Southborough Valley Community Archaeology Project

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Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Sweet smell of success

I have many walks over the years in Kent and Sussex and have come across some amazing things. I recently walked through Frittenden and was intrigued by a tall brick chimney to the south of this small village. On further enquiry it turned out to be connected with the now extinct Frittenden treacle extraction industry.

The industry began in a small way in 1667 when a nobleman on horseback, Sir John Blackstrap, stopped to rest his horse by a small cottage and discovered a spring oozing a black sticky substance. The cottager, Widow Tate, said it had been there for many years and that it was how she fattened her pigs.  It also had miraculous healing properties and had cured her gout on more than one occasion. Sir John bought the land from Widow Tate and rebuilt her cottage for her on the proviso that she acted as a Dispenser for those who began to seek out what became known as a miracle cure. As the crowds increased it became obvious that it would be better to extract the treacle, purify it and distribute it across the country and so the treacle extraction industry was born. We know this much from extant records but until recently there had been no archaeological study of the area. It was known that there were at least two treacle mines in the parish with associated industrials works but apart from the chimney itself the location and nature of the various sites was unknown.

Last year a group of enthusiastic residents, supported by Tate and Lyle and a local university set up the Frittenden Archaeological Research Trust and began a study of a small area near the chimney. Initial work proved encouraging and there were some significant finds including an early treacle smelting hearth and a dump of Victorian treacle tins. The leader of F.A.R.T., Irma Sweetheart, told me, tongue in cheek, that she was experiencing a sugar rush and was very excited about the project. 
SHAAS are always exploring joint ventures with local societies in the area, especially one as appetising as this. F.A.R.T. is seeking volunteers to help on this year’s dig and invites potential archaeologists to meet at Frittenden Village Hall on April 1st to discuss the next phase and to pore over the finds found to date. To act as a sweetener, the group will be serving treacle pudding and custard to everyone who attends. We wish them all the best with their endeavours.  

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