Bridge Farm: another legacy of the remarkable pioneering work of Ivan Margary

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the death of one of the Sussex archaeological community’s most prestigious forebears, Ivan D Margary and following Rob and my appearance at the Roadside Settlement conference in April, I was asked to speak at the Ivan Margary Memorial conference in Portsmouth in September. Margary provided many causes for archaeologists, especially Romanists, to celebrate, but possibly his greatest achievement was the research he undertook into Roman roads and particularly those running through the Weald of Sussex. In preparing for my talk I began to really appreciate how much we at Bridge Farm owe to Margary’s pioneering work.  It was a paragraph in his paper of 1933, ‘A New Roman Road to the Coast’, in Sussex Archaeological Collections 74, that inspired Rob to search for and find a previously unrecorded Roman road on the western bank of the Ouse at Barcombe. The paper mainly detailed the route of the London road down the east bank through Bridge Farm at Wellingham where Margary dug a section (No. 14) across the road but was unaware of the large Romano-British settlement lying beneath the unremarkable surface of the field or that his section was only metres away from the southern end of the road (David Staveley pers.comm.) which he wrongly interpreted as running on towards Lewes and Malling Hill (Fig.1).

Margary’s location map on Staveley’s geophysics

Today we have the great advantage of geophysics which allows us to see just how close Margary was to making a momentous discovery, even for him, had he only had the modern technology that we take for granted. Results clearly show the termination of the road in both magnetometer and ground penetrating radar images as it hits the road heading east to Arlington and Pevensey from the centre of the settlement. But it is arguable whether any of these discoveries would have happened without Margary’s pioneering work and excellent reporting to guide us and that includes the discoveries made in this year’s excavations.

Fig 2: the well lined with iron slag

Due to the amount of outstanding features we returned to the trench excavated in 2015 on the intersection of Margary’s London road (M14) and the late 2nd century double ditch enclosure. This gave the opportunity to dig below the shallower features and expand some of the areas opened last year i.e. the road surface. But it was a series of deep pits that became the focus of this year’s dig and in particular one in the NE corner that revealed a quadrant of large lumps of sandstone and tap slag forming the lining of a well some 2m below current ground level (Fig 2).

Fig 3: Oldbury type glass bead




Another deep pit in the SE corner had also been half sectioned, virtually single handedly by Lindsay from UCL, to 2m with the sides stepped back for safety. Whilst this did not have any lining or construction within it did yield one of the year’s top finds, an ‘Oldbury type’ glass bead (Fig. 3) probably dating to either 1st century BC or AD but potentially a conserved item so sadly not definitive for dating the feature.

Other remarkable finds included a bronze ‘terret’ ring (Fig. 4), i.e. part of the harness of a draught animal, 2 hobnail sole patterns (Fig.5) and a small bronze fibular brooch complete with pin. A further 10,000 sherds of pottery, to add to last year’s 10,000, were removed, cleaned, marked and recorded by the hard working finds team, superbly coordinated by Nancy Wiginton and Ann Best, including a delightfully decorated thin-necked jar (Fig. 6) in a sandy grey fabric probably from the Alice Holt or Farnham group of kilns.

Fig 4: Terret ring

Early 2017 will see Rob and I entering another round of talks and presentations around the local societies with Rob at Lewes Archaeological Group on April 21st followed by our double act at the Ringmer History Group on April 28th. In recent years we have rather neglected our home village of Barcombe and so have booked the large village hall for June 9th to give an overdue update on the Bridge Farm excavations and introduce the 2017 season, to which all will be very welcome.

Fig 5: hobnail sole pattern





Due to further discoveries in the ‘overrun period’ of 2016, we have decided that we cannot leave our current trench unfinished so will return to this area in 2017 as we finally hope to complete the excavation of the lower levels of archaeology including more deep pits, areas of unexplained flint and of course opening up the other three quarters of that well and hopefully and safely being able to explore its depths for lost artefacts and any termination rights. We hope to remove most of the remaining internal baulks in the trench which includes a large area of the finds-rich, dark demolition/activity layer that overlays the enclosure ditch area. So 2017 looks to be yet another rewarding year at Bridge Farm with lots of digging and finds for volunteers and our Canterbury Christ Church undergraduates alike.

Fig 6: Thin-necked Alice Holt jar


For more details on the Bridge Farm Excavations or CAP’s work in general keep a regular eye on our website: for updates.

With best wishes for 2017,

David Millum ACIfA 

Deputy Director of the Culver Archaeological Project

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