Archaeology South-East


Digging at Smallhythe Place: reflections from three fieldwork seasons

29 February 2024

With some rare Roman finds from Smallhythe currently in the news, ASE archaeologist Charlotte Ford reflects on three years excavating at this fascinating National Trust property!

A woman (Charlotte) smiles while she carefully holds a reconstructed archaeological pot in her hands

Smallhythe Place has an expansive and wonderful history. I’ve spent three summers with the team there, looking for the Medieval shipyard we could see in the records (and the Time Team’s 1999 series!). We have uncovered a huge collection of artefacts from multiple time periods: 19th Century remains from actress Ellen Terry and her daughter Edy’s time in the house and Barn Theatre; Medieval artefacts from the shipyard and village of the time; artefacts from between the time of the shipyard and the time of Ellen and Edy; and most unexpectedly, vast quantities of Roman industrial activity and pottery, with several tiles providing evidence of the presence of the Roman Navy between the 1st and 3rd Century AD! Some of these artefacts have recently hit the headlines, like a rare Roman head of Mercury.

These three seasons at Smallhythe Place, besides having been great fun, have also shaped my journey as an archaeologist. I spent the first season finding my feet, fresh out of university and eager to learn. In the second season, I discovered the delights of conservation, specifically pot reconstruction, and I had the honour and delight of being able to piece together one of the Roman vessels myself, and collaborating to refit the other. You might see my hands doing this on the recent Digging for Britain programme! It’s the best kind of jigsaw.
One of the amazing things about excavating here was the diversity of skills and disciplines of the archaeologists and volunteers on our team— there was always someone to learn from and something new to learn, from conservation to landscape archaeology to geophysics! Not to mention the great stories told around the campfire…
It was such a pleasure to be able to do all of this while camping in such a beautiful area, too! I feel I’ve come away with a much stronger connection to the house and the landscape. It’s especially lovely as I live in the local area, so it’s great to have a place I can have that connection to.
All in all, I've been so lucky to be there—learning from some incredible mentors, making long-lasting friendships, experimenting with different aspects and subjects of archaeology, and just generally having the most fantastic time.

ASE archaeologists and Institute of Archaeology students have been excavating at Smallhythe in both a professional and voluntary capacity. To find out more about the project visit the Smallhythe Place website. Image (c) National Trust/Sam Milling.