My first excavation

Tonge Castle, perhaps a motte and bailey castle, but more likely a moated manor house, is located east of Sittingbourne, Kent, roughly halfway between Sittingbourne and Teynham. The excavation was directed in the mid 1960s by David Ford, a teacher at St John's Secondary Modern School, Sittingbourne.

The excavation team over two or three summer seasons consisted mostly of schoolboys, who were joined one year by a couple of ebbulient Americans, Larry Katzenbach (nephew of the then US Attorney General, sadly died young in 1997) and a friend, who spent much time discussing their possible draft to take part in the Vietnam War. I know that Larry later become a teacher. I cycled to the dig from Sittingbourne along the then quiet lanes north of the railway line between Chatham and Faversham.

To the north of the mound is a large pond, on which lived hundreds of ducks. These supplied eggs to the bakery then in Tonge Mill, a handsome structure that appears to be still much as it was then. At the time there was a tumbledown cottage beside the "castle". It was later demolished and an ugly bungalow built to replace it.

We excavated sometimes deep and often dangerously narrow trenches (without shoring of course) in the lower of two "castle" mounds. The higher mound may have at one time supported a post windmill and might not have been part of the manor house In the lower mound we discovered chunks of fallen masonry constructed from shell-gritted mortared flints, as well as fairly large amounts of C12th-C13th coarse pottery and animal bone.

My star find, which made the pages of the now defunct East Kent Gazette, was a complete moorhen skeleton crushed flat beneath a slab of fallen wall. Being a nascent zoologist I painstakingly excavated the tiny bones using dental tools, and the complete skeleton was lifted in one piece on a steel sheet to be stored. I wonder what became of it!

David Ford emigrated to Canada and the excavation ended. A full report has never been written (the work was summarised in Archaeologia Cantiana Vol 79 pp 207-10, Vol 80 pp 265-9 and Kent Archaeological Review Vol 2 pp 34-5:

"At Tonge Castle, area excavation and deep sections are now being undertaken on the habitation area of the middle mound, and in the parts of the dry moat surrounding the manor. Trenches up to 9 feet deep have been opened in the moat ditch and part of the mound top; excavations by the present main gate and between the middle and the highest mound have now been completed. Excavations of the mound top revealed traces of wooden structures whose plan is yet to be confirmed. The domestic buildings of the middle mound are now being excavated. To date, it seems that the "Castle" consisted of two enlarged hills, partly encircled by a very deep moat. One of the mounds only seems to have been used for habitation, where a small hall and kitchen have been uncovered. The moat appears to belong to the late-13th or early-14th century. The habitation is a manor house, and not a true castle. A full report is being prepared for a future volume of Archaeologia Cantiana."
The group of schoolboys went on to organise The Sittingbourne and Swale Archaeological Research Group in the late 1960s.

ARCHAEOLOGY

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