Although the architecture and archaeology of the Palace site, and the history associated with it, have been subject to a number of investigations and expert studies over the last 200 years, the Palace’s restoration will provide an opportunity, as never before, to discover more about the site’s development over its 1200 year history.
The stone buildings that remain have their origins in the 13th and 14th centuries – some 500 years into the Palace’s existence. What stood before is unknown. What buildings there were would have been largely constructed of wood; long since overbuilt or disappeared.
There are hints that some stone structures were in place earlier, in Becket’s time. Becket is said to have favoured his residence at Charing, which suggests it had a degree of substance and comfort. Part of a 12th century column can be seen today, incorporated into an external wall of the archbishop’s apartments, dated to the 13th century. But these remnants give no real clue to what may have stood in the centuries before.
And it may be that the site had been settled before it was returned to Archbishop Jaenbert and Christ Church Priory by the Mercian King Coenwulf at the close of the 8th century
There is evidence of Roman settlement in the area, with the site of a villa identified a mile to the south east of the Palace precinct, and since settlements are frequently built on the site of previous settlements, it may be that the detailed archaeological investigation that will accompany the site’s restoration will tell us more.
Clearance of the modern buildings and concreted areas of the site will allow detailed geophysical surveying to direct hands-on archaeology in ways impossible before.
Similarly the careful unpicking of the modern elements in the built structures will make it easier for us to reveal, understand and show their development.