Remains of Roman town's temple open to the public

The foundations of Romano-British temple, rescued by members of a Kent village's history group only days before they were due to be covered by a housing development were officially unveiled today (28  September 2021).

They are a reconstruction of the 2,000 year old temple's footprint using original flints and will be on permanent open display at the recreation area on the Watling Place estate - only yards from the great Roman road, Watling Street (now the A2), that runs through Newington village near Sittingbourne.

An information board alongside the Watling Place Temple explains the importance of the site and the history of the Roman town in Newington.

The unveiling of the monument during a short, public ceremony followed a twi year programme involving members of Newington History Group, Swale and Thames Archaeology (SWAT Archaeology), the lead excavators, and Persimmon Homes, the developers.

The 1st century temple base was part of a major late-Iron Age and Roman industrial settlement uncovered by archaeologists in 2018 prior to construction of the 124-homes estate by Persimmon Homes.

Though the main structure of the temple was demolished around the 2nd century and only the foundations of the temple were uncovered by archaeologists, the overall site was said to be in exceptional state of preservation.

In June 2019, Richard Thompstone and Sue Flipping stepped in on behalf of the history group and , with the support of SWAT Archaeology, urged Persimmon Homes to spare the foundations. The original fabric of the temple was collected and safely stored.

Persimmon agreed to allow the flints to be re-laid just 70m from their original location and on the same orientation and alignment. After delays due to Covid, the reconstruction work was carried out last month.

Dr Paul Wilkinson, archaeological director at SWAT Archaeology, said the importance of the excavated town made it "one of the most significant sites" in Kent and of national importance. Preservation of buildings and artefacts was "exceptional" and "amazing", while the finding of expensive imported wares indicated the inhabitants were of high status.

It will be several years before the archaeological group finishes analysing the items and produces its final report. However, Dr Wilkinson said he was minded to agree with Edward Hasted, the 18th century historian, that Newington is the likely site of the long-sought-and much disputed - Roman station Durolevum.

The first phase of the site's occupation, dated between 50BC - AD250, appeared to be strictly industrial with a focus on the production of iron and pottery. The second phase, which is dated to the lates 3rd and 4th centuries, was found to be predominantly agricultural with shallow field boundaries, corn-druing kilns and granaries.

During the 18-month archaeological dig, the 18 acre site yielded rare iron furnaces and sunken pottery kilns. Several tons of pot, pottery sherds, jewellery, coins and other artefacts were removed and the site's features recorded.

Investigations revealed a complex of footpaths and trackways across the industrial site. Also unearthed was a 7m-wide 'highway' that appeared to take an alternative route to Watling Street and to have been developed over an earlier, late Iron Age route.

It ran at a 45-degree angle away from the A2 at Keycol - which may have been the site of domestic settlement. Funerary pottery ploughed up in the area of Keycol Hill know as Crockfield is evidence of a substantial Roman cemetery that, according to Roman conventions , may have been just outside the residential area.

The road appears to have been a direct route for trade, travel and communications between Watling Street and the creeks in the Medway estuary.

Alongside these roads and tracks were enclosures and traces of buildings associated with industry and crop processing. Other features included iron bloomery furnaces, crop driers, pottery kilns, quarries, wells, water containers, granaries and rubbish pits. Human burials, including both cremated ashes and skeletons, were also found.

The recovered artefacts include an Assyrian glass vessel fragment, Terra Sigillate table waresfrom Gaul (France) for fine dining, and a Whitby jet child's bracelet (c.1st century). They indicate that the settlement was a well-connected trading hub.

Among the coins were a pre-Roman gold Celtic stater of King Dubnovellanus (c.30-10BC) and a silver denarius of Augustus (27BC - AD14).

The temple's remains reflected the established classical style for such buildings, which were constructed using clay, timber, flint ,daub, tiles, and some lime mortar.

The Watling Place Temple comprised two rectangular areas: an inner cella (small chamber), which measured 6.75m by 5.7m, and an outer covered walkway, measuring 12.5m by 11.5m, the roof of which may have been supported by columns.

Built on a small rise beside the road, it would have been clearly seen by travellers. It was enclosed by two concentric ditches and a number of deep pits for the receipt of 'offerings'. These pits contained coins, brooches, pins and pottery vessels.

And what of the temple's original site? It's covered by a pumping station serving the housing estate. However, the excavation has transformed knowledge of this area and provided important insights into Iron Age and Roman people who lived and worked there.

For more information go to: https://newingtonhistory.uk/

Footnote: School girl Ellie Wolfe has become the overseer of the village's recently discovered 2,000 year old Roman temple foundations. The 12 year old history buff will watch over the recontructed foundations of the Romano-British temple uncovered outside her home during an 18-month archaeological excavation. And Ellie made her own history when she officially unveiled the ancient flints in a public ceremony on 28 September 2021.