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  • Chris Butler

19th Century Field Kitchens Discovered in Rye

In early 2020, archaeological fieldwork was undertaken in advance of a the construction of a new care home, located in Playden, Rye. The site was deemed of high archaeological potential, as it is located close to medieval pottery and tiles kilns. Previous archaeological work, including geophysics, evaluation trenching and a metal detaching survey, indicated that the site was also the location of military camp in the late 18th century.


Preliminary documentary research established that the military camp dated to 1779, during the American War of Independence (1775–1783), and was located to defend England against supposed invasion by France. A Napoleonic War (1803–1815) barracks was also known to be located close to the Site.


The fieldwork revealed the remains of two military field kitchens associated with the 19th century camp. These temporary structures took the form of oval ditches, roughly 6-7m in diameter, with an internal circuit of individual ovens. A small mound may have also been formed in the internal area of the kitchens. Each kitchen would have served a line of tents, with ovens allocated to each tent, thus allowing soldiers a communal and functional place to cook food.


The kitchens had been much damaged by ploughing, although their lower portions were in good condition. Few artefacts were recovered from the kitchens, as it is known they were kept clean in a typical military fashion. Notable artefacts included pottery sherds, gunflints, two copper alloy buckles and a part of a iron horse stirrup. The pottery assemblage was diverse, from coarse brown glazed vessels to fine china, indicating that soldiers must have sourced their personal meal kit from a variety of sources in Rye.


Also recorded during the excavation were several irregular pits, up to 3m in diameter and 1.2m in depth, which were undated but possibly related to clay extraction for the medieval ceramic industry located close to the site in Playden. A small amount of residual flintwork was also recovered, proving that the Site has been the focus of human activity since the prehistoric period.


A further two kitchens are known to exist on the site, found by geophysics. These form a line of four with the two excavated, running roughly north to south. The other two kitchens will not be impacted by the development work and will be preserved in situ.


The CBAS worked hard though some atrocious weather conditions including Storm Dennis! Despite of this, an excellent standard of excavation was maintained and the team was praised by the East Sussex County Archeologist for their endurance and work. The results for the excavation are of high archaeological significance, as few military kitchens of this period have been discovered and investigated. Post-excavation work is currently underway and it is hoped that the results will illuminate knowledge of military camp life in the late 18th century, an important period of time marking the birth of the British Empire.


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