (Fig. 1).

TABLE 1. INVENTORY OF STAMPED CLASSIS BRITANNICA TILES FROM FOLKESTONE

Date found

Brick/tile type

Folkestone die type

Present location

Finder

1924

brick

3

FHRC

Winbolt

1924

brick

3

FHRC

Winbolt

1924

brick

3

FHRC

Winbolt

1924

brick

1

FHRC

Winbolt

1924

brick

1

FHRC

Winbolt

1924

brick

2

FHRC

Winbolt

1924

u/k

2

FHRC

Winbolt

c.1940

brick

2

FHRC

Brett

c.1970

u/k

u/k

u/k

u/k

c.1990

tegula

1

EWB exc. arch.

AR

1990

tegula

2

P. Keller arch.

PK

1990

imbrex

4

P. Keller arch.

PK

2001

tegula

2

Retained by author

AW

2001

tegula

2

Retained by author

AW

2002

brick

2

Retained by author

AW

2004

tegula

1

Retained by author

AW

2006

brick

5

Retained by author

AW

2007

tegula

2

Retained by author

AW

2007

tegula

2

Retained by author

AW

2007

tegula

2

Retained by author

AW

2008

tegula

2

Retained by author

AW

2008

tegula

1

Retained by author

AW

2010

tegula

2

EWB exc. arch.

ATU exc.

2011

tegula

2

EWB exc. arch.

ATU exc.

(FHRC = Folkestone History Resource centre; EWB = East Wear Bay;

ATU = A Town Unearthed; u/k = unknown.)

15_Fig_1_Scan0001

Fig. 1 Stamps, signatures and tally marks found on Classis Britannica tiles at Folkestone.

It is known that several other private collectors have also recovered stamped tiles from the foreshore but the exact numbers remain uncertain and few have been recorded. Details of only one, found c.1990, are included here (Table 1). Another example was found c.1940 (exact location unknown) and is now held in Folkestone’s History Resource Centre. An allotment holder also found a stamped tile on allotment gardens a short distance to the north-west (inland) of the villa in the 1970s (Keller 1982, 209; no details available).

An excavation on the foreshore directly below the villa site in 1990, primarily conducted to examine quern production at the site, recovered two more CLBR-stamped tile fragments (Frere 1991). One of these was of particular interest being of French origin (Peacock 1977, Fabric 1; see below). New excavations which began at the villa site in 2010 have so far found two further stamped tile fragments. Other examples will no doubt be identified as this work continues. In all, a minimum of twenty-four tiles bearing Classis Britannica stamps had been recorded from the area of the Folkestone villa, up until the end of 2016 (Table 1 and Table 2).

TABLE 2. QUANTITIES OF DIE TYPES 1-5 found at Folkestone and other Classis Britannica sites

Folkestone die type

Tile type

Folkestone

Dover

Richborough

Beauport Park

Bardown

1

tegula

3

       

1

brick

2

       

2

tegula

10

   

1

 

2

brick

3

4

 

1

 

3

brick

3

 

1

   

4

imbrex

1

4

     

5

brick

1

27

     

5

tegula

 

2

     

5

imbrex

 

4

     

5

box flue

 

19

     

5

u/k

 

1

   

2

Other Classis Britannica tile from Folkestone

Analysis by the late David Peacock of Classis Britannica tile fabrics indicated two quite distinct types (Peacock 1977, 236-7). Fabric 1 is hard fired and a fairly uniform buff in colour. Inclusions vary between scattered quartz sand-grains and very occasional rounded lumps of red-brown ferruginous sandstone. This fabric would appear to have originated in Gaul somewhere in the region of Boulogne. Fabric 2 is generally a distinctive reddish-pink colour relieved to a variable degree by streaks, lenses and swirls of creamy white clay. The most abundant inclusions are particles of black or red-brown iron ore. This fabric comes from the Fairlight Clay of the Weald (Peacock 1977, 239). All the Folkestone stamps occur on tiles in this Wealden, Fabric 2, with the exception of the fragment of stamped imbrex in Fabric 1 found in 1990 (die Type 4, see below).

Approximately one hundred other tile fragments found by the author at East Wear Bay, although unstamped, are readily identifiable as being of the distinctive Classis Britannica Fabric 2. Many of these are fragments of curved imbrex roof tile. Brodribb, in his survey of the CLBR tiles from Beauport Park Roman bath-house, Sussex (Brodribb 1979, 151), states that the majority of imbrices bear either a stamp or a signature but never both. (A signature is a mark made by fingertip applied to the surface of a tile by the tile maker when the tile was still wet, the purpose of which was probably to identify the work of an individual or group of workers). Five signatures have been found on Folkestone imbrex fragments (Fig. 1) but surprisingly no stamps have been found.

Marks cut into the edge of a tile usually just below the signature are also present. These are referred to as tally marks. Tally marks although quite common on Classis Britannica tiles are only occasionally found on other military tiles and are extremely rare on tiles of civilian manufacture. The exact meaning or purpose of these marks is uncertain but it presumably relates to some sort of counting procedure during the manufacturing process. Five different marks have been recorded from Folkestone (Types 1-5; Fig. 1). A Roman figure IV is the most common (Type 1), while Type 5, a Roman figure VII is the least common, with only one example.

Analysis of Folkestone CLBR stamps (Tables 1 and 2)

The practice of stamping tiles made by the Classis Britannica seems to have been introduced during the second century and continued into the early third century (Brodribb 1980, 185). Over 100 different die types are known, of which five different ones are now recorded from Folkestone. Round designs (die Types 1 and 2) are by far the most common here (Table 2).

Round

Die Type 1 (RIB 2481.99; Brodribb (1969; 1980) Type 23; 5 examples; Fig. 1, 1)

A circular stamp 62mm in diameter with the words CLASIS BRIT around the edge. At the centre, a wheel-type motif has lost one of its spokes resulting in an irregular blank area. Two examples of this stamp were found in the 1924 excavations (Winbolt 1925, plate XX, A), with three further examples recovered in recent years from the beach. The stamp is unique to Folkestone, where there are now five examples recorded on both tegulae and bricks.

Die Type 2 (RIB 2481.89; Brodribb (1969; 1980) Type 21; Dover type J3, no. 37 (Philp 1981); 13 examples; Fig. 1, 2)

A circular stamp 50mm in diameter with the letters CLBR. These are well formed with the B and L both having serifs. Two examples of this type were found in the 1924 excavations (Winbolt 1925, plate XX, B), with many more from the beach. This is now the most common stamp found at Folkestone, with a total of thirteen examples known. They occur on both tegulae and bricks. Only six further examples of this type are known, four of which are from Dover (Philp 1981, no. 37).

Oblong

Die Type 3 (RIB 2481.22; Brodribb (1969; 1980) Type 7; 3 examples; Fig. 1, 3)

A large oblong stamp 111 x 32mm. The letters CLBR with a central dot are contained within an ansate frame. The three known examples were all found in the 1924 excavations, on complete pilae tiles within Room 38 (Winbolt 1925, plate XX, D). The stamp is unique to Folkestone apart from one example in Fabric 2 from Richborough, where it is the only Classis Britannica stamped tile recorded (Bushe Fox 1949, 256, plate LXXI, b).

Die Type 4 (RIB 2481.51; Dover type K6, no. 44 (Philp 1981); 1 example; Fig. 1, 4)

An oblong stamp 60 x 27mm. The letters CLBR are contained within a double frame. Only a single stamp is known from Folkestone, impressed on an imbrex in the French Fabric 1. This was found during excavations on the foreshore in 1990 (Frere 1991). Four similar examples of this die, all on tiles in Fabric 1, are known from Dover (Philp 1981, no. 44).

Die Type 5 (RIB 2481.40; Brodribb (1969) Type 9; Dover type K4, no. 42 (Philp 1981); 1 example; Fig. 1, 5)

An oblong stamp 78 x 22mm. Triangular medial stop between the L and B; terminal stop after the R. Only one example has been found at Folkestone, a nearly complete stamp impressed on a fragment of large brick found recently on the beach. Fifty-three stamps of this die have been found at Dover, one of which was discovered in a key stratified deposit dated to 190-200 (Philp 1989, 126-27).

Stamp dies most frequently found at a site are suggested as relating to phases of construction, whereas those dies found infrequently, to phases of repair (Warry 2006, 89-90). At Folkestone the most common die, Type 2, accounts for more than half of the stamps found (Table 2). Die Types 1 and 2 have both been found on tegula fragments in combination with the same workman’s signature, indicating that they are contemporary in date. The frequency of their occurrence suggests a phase of construction; however, their scarcity at other sites suggests the phase of construction at Folkestone is not contemporary with that at any of the other known Classis Britannica sites.

Warry has shown that the lower cutaways on tegulae evolved in shape over time (cutaways are the notches cut out from the top and bottom of a tile flange to allow overlapping tiles to fit together when placed on a roof). He has divided these typologically into four groups, A-D. A number of tegulae fragments of Classis Britannica origin with intact lower cutaways have been discovered at Folkestone (Fig. 2). All of the examples have been found to be of group D, dated by Warry at the Beauport Park bath-house to c.210 (Warry 2006, 154).

Fig. 2 Classis Britannica tegulae with lower cutaways, from the beach at Folkestone.

15_Fig_2_Scan0002

The majority of the Classis Britannica tiles found at Folkestone appear to have been manufactured at the end of the second or very early in the third century. This date would suggest that they were used in what was a total reconstruction of villa Block A and the creation of a second building, Block B, dated to around 190-200. The reconstructed Block A was built directly over an earlier villa of similar proportions which had been constructed around 90-100, this in turn having been built over earlier buildings of late Iron Age date.

General discussion

Tiles carrying stamps of the Classis Britannica have now been found at thirteen locations in Britain and two in Northern France (Boulogne and Desvres). The British sites are mainly in Kent (Richborough, Dover, Folkestone, Lympne, Lyminge, Cranbrook) and Sussex (Pevensey, Beauport Park, Bodiam, Bardown and, most recently, Kitchenham Farm). In addition, two stamped tiles have been found at excavations in Southwark, with another from London itself (Crowley and Betts 1992). A single tile found at St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight may have found its way there as ship’s ballast or be derived from a military signal station or lighthouse built somewhere in the area (Lyne nd).

Dover (Portus Dubris) and Lympne (Portus Lemanis), positioned some 13 miles (21km) apart along the Kent coast, were certainly bases of the Classis Britannica (Philp 1981, 113-4; Cunliffe 1980, 284-5; Mason 2003, 107-112), with a 12.45 hectare (c.30 acre) fortress at Boulogne, on the French coast, apparently serving as the main headquarters of the Fleet (Philp 1981, 114; Brulet 1989, 62-9; Mason 2003, 106-7). The Sussex sites at Bodiam, Beauport Park, Bardown and Ashburnham, together with Cranbrook in Kent, would all appear to be broadly connected with the Wealden iron industry, which is generally believed to have been under the overall control of the Classis Britannica (Mason 2003, 114).

Dover has now produced more than one thousand tiles bearing Classis Britannica stamps (Amos and Wheeler 1929; Philp 1981, 123-142; Philp 1989, 57-61; Philp 2014, 38). The total from Lympne is about 22, all found in the area of the later Shore fort (Cunliffe 1980, 271, fig. 25), except for one water-worn specimen discovered in coastal beach deposits further to the south-east, near West Hythe (Philp 1982, 178, figs 4 and 6).

Whatever their significance, the number of CLBR stamped tiles recorded from Folkestone is now tripled, in comparison with Winbolt’s original seven specimens. Moreover, unstamped tile fragments in identifiable Classis Britannica fabrics have now also been identified in some number. When the villa was first constructed about 90-100 the Classis Britannica was probably not involved in the manufacture of stamped tiles. If the site was then under naval control, the tiles needed for the villa’s construction would probably have been obtained from either a private tilery or one run by the state. When the villa was totally reconstructed in about 190-200 presumably a large quantity of tile from the original building would have been available for reuse, supplemented with additional tile provided by the Classis Britannica’s tilery as and where needed. These new tiles may have been used more extensively on certain areas of the villa which may account for the large number of Classis Britannica tile recovered from a relatively small amount of spoil eroding onto the beach. The results of the new excavations at the villa site may perhaps shed further light on the issue, but for the present, the question of the Classis Britannica connection with Folkestone remains unsolved.

acknowledgement

The author would like to thank Keith Parfitt for his encouragement and advice, and also for commenting on various draft texts.

bibliography

Amos, E.G.J. and Wheeler, R.E.M., 1929, ‘The Saxon-Shore Fortress at Dover’, Archaeological Journal, LXXXVI, 47-58.

Brodribb, G., 1969, ‘Stamped tiles of the Classis Britannica’, Sussex Archaeological Collections, 107, 102-25.

Brodribb, G., 1979, ‘A survey of the tile from the Roman bath-house at Beauport Park, Battle, E. Sussex’, Britannia, 10, 139-56.

Brodribb, G., 1980, ‘A further survey of stamped tiles of the Classis Britannica’, Sussex Archaeological Collections, 118, 183-96.

Brodribb, G., 1987, Roman bricks and tile (Gloucester).

Brulet, R., 1989, ‘The continental Litus Saxonicum’, in V. Maxfield (ed.), The Saxon Shore. A Handbook (Exeter), 45-77.

Bushe-Fox, J.P., 1949, Fourth Report on the Excavations of the Roman Fort at Richborough Kent, Rep. Res. Comm. Soc. Antiq. London, 16, London.

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Cunliffe, B.W. (ed.), 1968, Fifth Report on the Excavations of the Roman Fort at Richborough, Kent, Rep. Res. Comm. Soc. Antiq. London, 23, London.

Cunliffe, B.W, 1980, ‘Excavations at the Roman Fort at Lympne, Kent 1976-78’, Britannia, 11, 227-88.

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Abstract
Large-scale excavation of the Roman villa complex above East Wear Bay at Folkestone was carried out by S.E. Winbolt in 1924. Amongst the finds made were seven tiles bearing stamps of the Classis Britannica (CLBR), the Roman fleet in British waters.

The presence of these Classis Britannica-stamped tiles has led to speculation about the ownership and nature of the East Wear Bay site.. David Peacock suggested that the relatively small number of Classis Britannica tiles found at the villa were more likely to represent re-used material brought in from elsewhere.

The purpose of the present note is to place on record the fact that there are now considerably more CLBR stamps known from the area of East Wear Bay than those originally reported . Significant numbers of stamped tiles are likely to have gone unnoticed by site workmen in the original excavation, the spoil from the 1924 excavation was tipped over the edge of the adjacent cliff and remnants of this dumped material have been slowly eroding out onto the beach some 45m below the villa for more than twenty years. The author collected tile, pottery, bone and other significant finds from this material resulting in the identification of another ten CLBR stamps, four of which are substantially complete and illustrated in this article.
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