Windrush and Horton

Yesterday…was an open plan office day.. a core team briefing day followed by meetings and emails. Overnight there had been a storm. Today I headed north into Gloucestershire. Gradually the rain cleared, the clouds faded and the autumn sky transitioned into blue.

On the radio they discussed Constantine the Great and his city.. how would things have been different without him?  Conveniently, the programme ended as I arrived.

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I looked out onto the ruins of a WWII airforce base. Three eyebrow hangers reused as farm buildings and a concrete machine gun post beside the watch tower. I was parked on the overgrown runway looking out across a newly ploughed field. I had an hour before the meeting at Horton Court.

The field was full of sharp lines and colours. The trackways and foundations of the RAF buildings. After photos, I took the bucket of tapes out of the boot and paid out the 100m along with two 50ms set at right angles.

A wide-open level farming  landscape. Big skies and just the sound of the breeze. I measured, paced and drew, walking over occasional chucks of brick, broken tarmac and ironwork. Here and there in the harrowed field was a white flash of pottery. A tea-cup handle, part of a plate and a fragment of bowl..conveniently dated 194–(why can’t all pottery be like that?)

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Then, an approaching tractor and I walked up to greet the driver and introduce myself. Meeting on the deserted runway.

He said the field had once been arable but had not been ploughed for over 70 years. Not since the base was built. A place to train pilots on Avro Ansons for Mosquito bombers.

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‘I wonder what it was like here then? These days, it’s the children of the RAF personnel who come’ he said. ‘They want to know the place their fathers talked about’

I drove back past Windrush hillfort and headed south again through Cirencester and Tetbury to Horton.

Horton Court is a rambling combination of building phases set on the spring-line below the Cotswold escarpment. It has a 12th century hall parallel with the medieval parish church. A later medieval wing was added which was converted into an early 16th-century courtyard house. On top of this are various 18th-20th century extensions.

I found a space in the car park and signed in at the office. James was excavating where a new soakaway was required. He had just found a 13th century jug fragment in a layer of occupation material below the 18th century garden soil.

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‘How did the excavation in the stable go’ I asked. We went into the small early 18th century building. It had somehow survived with little disturbance amongst all the changes the various rich owners had lavished upon the place. One small trench was required to support the roof structure but the rest of the flagstone floor would remain.

We had seen it before: so much can go on around an old building but often, their floors act as protective canopies over precious stratigraphy. Here, in this little stable.. medieval Horton survived beneath the floor.

We walked out and looked back at the church and house. The site of the stable occupied higher ground. James had found a 12th-13th century hearth in a service trench where we now stood.

It now seemed likely that this was the site of the old Horton manor house. The Norman hall of the present Horton Court may well have been the old church. Some time in the 14th-15th century, they had built the new church beside the old and included the old church in the new house.

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A good theory. The refurbished Horton will be ready for the new tenants in the spring.

I said goodbye and headed back to Wiltshire where there had been a discovery at Lacock.

The Christmas tree hole had just uncovered a herringbone wall diagonal to the Tudor courtyard. Under a black layer of soil full of medieval pottery and animal bone. It ignores the alignment of the 13th century Abbey completely….Roman?

Sunset 8.15pm Chedworth 2017

So the 5 year North Range research agenda is complete.

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Picture copyright Mike Calnan taken by mini-copter on Thursday. The North Range to the left with the green and blue gazebos in Room 27. You can just see our exterior trenches beyond the walls on the slope top left.

We had started backfilling on the previous day so it seemed unlikely that we would leave late for home on Friday.

Always the optimist. I had arrived at 7am to video the site amongst birdsong.

Carol crossed the corridor, climbed the bank and picked blackberries.

Fay squinted at the rising sun in the valley as I moved the pencil along the staff. Taking levels on the boundary wall.  ‘There’s a breathless hush in the close tonight’. The lull before the storm.
‘Ten to play and a match to win’

Nothing like a bit of imperialist poetry to steel one against the day but who would come to help us? So much recording to do…so many trenches to fill.

Then John kindly arrived despite his birthday, Nick and Nick and Alexander and Harry to join the rest of us stalwarts and we began the long day…

We loaded the last tools as the sun began to set and Amy remained with us until the end. Fabulous! Carol said that the last day on a dig was like childbirth… painful but worth going though again. We were so grateful to everyone for putting the site back together after all our exploration.

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Plan from an old guide book to show the numbers of the rooms in the north range 27-30. Our boundary wall and drain trenches were above 30.

What can be said.

On the north side, the boundary bank ran clear across the trench and was easily traced following the contour of the valley above the North Range. A heap of Roman debris lay over it and below the rubble a level stony area suggests a trackway though we did not fully excavate this.

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Detail of the Roman wall on the outside face of Room 30. This shows the time when the North Range had a new suite of rooms added to the east. The foundation trench for the old build is stony and has the ranging pole on it. That to the left more soily marked by the trowel. The courses above abutt except for one which cuts into the old build and ties the walls together.

Just below is Rob’s trench against the exterior wall of the kitchen. The beautifully placed 0.33m wide flagstones 0.3m from the wall face. We thought the stones covered a drain. We lifted one and the surface crumbled into hundreds of fragments. Below was only 0.1m of sand and charcoal above the natural clay.

The current story is that the stones were the firm foundation for a timber drain that was built along its surface. The wood had long rotted away but there are stories of iron linking rings being found here.  We still need to track down the source.

No doubt now about the later addition of the suite of rooms 30-32 onto the east end of the North Range. Both in Fay’s trench, within Room 30, and this trench, the abutting joints and change in foundation trench fills were clear.

Our two small trenches in the North Range Corridor showed that there was no mosaic left east of Room 26 but that the narrower and earlier corridor wall could be traced past Room 27. It was not found opposite Room 30 but the ground here has been badly disturbed. Sir Ian Richmond’s 1964 breeze block wall ran deep this far east.

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The two trenches in the north range. The one in the foreground had the stones of the narrower and earlier corridor in it.

Peter’s trench in Room 27 had now been backfilled and made  level with replaced turf….. but what had been the point of the deep dressed stone wall against the corridor. Was it an early pre-corridor wall. I am placing a lot of faith in comparative C14 dates from foundation trench fills. The fragments of charcoal have been helpfully plentiful in these but not an ideal dating tool …too crude really for Roman deposits.

We stopped for lunch and the discussions …over leaving cake …turned to mattocks. We admired the prize tool of the dig … the new yellow fibre-handled mattock which Nancy purchased specially. Mattocks are wonderful things… if deftly hefted. We told mattock stories……

We then faced Room 28. I moved forward with parallel tapes and ranging poles, drawing metre by metre and as each space was vacated, the terram, topsoil and turf followed.

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The topsoil and terram being placed.

The mosaic survived best in the north… though its gradual deterioration south documented its loss.. Down through the mortar bedding and limestone rubble hardcore. Even the hardcore disappeared in the room’s central zone… becoming a dark soil containing the two hearths and a foundation of rubble between areas of burning. These ragged remains are an exciting discovery. We need to search for comparisons and obtain radiocarbon dates from their organic deposits. I hope for a 5th-6th century date to reveal a time when the villa was still standing.. but had declined from a grand mansion house to a manufacturer’s workshop.

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Copyright Mike Calnan photo of Room 28 on Thursday. Peter’s trench in Room 27 bottom left.

The last trench was Peter and Alexander’s, behind Rooms 25 and 26. Peter had been digging there until the afternoon to understand it better. The trench showed that 25 had been added on but it had once had a different broader plan. This earlier phase had  been part demolished before being rebuilt. The foundation trench along 25’s  north side was clear but to the east the natural bedrock had be dug away deeply and steeply. I jumped down onto a loose mortar surface and slid the trowel under the lowest course of the earliest phase of 25. This cutting continued north-east through the trench section into the slope of the hill. Perhaps a drain or earlier stoke hole… but time was up.

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The deep trench cutting natural and the wider foundation under Room 25. Room 26 is on the left. The cutting continues under the section line to the right.

Fay shouted out the levels from the slope and I joined the backfilling.

but the story is not over until the samples are analysed, we have made cross-comparisons and the reports are written. What of our painted glass.. the pottery, the charcoal and other finds?… we will see what they tell us.

Day 18 and 19 – So long, farewell … and so to bed

Day  18 – the last chance to investigate those areas and layers that just need a little bit more excavation to glean the last drop of information from the site before recovering it with soil and turf.

A little bit more digging  in Robs drain trench, to look for any iron rings that may have been used to connect wooden pipes that the large stones may have been protecting.

We also sectioned part of the ‘hearth’ to see if we could recover any charcoal for dating, find any clues to its use  and also to see how it was constructed.

Part of the ‘hearth’ sectioned, under the tile was ashy soil and then more box flue tile

From the other ‘hearth we have taken a sample of the very burnt and fractured quern stone, we can then find out what stone it is and were it has come from.

Ashy soil can be seen in the section on the right

Day 19 – Today the back-breaking back filling of the trenches is going a pace with many called in to help, even an odd hour is very much appreciated.

Alex, John and Nick covering the boundary wall trench first with the breathable geo-textile then the soil that was taken out goes back in

We put down a breathable geo-textile on top of were we stop excavating, this stops plant roots but allows water through and is great if we do uncover it again as we can dig down to the cloth and then peel back to were we stopped last time.

Pete’s deep trench and Martins complicated wall phasing trench in room 27 all back filled

We put a bottle, from our celebration when we finished yesterday, with various objects in it, as well as a message to the future in the deepest part of Pete’s trench were the glass had been found. A kind of closing ritual we usually do when back filling trenches.

Our message to the future, the fizzy wine bottle with messages and coins and other objects inside it

Hopefully we will not have to stay into the evening to finish the ‘putting to bed’ of the site, a very heart-felt thank you to all who have helped us this year with special mention to the back filling crew Fay, Carol, Amy, Pete, Harry, Alex, Nick and Nick, John and John.

Farewell until the next dig, were ever that may be……………..

Some of the core team Harry, John, Martin, Fay. Amy. me, Carol and Pete

Day 17 – Rain, a long pole and a party

We were all up and out early as the laser scanner folk were due before 8am and we also had a lot of trenches to finish digging, with three days to go.

As well as scanning the guys took high-resolution photographs

The rain had made all the colours zing across the site, showing the contrast in the soil with areas of burning showing up red. But it was also frustrating as we could not get to work, as the rain made the site difficult to work on and the layers we would be digging would not be easy dig. The mantra is ‘if it’s raining and the site will suffer by working on it  (layers of soil sticking to boots and depositing the soil and finds on another part of the site) you don’t work, but if the site will not suffer you go out in the rain!’

Ready for the rain

Once the rain stopped, Rob headed for his possible drain, it was time to lift the lid, we all gathered round with thoughts of a lovely stone lined drain with just enough sludgy soil to hold all the goodies, rings that slipped of bathers fingers or glass oil jars. The stone came up, it was beautifully tooled on the underside, but no sign of stone sides of a drain. He troweled back underneath but only found more of the layer either side of the stones!

So what is/was it, it maybe the bottom of a stone drain missing its sides and top, or could it relate to what was found in an earlier excavation about twenty years ago a bit further down the north range.  They found what they thought to be iron rings that would have held wooden pipes, did they sit on the stone? The stones are very well worked, a lot of effort has gone into shaping them so probably not? its  yet another puzzle to ponder over the next few months.

Rob lifted the stone from his possible drain behind the wall of the kitchen

the tooling under the stone

We ended the day with a gathering of staff and property volunteers for a tour of the site and talk about what we have found, this was followed by a ‘bring a plate’ buffet and drinks to toast our efforts and carry on conversations about the villa. Thank you everyone for a lovely evening.

A good turn out for Martins talk and tour

Day 16 – at last, the last of the turf…

A long day of cleaning and topsoil removal in room 28. As the misty rain began we hardly noticed, as all heads were down digging. Rosie, Jackie, Charlotte  joined us for the last push ahead of the laser scanning guys due at 8am tomorrow.

Charlotte and Amy finding the last of the mosaic

Rosie (in pink)cleaning of the dark topsoil to reveal a stony area

Jackie drew the short straw and had to clean of the sand put down by he excavators 17 years ago

Jackie, Amy and Carol worked to clean off the yellow sand, put on top of the mosaic seventeen years ago, it sticks to the stone and is hard to clean. By the end of the day it had gone from looking like the picture above to what you can see below!

The beautiful cleaned mosaic

And finally……

Gingerbread decoration competition

Day 15 – and there’s more…

Sunny and bright but a bit cooler today, as a gentle breeze blows across the site. Lots of new diggers of all levels of experience, and mainly very awkward areas to excavate. They were all eager for the challenge and after a site tour by Martin we set them to de-turf the last of room 28. Will we find surviving mosaic under this last section? The matted roots from the turf seem to be full of loose tesserae and is difficult to excavate if you have never dug mosaic before. But the girls did well Sarah-Jane who had experience digging started to find mosaic that was more secure and gradually exposed more and more! Hurray!

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Sarah-Jane happy revealing the remnant of mosaic

Phoebe and Sarah-Jane finding mosaic

As well as more mosaic we had more glass, but just plain this time and in the ‘second kitchen’ room found within a rough floor surface along with lots of bone.

A bone and the larger piece of glass

Carol spent the day in a corner all on her own not because she has been a bad digger but because she is an excellent mosaic cleaner 🙂

Carol in her corner

Day 14 – Wash and brush up

After a couple of days off I headed back to Chedworth very early. Through the misty vales of Dorset, then into Wiltshire with its hay bale monoliths, finally reaching the honey stone of the Cotswolds in record time, as all were still in their beds on this cool Sunday morn.

Blue sky and bright sun

As it was very dry we worked on cleaning and brushing up room 28, we also started to give it a hairy root trim ready for the laser scan on Wednesday.

A gentle trowel and brush up

We finally finished taking the Victorian back-fill from on top of the hearths.

The largest hearth cleaned up at last

The day was hot and dry so we could use brushes on the stony surfaces, but it took its toll on the workers, who packed up quickly at each break to get into the shade and get some fluids.

Charlotte and Amy resting aching backs in the shade

Charlotte finished working with us today and she gave me some wonderful flowers 🙂 thank you Charlotte you were ace x

Sunflowers on a sunny day

 

UPDATE – As I driving I was thinking about the finds from the previous days, I was eager to see the glass Pete had found. I was pondering the pin Andy found, it was an itch I needed to scratch, there was something not right about it, could it have been lost by a historical re-enactor!
They had used room 28 in the past for living history displays. When I reached the villa there was a living history tent, a roman trader, very fortuitous. Steve makes metal pins and had a look as he thought it could have been one he made! it wasn’t but he pointed to evidence that may show that my hunch could be right. He knew the groups who had been at the villa many years ago and is going to ask if they ever lost a pin, he had a vague memory someone had mentioned a lost hair pin. Watch this space, we may find we can reunite the pin with its owner if it turns out to be a lost living history pin!