The last report was published in March 2020. Covid has had a substantial impact on the progress of our work  and although individual archaeologists came up on their own to labour, group working was only resumed when Covid restrictions were lifted. Since then, massive amounts of soil and clay have been shifted, trenches galore litter Beauchamps Wood but the knowledge gained is…..enigmatic….. at best.

   The last report concluded with the extension of excavations at the edge of the wood at the side of what we supposed to be the roadway coming into the site from the West.  A considerable area was exposed consisting we judged of fallen or demolished buildings with tiled roofs.. The extent and purpose of them was wholly undeterminable other than that they had existed. Little pottery was recovered but amazingly, lying in the subsoil, we unearthed a barbed and tanged flint arrowhead, dateable to between 1800 to 2000BC which had lain there unobserved  despite all the other activity around it. Coincidentally, within a metre or so, we also recovered a .303 bullet, a 20thC remnant developed one assumes with human rather than animal targets in mind.

     Excavations then moved into Beauchamps Wood itself immediately to the South West of where we had been digging. Two long trenches, one N.E/S.W and the other S.E/N.W were opened in an area cleared by coppicing. In both cases, there was a tough network of shallow roots and nettles to clear but below that we found what became apparent as the mostly intact surface of a large yard constructed by clearing the original top soil and then laying a surface of flint topped with gravel. The surface, whilst penetrated by the occasional tree, remained clear and represented a very substantial investment because of the massive amounts of flint and gravel which must have been collected and then brought in from elsewhere since no such deposits are readily available in the immediate  vicinity. We could also now see from our previous excavations that this area had been cut through by the late 18thC ditch enclosing what is now Beauchamps Wood so this was a timely reminder that before the 1790s, the whole site had been open and park like, and that modern boundaries wholly obscured this fact. It was now obvious that our earlier extensive excavations in previous years had revealed buildings which were not isolated in a field but were part of a much wider enterprise.

   We did not persevere with these trenches to the point of establishing the outer limits of the yard basically because it was strenuous excavation work with only the discovery of fragments of quite late pottery to enliven the effort and at this stage anyway was not going to add much more to our understanding of the site as an whole.

   Within Beauchamps Wood, in the southern half, there is what has the appearance of a roadway flanked by a bank to the North East. Running approximately North West/ South East, this quite wide road or track way appears to be directly in line with the straight bit  of Beauchamps Lane  going past White House Farm before it kinks to the West, and it then proceeds in the wood apparently on a line leading directly down to the old junction at the bottom of the lane where the lane makes a right angle turn to the West and the church. This point was in Anglo-Saxon and medieval times a significant road junction. Here, Beauchamps Lane met the Anglo-Saxon road from Lyminge to Minster which then proceeded Eastwards across what is now the front of the 19thC St Albans Court building and through Chillenden and beyond; from here the road to Canterbury via Adisham ran to the  North West, and also from here Northwards there was a road in the direction of the Roman site near Goodneston. All but the last are shown on Mudge’s first Ordnance Survey  map of 1801. The existence of this Anglo-Saxon and medieval junction might be one of the explanations for the dominant positioning of the 14thC buildings we excavated on the slope above it.

   I then had an hypothesis  that one could identify still on a modern map the roadway running from the Roman road  North of Elvington through Butchery Lane , Easole Street and onwards through Beauchamps Wood and up the hill beyond the corner of Beauchamps Lane. Pretty much a straight line – I thought  was this not the line of a Roman road? All we had to do was dig it.

    So a series of trenches were then dug across the supposed roadway starting at the North West end where it appeared to cross between two mounds, one of which we suspected was the upcast of the ditch probably dug in 1348  marking the boundary of the land acquired by the Abbey of St Albans in 1346 and utilized by Sir John de Beauchamp  as he developed the site in 1348.  Indeed we found that there was a roadway constructed similarly to the yard we had excavated and with no evidence  of any ditch below. This suggested that the roadway was not only contemporary with the yard  but also, supporting my theory, could be much older. The topsoil above the roadway contained amounts of 17thC and 18thC  pottery and the surface of the roadway included large fragments of brick which were so misshapen that they may well have been rubbish discards from the brick making in Ruins Field described in earlier accounts ( which are all available on Clive Webb’s Nonington Village history site together with much more historical background.).

  Further trenches proceeding South Eastwards along the open way were dug but these provided a series of puzzles. There was evidence of a metalled surface but something closer to a narrow track than a roadway and the levels of the surfaces we found varied inexplicably from a few inches to as much as over a foot below the present surface which made little sense. The scatters of 17th and 18thC pottery in the top soil also suggested rather more people were around than was implied by the written records Clive Webb  had published of occupation up there.

    At the South Eastern end of the roadway, there was a wide shallow depression which we assumed to be most probably a doline similar to the one we had dug in Ruins Field itself. I had no problems with this because it had had a couple of thousand years to develop and left my Roman roadway intact somewhere there. A trench was put in to confirm this. To our surprise, there was no evidence of any roadway at all. Below the top soil – which contained quantities of DIY debris from the last century  – we came across 16th and 17th C pottery and a metre further below this, we found  amounts of 12th and 13thC pottery before coming to the bottom a further foot below. We realized that we were in a chalk quarry which appears to have been of significant size and depth pre the 1200s. My ancient roadway theory clearly was an illusion: alas  not the first of my brilliant insights about the site to succumb to the realities steadily exposed by the spade.

    One immediate question was where was the chalk going? The quantities were clearly substantial but it did not look as though it had been excavated in blocks of chalk for building, and burning it for lime was considered unlikely because there was no significant building of that age anywhere in the vicinity. The big buildings that we had already excavated were a century or so younger than this. Nonington church had substantial building works at about this time but it lay outside the bounds of our estate and was in the hands of the wealthy Canons at Wingham College. Their land contained a massive chalk pit at the top of Pinners  Hill which was  closer to the church site so material from our site which was not only  in different ownership but also further away seemed unlikely.  Presumably then our chalk  was spread on cultivated land and the volumes of chalk excavated suggest a not inconsiderable population to do it. The other question was from where came the pottery? Certainly from somewhere close – tossed out of a back door with the rubbish one assumes. But that in turn suggests that somewhere relatively close was an early building that we had not found. On the other hand, a chalk quarry outside the back door would have been as unwelcome then as it would be now so we were left with yet another question to resolve.

   One unexpected intervention floated into the wood during the 2020 November 5th celebrations. Numbers of Chinese lanterns were launched across Ruins Field and one started a small fire within  Beauchamps  Wood which fortunately failed to spread because the surrounding brush was too wet. Numbers also landed in the field itself necessitated a search to recover the plastic and metal remains which otherwise are rapidly overgrown and subsequently kill grazing animals. This irresponsible behavior is paralleled by dog walkers who still abandon plastic bags of dog excrement in the grass and the (presumed) walker who repeatedly destroyed the survey marker post carefully positioned for future reference when the site was surveyed.

   We then extended a couple of the existing trenches  across what now seemed to be  somewhat elusive trackway into the mound which paralleled  what we had thought to be an open roadway.. One trench yielded nothing but the other unearthed a considerable quantity of 12/13thC pottery and below that, a ditch cut into the chalk. The ditch, an early medieval  land boundary, ran at an angle to the mound and two more trenches have picked up it’s course. We shall continue to follow that up and also see if any more dating material emerges.

   It is perhaps worth describing the process of excavation a bit more. A trench will be marked out with string and the top level of soil then removed usually by spade. When the ground is soft in winter and early summer, this is usually relatively easy but as the ground dries out and with the inevitable presence in a wood of roots, brambles and nettles, mattocks, axes, saws and even pick axes are used. Yet great care has to be exercised to avoid breaching any surface below and a careful scrutiny kept for bits of pottery and bone or other material in the spoil. Any sign of anything other than a natural surface is then examined  by trowel. With experience, it is usually relatively easy to determine where the soil has been previously moved  against an undisturbed natural level although that is more difficult as the soil dries out because the soil itself is largely clay with a lot of small flints to blunt a spade. The completed trench then has to be surveyed to plot it accurately on a map and then each layer and level within it measured and recorded. All has to be photographically recorded and some times specific features drawn as well. The Dover Archaeological Group are highly experienced diggers leavened with others who come for interest and practice and ably backed up and led by Keith Parfitt, a senior manager with the Canterbury Archaeological  Trust who has one of the most distinguished records of excavation and discovery in East Kent. That such an able team of amateurs led by a professional are devoting years to unearthing our village history is something with which we should be enormously pleased.

   One other trench we put in, after much laborious excavation, confirmed that the 1348 ditch and mound was present  only a few yards from the line of our NW/SE roadway but further trenching to the West seems to be suggesting that the ditch  had stopped but there was a metalled surface running to the South of the very large bank which lies between our NW/SE roadway and Beauchamps Lane itself. The topsoil contained 17/18thC pottery and there was a dump of brick fragments, probably of late 17thC origin, at  the side of the mound: again more work in progress.

     Off site, Maidstone Archives are bringing here the 1629 Estate map which covers what then was the entire St Albans Estate.  The Beauchamps Wood section has been damaged but the whole plan will be subjected to photographic analysis  with ALS imaging to determine if there are any structures or path images to be recovered. The map damage has been clumsily repaired so we are not hopeful but it will be an interesting exercise. The original plan was copied by Gordon Ward, a noted Kent historian, in the 1930s but he also added his own bits of information so the differences are not clear ! Even then, parts were obscure so this process should enable us to recover the original in at least the unrepaired portions which will further enable the wider Nonington Landscape project for the Dover Archaeological Group.

    It is only too frustrating that we have many more questions than answers at the moment  but digging will continue so that we can tease out more information. Diggers assemble at 1030 each Sunday at  Old St Albans Court  and anyone wanting to participate will be very welcome. Bring your own lunch!  Contact telephone: 01304 841692.