Exploring Kent's Past

Link to printer-friendly page

It should not be assumed that this site is publicly accessible and it may be on private property. Do not trespass.

Monument details

HER Number:TR 25 SW 14
Type of record:Monument
Name:Early medieval Kingston Downs barrow cemetery

Summary

An extensive early medieval cemetery was excavated in 1767-73 by Faussett and by Thomas Wright in the 19th century. Further excavations at the site took place in the 20th century. The excavations revealed an extensive cemetery containing over 300 burials. More than 180 were buried in wooden coffins and most marked by small mounds, or barrows. Almost all were buried with their heads to the west. Numerous grave goods have been recovered including weapons, beads, Christian crosses and glass vessels. The most striking find was the famous 'Kingston Brooch' from a large mound containing the burial of a small woman. Fashioned of gold, with settings of garnet, blue glass and shell, its quality and condition are superb - even the back of the brooch is fabulous. It has been dated to the 7th century. The brooch’s quality demonstrates the high Ievel of skill of the craftsmen around Faversham where the brooch originated – a truly Kentish masterpiece. It is now on display in the World Museum, Liverpool.

Summary from record TR 25 SW 93:

Large number of ring ditches (at least 40), all with small diameters, inserted into the junction where the course of the Roman road meets a trackway crossing north over Barham Downs.


Grid Reference:TR 2035 5187
Map Sheet:TR25SW
Parish:KINGSTON, CANTERBURY, KENT

Monument Types

Associated Finds

  • BUCKLE (Early Medieval or Anglo-Saxon - 500 AD to 700 AD)
  • COFFIN FITTING (Early Medieval or Anglo-Saxon - 500 AD to 700 AD)
  • KNIFE (Early Medieval or Anglo-Saxon - 500 AD to 700 AD)
  • VESSEL (Early Medieval or Anglo-Saxon - 500 AD to 700 AD)
  • DISC BROOCH (Early Medieval or Anglo-Saxon - 600 AD to 630 AD)
Protected Status:Scheduled Monument 1013377: ANGLO-SAXON BARROW FIELD AND PREHISTORIC LINEAR EARTHWORK ON BARHAM DOWNS

Full description

If you do not understand anything on this page please contact us.

[TR 2020 5195] Tumuli [NR] (1)

An extensive ? 7th century Anglo Saxon inhumation cemetery, on the Western side of Barham or Kingston Downs, was excavated 1767-1773 by Faussett and by Thomas Wright in the 19th century (5).

Of the 308 graves opened, 183 contained remains of wooden coffins. All but 45 graves were marked by small mounds and with 14 exceptions, all were buried with the head to the west (2)(3).

Among the finds from Grave 205 was the 7th century Kingston Brooch, now in Liverpool Museum (4).

A scramasax, with fragments of the wooden sheath adhering was found with an interment opened in 1842 on Barham Downs in the presence of the Revd. Beale Poste; it is in Maidstone Museum (6).

In 1959, test trenches by Miss V. Evison, in 5 places along a 400 yard strip threatened by tree planting revealed 16 flat graves only 3 of which were undisturbed (5)

Earlier cremations had been disturbed in 3 cases and the bones, collected in the original urns, were placed outside the coffins of the later burials. An urn which is illustrated (2) appears to belong to the Kentish Bronze Age (3). (2-6)

This cemetery is now very largely ploughed down. Only 7 mounds are surveyable and of these 2 (A) (B) are possible quarry spoil heaps and the 3rd (C) a possible field clearance heap. Published 25" survey revised. (7)

During roadworks further Anglo Saxon graves were found at TR 200523, TR 203518 and TR 206515 (see TR 25 SW 1, 41, 42, 43) (8)
In 2013 more archaeological investigation took place in response to the laying of a rabbit proof fence. 16 graves were identified and 12 were excavated, with 10 containing human skeletal remains. They are thought to have been opened by Reverend Faussett. The graves were consistent with a late sixth to seventh century date range. Finds included on buckle, three knives, a copper alloy clip and sherds of glass (27)

The grid refs. Of Auth. 8 are rather loose but there is now no means of improving them. The main part of the cemetery is as described by Aldsworth, preserved under pasture. (9)

Notes on weapons and gold objects from the cemetery. (10)

Scheduled listing Kent 60. (11) TR 202519. Near the top of the steeper North West side of the hill near the road from Kingston to Ileden, above the Nailbourne, were a number of barrows. In 1749 workmen digging chalk found 2 or 3 human skeletons. One had a spear and some other weapons. Circa 1751. 13 small beads and a glass vessel were found with skeletons with their heads to the south. Circa 1755. T. Barrett, the owner of the land, opened some of the tumuli rather cursorily and found some iron weapons and 2 glass urns. The 7th century use revealed 2 little equal-armed silver crosses in a richly furnished woman's grave which showed that it was at least partly Christian. None of the visible barrows was left undisturbed. (12)

Also found from the cemetery were a number of other objects. The glassware consisted of 2 pouch bottles, 2 palm cups, 2 squat glass jars and a palm cup (13).

The pottery consisted of 2 biconical bowls and a bottle (14).

The metalwork consisted of 2 inlaid pieces of metalwork (15), a coptic bowl (16), Filigree pendants (17), a silver brooch (18), 2 gold foils (19) and 2 hanging bowls (20). A bone comb (21) and weaving tablet (22) were also found. (13-22)

Details of the Kingstone Brooch. (23)

Additional bibliography. (24)

Description from record TR 25 SW 93:
Large number of ring ditches (at least 40), all with small diameters, inserted into the junction where the course of the Roman road meets a trackway crossing north over Barham Downs. (1)

From the National Heritage List for England:

The monument, which falls into two areas, includes an Anglo-Saxon barrow field and a prehistoric linear earthwork extending beyond it to the south east, all situated on a ridge of the Kent Downs, lying just to the north east of the course of Watling Street, the Roman road between London and Canterbury, now under the modern A2.

The barrow field is an area of hummocky ground in which at least three hlaews, or Anglo-Saxon burial mounds, survive as identifiable earthworks. The southernmost pair of these adjoin and are roughly west-east aligned. Each has a bowl-shaped mound measuring c.6m in diameter and surviving to a height of c.0.6m. Surrounding the mounds are encircling ditches from which material used to construct the mounds was excavated. These have become infilled over the years, but survive as buried features c.1m wide. Lying around 100m to the north, the third hlaew is larger, having a mound measuring c.13m in diameter and up to 0.5m high. The buried quarry ditch which surrounds it will be c.2m wide.

The barrow field was the subject of partial antiquarian excavation during the 18th and 19th centuries, at which time over 300 burial mounds were recorded in this area of downland. Most of these have been flattened by modern ploughing, although the burials they once covered will survive beneath the ground surface. Each excavated mound was found to have been constructed over a west-east aligned, rectangular grave cut into the underlying chalk bedrock. Many graves contained the remains of wooden coffins within which were found extended human burials, often accompanied by grave goods in the form of artefacts deliberately deposited with the body. These included iron weapons, glass vessels, beads and silver brooches. Three grave-cuts were found to have disturbed earlier Bronze Age cremation burials, the remains of which had been collected in the original urns and placed with some care next to the later coffins. Further partial excavation in 1967, during the laying of a water pipe, revealed further Anglo-Saxon graves towards the south eastern edge of the barrow field.

The prehistoric linear earthwork, which has been interpreted as a trackway, runs from the north west to the south east along the ridge for a total length of c.700m. The earthwork lies along the north eastern edge of the barrow field and is partially overlain by the largest of the later hlaews. Lying roughly parallel to the later Roman road c.100m to the south west, the earthwork takes the form of a double lynchet around 7.5m wide and with a total height of up to 1.5m in places. Although it formerly extended further to the north west and south east, these parts of the linear earthwork have been levelled by modern ploughing. The earthwork has been damaged at the south eastern side of the barrow field by the construction of a modern track.

Barrow fields are groups of between five and 300 closely-spaced hlaews, or burial mounds, dating to the early medieval period. The usually circular mounds, some of which are surrounded by an encircling ditch, were constructed of earth and rubble and covered one or more inhumation burials. These were deposited in west-east aligned, rectangular graves cut into the underlying bedrock. Cremation burials, sometimes deposited in pottery urns, have also been found. Many burials were furnished with accompanying grave goods, including jewellery and weapons, and, at two sites, wooden ships were discovered within large mounds. Most barrow fields were in use during the pagan Anglo-Saxon period between the sixth and seventh centuries AD, although barrows dating to the fifth and eight centuries AD have also been found. The distribution of barrow fields is concentrated within south eastern England, particularly in prominent locations on the Kent and Sussex Downs. However, one Viking barrow field dating to the late ninth century AD is known in Derbyshire, and both barrow fields containing known ship burials are located near river estuaries in Suffolk. Barrow fields are a rare monument type, with only around 40 examples known nationally. They provide important and otherwise rare archaeological information about the social structure, technological development and economic oganisation of the people who constructed and used them. All positively identified examples with significant surviving remains are considered worthy of protection.

Although they have been partly disturbed by modern cultivation, the barrow field and prehistoric linear earthwork on Barham Downs survive relatively well. The barrow field has been shown by partial excavation to contain archaeological and environmental remains, and the linear earthwork survives as a visually impressive monument. The fact that some of the Anglo-Saxon barrows have disturbed earlier Bronze Age burials indicates the continued use of Barhams Downs for burial over a considerable period of time.


<1> OS Card / NAR index entry, AP (NMR TR2051/6; 17 6 76) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<1> OS Card / NAR index entry, OS 6" 1960 (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<2> OS Card / NAR index entry, Invent Sep 1856 35-94 (B Faussett) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<3> OS Card / NAR index entry, VCH Kent 1 1906 345 (RA Smith) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<4> OS Card / NAR index entry, Arch of Kent 1930 235 (RF Jessup) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<5> OS Card / NAR index entry, Md Arch 4 1960 135 (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<6> OS Card / NAR index entry, Maidstone Museum (a) Inf DB Kelly A/Curator (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<7> OS Card / NAR index entry, F1 FGA 24.02.65 (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<8> OS Card / NAR index entry, Md Arch 11 1967 266 (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<9> OS Card / NAR index entry, F2 CFW 18.11.69 (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<10> OS Card / NAR index entry, BAR 82 (AS Cemeteries) 1980 86-8 94-5 110 (P Rahtz T Dickson L Watts) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<11> OS Card / NAR index entry, DOE (IAM) SAMS 1988 Kent 5 (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<12> OS Card / NAR index entry, Gaz of Early AS Burial sites 1964 125-6 (ALS Meaney) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<13> OS Card / NAR index entry, Dark Age Britain 1956 - 163 Gp B viia 5, b3 - 164 Gp 3 viii c23 24 - xai 2 3 - b5 (DB Hoeswn) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<14> OS Card / NAR index entry, Wheel thrown pottery in AS graves 1979 68 79 80 (VI Evison) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<15> OS Card / NAR index entry, Ant J 35 1955 44 (VI Evison) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<16> OS Card / NAR index entry, PSA 2nd ser 30 1918 82 fig 27 86 (M Conway) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<17> OS Card / NAR index entry, Ant J 6 1926 446 (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<18> OS Card / NAR index entry, Arch J 65 1908 84 (RA Smith) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<19> OS Card / NAR index entry, Med Arch 21 1977 19-20 (R Aunt and D Leigh) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<20> OS Card / NAR index entry, PSA 2nd ser 22 1907-9 68-9 (RA Smith) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<21> OS Card / NAR index entry, Arch J 34 1877 451 (RHS Smith) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<22> OS Card / NAR index entry, Arch of AS Eng 1976 272 (DM Wilson) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<23> OS Card / NAR index entry, Ant J 19 1939 195-6 (TD Kendrick) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<24> OS Card / NAR index entry, The Arts in Early Eng 1915 720-3 (G Baldwin Brown) (Unpublished document). SKE6461.


<25> Field report for monument TR 25 SW 14 - February, 1965 (Bibliographic reference). SKE5786.


<26> Field report for monument TR 25 SW 14 - November, 1969 (Bibliographic reference). SKE5787.


<27> Canterbury Archaeological Trust LTD, 2014, Excavation report. Kingston Downs Anglo-Saxon barrow field cemetry, Kingston, Canterbury (Unpublished document). SKE31199.

Sources and further reading

Cross-ref. Source description
<1>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. OS 6" 1960.
<2>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Invent Sep 1856 35-94 (B Faussett).
<3>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. VCH Kent 1 1906 345 (RA Smith).
<4>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Arch of Kent 1930 235 (RF Jessup).
<5>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Md Arch 4 1960 135.
<6>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Maidstone Museum (a) Inf DB Kelly A/Curator.
<7>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. F1 FGA 24.02.65.
<8>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Md Arch 11 1967 266.
<9>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. F2 CFW 18.11.69.
<10>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. BAR 82 (AS Cemeteries) 1980 86-8 94-5 110 (P Rahtz T Dickson L Watts).
<11>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. DOE (IAM) SAMS 1988 Kent 5.
<12>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Gaz of Early AS Burial sites 1964 125-6 (ALS Meaney).
<13>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Dark Age Britain 1956 - 163 Gp B viia 5, b3 - 164 Gp 3 viii c23 24 - xai 2 3 - b5 (DB Hoeswn).
<14>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Wheel thrown pottery in AS graves 1979 68 79 80 (VI Evison).
<15>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Ant J 35 1955 44 (VI Evison).
<16>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. PSA 2nd ser 30 1918 82 fig 27 86 (M Conway).
<17>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Ant J 6 1926 446.
<18>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Arch J 65 1908 84 (RA Smith).
<19>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Med Arch 21 1977 19-20 (R Aunt and D Leigh).
<20>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. PSA 2nd ser 22 1907-9 68-9 (RA Smith).
<21>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Arch J 34 1877 451 (RHS Smith).
<22>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Arch of AS Eng 1976 272 (DM Wilson).
<23>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. Ant J 19 1939 195-6 (TD Kendrick).
<24>Unpublished document: OS Card / NAR index entry. The Arts in Early Eng 1915 720-3 (G Baldwin Brown).
<25>Bibliographic reference: Field report for monument TR 25 SW 14 - February, 1965.
<26>Bibliographic reference: Field report for monument TR 25 SW 14 - November, 1969.
<27>Unpublished document: Canterbury Archaeological Trust LTD. 2014. Excavation report. Kingston Downs Anglo-Saxon barrow field cemetry, Kingston, Canterbury.

Related thematic articles

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund