Reculver Saxon Shore fort, Anglo-Saxon monastery and associated remains
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Canterbury (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- TR 22778 69284
Reasons for Designation
Saxon Shore forts were heavily defended later Roman military installations
located exclusively in south east England. They were all constructed during
the third century AD, probably between c.AD 225 and AD 285. They were built to
provide protection against the sea-borne Saxon raiders who began to threaten
the coast towards the end of the second century AD, and all Saxon Shore forts
are situated on or very close to river estuaries or on the coast, between
the Wash and the Isle of Wight. Saxon Shore forts are also found on the
coasts of France and Belgium.
The most distinctive feature of Saxon Shore forts are their defences which
comprised massive stone walls, normally backed by an inner earth mound, and
wholly or partially surrounded by one or two ditches. Wall walks and parapets
originally crowned all walls, and the straight walls of all sites were
punctuated by corner and interval towers and/or projecting bastions. Unlike
other Roman military sites there is a lack of standardisation among Saxon
Shore forts in respect of size and design of component features, and they vary
in shape from square to polygonal or oval.
Recognition of this class of monument was partially due to the survival of a
fourth century AD Roman manuscript, the Notitia Dignitatum, which is a
handbook of the civil and military organisation of the Roman Empire. This
lists nine forts which were commanded by an officer who bore the title
'Officer of the Saxon Shore of Britain' (COMES LITORIS SAXONICI PER
Saxon Shore forts are rare nationally with a limited distribution. As one of a
small group of Roman military monuments which are important in representing
army strategy and government policy, Saxon Shore forts are of particular
significance to our understanding of the period and all examples are
considered to be of national importance.
From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597, monasticism formed an important part of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities, including monasteries, were built to house monks, canons (priests) and sometimes lay-brothers living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. The main components of the earliest monasteries might include two or three small timber or stone churches, a cemetery and a number of associated domestic buildings, contained within an enclosure or vallum. Those sites which have been excavated indicate no standard layout of buildings. The earliest sites were not markedly dissimilar from contemporary secular settlements, although their ecclesiastical role may be indicated by the presence of luxury items, such as stone sculpture, coloured glass, inscriptions and high quality metalwork and pottery. Later foundations in the 10th and 11th centuries generally had one major stone church and a cemetery, and a more regular layout of buildings, often ranged around a cloister. Documentary sources indicate the existence of 65 early monasteries. The original number of sites is likely to have been slightly higher and would have included sites for which no documentary reference survives. Of these, less than 15 can at present be linked to a specific site. As a rare monument type, and one which made a major contribution to the development of Anglo-Saxon England, all pre-Conquest monasteries for men exhibiting survival of archaeological remains are worthy of protection. The Saxon Shore fort and pre-Conquest monastery at Reculver, despite some damage caused by coastal erosion, survive comparatively well, in close association with features dating from the Iron Age to the later medieval period. Part excavation has shown that the monument contains important archaeological and environmental evidence. The Saxon Shore fort, along with the example at Brancaster in Norfolk, is believed to be one of the earliest constructed on the English coast, and its reuse of the site of the earlier Roman invasion camp reflects the stategic importance of Reculver harbour. Like the fort at Brancaster, it is unusual in that it lacks the corner and interval towers found in the other Saxon Shore forts. The pre-Conquest monastery at Reculver represents a particularly rare example of a Mid-Saxon religious house, and its siting within the earlier Saxon Shore fort illustrates the early Christian practice of reusing important Roman or prehistoric enclosures.
The monument includes the surviving part of a Saxon Shore fort, an earlier,
temporary Roman military camp and Iron Age farmstead, and a later Anglo-Saxon
monastery and medieval parish church, situated on a low sandy cliff on the
North Kent coast, around 3km east of Herne Bay. Natural coastal processes have
significantly altered the original setting of the monument. During the Roman
period the sea was around 1.4km to the north and Reculver occupied the
southern tip of a promontory at the north western end of the Wantsum Channel.
This was an estuarine waterway which separated the Isle of Thanet from the
Kent mainland. To the south, the promontory overlooked a sheltered anchorage
enjoying easy access to the open sea. Coastal erosion has destroyed the north
eastern part of the Saxon Shore fort and later monastery.
Investigations carried out in the 19th and 20th centuries have shown the
monument to have undergone several phases of development and reuse. Below
ground traces of an Early Iron Age farmstead represent the earliest
settlement, dating to around 500 BC. The strategic importance of the
promontory is illustrated by the construction of a temporary Roman military
camp in the first century AD. The camp defences survive as a pair of now
buried, infilled ditches, originally surrounding a timber-reinforced, earthern
rampart, enclosing an area of around 0.5ha. Analysis of pottery fragments has
indicated that the camp was in use during the Roman invasion of Britain in AD
43. Coastal erosion has severely damaged areas to the west and north east of
the monument in which evidence for a subsequent, Early Roman civilian
settlement has been found and these are not included in the scheduling.
The Saxon Shore fort was constructed during the early third century AD. It
took the form of a NNE-SSW aligned, square enclosure of around 3.2ha, the
southern half of which survives as ruined walls, earthworks and below ground
features. The core of the enclosing curtain wall, which is mainly flint with
ashlar bonding, survives to a height of up to 2.7m. This was originally around
3m thick and 4.5m high, augmented on its inner side by a large earthern mound
around 13.5m wide. The wall, which has been heavily robbed for building
material, was originally faced with squared, coursed greensand blocks, a few
of which survive in situ.
Surrounding the wall are a pair of now infilled, 10m wide ditches, separated
from each other and the curtain wall by up to 10m wide berms. There were
originally four gateway entrances through the centre of each side of the
defences. The gateways were flanked by single square gatehouse towers, and
the foundations of the eastern gatehouse have been exposed and consolidated
for public display. Inside the fort are buried traces of a regular layout of
roads flanked by masonry and timber structures. Buildings, including the
commandant's house, the headquarters building and a bath house, have been
identified. The Notitia Dignitatum, a contemporary list of Late Roman military
and civilian commands, names the Reculver garrison as the Cohors I
Baetasiorum, and tiles stamped CIB have been discovered amongst the
foundations. Evidence from the excavations suggests that the Saxon Shore fort
had fallen into disuse by the beginning of the fifth century AD.
Historical records indicate that the Anglo-Saxon monastery was founded in
around AD 669, when Egbert, King of Kent granted Reculver to Bassa for the
foundation of a minster church. The religious house utilised the existing
Roman defences, and the church was built near the centre of the earlier fort,
probably around the site of an early wayside preaching cross, the base of
which was found during 1927 investigations at the eastern end of the nave. The
cross base, now at Canterbury Cathedral along with other fragments of Saxon
masonry from the church, has been dated to the early seventh century AD. The
church survives in the form of buried foundations marked out in modern
concrete, and standing ruins up to around 2m high, incorporated within the
later medieval parish church. This early walling reused Roman tiles, bricks
and rubble masonry. The earliest monastic church had a rectangular nave and
apsidal chancel flanked by twin projecting rooms, or porticus. Eighth century
additions include north and south aisles. Documentary evidence suggests that
the site had ceased to function as a monastic house by the tenth century AD,
after which time the church became St Mary's, the secular parish church of
Reculver. Much of the original extent of the Anglo-Saxon monastery has been
destroyed by coastal erosion, although some buried traces will survive within
The now disused medieval parish church, flanked to the south by part of its
surrounding walled graveyard, was partly demolished in 1805. The original form
of the church is recorded in 18th century illustrations and descriptions.
Substantial remodelling of the western end in the early 12th century included
the construction of tall twin towers. The towers, without their original
wooden steeples, still stand on the cliff edge. The chancel was enlarged
during the 13th century. In 1809, the ruined church was bought, repaired and
underpinned by Trinity House, and the twin towers are still used as a
navigation mark for shipping. The standing ruins have been the subject of
modern restoration and repair.
Subsequent land use, including the construction of a number of houses and
buildings in the 19th and 20th centuries, World War II activites and the use
of part of the monument as a caravan park, will have caused some disturbance,
although many of the modern buildings have now been demolished. The walled
interior of the Saxon Shore fort and the church are now in the care of the
Secretary of State.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are Beach
Cottage, the King Ethelbert Inn and its associated outbuildings, all modern
signs, fences, gates, bollards, railings, fixtures and fittings and childrens
play equipment, all telegraph poles and lighting, and the modern surfaces of
all paths, tracks, paving and hardstanding; the ground beneath all these
features is, however, included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Brandon, P, Short, B, The South East from 1000 A.D., (1990)
Brandon, P, Short, B, The South East from 1000 A.D., (1990)
Johnson, JS, Richborough and Reculver, (1987)
Philp, B, The Roman Fort at Reculver, (1978)
Chadwick Hawkes, S, 'CBA Research Report Archaeology in Kent to AD 1500' in Anglo-Saxon Kent c425-725, , Vol. 48, (1982), 64-78
Cheney, M, 'Kent Archaeological Review' in Roman Road discovered at Reculver, , Vol. 122, (1995), 46-48
Philp, B, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Reculver, Kent, , Vol. 84, (1969), 246
Philp, B, 'Kent Archaeological Review' in The Discovery of an Elaborate Roman Drying Kiln at Reculver, , Vol. 13, (1968), 12-14
Philp, B, 'Archaeological Journal' in The Roman Fort at Reculver, , Vol. 126, (1969), 223-225
Philp, B, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Recent Discoveries at Reculver, , Vol. 71, (1957), 167-184
Philp, B, 'Kent Archaeological Review' in The Roman Fort 1969, , Vol. 20, (1970), 31-32
Philp, B, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Reculver, Excavations on the Roman Fort in 1957, , Vol. 73, (1959), 96-109
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing