Home

About The Alkham Valley

Published Reports

Wolverton Project

Who Lived Here?

Alkham Valley Project

News Page

Gallery Pages

Supporters

Contacts

 

WHO LIVED HERE?

If you have visited the pages on this site dedicated to the Wolverton project then you will know that evidence for occupation in the Bronze Age and during the Anglo Saxon period was found at the site.  But who were these people and what might have led them to live in the Alkham Valley?

THE BRONZE AGE PEOPLE

Beaker People. About 2500 B.C. an influx of migrants settled in Britain. These newcomers have been called the Beaker People because of the shape of the pottery vessels that are so often found in their round barrow graves. The stocky newcomers, although few at first, seem to have quickly over shadowed their Neolithic landlords, becoming a sort of nouveau aristocracy. The Beaker folk were farmers and archers; they were also the first metal smiths in Britain, working first in copper and gold, and later in the bronze that has given its name to this era.

How they lived

There was a changeover during this period to round houses, echoed in the mushroom-like growth of stone circles and round barrow mounds  
We can guess that huts had a low wattled or stonewall for a base which was used to brace wooden poles and rafters. On top of this would have been a roof of thatch, turf, or hides.

They made their own pottery, and eventually the first woven garments in Britain. They also seem to have introduced the first known alcoholic drink into Britain, a form of honey-based mead.

The Beaker Folk introduced a pastoral pattern to the agricultural lifestyle of Neolithic times. As population grew, more marginal land was brought into cultivation, and was farmed successfully for hundreds of years, until climate changes forced its abandonment. The Beaker Folk were a patriarchal society, and it is during the Bronze Age that the individual warrior-chief or king gained importance, contrasting with the community orientation of the Neolithic times.

Towards the end of the Bronze Age the climate changed drastically. According to tree ring evidence, a major volcanic eruption in Iceland may have caused a significant temperature drop in just one year. At this time the settlements on Dartmoor were abandoned, for example, and peat started to form in many places over what were once farms, houses, and their field systems. It seems likely that warfare and banditry erupted as the starving survivors fought over land that could no longer support them.

Religion


The round barrows, mentioned above, were often clustered in groups that suggest family cemeteries, sometimes very close to earlier Neolithic Henge’s
and monuments, as if taking advantage of sites already felt to be sacred. The barrow graves were generally filled with grave goods, indicating the importance of the dead person and a belief in some kind of afterlife. Some of the goods included in barrows were: pottery jars, buckles, bronze daggers, cups & necklaces.

Both men and women were accorded barrow burials. A curious fact was noted in studying these Bronze Age burials; in many cases the corpses were carefully laid with the head to the south, men facing east, women facing west. We can only guess that this was to allow the corpse to see the sun at a particular time of day.
The other main area of Bronze Age focus was a stone circle. Although circles may have been erected as early as 3400 B.C., the major circle-building era was during the Bronze Age. This suggests that The Beaker Folk and their descendants took over or adopted many of the beliefs and customs of the earlier Neolithic inhabitants. Certainly, they had a go at improving the most famous of all stone circles, Stonehenge.

THE ANGLO-SAXONS

The Angle, Saxon and Jute tribes, who arrived in Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries AD, are known as Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons eventually settled and took control of most of England, but never conquered Scotland, Wales or Cornwall. England was divided into five Kingdoms. By around 600 AD these five main Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms were Northumberland, Mercia, Wessex, Anglia and Kent.

 

Saxon Britain 600-900 AD

 

These tribes brought with them the beginnings of the English language. Their rule came to an abrupt end with the Norman invasion of Britain after the decisive battle of Hastings in 1066.

SETTLEMENT

We know little of the first several hundred years of the Anglo-Saxon, or “English”, era, primarily because the invaders were an illiterate people. Our earliest records of them are little more than highly inventive list of rulers. We know that they established separate Kingdoms, the Saxons settling in the south and west, the Angles in the east and north, and the Jutes on the lsle of Wight and mainland opposite. They probably thought of themselves as separate people, but shared a common language and similar customs.

ROADS AND COMMUNICATION

The Alkham Valley road dates back at least a few hundred years   and was eventually turnpiked between 1750-1780. It is impossible to venture how old this route could be although there has probably been a cart track more or less on the modern alignment since Roman times. Many of the tracks that criss-cross the valley today, may have their origins as far back as the Bronze Age period. Some of these tracks are now narrow tarmac roads and evidence for their age can be observed in the deep hollows they lie in. These tracks were eroded down through the chalk level over hundreds of years, without a fixed metalled surface, rain washed the worn away loose material downhill finally creating the deep sunken hollows were the roads traverse the valley to this day.

Leaving the northern end of the Town and Port of Dover, the Alkham road (B2060) meanders through Kearsney Abbey and the small hamlets of Chilton, Wolverton, Alkham, South Alkham and Drellingore before joining the A260 & A20 near Folkestone. The route of the Alkham road hugs the lower slope contour just above the base of the valley following for the most part, the northern escarpment before traversing to the southern side of the valley just past Drellingore. In travelling through this mainly green undulating and picturesque landscape, notable are the numerous coomb nooks along its course. Here in ancient times, many of these glacially cut locations would have offered sheltered and well-drained surfaces to settle. One of the most important features to our ancestors would have been a readily available supply of fresh water for themselves and their livestock. Through the centuries in areas without reasonable access to running water, wells were sunk to great depths through the chalk bedrock but this required much labour and danger. Although difficult to imagine in modern times, an ancient river once flowed through the Alkham Valley rising to a depth of ten feet in winter, before entering the River Dour and out-falling into Dover Harbour some 4 km distant. It is believed the source of the river is located near Drellingore, and once provided enough water for at least two corn-mills. Over a thousand years ago, the Alkham river was likely to have been very wide, deep and navigable to small vessels, at least as far as Drellingore if not beyond. Nowadays, the Alkham River, now known as the Nailbourne, for most of its course runs below ground and only surfaces in the valley in times of severe rainfall as flooding across the fields. What remains of this once large river can now only be seen as a small section of dyke running into the pond at Chilton Farm, before flowing into the manmade brick lined ponds at Kearsney Abbey and thence onto the sea.

The main reason for the loss of these rivers over the centuries is due to the constant rise in sea levels. These days, sea levels are around 2-3 metres higher than in roman times causing a knock-on effect that slows the river flows. In this instance, the silts normally washed downstream and eventually into the sea basin, builds-up on the bottom of the now slowly moving river until, it becomes choked. Reed beds, vegetation and agricultural developments have all added to the demise of our rivers.

Until the annexing of Britain to the Roman Empire, and the subsequent construction of their extensive road network all over Britain, our ancestors communicated with other settlements via at best, dusty pitted tracks in summer and impassable churned-up mud tracks in the depths of winter. For these reasons, the river systems provided important inland transport for goods throughout Kent and were a much easier, cheaper and safer way to travel. Even after the roman’s enormous road building projects, many of Kent’s rivers were still used to carry the bulk of commodities inland from Europe, the Mediterranean and Rome itself. Landing stages would have been commonplace along the banks of our rivers near to settlements or major road arteries, very few can now be identified however; the name “slip Lane” in the village of Alkham may indicate a small long-lost dock access. The farm at Chilton almost certainly had a stage on the river along with Wolverton and Drellingore but most are probably long since buried by overburden slippage from the sides of the valley.