The excavation, conducted in advance of road refurbishment from late March and throughout April 1986, was jointly funded by Kent County Council and English Heritage. The County Council were extremely helpful, not only for providing financial assistance, but in allowing the Trust to take over the entire area beneath the modern bridge for a period of six weeks. This excavation had been planned well in advance and therefore caused no delays in the contractors' schedule.
The main aim of the excavation was to expose and record as large an area of the Roman gate as was possible. During this procedure it soon became clear that the plan of the gate, as previously reconstructed based on an engraving by William Stukely in 1722, was incorrect. The amended plan is of a more symmetrical layout, basically consisting of two carriageways flanked by guard chambers.
The earliest excavated levels consisted of the metallings of Roman Watling Street. Before the construction of the city defences around A.D. 275, this street would have consisted of dumps of rammed gravel flanked by roadside ditches. The erection of the defensive circuit effectively fossilised the street system which employed six main gates and at least two posterns. Within this system the Watling Street formed one of the main axial routes through the city from Dover to London and the gate was therefore of a suitably large stature.
The surviving fabric of the gate was impressive. Above the flint and mortar sub-foundations of the Gate was a plinth of massive, chamfered greensand blocks tied together by lead-encased iron clamps. This plinth in turn supported the main walls of flint and mortar regularly interrupted by string courses of Roman bricks with quoins of greensand blockwork. The carriageway arches would have been of Roman brick. The guard chambers, one on each side of the gate, had rear entrances and were bonded into the fabric of the city wall.
A defensive ditch would have fronted the wall, this presumably spanned by a timber bridge giving access to the carriageways. To the rear of the city wall was a massive rampart of earth and clay.
Each of the carriageways would have been furnished with solid timber doors pivoted from the central foundation opening inwards to lie against the face of the central supporting wall. During the excavation traces of the lower part of one of these timber doors was located. It would appear that by the end of the third century one of the carriageways became superfluous. The gate was closed and locked permanently and the carriageway effectively became a room which was used for some form of industrial activity involving bronzeworking. Several coins including issues by Carausius (286-93) and Allectus (293-96) were located in the lowest floor levels of trampled ash and charcoal which accumulated within this room. The lower part of the Roman timber door was sealed by these layers. The door fragments included the clench-nails and iron fittings which held together the door's heavy planking and the massive iron hinge which rotated within a socket cut into the greensand blockwork of the central supporting wall.
Excavations by Dr Frank Jenkins and Louise Millard in 1970 revealed an iron fitting (a bolt?) In the greensand blockwork on the opposite side of this carriageway which in the light of these discoveries may be one of the bolts used to secure the gate in the late third century. A single-leaf gate for each carriageway is therefore suggested on the basis of present evidence.
The carriageway remained blocked until the Early Norman period when the church of St Edmund Ridingate was established in the carriageway and flanking guard chamber. It is at this date that a blocking wall (the east wall of the Church) may have been built in front of the decayed Roman door. The church was later extended to the west: the west end of the north wall of the church being butted up against the central supporting wall of the Roman gate. Little remained of the church north wall above the foundation level, except a few ragstone lumps (possibly re-used from the Roman fabric). This church was united with the St Mary Bredin parish in 1349, after the Black Death depopulated the area. The church was probably demolished soon after that date.
During the medieval period the Ridingate was a minor gate and was temporarily walled up in the early fifteenth century when an invasion by the French was threatened. At this time a semi-circular bastion was added to the front of the wall adjacent to the north carriageway. The excavated remains of this bastion showed the construction to be of chalk core with a knapped flint face and battered ashslared ragstone skirt descending into the re-cut city ditch.
The gate was re-opened in 1430 and the opening may have been enlarged with new caenstone quoins at this date. The later history of the gate is well documented and although at one stage being relegated to the passage of compost carts out of the city, it was maintained in a reasonable state until its destruction (together with the bastion) in 1782, when the streets of the city were opened up to larger carriages. In 1791 Alderman Simmons had a new brick arch constructed with a terrace walk above. This was eventually replaced by an iron foot bridge in 1883. The present, much larger, bridge was constructed in 1970.
Our work at Ridingate proved to be of great interest to local people and tourists alike. The excavated shape of the gate has now been laid out in coloured-brick in the surface of the road and a panel explaining the history of the gate with reconstruction drawings and text will shortly be erected on the site.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who assisted with this exciting, successful excavation, particularly our M.S.C. team and the Trust's own site workers and volunteers. Thanks are also due to Kent County Council and English Heritage for their financial support and to Alan Thistleton, the County Council's site agent and his associates for all their help and encouragement.