Kent Archaeological Review 1967 – Excavation of the East Gate of the Roman Fort at Reculver by Brian Philp

The large-scale summer excavation at Reculver was completed in September. Two sites, the east gate of the fort and an area south of the Via Quintana, were examined. The east gate site proved to be of unusual interest and importance. It was found to consist of a single carriage-way, some 8 foot 6 inches wide, flanked by massive masonry piers 16 feet long and 5 feet wide. The latter must have supported a small tower or gatehouse, which probably rose to a height of at least 25 feet.

On the north side was a guard-room, some 8 feet by 6 feet internally, in an exceptionally good state of preservation. It was partly contained within the thickness of the fort wall, but also projected internally for several feet. It seems that the guardroom had not formed part of the gatehouse, but probably had contained a wooden stair giving access to both the tower and the rampart-walk. It was not possible to determine the exact arrangements on the south side of the gate owing to the presence of a surfaced footpath. It seems, however, that there was no guard-room on that side.

The recovery of a large part of the east gate plan enables that of the south gate to be completed. The south gate, excavated by the Group in 1964, was found to have been heavily robbed. What had survived indicates that the south and east gate must have been built on very similar lines and also suggests that all four gates of the fort had a common plan. The carriage-way of the south gate was also 8 feet 6 inches wide and the piers similar to those recently found.

Only one continuous layer of road metalling was found at the east gate and this was composed of shingle and pebbles, from the foreshore. as noted elsewhere on the site. Set across the line of this road, towards the front of the gatehouse, was a series of sandstone blocks. These formed a low rim against which heavy wooden doors must have closed. Similar rims occur in the gates of the fort at Gellygaer and elsewhere. Indeed the south gate excavation revealed sockets which indicated that the doors there must have been in a forward position though this could not be proved on the east gate site.

The large chamfered sandstone block which has stood in an upright position alongside the path at the east gate for more than 40 years (VCH III (Kent) Volume III, page 19 and Arch. Cant. LXXIII (1959) page 103), was replaced in its original position on the west side of the north pier. It had been extracted in mid-Victorian times when an attempt was made to cut a well to serve the old Coastguard cottages nearby. The diggers had succeeded in shifting the chamfered block, but gave up when they encountered the really massive jamb-base beneath. As though in spite they then dug their well right through the centre of the guard-room! Workmen laying a 5-inch water-main some time in the 1930’s had been rather more persistent. The dug their trench through 16 feet of solid Roman masonry cutting up through the south pier of the gate. Had they branched some 9 inches to the north they would have missed the masonry and dug along the line of the pebble road.

One of the most interesting aspects of the east gate was that it was found to have been blocked in Roman times. A substantial wall had been built across the road against the original rim with its external face flush with the outer face of the fort wall. This blocking probably dates from the late-third or fourth centuries. The blocking, or partial blocking, of the gates of early forts still in use in the late-third or fourth centuries occurs commonly in the North. In this Reculver can be seen to follow the same trend, for as an early-third century fort it too was provided with four gates (the north and west gates were washed into the sea before 1800). By the late-third century when it was “reconditioned” (probably during the anti-Carausian invasion scare) it was made to conform with newly constructed forts, as at Richborough and Burgh Castle, which were provided with only one main gate and small posterns. In plan, too, the gates at Reculver can be seen to be part of the typological link between those of the second and fourth centuries.

The rampart-bank, formed largely of soil dug from the fort’s defensive ditches. was found to enclose the guard-room on the north and west sides. A large section of this bank was removed and found to seal a worn sestertius of second-century date, two bronze brooches and a small amount of pottery of late-second or early third century date. This evidence provides additional confirmation of the date of the fort’s construction very early in the third century AD.

A silt and rubbish layer was found to cover the surface of the rampart-bank. This contained masses of finely painted wall-plaster and the iron-studded sole of a leather boot which was raised intact. A large pit had been dug into the rampart just outside the guard-room and this contained animal bones, pottery and three coins. One was of Severus Alexander (AD 222-235) and another was of Allectus (AD 293-296). Several feet east of this pit and cutting through part of the guard-room wall was an abortive well-shaft containing pottery of medieval date.

The excavations this summer represent the largest project so far attempted at Reculver. More than 80 members of the Group assisted with the work and various research groups, local societies and some 7,000 members of the public visited the site. More than 900 of the Reculver booklets were sold and the extra copies of the August Kent Archaeological Review sold out completely. It was also possible to rebox the entire Reculver collection in the research-centre and to weather-proof and reorganise the draw ing-office. A complete series of datum-pegs was concreted into position across the entire fort as the Ministry has recently cleared all the bushes and bungalow foundations from the area. The service in the ruined church and the evening lectures again proved popular and will be repeated again next year.

Work will be resumed at Reculver in October and at intervals during 1968. The large summer excavation will again be in August and September.