BAR Publishing, £32
Review Edward Biddulph
Ragstone was quarried from the upper Medway valley in Kent on a vast scale during the Roman period: the walls of Roman London were built with it, and the Blackfriars ship sank with a cargo of the stone. Little is known about the industry, though, and Simon Elliott’s survey is therefore hugely welcome.
The volume describes five quarries, one of which, Dean Street quarry outside Maidstone, is a contender for the largest open-cast mine in the Roman Empire. Remains of stone weirs, crossings, and wharves may be traces of riverine structures that improved the navigation of the Medway, allowing the stone to be transported downriver to the Thames. Possible millstone blanks recovered from the river may mark the location of a Roman wreck.
The author attempts to place the ragstone quarries in the wider context of the extractive industries, or metalla, in the south-east, connecting the Medway industry with the Wealden ironworking industry in a single imperial estate. The questions are worth asking, but ultimately the answers, somewhat over-reliant on ‘opinion-based evidence’, remain elusive.
This review appeared in CA 344.