Medieval Kilns on building site

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The tile kiln infrastructure

Archaeologists have discovered a medieval tile kiln at the top of Rye Hill, site of the former Ambulance Station. They have been conducting a watching brief on behalf of the Rye Winchelsea & District Memorial Hospital Trust, as contractors commence ground-works on site for the new Community Day Centre.

General view of site works

John Baczkowski, of Chris Butler Archaeological Services Ltd spotted the underground brick structure as the topsoil was being carefully scraped away by Jenner (Contractors) Ltd. The main photograph shows two fire pits with hot air ducts leading through an arched and ribbed structure on which the moulded clay tiles were stacked to be baked. The height of the tile stack and the covering material (if any) are subject to debate.

A scientific team from the Museum of London is to visit this Friday November 23 to undertake archeo-magnetic dating tests to determine the age of the kiln. The method analyses the alignment of iron residues in the clay to the magnetic North Pole. Because this alignment varies marginally over the centuries, swinging from positive to negative, it is hoped to prove possible to date the age of the kiln fairly accurately. Existing historical records would indicate a date possibly at the end of the 13th or beginning of the 14th Century.

The tiles or fragments found on site are mostly roof tiles, but there are also some glazed floor tiles, one decorated with the fleur-de-lys, a popular design at that time.

John Baczkowski and Stuart Angell, archaeologists, examinie another possible kiln site

Close by the kiln on the same site is a depression in the ground which might well indicate the presence of another kiln. Indeed, the whole area to the south of the present hospital building has been used for making tiles and clay pottery, as Leopold Vidler discovered in his researches in 1931/32. He gave a lecture to the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1931 and wrote a paper for Sussex Archaeological Collections’ (Vol. LXX111) entitled “Floor Tiles and Kilns near the Site of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, Rye” a copy of which may be found in Rye Museum.

The exact site of the original hospital building is unknown, though Holloway, the celebrated Rye historian placed it in a field known as Spittal Field, lower down Rye Hill. There a flourishing leper hospital is recorded in 1189, founded by one of the Abbots of Fecamp.

Jenner (Contractors) Ltd is a privately owned regional chartered building company, based in Folkestone, and active mainly in Kent and East Sussex. Site Manager Rod Wooldridge expects that all preparatory works will be completed to allow construction work to commence before the end of this month, completion being set for October 2019.

Image Credits: Kenneth Bird.

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