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By the Medway Marsh

By 22/03/2022News

We’re very pleased to announce that our long-anticipated monograph ‘By the Medway Marsh‘ by James Gerrard and Guy Seddon has landed and is now available to purchase from our publications page!

‘By the Medway Marsh’ is the culmination of years of research following our excavation at Grange Farm in Kent, undertaken in 2005 ahead of a housing development, and sheds light on the unusual and fascinating discoveries we made there.

During the course of the excavation we found evidence of the extraction of silver on an industrial scale – 15kg of litharge – a by-product of the extraction of silver from other metals, and the most ever found on a site in Roman Britain. Another unusual aspect to the site was the discovery that a mausoleum containing a lead-lined coffin, itself a rare find in Roman Britain, had dominated the landscape here for more than 700 years. This imposing monument bore witness to the departure of the Romans as the empire fell, and subsequently became a landmark for Anglo-Saxon tribes arriving along the River Medway, with its ruins inhabited by owls.

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‘Quite why people were refining silver from silver-rich base metal alloys is a mystery. Quite what the objects being melted down were is a mystery too. One would imagine that silver refining, part of the late Roman precious metal economy, closely tied into the tax-military pay cycle, would have occurred within an official or semi-official context. Yet Grange Farm was a small scale rural settlement. It is very unusual. Maybe they were making silver objects like the ingots in the Canterbury Treasure.’

James Gerrard, co-author and senior lecturer in Roman Archaeology at Newcastle University

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First inhabited by a farming community in the Late Iron Age (around 100BC), the site’s significant location just over a mile north of Watling Street, one of the main roads in Roman Britain, led to dramatically increased activity during the post-conquest period. By the second century AD a road crossed the site, linking Watling Street, which ran between Dover and London, with marshlands to the north, then an important centre for the manufacture of salt and ceramics. By the fourth century a new settlement incorporated an ‘aisled building’, a wooden structure common in Roman Britain, divided into three parts: one end devoted to high-status accommodation, with fireplaces in the middle and an area for metalworking at the other end. A huge amount of litharge – a by-product of the ‘cupellation’ method of silver extraction – was unearthed; weighing 15kg, it’s the most ever found at a site in Roman Britain, representing silver extraction on an industrial scale.

The construction of a Roman mausoleum here is unusual; they are more commonly found with villas rather than aisled buildings. The monument would have stood almost two storeys high, with a tessellated pavement of plain red mosaic, also rare in Roman Britain. The lead-lined coffin within the mausoleum held the remains of a middle-aged high-status woman. Dr Gerrard adds ‘She had quite a hard life though. She had osteoarthritis but she lived to a good age and was buried with reverence. She was no peasant.

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It is very unusual to find a lead-lined coffin within a mausoleum in Roman Britain and the building and the coffin both suggest the woman was important to her community. Stable isotope analysis suggests that she may well have grown up in the local area, although we can’t exclude an origin in parts of southern and eastern England or even Europe.

Victoria Ridgeway, Director at Pre-Construct Archaeology & Monograph Editor

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Wealth is further attested to by the discovery of gold jewellery at the site. Evidence of wear and modification suggests that this necklace of gold filigree double-loop links threaded with polyhedral faceted beads of variscite is an heirloom piece modified into a bracelet for a child.

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The grave was disturbed in the 5th Century but the monument remained standing in a ruinous state until the Norman Conquest, when the land, recorded as having ‘pasture, a probable tidal mill and six unfree peasants‘, was given to Bishop Odo of Bayeaux, half-brother of William the Conqueror, but it was not completely deserted in the intervening period:

We’ve got tawny owl pellets,’ said Dr Gerrard. ‘The building becomes ruinous and then you’ve got owls living here… it’s the end of the Roman Empire, the mausoleum is abandoned and the owls take up residence – we can’t be too precise about when that was but it would have been somewhere between the 5th and 10th Century.

The story continues with the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons – ‘This is where it gets interesting‘ according to Dr Gerrard. ‘You’re in Kent at the forefront of Anglo Saxon migration. It looks like people are coming to this monument and interacting with it in some way but they’re not living there and they’re not burying their dead there‘.

The significant finds from this period suggest that the mausoleum may have revered as a sacred place.

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Situated on an elevated terrace with far-reaching views, the mausoleum would have been visible for miles around and is very likely to have been used as a landmark, or navigational aid for people arriving along the river. ‘It’s the 5th Century and water was more important as a means of travel‘, Dr Gerrard explains.

During the medieval period, the area around Grange Farm was dominated by a manorial centre and elements of this structure still stand today.


‘By the Medway Marsh’ was sponsored by: