22/02/11

Battenburg cake and Roman remains

The Origins of the Project

A Town Unearthed: Folkestone in the First Millennium began life around my kitchen table in Deal a cold afternoon in 2005. At that time I was working as a lecturer in the Department of History and American Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University and had been asked to take on the exciting job of setting up a small ‘research centre’ in Folkestone. The idea was to open up a sort of drop in centre for those interested in researching the history of the area. We had been in discussion with Nick Ewbank of the Creative Foundation and a range of people who represented historical societies and groups in the town. After some very animated and interesting meetings it was clear that there was a real commitment to history in Folkestone and as a result we had been offered no 65 the Old High St. as a base rent free for an initial 6 months. We were to be a part of the Creative Quarter and would take our place within the regeneration of the old town.

My first thought was to ask advice. I knew very little about Folkestone and rather less about its history. One of my first ports of call was local historian Maureen Criddle and also Janet Adamson then until recently librarian and curator of the Folkestone Museum. Both Janet and Maureen were extremely helpful, filled me in on all sorts of things and directed me, with one voice, to someone else. That someone was Andrew Richardson, who was based then at KCC, working as for the Portable Antiquities Scheme the Archaeological Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) in Kent. [a word on FLOs: the job of the FLO is to act as a link between the public and the archaeological profession. When people find things which they believe may have archaeological significance they can go to the FLO to have their finds identified and to have advice about conservation, background and even value. In Kent FLOs have a constructive and close relationship with metal detectorists and this relationship is the basis of a really useful exchange of information].

So it was that Andrew came for coffee to talk to me about Folkestone and while we ate, what I recall was more than one slice of Battenburg cake, and my toddler played around on the floor, Andrew sketched out for me what he explained was the really urgent issue for the history of Folkestone. The East Cliff of Folkestone he explained was the home of a potentially important Iron Age/Roman site, ‘a villa’ that was steadily and surely going over the edge of an eroding cliff.

The site had been excavated by S.E. Winbolt in 1924 and some rescue archaeology, led by Brian Philp, had taken place in 1989. Nevertheless, what we knew of this place, its history, identity, dates and significance, was slight.

If the cliff continued to erode anything we might ever know would be lost.

Andrew sketched out a rough map of the site in biro on the back of an old bill. I was hooked.

This post is in: Chapter 1