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The "Cave Field" in East Tilbury

Various sources, given with texts

"Archaeologia, Society of Antiquaries of London, 1851

"After relating the excavations at Stone (near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire), relates the discovery at Royston ("Reysten", Hertfordshire) of a 'very curious cave' engraved by Stukeley:

'In the month of August, 1742, some persons had occasion to set down a post in the market-house to nail a bench on for the use of the market-women. In digging, they struck through the eye or central hole of a mill-stone, underground, and found a cavity of about sixteen feet deep, as appeared by letting down a plumb-line. They took up the mill-stone and saw a well-like descent of about two feet in diameter, with holes cut in the chalk, at equal distances, and opposite each other, like the steps of a ladder, for descent. It was accurately circular and perpendicular. The people, entertaining a notion of some hidden treasure being concealed in this place, set to work in earnest with buckets and a well-kirb, to draw out the rubbish with which it was filled. At length they emptied it, and drew out two hundred loads of earth and rubbish.'

The bottom contained

'the purest garden mold; and in that the corpse or skeleton of a woman, the skull of which I had in my hand, and well knew to be a female.' (Paleographia Britannica, pt.ii, p.9, Stukeley)

... this cave [was] clearly a Roman sepulchral vault(*), and in construction does not differ greatly from that in the Aventine mount at Rome. ... the 'caves' in the parish of Chadwell, near Tilbury, opposite to Gravesend, were designed and used for the same purpose. Camden speaks of them:"

Left: the 1610 sketch in CAMDEN
... on the shelving side of a rock:
'Near Tilbury are several spacious caverns in a chalky cliff, built very artificially of stone to the height of ten fathoms, and somewhat straight at the top.'
The apartments were filled with rich black mould; ... some remains of burnt matter and several fragments of bones ... some querns, much worn. In the centre of ... querns was fastened a small bit of iron.

GOUGH's edition of CAMDEN:

'The caverns placed by Mr. Camden in Tilbury, are, in fact, in Chadwell parish. Dr. Derham [Rector of Upminster] measured three(**) ...; and in East Tilbury, in a field called Cave field, is a horizontal passage to the cavern. These have been supposed granaries of the ancient Britons, retreats of the Danish ravagers, and even King Cunobeline's gold mines.'


* "That this vault was a tomb of the Roman period I think there can be no doubt, to whatever use it may have been converted in the middle ages. That it may have been used and tenanted by some recluse at a much later period, is very probable. The two niches would suggest the form of the recess for the Piscina, and it will be seen that a cross has been carved above one of them." AKERMAN

** Letter of 17 February, 1706:
"I myself measured three of the most considerable holes, and found one of them fifty foot six inches deep; another, seventy foot seven inches; another, in the wood northward, eighty foot; the depth of the western hole, near the road, fifty-five foot six inches; on the same side the road is another seventy foot seven inches; on the other side of the way, in Hangman's-wood, is another hole of eighty foot four inches. A cow fell into the hole fifty-five foot six inches, not killed nor much hurt, drawn up by a carpenter who wnet down and put ropes about her. The bottom is soft sand, on which the cow alighted and was saved. Over the midst of the hole is an arch of two hundred feet of chalk. The holes lie near the highway, within the compass of six acres of ground, leading from Stifford to Chadwell(***)." DR. DERHAM

*** "... derive the name of Chadwell from CEALC, chalk, thinking it occasioned by the great chalk wells or pits from which chalk was originally dug ... vulgarly reported to have been used ... as hiding places ... hence they have been styled Dane or Dene holes." MORANT

Archaeologia Cantiana, Kent Archaeological Society

In 1858, referring to a similar excavation at Chislehurst, Kent, it was suggested that:

[The] "sinkers of the pit probably had in view the extraction of marl for agricultural purposes, referred to by Pliny: The Britons used to sink pits one hundred feet in depth, narrow at the mouth, but within of great compass. And Tacitus refers to these pits as storehouses for corn, and places of refuge from the enemy."

Household Words: A Weekly Journal by Charles Dickens, 1856


"There is a legend that Queen Boadicea obtained gold in Essex. Cunobeline, Prince of the Trinobantes, coined at Camelodunum gold obtained from a mine in Essex. Can this be Shakespeare's Cymbeline, the father of Imogen? There are traces that nuggeting took place from time to time; but as the Norman kings claimed all gold and silver found as royal property, people either kept their own counsel or abstained from any ardent search. But the various edicts passed show that the existence of gold and silver, both pure and combined with other metals, was known and believed in; or else, why issue edicts?"


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