Dartford Town Archive About the Archive Early History Medieval Period Early Modern 19th Century 20th Century Dartford Technology
HomepageThemes overviewTimelineBibliographyTeachers' resourcesSite search
Buildings and architectureOverviewPopulation and the peopleIndustryTransport and communicationsEducationLeisure and entertainmentReligionMilitaryPolitics

Archaeology and Early History



Reconstructing the lives of Dartford's Roman inhabitants is rather like doing a jigsaw puzzle with lots of the pieces missing; archaeological, architectural and environmental evidence has to be combined to build up a meaningful picture. The course of the Roman road through Dartford and the ford which the Romans constructed across the River Darent determined the location of the settlement. Other than Dartford's second and third century villa sited just above the flood-plain of the River Darent, no other substantial building remains have been found in or close to the town. This would imply that the Roman settlement of Dartford was more of a small 'village' than a small town. The Roman name for Dartford is not recorded in the Antonine Itinerary (a route map showing the main settlements on or close to Roman roads).

Top of page  


The growth and development of Dartford in Medieval times and in later centuries probably destroyed much of the evidence for Roman timber buildings. During excavations at the junction of Lowfield Street and High Street in 1973, the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit discovered a series of pits, ditches and foundations, as well as a considerable amout of Roman rubbish and pottery representative of the late 1st to 4th century A.D. These remains hinted at the existence of a section of the former Roman settlement.

In 1974, first and second century A.D. ditches, aligned east-west, together with pits and evidence of timber buildings, were found close to Spital Street. Further discoveries of Roman rubbish pits containing ordinary and high-quality pottery, coins and other items have been made in the town centre by members of the Dartford District Archaeological Group. The location of these rubbish pits suggests that associated dwellings possibly stretched out along either side of the Roman road, forming a linear settlement. Further archaeological discoveries in the future may add to our knowledge of the layout and content of Roman Dartford.

Top of page  
   East Hill
Click to enlarge


Some of the best evidence about the social standing of Dartford's Roman population comes from the site of the Romano-British cemetery on East Hill (close to East Hill House). Pottery found on the site indicates that the cemetery may have been in use from the early to mid second century until the fourth century A.D.

Excavation of a considerable part of the site by the Dartford District Archaeological Group and the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (1989) revealed approximately 150 individual graves, of which eighty-three were fully excavated. Many of the graves followed an east-west alignment and may have been positioned around a small cemetery building.

Top of page  


Several stone and lead coffins retrieved from the site suggest that at least some members of Dartford's Roman community were quite wealthy; only the rich could have afforded such a luxury. The only surviving 'adult' stone coffin from this cemetery site is on permanent display at Dartford Borough Museum. When discovered and opened early in the nineteenth century, this stone coffin, complete with heavy stone cover, was found to contain the body of a woman. The coffin weighs in excess of two tons. When the coffin was first opened, the body was intact. The woman's hair appeared to be of a light brown colour, 'clubbed' on the crown of the head and fastened with a brooch or band of pearls. These quickly turned to dust when exposed to the air. The woman's body had clearly been swathed in linen. Other people were buried in wooden coffins.

   Roman stone coffin
Click to enlarge

In 1973, a child's stone coffin was found buried in the grounds of East Hill House. This coffin was composed of Oolitic limestone which does not occur in the North Kent area. This small coffin (minus its lid) weighed half a ton! Heavy stone and lead coffins would have been hauled up-hill to the cemetery using a team of oxen. Some of the burials at East Hill Roman Cemetery contained grave goods. One grave, that of a child, contained three pottery vessels, a bowl, beaker and flagon, as well as a set of gold-plated glass and jet beads and eleven bronze bracelets.

Top of page  


Another possibly older Roman burial ground seems to have existed on Temple Hill in the first Century A.D. At least two Romano-British cremations have also been found in the Temple Hill area, one was contained in a small pot probably dating to the first century A.D., and the other was inside a first century A.D. flagon.

Top of page  


Dartford's many Roman rubbish pits contained large quantities of everyday and luxury pottery hinting at trade links with the rest of Britain and the Roman Empire. Fine-quality, glossy red, plain and decorated Samian ware imported from Gaul once again confirms the high social status of some of Dartford's inhabitants. Other pottery had been imported from the Rhineland. Less sophisticated pottery came from kilns in Oxfordshire, the Nene Valley, the New Forest, Hertfordshire, Dorset and Surrey. Patchgrove and Upchurch-type wares came from kilns in Kent and Essex.



Next topic: Saxon Settlers


Top of page  
  Site search
Search pages for: Any word All words Exact phrase