Otterpool Park: A modern development, rich in history

Kate Clover, Senior Archaeological Consultant at Arcadis

One of the most fascinating – and important – aspects of the Otterpool Park project has been the investigation of the site’s heritage.

Research into the area’s history has not only dug up some interesting facts (did you know that Henry VIII used to hunt in the ancient woodland that once covered East Kent?) but is playing a key part in our plans.

We’ve identified buildings, historic monuments and landscape features that make this area of Shepway distinctive, including churches, farms, military sites, parks, archaeological sites and cottages.

41 Listed Buildings have been identified within 1km of the development site, while the Kent Historic Environment Record (HER) identifies 17 monuments from the prehistoric period (30 000 BC to 600 BC) in the area – most are spots where artefacts such as pottery or tools have been found. Ongoing exploration could lead to more findings which will give us some clues to human activity in the area over 100,000 years ago!

The team’s research shows that the landscape was always very important to the people here – ancient settlements in the area followed a pattern of routes moving east to west across higher ground to keep out of the flood plains, and north to south uphill. The draft masterplan for Otterpool Park takes this pattern into account.

Ancient evidence of this movement can be seen today in the Bronze Age burial mounds located on the high ground either side of Barrow Hill, which gave the settlement its name.

The area’s rich history can also be seen at the Royal Military Canal, constructed between 1804 and 1809 as a defence against the expected landing of Napoleon’s troops on Romney Marsh. It runs along close to the coast for 28 miles, around 1km south of the site. The canal, low protective walls, a road and a back drain still remain.

One of the most important historical landmarks on the site is Westenhanger Castle, which forms the heart of our plans for Otterpool Park. This medieval manor house dates from the mid-14th century and it includes the remains of the moated inner court and an outer court, a 16th Century stable, a magnificent barn as well as buried remains of a church, cemetery, medieval hall and service buildings.

The Castle was set in a large deer park and its residents, including Henry VIII at one point, enjoyed landscaped areas such as walled gardens and walkways. This has been a major influence on the design of the garden town – we want to recreate beautiful views and open parkland, making the Castle a local attraction and central beauty spot for residents and visitors.

More recently, the villages and neighbourhoods at Sellindge and Westenhanger grew up as a result of the introduction of the railways, linking London with the Kent coast. We’re interested in Westenhanger station and the role it could play as part of a garden town. The station was built in 1843 to serve the London to Dover railway; it differs from other examples of its time and remains largely unaltered.

It was restored in 2009 and we propose it is given fresh life with a new public square, creating a link between the past and future.

Now, villages are located along historic routes but are restricted by their separation and by transport routes (such as the A20 and railway) creating barriers between them.

In the coming months, the relationships between these villages, buildings and monuments will continue to be studied. This will protect the buildings and historical features and will also provide an influence on architecture and design for new homes and public places – ensuring that Otterpool Park’s history is a part of its future.

26th April 2018: As research continues at the Otterpool Park site, the most recent discovery has been the uncovering of remains by archaeologists which are thought to be a Roman villa. Read our latest blog to find out more.

Archaeological trial trenching - Roman pots found at the top of a ditch

Archaeological trial trenching – Roman pots found at the top of a ditch

Oxford Archaeology recording features in trial trenches

Oxford Archaeology recording features in trial trenches

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