Why can’t we keep it open? We just can’t. It would quickly be mashed by Chedworth’s winter frosts. Weeds would colonise the tesserae and roots break up the pattern. We can’t expose something and allow it to be trashed. So the last day was backfill day.
Nancy had sourced the right sort of cover fabric. Nicki had got it sent by courier to make sure it arrived on time. While I completed the site record, drawing the plans and sections and writing up the context sheets, Nancy organised the covering. Sandbags were filled with topsoil to support the mosaic edges and fine topsoil was place on the terram sheet.
Visitors hurried from reception to get a last glimpse before the mosaic was consigned to the dark once again. 150 years since its first discovery.
So with all this highly accurate digital recording why measure and draw it the old fashioned way? Well.. it’s all about relationships. One has to touch the soil, by measuring you question what you seen. The closer you look, the more you understand and spotting something on a scan once the site is backfilled is too late. That’s my excuse for playing around with tape measures and a drawing board while 11 days of spoil were being heroically relocated in a single day.
A light misty rain fell every now and then, making drawing difficult. I measured a piece of stone which I thought at first was slate but turned out to be a corner piece from an Italian marble panel. Proving again that this place was an opulent mansion and we now see only the bare bones of something which was once quite magnificent.
The water feature in ‘e’ became even more confusing when I asked Rob to make a narrow trench to link his 1.2m square trench in the south-west corner of the building towards the mosaic to the north. The square trench had been filled with Victorian backfill 1.0m deep from top to bottom but the northern extension found a Roman mortar floor at 0.4m and by making the north side of the square trench vertical it became clear that our trench had copied the Victorian exploratory trench and everything north of it appeared to be undisturbed Roman.
Too late to understand it better. The north extension did not find a flight of steps into a bath but a rough mortar shelf with fragments of blue lias slabs crushed into its surface. We can imagine a supply of used water from the baths entering this feature from the north and perhaps surrounding a statue or fountain within the building before leaving via the drain we know about on the east side. We know a bit more about this feature now but not enough. We need to look around for some comparisons.
Sir Ian Richmond’s walls did exist. Sometimes they were buried quite deep below his concrete but they existed. We did not prove or disprove the interpretations as early baths he gave them.
Finally I was finished with the recording and threw myself fresh into the backfilling and hit a wall of congealed rubble, mud and clay. The rain had mingled with the spoil heap, seeped down to the waterproof tarpaulin fusing it into an unyielding barrier. Shifting it was very hard work but everyone worked so hard to put it back where it came from and eventually we saw the grass again and the vast heap of dirt had gone.
Thank you so much to everyone who helped over the two weeks and all the encouragement of the Chedworth staff and volunteers and of course the visitors who cheered us on…but Nancy and I would particularly like to thank the Bank Cottage stalwarts Harry, Carol, Kate and Fay.