DIGGING UP ST PETER – FEBRUARY 18th & 19Th Its the final weekend of the dig and the site has been excavated mapped and analysed and cleared of the shards of pottery, remains of clay pipes, coins and a surprising number of loose human bones.
Here is an overview of the south aisle site taken from the top of the clock tower showing the exposed vaults and tombs, drain and sewage pipes, and the exposed remains of a 20th century heating plant which was decommissioned around in the 1970’s and buried.
During the course of the dig, large quantities of human bones were unearthed and carefully set aside. A study of the parish records dating back to 1538 when the register commenced and 1854 when burials stopped, just under 12,000 people were buried in St Peter’s Churchyard alone.
It would seem that when a new burial was required, whatever bones that lay below were dug up and casually tossed aside. Any bone fragment found over the period of the dig was carefully collected, and set aside for a final re-burial.
When the dig was declared officially over on Sunday, the assembled volunteers placed the bone fragments around the undisturbed vault of Henry Pemble A.M. Inscribed on his tombstone standing above the vault states that he was ‘Formally Principle of the Royal Naval School On Its First Institution and Many Years Rector of This Parish. He will now watch over them for eternity.
A short ceremony was held with all of the volunteers holding a bucket of soil. Paul Bennett, head of the Canterbury Archeological Trust thanked all of the volunteers who had worked so hard on the project and asked for a moment of respectful silence over the bones which would finally receive a bit more respect now than they had in the past.
With that, the soil was placed over the bones….
as well as the rest of the uncovered vaults and tombs at the back of the aisle.
At the front of the dig what was originally thought of as the vault of the unfortunate Katherine Harvey who passed away on the night before her wedding, turned out to be a disused heating plant. It was probably installed in the first part of the 20th century.
What can be definitely determined is that it was de-commissioned at some point in the mid ‘70’s as a Golden Wonder Crisp packet (pickled onion flavour) was discovered at the bottom of the plant with a competition stating ‘Win £20 a Week for Life’ with a closing date of February 1975.
An amusing but important piece of dating evidence.
What has been a bit easier to date are some of the coins and other bits and pieces found on the site… Like a selection of coins dating back to the 16th century.
Or a glazed medieval floor tile manufactured in the 13th or 14th century at the Tyler Hill Kiln site in Canterbury which are also found in Faversham and St Clements Church in Sandwich…
And indeed an identical tile can be found set in the floor in St Peter’s.
A quantity of Clay Pipe fragments were found which have to date to the 16th century which is the period Sir Walter Raleigh was involved in the colonization of North America and introduced tobacco to the Elizabethan court.
Numerous shards of pottery and glass were discovered like this delft ware which would have arrived in Sandwich with the Dutch Huguenots back in the 16th century….
….and fragments of Combed Staffordshire Slipware produced 300 years ago in potteries across Yorkshire and Bristol which indicates that Sandwich was at that time busy trading with other English ports around the country.
Finally we come to the most exciting but still controversial item uncovered, this is a shard of what has been tentatively identified as Ipswitch Ware, anglo saxon in origin manufactured in the 8th century AD. It has been sent to be examined by experts and if proved to be from that date it moved the evidence that Sandwich was a trading port and had established trading links with East Anglia.
So that is the completion of the initial project of Digging Up St Peter.
The next stage of the development which will ultimately result in toilet facilities being installed, will be the opening up of the filled in doorway which opened into the South Aisle which was filled in after the collapse in 1616. Its present function is as a niche for the coffee machine….
but not for long!