Bob Hutchings - Cliffe History

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Robert Hutchings
Robert Hutchings (Bob) was a school teacher, an ornithologist, local historian, amateur archaeologist and a Cliffe resident.
He spent many years investigating and studying all aspects of the history of the area with a particular interest in the Roman period and their influence on the parish of Cliffe.
Through his position as a teacher he would encourage his students and led parties to survey the Thames foreshore.
Bob recorded carefully all that he found and furnished his finds and records to both the Rochester Museum and to the Kent Archaeological Society.
Some of the reports placed at the Kent Archaeological Society have been recorded below.

Reproduced by kind permission of the Kent   Archaeological Society.


In 1984, the Southern Water Authority kindly made available the summarised records of 63 recent boreholes in a zone very close to sea defences on the western side of the marshes. The zone extends from the sea-wall north-east of Lower Hope Point to Cliffe Creek, and continues near the Counter Wall from the Creek to the uplands.

Borehole details give evidence of the gravels spread on the valley of the Lower Thames at the end of the last Ice Age.' The surface of gravels was highest in the north. In the south, levels descended rapidly to deposits of cobbles, gravel and sand which are assumed to represent the ‘second' buried channel of the river, near the cliffs. The lowest surfaces were at Ordnance Datum - 17 m., four metres lower than the second buried channel phase at Tilbury.

In the post-glacial period five regression phases and five main marine transgressions have been recognised in the Lower Thames estuary. The research was based on a type site at Tilbury.* that site has more definitive stratification than Cliffe which has many deposits contorted or re-distributed by the action of the river. However, there are some similarities with the lowland upriver.

The lowest peat has been found on gravel and sand in six of the deeper boreholes, including deep sections of the buried channel. Peat roots and pockets were mixed with clay and silt.

The transgression Thames I, a rapid rise in sea level from c. 6220 to 4990 B.C., was represented in the local sections by sand in the north, clay and silt near the creek, and in the south, by sand, clayey silt and sandy, silty clay.

The second regression. Tilbury II, cannot be identified easily, but stratification of the top levels of abundant peat pockets, in four boreholes near the uplands, averages O.D. - 10.75 m. and appears to relate to Tilbury II.

The next transgression (Thames II, c. 4595-3430 B.C.) is obscure in the available records, but it is relevant to local experience that high levels of clay with sand laminations near the creek decline towards the uplands.

A more obvious buried slope was described by men excavating clay in the north lakes. The most observant of them encountered a sandy surface at O.D. - 1 m., 600 m. from the cliffs. (Doubtless it was at the top of several post-glacial layers). Working southwards, they noticed a steady fall in the level of sands which, at 200 m. from the modern upland fringe, were littered with branches and dipped quite steeply to an old river-bed containing gravel, flints and chalk cobbles. Excava­tion did not go much deeper than O.D. -8 m. and the lowest depths of the channel were not investigated. The known depth of cobbles averages O.D. - 8 m., compared with - 6.8 m. to - 10.07 m. in the lowest sediments of Thames II. The channel is tentatively thought to belong to that period. Near the cliffs Mr E. Slater reported many animal bones centred on N.G.R. TO 728767. Six small antlers were among the bones, and at least one immature specimen came from red deer. These finds and the indications of a channel were sealed by the deposition of 9-10 m. of blue clay, shading into brown clay close to ground level. It is suggested that the bones were remains from a Mesolithic hunters’ camp. Flints were numerous near the bones, but artefacts were not sought by men excavating the site.

Arch. Cant. CI, p 360


John’s Hope was the name in 1695 of a group of marshes which, by 1970, had been mainly succeeded by lakes, near the modern Tilcon works and Conoco depot on the western edge of the uplands. Clay workings there before 1970 were flooded during the excavation. One early site could be partly seen and recorded above water; other archaeological finds and peats in the lake banks were often described to me by reliable excavators in the 1960s.

The deeper excavations

Clay workings were limited by widespread peat at an average depth of O.D. -5 m., 6-7 m. below the land surface. When work accidentally cut into the hard brown layer, it was seen to be about 0.50 m. in thickness. Peat at other sites in the north Kent marshes, O.D. -5.10 m. and -5.40 to -6 m., has been described as Neolithic. Biogenic deposits from O.D. -1.90 m. to -5.20 m., classified by Dr Devoy as the Tilbury III phase, have been found in the Thames estuary under sediments of marine transgression which started c. 1870 B.C. Peat at similar levels of the inner estuary contained Neolithic and Early Bronze Age artefacts. Pollen and C14 evidence supports the archaeological dating of temporary Bronze Age occupation sites of the inner estuary marshland in Tilbury III.

The Cliffe layer is dated Neolithic/Bronze Age, pending a future study of compaction/consolidation and pollen in samples from suitable deposits.
Excavating close to the layer in the early 1960s, Mr George Randall encountered large curved timbers, part of a long, straight timber (over 40 cm. in section) and apparent planks, belonging to one structure; he described the finds as adze-cut and not excessively decayed. All the removed timbers were returned to the lake; others were left standing in clay underwater in an area which remained isolated during later excavation.

At the end of clay extraction, it was plain that the base of the structure was considerably lower than any Romano-British site known in the area of the Cliffe and Higham lakes. Two observers of past clay-digging referred to levels of ‘upper peat* at such a higher level that a pre-Roman date was thought probable for the site.

After permission had been given for a survey, searches in 1979-80 were restricted by the visibility in the water, which was clear at times to c. 2 m. below the surface and turbid at lower depths. In difficult conditions, the divers confirmed most of Randall’s oral report, photographed underwater and later sketched plans of the timbers seen on and near the underwater mound. The dimensions of the mound were approximately 19 x 4 m. It was impossible then to seek C14 dating as the lake water impregnating the timbers was slightly contaminated. Prolonged searching for small artefacts was unsucces­sful in the prevailing conditions. Occasional efforts by divers in 1981-83 found no significant new evidence.
In more recent years, it has become known that, although a pre-Roman date for the mound is possible, the site was not sealed by the upper peats. The most experienced excavators of the lakes reported only discontinuous peat seams and lenses, between which a channel was silted by blue-grey clay at the end of the Middle Ages. The map of Cliffe Marshes by George Russell (1695) shows only a narrow meandering ditch between the site and the sea-wall of the time. Work at the site continues, strengthened by the National Maritime Museum’s offer to help in the identification and dating of the structure.

Higher Peat Levels and   Romano-British Finds

Seams and larger deposits of peat were noted by excavators at O.D. -0.50 to -1.70 m. TTie levels have been compared with records from other parts of the estuary: the peats, termed Tilbury IV, c. O.D. -0.80 to -1.80 m., and Tilbury V, c. O.D. +0.40 to -0.90 m., were subject to freshwater floods. Tilbury IV was followed by a marine transgression c. 620 B.C. Tilbury V contained evidence for freshen­ing of the river and marine transgression c. A.D. 230.

The Cliffe laminae were clearly similar in height to both of these peats. One seam adjoined the black sediments of a former water­course below O.D. -1.05. The sediments were linked by a tip of mussel shells to a thin layer of briquetage above the lake surface. Sherds associated with the briquetage were of late Iron Age or early Romano-British types.

From the black silts or very close to them, the excavators found a Roman altar, given later to the Guildhall Museum, Rochester. Small finds from the water-course or its banks were recovered, usually abraded or broken, from the washmill of the dredging pontoon. There were over 40 brooches of the late first and second centuries A.D. and more than 150 coins, two which were very worn Greek brass coins of the first century B.C., one was a coin of Cunobelinus and 124 Roman bronze coins of every century to the fifth century A.D. It is interesting that 79 of these coins were of early fourth- century date. Only a few minims were counted, but many more were noticed among the debris in the washmill. One coin each of Arcadius and Honorius completed the series shown to me by the finders, and at least 25 probably Roman coins were too defaced to be identifiable. My thanks are due to the finders and to Mr E.W. Tilley who identified most of these coins.

A water cult may have been practised at the former stream, and a spring is likely to have been nearby at the edge of the chalk uplands, close to light upland soils and marshland, which can become dessi- cated in a drought. This spring may have been one of the few available sources of freshwater locally in dry seasons.

Cult of source is thought to have been associated with the original position of the altar, which may have been placed on a firm base either over foundation walls of chalk or a chalk floor. Two foundation walls, 0.30 m. wide, formed a corner under the lake surface, 9-10 m. from the old stream. The water was just clear enough for a photograph to be taken from the bank, but nothing could be seen of other foundations there and excavators had not noticed traces of higher structures. Less than 6 m. from the stream was a rammed chalk floor, recorded by the Ordnance Survey in 1964 at N.G.R. TO 72087611. Later in the mid-1960s, the floor was seen to have succeeded a thick layer of saltern debris, which extended to the thin briquetage layer already mentioned and contained chalk fragments and first/second century potsherds. A possible wooden building over the floor may have been burned and the altar slighted, perhaps as a consequence of Christian influence in the later fourth century.
Examples of pottery from a small cemetery of Romano-British cremation groups near the site were photographed and submitted for dating to Dr J. Monaghan.

It seems reasonable to suppose that the early saltern was succeeded by a shrine related to the water cult, but this is not certain, and it is hoped that the area will be further investigated in future.


I am grateful to the men who provided details of their discoveries, and to members of the Medway 59 branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club who, from 1978, became interested in the investigation of the lower depths of open water. I am also indebted to the landowners, Messrs. Blue Circle Industries Ltd., for allowing me and members of the club to work on their property; and to Hon. General Secretary and Council of the Kent Archaeological Society for encouragement and help.

Arch. Cant. CIV.   p374


Five unstratified flint axes were found by a field study group of St. George’s School, Gravesend, and by the writer during searches on the foreshore in the 1960-70s. The finds were among flints and chalk pebbles, from Cliffe Creek to Lower Hope Point. It appears that the artefacts may have been moved to the shore by chance when material was transported from the chalk quarry (N.G.R. TQ 725763) by the former Cliffe Canal to sea-walling works, between 1793 and 1830. Recently the Curator of Rochester Museum has identified the axes (including a ficron) as Middle Acheulian; probably originating at Baker’s Hole.

At about 100 m. from the canal quarry, when Mr E. Slater was excavating clay, he found a considerable deposit of animal bones and small antlers, 30 ft. below the marsh surface.

Elsewhere in the northern clay workings (which are now mainly lakes), peat was rarely discovered, but tree stumps were excavated by Mr G. Randall from clay at O.D. - 18 ft. in the most northerly of the workings; at almost the same level as the peat reported by J.H. Evans in his reference to Chatham.

Neolithic finds in Cliffe marshes have not been reported; but near the marsh fringe and Reed Street a perforated stone fragment has been found by Mr H. Martin. It was described by the British Museum staff this year as a part of a late Neolithic mace-head.
In the marshes north of the village, shepherds have discovered ‘upper peat’ levels accidentally during small excavations. Their information was followed up by the St. George’s group in the late 1960s, in a re-excavation of sites in Mr C. Duncanson’s marshes (N.G.R. TQ 73267798) and in Mr R.D. Maclean’s land (N.G.R. TQ 75127789). Below the water-table in both sites, the group found fibrous, greenish, foul-smelling layers at about O.D. - 5 ft. A calf’s tooth was found on Mr Maclean’s site. The levels approximate to levels of the Early Bronze Age debris at Peacock’s Farm, near Ely (ref. J.G.D. Clark et al.. Antiquaries Journal, xv (1935).

A palstave was found at West Court in the 1920s, and a few years later a former area of sarsen stones at the farm appears to be indicated by a statement of Mr L. Hoare. During industrial excava­tion in the West Court Quarry, he discovered very large stones (alien to the district) at the bases of flat-bottomed pits, deeper than the first layer of flints. ‘The stones were so heavy that two strong men were needed to shift them’. Mr D.B. Kelly has suggested that the pits were deneholes and that perhaps farm people had pushed the sarsens into them.

A Bronze Age hoard (briefly mentioned in R.F Jessup’s Archaeol­ogy of Kent) has been listed at the British Museum as a Late Bronze Age hoard of one whole and four fragments of socketed axes; a piece of sword blade, a bronze gouge and a socketed spearhead. The objects were found in the 1890s by relations of the late Mr C. Cattermole. He has said the finds were accidental, during commercial excavation of clay in the ‘Kingfisher Lake’, N.G.R. TQ 723765. The site was close to a spring-line on the edge of the marshes.

Near the spring-line on the north-eastern edge of the uplands in 1982, the upper part of a late Bronze Age sword (partly melted) was unearthed from loamy topsoil by Mr Derek Rixson at N.G.R. TQ 742765.

In another area close to the upland fringe, in the 1960s, Mr G. Randall discovered a very large tip of mussell shells, 45 cm. in thickness and 28 cm. beneath a Romano-British site (N.G.R. TQ 72087611). He retrieved three pre-Roman coins below the water table. One was a coin of Cunobelin; the others were identified by Mr E.W. Tilley as Greek brass coins, one of which had the design of a boy on a dolphin.

Arch. Cant. XCIX,   p. 281


Mr R. F. Hutchings, M.A., reports on Romano-British industrial sites on Cliffe marshes: A group from St. George’s School, Gravesend, investigated the site of cremations found in 1950 at Wharf Farm, and found the map reference incorrect. Mr J. Dockwray and the occupier of the land are agreed that the pottery was within 15 yd. of N.G.R. TQ74247704, and that the nearest pond, about 40 yds. away, was until this century a mound of burnt clay, sherds and cinders, sold to make up the level of a football pitch. Sherds wore described as coarse black ware. An area of ditch bank was excavated at 74297702, where land drainage appeared to be impeded. 3 ft. to 6 ft. under the bank a kiln was found, 16 ft. long at water level, and connected with at least one other kiln. Third-century sherds were in the burnt clay. Nearly a mile to the north of the kiln, at 74307850, a mound of over 200 cubic yds of industrial debris contains numerous black and grey sherds, some of which belong to the second century. Stratification has been dis­turbed by rabbits and recent burials of sheep. Further investigation here is not popular. There is evidence of second and third-century occupation in at least two other mounds of the eastern marshes, but the sites come within the territory of uncommon specics of wildfowl; archaeology is discouraged.

All these sites are over a mile from the nearest Romano-British find in Mr. Chaplin’s survey of West Cliffe marshes. He has been informed that the erosion of a baulk there has exposed truncated ‘kilns’ around 71807724; erosion removed two small burials containing samian sherds, capped with sandstone and powdered chalk, and stratified under widespread burnt clay and charcoal. Dr.M. J. Aitken has been approached about the possibility of geophysical prospecting near mounds of Romano-British debris at Cliffe.

The Black Shore, north of   Cliffe Creek

This group of marshes is on the western extremity of gravelly subsoil which has been suggested as the location of a Romano British village. Shoals of gravel have been found at less than 4 fathoms in the Thames between the Black Shore and the Romano-British settlement at East Tilbury, Essex. On the saltmarsh at 70807710, erosion is rapid, and Romano-British pottery has been discovered by beachcombers on the mudflats during the last forty years. A group from St. George’s School, Gravesend, has made a plan of features in the foreshore:

1.   Close to the creek and the line of nineteenth-century beacons, a laminated clay mound stratified under the saltings, containing cinders, charcoal, and a broad post-hole over the shape of cross beams; at the same level, 12 yds. away, a dump of charcoal and sherds described by Dr J. Wainwright, of the Ministry of Public Building and Works, as probably Romano-British.

2.   A channel of hardened ooze about 4 yds. wide, leading from the creek to the stratified mounds and the outline of a boat nearly 20 ft. in length, the timbers carbonized; the Ministry of Public Building and Works has been consulted about the identification of the boat; it is on the same level as the bones of several animals, including red deer.

3.    Landward of the boat, traces of an embankment terminating at remains similar to fish cages and a reed floor mixed with briquetage.

4.    Above the reed floor, a stratum including first- to third-century sherds, glass, roof-tiles, and a chalk and gravel floor, 40 yds long, with post­holes 4 to 5 ft. apart.

The main finds have been photographed. A grid of posts has been placed on the foreshore, and every week a survey is made of ancient debris on the mudflats and the river side of the saltings. A section can now be drawn showing Romano-British and Medieval occupation layers, based on records of pottery found during erosion over a straight line along the western edge of the chalk and gravel floor.

Elsewhere in the western marshes, damaged Romano-British metal has been found and shown to members of the field club, who are indebted to the patience and care of Mr E. W. Tilley over the identification of the coins. These 53 coins, with a further 5 illegible, date from a consecration coin of Claudius II (A.D.275) to Theodosius I (A.D 379-395); 45 are Constantinian.

Arch. Cant.   LXXXI, p liv

© March 2012, D. Green - Cliffe History
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