As Monday is a bank holiday, there is no working on site today. So there was an opportunity to visit the Roman fort of Portus Lemanis, some 6.4 miles to the south west of Lyminge towards the coast. In the Roman period, this fort lay at the mouth of the River East Rother, then known as the Leman or Limen, which flowed into a tidal lagoon where now it is dry land. This lagoon was protected from the sea by a shingle bank, broadly where the modern coast now is. There was access to the open sea close by the fort.
The walls of the Roman fort of Portus Lemanis spread across the hillside with the medieval Lympne Castle on the skyline above
The Roman fort is on the slope at the foot of a steep escarpment. The River Limen is now canalised as the Royal Military Canal, a fortification built during the Napoleonic Wars to protect the coast inland of Romney Marsh. Access to the bottom of the escarpment is via a steep road that comes down by West Hythe. In the Anglo-Saxon period, this was the location of the port of Sandtun, which charters show served as the port for the monastery at Lyminge. So we know that there was an enduring connection between Lyminge and Lympne. It is possible that the very name of Lyminge derives from the River Limen, and it is conceivable that the group that settled in Lyminge towards the end of the 5th Century, and that later called itself the Limen-wara of ‘Limen folk’ viewed the area around the old Roman fort as its folk origin. Perhaps this was the place where the group had first settled when it arrived in late or sub-Roman Britain. There is further discussion of this idea here
In various blog posts over the past two months, we have speculated that the stone and brick used to build the 7th Century church at Lyminge was robbed from a Roman site. The most obvious site from which to have taken this stone is the fort of Portus Lemanis. It would have been well-known to everyone at Lyminge due to the proximity of Sandtun, only half a mile away.
Nicely dressed facing stones are visible on this bastion of the fort. This is the kind of stone we envisage could have been taken to Lyminge. This face is now the largest expanse of facing stone surviving anywhere on the site. Almost everywhere else, it has been robbed away.
The wall in the picture above is the largest surviving stretch of wall, and it stands some 5.7 metres tall. The facing stones have been removed almost entirely, with only a few surviving courses towards the bottom of the wall. Most of the walls of the fort have collapsed completely, so a lot of stone is now missing.
At the East Gate, there are a few courses of facing stone in one of the gate towers, to the left of the picture above, and there are great flagstones forming the threshold of the gateway. These are reminiscent of the large flag stone in the base of the hole in the south wall of the Norman church at Lyminge that we believe was hacked by Canon Jenkins.
The site at Portus Lemanis has obviously been extensively robbed of stone and brick. It is entirely credible that it could be the source for the stone used to build the 7th Century church. But strangely, with the possible exception of the flagstone above, we find no stone within the fabric of the standing church that looks as if it is dressed Roman stone. If such stone was used at Lyminge, it has now entirely disappeared.
One might suspect that if the Anglo-Saxon church was being demolished when the Norman church was being built, at least some of the stone would have found its way into the new church. This does rather suggest that the Norman church was already standing when the earlier church was demolished. We are struggling to understand the possible sequence of events and to make sense of them. This might even suggest that the original plan was to retain the older structure, perhaps because of the relics housed within. This scheme could then have been abandoned when the relics were taken to Canterbury in 1085. But this is entirely speculation, and it has to be said that there are no precedents for this.
Perhaps the stone from the Anglo-Saxon church was re-used in the “Aula” of the Archbishops, the complex that was in such poor repair when Archbishop Peckham became Archbishop in 1279. This too is speculation, but it might explain where the stone was re-used initially, and if this was so, then it also seems that it was shipped off to repair Saltwood Castle in the years after 1382. Good quality dressed stone was never wasted. One sometimes does wish that stones could talk, because they would have quite a tale to tell.