The Philip Johnson Collection

Roman Era Funerary Ware

It has been estimated that in Roman times the Island of Canvey stood some 15 feet above sea level. That makes the idea of ‘Coucnos’ being Canvey on Ptolemy of Alexandria’s map from the 2nd Century a definite non-starter. Canvey may not even have been an island then. It has been occupied well before Roman times, though in Roman days it obviously had a busy colony of inhabitants, as the many Roman sherds and artefacts found must testify. There have been many theories concerning the Canvey finds. A harbour has been suggested, Celtic and Roman, and sunken ships, but as the finds cover such a large expanse of time right into Mediaeval, that must surely seem less lightly. My favourite theory is fuelled by the long expanse of time and the many generations that time span encompasses. Certainly there was a flowering of fortunes on Canvey in Roman times. Amphora sherds prove that wine was imported from as far as northern Italy. The notion of settlements is supported by the funerary urns and dishes found.

Funerary dish. Small, but beautifully formed.

A selection of such finds were handed to Richard Winter, then Chairman of our AGES Historical and Archaeological Group for safe keeping – the collection of Canvey archaeologist Philip Johnson. Alas, Mr Winter died and I tried to find a local home for the historical items, but neither Canvey nor Castle Point Councils showed an interest. They say possession is nine tenth of the law and Mr Winter’s American widow, who was herself an ardent Canvey mud digger, has now returned to the States and the items are now in Colorado, destined for a museum there.

I did however insist and manage to have the items photographed before they left these shores and I’ll endeavour to build up a digital/virtual collection for future generations.

The same dish shown side-on.

Another collection has been passed on to me recently, boxes and boxes of barely sorted material that is remarkable more for its quantity than its quality. It seems the best items here have gone missing, too. There are other finds and collections about, not least Norma and Geoffrey Lewin’s prolific and excellent finds, which, I believe are now languishing somewhere in Southend?

Would it not be an excellent idea if all this material could be collected, preferably on Canvey, even if it is not on display? At least it would be available to some future archaeologist to make sense of and maybe re-write the whole history of Canvey Island? With all the dredging and activities in the Thames in our time, who knows what will happen to the material still waiting to be found, especially at the Point?

Now over to experts for proper identification and dating. The measurement scale shows centimetres.

Click on the pictures in the gallery to see them enlarged.

Comments about this page

  • Does anyone know where exactly on Canvey these pots were found and is there a report of the excavation anywhere that we can read?

    By AGES Archaeological & Historical Association (16/06/2014)
  • You will need to talk to Robert Hallmann. He has all the details.

    By Janet Penn (16/06/2014)
  • The majority of the pottery collection of my late parents, Geoff and Norma Lewin, was donated to Southend museum.  The grave groups they found were on display in the central museum (not sure if they are still there.) All of their collection was found at Canvey Point, mum had her samian ware pottery written up in a report with extensive detail. 

    By Kim Thompson (09/03/2015)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *