Thursday, 22 November 2012

North Foreland

What seems like forever ago I told you all about Mysterious Margate, so now as promised it is the turn of North Foreland.  For those not in the know, North Foreland is an area within the locality of Broadstairs.  It has a well defined Iron Age past and provides a nicely sized area for discussion.  There are several sites for us to explore; St Stephen’s College (Boast et al 2006), Stone Road (Moody 2005a), Bishops Avenue/Hamilton Lodge (Moody 2005b), Lanthorne Road (Hurd 1913), Albert Lodge (Hart 2006a), Castle Keep Hotel (Hart 2006b) and ‘Beauforts’ (Hart 2005).


St Stephen’s College (Boast et al 2006)


 St Stephen's College, site plan, The North

St Stephen's College, Site Plan, The South

This site is particularly complex so we will approach it one phase at a time.  It is rich in Iron Age archaeology and the principal features consist of post built structures, linear features (including 50 post holes), rectilinear enclosures and a number of pits.

Phase 1

This phase dates to c.500-300/250BC so can be characterised as being Middle Iron Age in nature.  It was suggested by Boast that the sporadic nature of the features may mean that this was a seasonal site.  There are several large, air-tight storage pits which bolter this theory as they are likely to have contained foodstuffs.  They provided an area of storage away from the nucleated settlement; however I am unsure as to the seasonality of their use.  The area in which they are located has soil well suited to growing crops and an expanse of land that can be used for animal husbandry, it therefore seems as though seasonality in this instance leads to a waste of land.  The climate remains constant across the Isle and as such there seems little reason for the site to be undesirable at any given period of the year.  Environmental sampling suggests that the level of chaff present is consistent with cereal processing, thus meaning that the site may be related to industry.  This is enhanced from the variety of animal bones that are present; the sample is indicative of animal husbandry rather than feasting.  A further point of interest is the presence of marine shell.  Within Britain there is a distinct lack of evidence relating to Iron Age peoples exploiting the sea, with the exception of salt production.  Therefore their discovery is something of a mystery, particularly as the site offered potential examples of net sinkers.  If fishing was occurring, it is unlikely that it would have been conducted off the jagged coast of North Foreland, instead I would suggest that it was taking place further South towards Joss Bay or along the coast of Margate.  In these areas the sea is far more accessible, yet the evidence of fishermen is currently missing from these locations.  It is possible that wide scale storage was taking place at St Stephen’s College; however, I am more inclined to suggest that this was a small nucleated settlement and that the excavation missed the area of occupancy.  It seems illogical to store so much, so far away from a settled area.

The pottery assemblage for this phase enhances the link the residents had with the sea.  There are several examples of localised pottery; however, there is a strong Continental flavour.  The highlight of this is a sherd from a vessel which has distinct parallels with those known at Neuville-sur-Escaut, particularly around the 450-300BC mark.  Along with the ceramic evidence noted at Hartsdown, Margate, it is becoming increasing clear that Middle Iron Age Thanet had strong Continental links, despite it generally being accepted that Britain as a whole was relatively isolated during this period.

There is also burial evidence for this period, firstly in Pit 4228; sadly this is the final resting place of a neonatal, this can often be interpreted as infanticide, however, I do not feel this is the case in this particular instance.  The site is also the resting place of an individual with unilateral ankylosis; this means the person in question would experience a great deal of discomfort when pressure was applied in the mouth.  The result would be that large pieces of food and meat in general may have been particularly difficult to consume.  The survival of the individual into adult life suggests a tolerant and compassionate society, willing to care for others and assist them with their needs.  I therefore question why they would practice infanticide and conclude that the neonatal remains were a result of nature’s cruelty as oppose to that of society.

Phase 2

Broadly speaking this phase encompasses c.300/250-50BC, there is some overlap with Phase 1, but it interestingly ends before the Roman invasion.  The principal features relating to this phase is an enclosure running parallel to a hollow way and a 50 post palisade.  The interpretation of this phase is debated, but, on initial observation I sided with a cattle kraal, until I looked deeper.  The cattle kraal, for me, was certain from the palisade and the formation of an extensive boundary, however, pottery found within the post holes was of an Early Iron Age nature.  This makes me doubt the cattle kraal theory, but at the same time I am not ready to embrace the enclosure as being a defended enclosure for times of trouble.  Firstly the enclosure is only 0.1ha, which I feel is too small an area to sustain a community, secondly there is limited evidence that such a protective enclave would have been required.  Further to this there are limited 4 and 6 post structures, so where would people have sheltered?  These structures are interpreted in the report as being granaries; this would be in keeping with a potential defended interior, however in this case I do not think it is the case.  Instead I propose that these structures are in fact housing, there is a distinct lack of roundhouses upon Thanet, this is possibly due to ploughing and the loss of the tell tale drip gully.  I however believe that it may be a case that they were never there in the first place.  Instead I think that the population of Thanet lived it houses similar to those on The Continent, this would mean they would leave rectangular traces consistent with the long-house culture.

If the 6 post structures are related to dwellings, those that are 4 post may well be granaries, but why would one nucleated settlement need so many and why would they be enclosed?  Maybe this relates to the economic expansion of the area, possibly even by the decedents of those in Phase 1.  Increased production, would require increased storage, perhaps the dwelling was that of a merchant, a trader, even an Iron Age entrepreneur?  Okay so maybe an entrepreneur is pushing it and I should watch a little less of The Apprentice and the Junior version, but, I hope you are following my point!  I believe this enclave to be a centre for trade, whether there was power for the people who may or may not of lived there I do not know and I am not overly concerned by it either.  What I do know is nearby a potin coin hoard has been found, the original Phase 1 site has seemingly progressed and the levels of external influences speak for themselves.  The pottery assemblage is key to this; Flanders’ La Tène III inspired pottery is present, particularly the S-profile noted on a number of locally produced sherds.  This suggests prolonged contact with the Continent, the pottery of Flanders is considered to be so accepted that it was becoming a feature of Late Iron Age Thanet.  People were so accepting of it that it had almost become their own.  There is also evidence for pottery indigenous to more localised regions, with several sherds consisting of fabrics associated with Folkestone.  This suggests a level of contact with East Kent; however, it is notably rare in comparison to vessel sherds inspired by Flanders.

So far, St Stephen’s College is depicting the region as being affluent, secure, complex and economically developing, while highlighting a community that was able to trade and demonstrate compassion.


Stone Road (Moody 2005a)

Stone Road, Site Plan
This site does not demonstrate the richest collection of Iron Age features, particularly in terms of occupation evidence.  However it remains of interest.

Firstly I will discuss the presence of a high number of animal bones.  The species present included cattle, sheep/goat, pig, dog and horse.  A study was conducted to determine if the bones were evidence of a butchery site, due to such high volumes.  The study concluded that the gnawing was consistent with general domestic consumption and the notions of wide scale butchery are quickly lost.  However, there is a distinct lack of domestic occupation evidence; the site lacks pits, linear features and post holes.

The site did produce further features, most of which are Roman and are found much higher than the numerous bones, so it is safe to assume that they are unconnected.  The site does contain 6 prenatal inhumations, each with sherds of Late Iron Age pottery, which acts as dating evidence.  These inhumations are truncated by Roman features, so it can be assumed that there was no settlement present when Roman construction began.  The graves were presumably unmarked to the invaders eye, or it is unlikely that they would have been disturbed.  The presence of pottery and the nature of the burials are indicative of deliberate acts, suggesting that it was a form of traditional practice, at least in this region.  It is possible that the site is at the edge of a Late Iron Age burial ground, but what about those bones?  Well there is plenty of evidence of feasting at Iron Age funerals, so why should these 6 tiny individuals be any different; time had been taken to bury them, so surely they would have received all rites.

Bishops Avenue/Hamilton Lodge (Moody 2005b)


Bishops Avenue, Site Plan

This site dates from the Middle to Late Iron Age and consists of linear ditches and 4 post structures.  The fill from the linear ditches yielded high amounts of faunal remains and as such comparisons have been made to Stone Road.

Despite the presence of structures and animal bone, there is very little in the way of material culture.  28 sherds of a single rusticated storage jar, with parallels to those found in Ebbsfleet, were discovered at date to c. 500-300BC.  This gives the earliest date for potential landscape use; however, due to the amount of the vessel that survives it is potentially a deliberate deposit.  There is little else to suggest a hoard, just a single vessel in an unusual location.  There are several sherds of Later Iron Age pottery associated with the 4 post structures, suggesting that they are secondary to the activity relating to the rusticated storage jar.  There is also a single potin coin, c.150-50BC, but it is unlikely that this is representative of anything more than casual loss.

I have already mentioned the faunal comparisons and the findings are supportive of the limited material culture.  The bone assemblage at this site is in far poorer condition than those at Stone Road.  This maybe indicative of two things, firstly the deposition was much earlier, making the bones contemporary with the vessel or secondly the soil is more acidic and that has caused the damaged.  There is little evidence as to the purpose of the bone assemblage at Bishops Avenue, but, I ma inclined to believe that the assemblage is related to the rusticated jar in some way and entirely unrelated to the structures.  The purpose of this site is very difficult to untangle with such limited evidence and as such it needs to be further considered in relation to other local finds and more importantly excavations.  Unfortunately the inhabited nature of the environment makes this unlikely.

Lanthorne Road (Hurd 1913)

This excavation took place in the early 1900’s and there is little in the way of a record and definitely no site plan.  I have included it though…you are probably wondering why, while thinking I may have gone a touch mad, but there is a method…I promise!

All that was recorded was the discovery of a vessel; it was black ware, local and nothing particularly special.  It was decorated with ‘nail marks’ and had some comb detail on a number of sherds.  Its interest comes with its parallels to vessels in Dumpton, hardly a million miles away I know, but when I couple it with a mixture of faunal remains and geographical positioning, I think it gets interesting.  During this time Thanet, much like today, had a network of tracks.  Some of these we know, whereas other areas seem isolated, this is one of those.  The evidence is suggestive of a route way that we were possibly unaware of, this is very tentative and possibly circumstantial, but considering the high presence of potin coins in the area, entirely possible.  North foreland lacked a sea connection, but Dumpton did not…see there is some method!


Albert Lodge (Hart 2006a), Castle Keep (Hart 2006b) and ‘Beauforts’ (Hart 2005)

The location of these sites in North Foreland, made me certain when I picked up the reports that I would find more archaeological gold…but there was nothing, not a single Iron Age sherd, not one tiny coin, not even a post hole.  Either this was not the place to be in Iron Age Thanet, or something is a miss.  Well I’m going with the latter…I do not believe that nothing happened here, in such close proximity to other evidence, instead I think it is lost.  This area has been agriculturally significant for hundreds and hundreds of years and it has been a desirable spot for construction.  So, imagine the amount of ploughs that have turned that soil, the amount of holes dug for foundations.  Now consider how our post holes, pits and ditches would survive it.  It is hardly surprising that we have a feature free zone.  I have included this to make the point that a lack of evidence is not always evidence for a lack of landscape use…an important archaeology lesson!

What does all this mean?

Well unlike Hartsdown, North Foreland is complicated and little bit messy.  It clearly saw Iron Age life, definitely in the Middle and Late periods and we know the Romans found it too.

From the evidence we have seen it seems that St Stephen’s College was the place to be, it was multi-phase and expanding, suggesting a strong and stable economy.  The presence of Continental material culture and inspiration was clear and life was seemingly good.  However, it is difficult to place Stone Road and Bishops Avenue into that picture, were they areas of industry? Or of trade? Do they hint at a regional house form? Maybe it is the possible missing evidence at Castle Keep, ‘Beauforts’ and Albert Lodge that held the answers.  As in the case of Hartsdown, consideration needs to be given as a whole, the geographical area considered is not huge; there is a danger of missing big picture through looking at little ones.  Stone Road and Bishops Avenue could have easily have been one site, focusing on the exact same thing during the Iron Age.  North Foreland is without doubt thriving, but this evidence has provided more questions than it has answers.

The next area I will explore is Central Broadstairs, but be sure to keep North Foreland in mind while reading…I have a feeling it has a lot more to offer. 
Until then keep exploring and keep in touch via FacebookTwitter and email:

Infleuntial Reading

Boast et al. 2006 Excavations at St Stephen's College, North Foreland, Broadstairs Kent: Archaeological Excavation Report Thanet Archaeological Trust Unpublished

Hart, P.C. 2005 'Beauforts', North Foreland Avenue, Broadstairs, Kent: Archaeological Report Thanet Archaeological Trust Unpublished

Hart, P.C. 2006a Groundworks Associated with the Construction of a Swimming Pool at Albert Lodge, North Foreland, Broadstairs, Kent: Archaeological Watching Brief Report Thanet Archaeological Trust Unpublished

Hart, P.C. 2006b The Construction of a Block of 16 Self-Contained Flats, Former Castle Keep Hotel and Forelands, Joss Gap Road, Broadstairs. Kent: Interim Archaeological Watching Brief Report Thanet Archaeological Trust Unpublished

Hurd, H. 1913a; 1913b; 1913c. Some Notes on Recent Archaeological Discoveries at Broadstairs Thanet Archaeological Trust Unpublished

Moody, G 2005a Land to Rear of 103 Stone Road, Broadstairs, Kent: Archaeological Report Thanet Archaeological Trust Unpublished

Moody, G. 2005b Hamilton Lodge, Bishops Avenue, Broadstairs: Archaeological Report Thanet Archaeological Trust Unpublished


  1. You might be interested to know that I live on a plot on North Foreland Road opposite St. Stephens, and which is only about 50m north-west of Beauforts, which you have commented has no trace of Iron Age settlement. However, in 2010, IOTAS carried out a small-scale excavation in my garden and three postholes were found, one of which was large and had been recut on at least four occasions. A sherd of early-mid Iron Age pottery was found at the bottom of this feature. We concluded that this posthole showed that the site had probably been in use for several generations. Other excavations, one on the site of the garage in my front garden, and others along North Foreland Road, carried out by the Trust for Thanet Archaeology, also revealed postholes, although none of these were as large or interesting as the one in my garden. It has been concluded from these that the settlement on North Foreland seems to have extended down the slope from the St. Stephens site, and I believe other excavations further east on the North Foreland Estate have led to the same conclusion.

  2. Hello Magaret,

    Thank you for your comments, it is really interesting, there was talk if I remember correctly of North Foreland possibly being enclosed by ditches. It's a beautifully rich area, I think the excavations you refer to were conducted either during or just after I conducted my research as I went through all the Grey Literature that was available at the time. I would love to expand my research, but, unfortunately funding such an adventure is problematic at the moment.