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The Weald covers much of central Kent and Sussex, and stretches into eastern Surrey (Gardiner 1997, 6). A marginal landscape of woodland and poor-quality soils, the region's importance lies in its large deposits of iron ore. These have been exploited since the Iron Age, including large-scale production during the Roman period, possibly through a major imperial estate (Cleere 1978). Anglo-Saxon iron-working is known from at least the early 7th century, when a charter to St Augustine's, Canterbury, granted the abbey rights to extract iron ore, and iron-working continued in the Weald in the Late Medieval period (Naylor 2004, 85-6; Brandon 1978, 85).

Early settlement was sparse, with a few Iron Age hillforts probably providing the core occupation areas and there was little encroachment of Roman settlement, except that allied with the iron industry (Cleere 1978, 60-1). In the Anglo-Saxon period, settlement continued to be sparse. Lucy (2000, 141-2) has demonstrated the lack of cemeteries within the Weald, and major woodland still existed throughout the pre-Conquest period (Brandon 1978, 86). A pastoral economy was practised, most likely related to estates on the coastal plain and focused on the river valleys (Gardiner 1997, 7). Woodland clearance did not begin in earnest until the 12th century and a landscape of dispersed settlement evolved (Brandon 1978, 86). In summary, the Weald provides a marginal environment with little or no history of wealthy settlement; rather a range of industrial or pastoral occupation allied to coastal estates was present for much of the period from later prehistory to the Late Medieval period.

Interactive map
Figure 49: Interactive map of PAS finds in the Weald region

Figure 49 shows the PAS finds for the south-eastern corner of England south of the Thames. Within this the distribution of finds recovered broadly and clearly illustrates the evolution of Wealden settlement. Iron Age finds hug the coastal plain, northern Kent and the river valleys of Surrey where a few Wealden finds have been made. Greater coverage is characteristic of the Roman period, with a greater number of Wealden finds. These, for the most part, are confined to the Roman road network and little penetration is truly visible. The contraction of Early Medieval settlement described above is, again, seen in the distribution of portable antiquities. These are very sparse, especially in the Kentish Weald. The post-Conquest woodland clearance and colonisation of the Weald is attested with a dramatic increase in recovery of finds throughout the region, including in previously blank areas of the central Weald, and areas away from the Roman road network.


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