Ralph Mills

RALPH AT LARGE


TONGE CASTLE: MY FIRST ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATION


Teenage Ralph standing leaning on a rusty wheelbarrow
A faded and scratched colour transparency of me looking out over Tonge Pond in 1965. Note the parlous state of the wheelbarrow (the excavation was unfunded). Note also my abundance of red hair, soon to vanish for ever!
| ENLARGE |

I dug at Tonge Castle for a couple of summers in the mid 1960s. The excavation, never published, was directed by David Ford, who at the time was a teacher at St John's Secondary School, where my father was Deputy Headmaster. It was my father's suggestion that my brother and I, with not much to do during school holidays, should volunteer on the excavation.

The excavation revealed significant amounts of C13th/C14th domestic pottery and some collapsed shell-gritted mortared flint masonry. Under one slab of masonry I found the skeleton of a moorhen, my careful excavation of which made the local newspaper.

It was an idyllic time. I would cycle to Tonge and back, and spend each day uncovering sherds of 13th century coarse wares. Working at the site infected wme with a love of archaeology of which I have never been entirely cured! The Sittingbourne and Swale Archaeological Research Group also owed its foundation to the dig at Tonge.

To the north of the mound is a large pond, on which lived hundreds of ducks. These supplied eggs to the bakery then in Tonge Mill, a handsome structure that is still much as it was then. At the time there was a tumbledown cottage beside the "castle". It was later demolished and an ugly bungalow built to replace it.

Sherd of mnedieval pottery
My father found this rim sherd of 13th century coarse ware on a spoil heap. I rediscovered it amongst his belongings after he died.
| ENLARGE |

Last updated 6th January 2022

Archaeological excavators in narrow trench
Me, already hooked on archaeology.
| ENLARGE |
Archaeological excavators in narrow trench
No worries about health and safety in 1965! Director David Ford (left) with Terry Barry (right), me and an American volunteer pose for the local newspaper in one of the deep, narrow trenches that we cut across the moat of Tonge Castle.
| ENLARGE |
Teenage Ralph trowelling
Floppy hat again in evidence, digging at Tonge in 1965. This is probably the most familiar view of an archaeologist at work, bum in the air... Nice new Tuf boots though. I remember the jeans being a peculiar green colour that i've never seen since.
| ENLARGE |
Teenage Ralph and his brother Andrew at Tonge Castle
Me and my brother Andrew (left) pictured in front of the cottage fence at Tonge Castle in 1965.
| ENLARGE |