Cliffe and the North Kent Roman pottery industry.
The parish of Cliffe covers the dog-leg of the Thames between Shorne and Cooling. Bob Hutchings has made extensive observations in the area amounting to over 50 sites, mostly related to farming or salt-boiling, but including several kiln sites.
The Black Shore has long been a noted location for pot hunting and during 1983 was under investigation by at least six different agencies and individuals. It was a foreshore site, not unlike those at Upchurch but suffering from progressive erosion from the waters of the Thames. In 1984, the extensive evidence it yielded of a variety of activities dating to the Roman period and late Iron Age were buried under the concrete of a new sea wall.
Heavy concentrations of fabric Hl/4h all along the shore suggest that this was being made nearby, probably in bonfires, in the later first and early second centuries. Hard patches of clay reported by Hutchings could be the bases of such bonfires, although their antiquity is in doubt (Chris Breen pers com.). The area is the principal find spot for the late first century shell tempered fabric H2/4 and a remarkably similar Mediaeval fabric, so it may be assumed that both of these were also manufactured either along the shore or slightly inland. Early in the Roman period, the area may have also seen a limited amount of fine ware production. The most extensive spreads of pottery are of fabric Sl/4 and SI/4b which are often oxidised indicating kiln waste although badly wasted sherds are uncommon. The forms are largely early in date but there is a full range of material including exotic late third and fourth century fine wares. The site is two kilometres from the high ground and no kiln structures are known.
To the west of the Black Shore, across Cliffe Creek in the edge of Higham parish is a site known by various names, which here will be called the Fish Trap site. It too has received much archaeological and treasure hunting attention over the years. It is at the terminal end of the trackway which leads to the site of the ancient ford of the Thames and several burials have been found on the foreshore (Percy Payne pers. com.). It has yielded a large quantity of Sl/4 and SI/4b sherds including many oxidised vessels (Chris Breen pers. com.). Directly behind the sea wall along the Black Shore, some four square kilometres of marshland has been removed by cement quarrying. The resultant flooded pits are known as Cliffe Lakes. Chance finds by workmen and trial excavations (Chaplin 1961) suggest extensive occupation of this area in the Roman period. Some baulks still remain between pits and the remains of sites can be seen within them. During the late summer of 1984 when the water level was lowest, Percy Payne observed two "kiln floors" below the lake's surface and recovered several kiln bars of differing sections. This may have been the area from where much of the Black Shore material originated, as it lies rather closer to the high ground near Cliffe village. The size and variety of the kiln bars suggest that Upchurch-type semi-sunken kilns were in use.
The marshes to the north of Cliffe have also been productive of finds. Concentrations of wasters and burned debris in Kingfisher Marsh were reported to Bob Hutchings but never confirmed. A mound of cinders containing pottery is reported from Havenwick. Hutchings conducted a trial trench of a mound in Priory Marsh and discovered pottery with a dump of non-local white clay. He suspects that many similar sites lie dotted around the less developed parts of the marshes.
At the north-east corner of Cliffe village is Wharf Farm, curiously at least two kilometres from where any modern wharf could be sited. A kiln was discovered in the bank of a field drain (Hutchings 1966) but was heavily damaged by rabbits and destroyed by cattle before any proper record could be made.
Investigations by the current author have revealed evidence of intensive activity over an area of 30m x 20m south of the kiln at depth of l-2m below the marsh surface. A water table which varied from 0 to l m below the surface prevented excavation. An auger survey produced sections similar to those seen in the Cooling salting mound. Sherds in the grog-tempered fabric Gl/4 were found in the survey and one vessel was found complete in a field drain nearby, O.S. records note burials and concentrations of pottery in the area.
Kiln locations :
The Upchurch and Thameside kilns share common factors which determine their location. To those listed below could be added the need to remain close to other activities in which the potters may also be engaged, be that salt-boiling, farming or fishing.
Reproduced by permission of Kent Archaeological Society.