Archaeological Journal/Volume 1/Notices of New Publications: The History and Antiquities of Dartford

Archaeological Journal, Volume 1  (1845) 
Notices of New Publications: The History and Antiquities of Dartford by Charles Roach Smith
The History and Antiquities of Dartford, with Topographical Notices of the Neighbourhood. By John Dunkin, Gent., M.A.S. 8vo. London, 1844. John Russell Smith.
Mr. Dunkin has industriously recorded a mass of facts, chiefly relating to the ecclesiastical and social history of Dartford, all of more or less value, and has thus earned the gratitude of all who can appreciate the utility of topographical compilations, which, requiring much zeal, discrimination, and labour, contrary to works of more direct and immediate interest, seldom repay the authors the expense incurred in publishing them, to say nothing of that incurred in various ways during the progress of compilation. The town of Dartford, lying on the direct and ancient road from London to Canterbury and Dover, is unquestionably of high antiquity. There are doubts as to its having any very strong claims to be identified with the Noviomagus of the Romans, but the discovery of an extensive Romano-British burial-place on East Hill adjoining the town, shews that the immediate neighbourhood was well populated during the Roman occupation of Britain. The two stations or posts next to London on the great road to Dover, namely, Noviomagus and Vagniacæ, have yet to be satisfactorily located. According to the Itinerary of Antoninus, the former should be placed much nearer London than Dartford, while that of Richard of Cirencester, fixing it about Dartford, renders thereby the sites of the proximate stations somewhat uncertain; the latter is marked in Antoninus as a position about Southfleet, not far from which place, in the immediate vicinity of Springhead, are extensive foundations of Roman building more than sufficient to indicate a station such as Vagniacæ probably was. It must be considered that places in the Roman itineraries, coming next to strong military stations, are always the most difficult to be traced at the present day, and the reason seems obvious; they were most likely places of secondary consideration, often neither walled nor fortified, on account of the protection afforded by the important stations to which they were intermediate. A more careful personal examination of places may assist in appropriating some of these dubious settlements. There are, no doubt, vast quantities of the remains of Roman buildings throughout England, in very unsuspected localities, the discovery of which will speedily follow a more general attention to indications unnoticed by the unpractised eye. In the neighbourhood of Dartford, as well as in other parts of the county of Kent, are numerous pits sunk perpendicularly sixty or seventy feet, and connected by passages which in some instances are said to lead to spacious rooms. If, as is probable, these subterranean apartments were tenanted by the early inhabitants of the district, there can be but little doubt of some of their implements or weapons being discovered were an excavation of the floors of the caves to be made, and it is to be hoped that Mr. Dunkin, with his practical knowledge of these mysterious works, may have leisure and opportunity to institute a regular exploration. Hasted describes these pits as having in some instances several rooms or partitions one within another, strongly vaulted and supported with pillars of chalk. Mr. Dunkin refers to a passage in Tacitus, which shews that these caverns were common to the German tribes. It runs thus: "They are accustomed also to dig subterraneous caves which they cover over with dung, thus rendering them suitable for a retreat in winter, and a storehouse for corn; for by this means they assuage the rigour of the cold: and should the country be invaded, they retreat into the caves and escape through the ignorance of the deceived enemy[1]." Mr. Dunkin has collected much curious information relative to St. Edmund's Chapel and the Priory. "The celebrity of the former in the middle ages gave name to the ancient road itself, which is called in many records St Edmund's Highway." The following extract from the testament of an inhabitant of Dartford, in the time of Henry VIII., shews something of its internal arrangement. "Hugh Serle, of Dertford, directs his body to be buried in the chapel of St. Edmund, before his image; he gives to the rode light, 12d.; to our lady light under the rode, 12d.; to St. John Baptist, St. Peter, and St. James, 12d.; for a taper before St. Edmund in the chapel, 12d., &c." The Priory founded by Edward III. for Sisters of the Order of Preachers, the successive prioresses, the grants and benefactions to the monastery, the privileges of the sisterhood, are consecutively and minutely described down to the visitation and eventual suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII., who conferred upon Joane Fane, the last prioress, a pension of one hundred marks per annum, and upon the sisters grants varying from six pounds to forty shillings per annum. The situation of the several conventual buildings, Mr. Dunkin states, may be tolerably well ascertained from the present remains, and a faint idea of the church of the convent, he thinks, may be gathered from a representation of the model borne in the hand of the founder, on an ancient seal, attached to a deed in the archives of the Leather Sellers' Company, in London; it is there represented as consisting of a nave, choir, and short transepts, intersected with a low tower surmounted with a spire. That ill-managed but just struggle of the people of Kent, under Wat Tyler, to free themselves from intolerable oppression and degraded vassalage, finds a prominent place in the annals of Dartford, and a painful interest is attached to Mr. Dunkin's faithful narrative of burnings at the stake for religious notions heretical in respect to those of the reigning sovereign and her clergy. c. r. smith.
The List of Recent Archæological Publications, the Title-page and Index to volume I., are unavoidably postponed, and will be given in the next number.
  1. Solent et subterraneos specus aperire, eosque multo insuper fimo onerant, suffugium hiemi et receptaculum frugibus: quia rigorem frigorum ejusmodi locis molliunt: et si quando hostis advenit, aperta populatur: abdita autem et defossa aut ignorantur, aut eo ipso fallunt quod quærenda sunt. De Moribus Germanorum, cap. xvi.