Dartford Hospital Histories

Life Before The Metropolitan Asylum Board

King Athelstan gave Darenth to Duke Eadulf, and in 940 AD it was given to Christ Church, Canterbury. Accordingly, in the Domesday Book, Darenth appears in the long list of the Archbishop’s Kentish manors. In 1195, when the Archbishop was looking for a site for a palace near Westminster, he exchanged his Darenth Manor for the Bishop of Rochester’s Lambeth. Later, in the 1700’s Darenth was granted to the newly established Dean and Chapter who, until the 19th century, installed tenants.

Darenth Roman Villa was excavated in 1894-5. It would have overlooked the ground, which was later to be the Saxon cemetery. The Villa was large and the remains suggested a building of quality. It had tessellated floors, baths, a swimming pool and walled gardens. The site was occupied from AD100 to the end of the 4th century.

Saxon settlements are often found close to ones of the Roman period and this is the case at Darenth where evidence of a large Saxon settlement was discovered close to the Villa and excavated in 1972. Saxons did not build in stone, they lived in rectangular, sunken-floored huts. Saxon cemeteries are typically on high ground, overlooking river or dry valleys, as is the one at Darenth.

Saxon objects (a spearhead and shield-boss, now in the Dartford Museum) were found on the site of the Darenth Park Hospital as early as 1881, whilst laying telephone cables for the Darenth Asylum, but a proper excavation of the site did not take place until 1978.

In June 1954, a grave was discovered whilst laying telephone cables. A few fragments of human bones were found together with a brooch and fragments of two bronze bowls.

The brooch was square-headed and was silver-gilt. Although broken its surviving length was 11.1cm long. It was one of the best examples of its kind and was assigned to the last quarter of the sixth century. It is housed at the British Museum.

The site was excavated, in 1978, by the Dartford District Archaeology Group who located two Saxon graves, one containing a male skeleton, the other (a double burial) containing the skeletons of an adult male and a young male. A number of grave goods were found with these burials, the most outstanding of which was a glass bowl c. A.D.450 recovered from the grave containing the adult male. The grave lay east west and was cut only 50cms into the eroded soil. The skeleton had suffered considerable plough damage. Above the right shoulder was a hand-made, wide-mouthed pottery bowl with incised and pricked linear decoration and stamped ‘bulls-eyes’. Above the left shoulder was the glass bowl, placed upside down, (this contributed to its intact condition). The Darenth Bowl (now on permanent display at Dartford Museum) is the most important Saxon object to be found in Kent this century.

The small glass bowl or chalice is made of translucent greenish glass. In the centre of the bowl is a ‘Chi-Rho’ monogram (the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ). The monogram is surrounded by vine leaf scroll and a continuous abbreviated Latin inscription. Two different translations have been made DEIURIUITAINTETUIASRUUIN ‘Justly (eternal) life and the way (are found) in your Saint Rufinus’ and VITAINTERUIASRUUINDEIURI ‘O King Invincible Eternal Life is in Thee and the Way of Salvation and Redemption the Very Truth of the Word of God’.

Saint Rufinus was an early Christian missionary who was martyred with Saint Valierius whilst trying to convert the Gauls to Christianity. It is possible the bowl was made in his memory. It is also thought that it was probably one of a pair, the other being dedicated to Saint Valierius.

Although the bowl is decorated in Christian motifs it does not necessarily mean that the owner was a Christian. Glass was a luxury item in the Anglo-Saxon times therefore the owner would have been a very prestigious person.

The Central Excavation Unit of the Department of the Environment excavated the site further in 1981, when seven more graves were examined. A double burial of two females contained a pair of bronze brooches of a well-known Saxon type dated to the first half of the 6th century.

Another female burial had a pair of brooches placed at each shoulder, on the chest was a perforated Roman bronze coin which had been used as a medallion. Also found were the remains of a ‘S’ shaped pin, used to fasten a cloak, an iron blade knife and some amber beads.

The materials found in the Saxon cemetery indicate that the site was occupied from the mid-late 5th century.

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