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Signs of ancient settlement at Bellway housing site in Otham

Signs of an ancient settlement have been unearthed at a controversial housing development.

The archaeology firm undertaking an excavation of land near St Nicholas Church in Otham ahead of a controversial housing development is keeping close-mouthed about its findings.

Evidence of buried walls at the archaeological dig in Otham
Evidence of buried walls at the archaeological dig in Otham

But villagers say the firm has found extensive evidence of an ancient settlement including rubble walls, three feet beneath surface level and a stone-lined pit.

Wessex Archaeology, which has been commissioned by Bellway Homes to carry out the dig, say they are bound by rules of client confidentiality.

But one villager said: "On speaking to one of the archaeologists, they said that there was a settlement here that could be Saxon. Local folk law says that there could also be a plague pit near by.".

The excavations, which have been going on for several months, were a requirement of the grant of planning permission for 431 houses off Church Road, which Bellway was given on appeal, after Maidstone councillors initially went against their own officers' advice and rejected the scheme.

Local borough councillor Gordon Newton (Ind) said: "From what I've heard the walls are pretty extensive and there's a lot of them, suggesting a significant settlement.

"I'm not surprised, I always said there must be significant finds to be made so close to the church."

The excavations have excited much local interest
The excavations have excited much local interest

The existing St Nicholas Church dates from the late 11th century, but the Doomesday Book of 1086 records there was already a church on the site previously, suggesting an earlier established settlement.

Cllr Newton said: "I'm cross all this didn't come out before permission was granted. Instead there was a report that stated the site was of no significant archaeological interest."

The report which Bellway submitted to the Government planning inspector about archaelogical evidence said: "No magnetic responses have been recorded that could be interpreted as being of

archaeological interest.

"Two weak linear trends have been mapped in the eastern part of the site, both of which are

of uncertain origin. It is unlikely that the anomalies have an archaeological explanation; they

are instead likely to be a result of agricultural practice, drains or boundaries."

Bellway has not responded to a request for comment.

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