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

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