Canterbury Archeological Trust

Paul Bennett & Mark Houliston

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Burgate Index

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Burgate map Our occupation of the site of Burgate was brief, work taking place over a three week period during a pause between the two phase operation at St George's Gate. The earliest levels uncovered were of Roman origin, comprising a sequence of street metallings predating the construction of the city defences in c. A.D. 270-90. These early metallings for the major Roman highway linking Durovernum Cantiacorum (Canterbury) and Retupiae (Richborough) dating from the mid first century A.D. were covered by poured mortar derived from the building of the Roman gate and adjacent sections of city wall. As at Ridingate (Annual Report 1985-86,13) the Roman builders obviously considered that the earlier sequence of rammed gravel metallings constituted a sufficient load bearing platform for gate construction. Unfortunately only a small fragment of the Roman gate survived, buried in the later work. This tantalising fragment of early Burgate however, included a large Lower Greensand block which probably formed part of the south side of the Roman carriageway. The importance throughout the Roman period of Richborough and the road which connected it to Canterbury. implies that Burgate was a principal point of entry to the city; a status which may indicate a gate with two carriageways, like Ridingate. Insufficient evidence survived the later rebuilding of Burgate to prove this.

The Roman structure was probably still in existence in the seventh century, being the most important of three gates leading into the Inner Burgh of the Anglo-Saxon town. The longevity of the gate was attested by a rich sequence of soils and street metallings that formed in the carriageway. Although Burgate lost its pre-eminent status after Newingate (St.George's Gate) was built in the late ninth or early tenth century it survived relatively intact for over 1200 years. By the twelfth century, documentary evidence suggests that, as at Northgate and Westgate, a church (St Michael's) was associated with the gate perhaps sited over it. Throughout the medieval period, repairs to the gate were undoubtedly undertaken, but it was not until the late fifteenth century that plans were formulated for a total rebuild. These plans were finally acted upon in c. 1525 (see below).

The new Burgate, built in brick and stone had two semi-octagonal towers, the foundations of which were trench-built into the city ditch, which had been backfilled by that time. Seventeenth and eighteenth century prints of the gate clearly show that it was more decorative than defensive, although paired gun loops appear to have been located in each storey of the towers. Access to the gun ports was presumably by ladders or a spiral stair located inside the hollow wells of the towers. The lowest brick course for a possible stair survived in the excavated south tower. The massive flint footings for both towers were exposed during the course of the excavation, together with part of the back of the gate. A substantial portion of the southern tower foundation survived relatively intact, the northern tower had been badly mutilated by late cellarage. Most of the service trenches underlying Burgate luckily had been positioned between the towers, and overall sufficient fabric was revealed to accomplish a reasonable plan.

Shortly after the Dissolution the gate was extensively repaired using stone gleaned from demolished buildings at St Augustine's Abbey, and by the seventeenth century the gate had been converted into a domestic residence, with the insertion of windows and by the covering of the towers with tiled roofs.

In 1781 the middle part of the gate was taken down and in 1809 the south tower suffered the same fate. Finally, in 1822 the remaining north tower was demolished. A small section of the north tower may survive incorporated in an adjacent brick and stone cottage.

Our thanks are extended to Kent County Council Highways Department who financed the excavations at St George's Gate| and Burgate. We are also grateful to Mr Bernard Gray and the staff of B. Gray Ltd, the contractors for the scheme, who proved to be most helpful at every stage of the work. Much was achieved on both sites. The bursts of frenetic activity which often saw Trust staff working long hours in bad weather conditions, have culminated in the recording of two of the city's principal gates which having been marked out on the street surface, will hopefully be protected from further disturbance by service trenching. We would like to record our warmest thanks to all those who took part in both excavations.

See this place today Click on the logo to see this place today.   The information on this page is Copyright © Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd. 1989 Reproduced with permission.
The text and pictures were taken from Canterbury's Archaeology 1987/1988, The 12th Annual Report of Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd.

Peter Collinson Last change: 7th September 2008