History

What the Romans did for us

The place we know as Westgate Parks is steeped in history. The Friends’ project will enable this rich heritage to be studied in much more detail. It will also create opportunities for it to be brought alive through re-enactments and other events, interpretation panels and educational and research activities.

Archaeological surveys suggest that the area has been visited by people since the Stone Age.

Artist's impression courtesy of Canterbury Heritage Museum

An artist’s impression of an early settlement      beside the river

Nearly two thousand years ago the Romans made their mark. They used the traditional fording place for  the Watling Street, their new road between the south coast and London. They later encircled the town with defensive walls and gates.

Westgate Gardens

Site of the Roman City Wall excavation

Surveys show how the remains of the Roman wall cut across the south-west side of Westgate Gardens. The remains of the ancient Watling Street gateway have also been discovered. The site, unearthed by archaeologists in the 1950s, is just a few metres from the Rheims Way flyover.  It is already marked by stone slabs and an information panel but recent studies show there is scope for much more research.

Not far away, in Tannery Field, a hoard of Roman silver, including spoons, rings and ingots, was discovered. And when the Victorians built a swimming pool beside the river, in the area we know as Toddlers Cove, they found numerous Roman artefacts, possibly the remains of offerings to pagan gods.

In the Middle Ages water mills run by the monks from Christ Church were dotted along the river. The mills declined in number as the river dried up and had disappeared before the 20th century. More recent history of the area is just as important though, with the development of the tannery industry, the use of the area for World War 2 defences and later twentieth-century recreation.

There are masses of opportunities for further exploration and research to add important and exciting detail to the area’s past –possibly even leading to the history of Canterbury being re-written.

Archaeological investigations,including boreholes by Museum of London Archaeology,  and geophysical work by Stratascan have already taken place, with initial research and the ongoing investigation being developed  by Canterbury Archaeological Trust.

View a film of Westgate Gardens in 1940 [link temporarily removed]

Read  more about archaeology in the Canterbury area on the Canterbury Archaeological Trust web site

Canterbury City Council HLF