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Remains of 2,000-year-old Roman temple discovered on Newington building site near Sittingbourne set to be unveiled

Three years ago, while builders began work on a new development near Sittingbourne they discovered what archaeologists would later describe as "one of the most significant finds they had come across."

The excavation work off Newington High Street uncovered a 2,000-year-old Roman Temple on 18 acres of land.

The remains of the 2,000-year-old temple being revealed in 2018. Picture: SWAT Archaeology
The remains of the 2,000-year-old temple being revealed in 2018. Picture: SWAT Archaeology

Rare coins, jewellery and a seven-metre wide road, which ran alongside the temple and thought to be an alternative route to the A2, were also discovered.

At the time, Dean Coles, chairman of Newington History Group said: "This is very exciting. The scale of this site, with the huge number and quality of finds, changes our knowledge of Newington's development.

"We already had evidence of a Roman burial ground and Roman occupation in the immediate vicinity and this excavation shows there was a thriving manufacturing site in the heart of our village.

"The temple and major road are massive discoveries. It proves the A2 wasn't the only Roman road through the village.

"As a group, we are keen to trace the route and destination of this new 'highway' which may have connected with another temple excavated 50 years ago on the outskirts of Newington and a villa unearthed in 1882."

How the temple may have looked
How the temple may have looked

Archaeological director at Swale and Thames Archaeology (SWAT), Dr Paul Wilkinson, said: "This is one of the most important discoveries of a Roman small town in Kent for many years with the preservation of Roman buildings and artefacts exceptional."

Newington's connection with the Romans was already well known before the discovery. It acquired its name in Saxon times and it means ‘new town’ having been built on a former Roman station known as Durolevum.

It had a nunnery which was converted into a college by Henry II and later became part of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury. The route of the ancient Roman Watling Street (now the A2) still runs through the village.

The temple, which has been called Watling Temple, is one of only 150 recorded in England. Much Roman pottery as well as urns and coins were found at nearby Crockfield leading archaeologists to believe it was used as a cemetery.

Meanwhile, kilns at the site are thought to date from the late Iron Age-Roman period.

A pot from 150-200AD
A pot from 150-200AD
The 18-acre site off Newington High Street, pictured during the extensive archaeological excavations
The 18-acre site off Newington High Street, pictured during the extensive archaeological excavations

The ruins were rediscovered in 2018 when contractors for Persimmon Homes were excavating off Newington High Street for the Watling Place housing development.

A year later, conservation groups set about rescuing them and have painstakingly recreated them at a new location using the original stones.

And now, Newington History Group (NHG), which has been working closely with the archaeologists, has announced that the temple will be unveiled to the public on Wednesday, August 25.

It said the temple’s foundations, which will be on permanent public display off Watling Drive, had been reconstructed using the original stones.

Richard Thompstone, of the NHG, said: “We are thrilled. It was announced a couple of years ago that the history group had managed to persuade Persimmon Homes and SWAT to save the stones that formed the temple foundations.

Dr Paul Wilkinson of SWAT
Dr Paul Wilkinson of SWAT

“The re-laying of the stones had been delayed due to Covid. But, now, it’s almost time for members of the public to see it on display.”

Mr Thompstone said the stones had been laid 70 metres from where they were found on the Watling Place development.

“They will be as they were originally,” he said. “On the same alignment and size as they were, and the reconstruction has been made possible by the co-operation and generosity of SWAT and Persimmon Homes.”

He added: “Now we’ve saved it and are reconstructing it, we’ll be able to use it as an education tool to teach children the Roman history of the village.

“There is tremendous interest in the area and people are looking forward to seeing it and finding out about the history of Newington.

Newington village sign
Newington village sign

“It really has re-written the history of our village. We knew there was a possibility of a Roman town, but finding any of it was something no-one had contemplated.

“It’s been identified as a small Roman industrial town, producing iron and pottery goods. There is evidence of earlier Iron Age use.”

Experts first uncovered the temple on 18-acres of land where developer Persimmon Homes was building the Watling Place development, off Newington High Street, near Sittingbourne, in September 2018.

More details on the ceremony will be given closer to the date.

For more visit the Newington History Group Facebook page.

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