High Speed 1 - Springhead, Kent

Roman foundations at SpringheadRoman foundations at SpringheadOne of Wessex Archaeology’s largest projects was an excavation in advance of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (now HS1). The link is Britain's first major new railway for over a century – a high-speed line running for 68 miles between St Pancras station in London and the Channel Tunnel. Work on the link began in 1998 and is scheduled to end in 2006.
Before any construction work could begin, archaeologists had to assess and excavate important remains. Wessex Archaeology is about to complete two years work at one part of the link at Springhead, near Gravesend, Kent, where we have found no fewer than 150,000 artefacts, mainly Celtic and Roman, including coins, brooches and a sword.
Though three hand axes dating back several hundred thousand years were found at the site, it was the late Iron Age period that (700BC-43AD), Springhead was settled. It became a focus for religious activity among the Celts, probably centred on the celebration of the springs as a natural phenomenon rather than the worship of any particular deities. Our work has revealed that the springs and a substantial adjacent area were enclosed within a deep ditch excavated during this time.
The site was taken over by the Romans after their invasion of 43AD. Springhead has long been identified as the Roman town of Vagniacae, famous for its complex of up to seven Roman temples.
We found evidence of a Roman military supply base close to the spring, including a metalled road leading from the base to the spring. Along the edge of this road were some early Roman box burials containing pots and other artefacts as well as human bone. Some of these pots can be seen in the photo on the right.
The Romans soon restored the religious significance of the site, building temples, including one on each side of the spring. One had a colonnaded façade and was remodelled at least once, possibly changing from a mainly timber structure to one built of stone. The other temple had a main square room with an elaborate façade added later. Visualisation of the temple at Springhead.Visualisation of the temple at Springhead.Some rooms had floors of red ceramic tiles and panels of painted wall plaster.
We also looked at part of the Roman town where the main Roman road to London (Watling Street) is joined by a smaller road leading to the edge of the Ebbsfleet valley. We found a small shrine at the junction of these roads and along the smaller road we found land that was divided into regular plots, each containing buildings or working areas such as a smithy.
The artefacts found in this area including many coins, both Celtic and Roman, and other metalwork such as brooches and pins. We are still working on describing and cataloguing these finds.
The work is being carried out on behalf of Union Railways (North) Ltd, and is managed by Rail Link Engineering Archaeology.
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