Whitesheet, Stourhead: “I Open at the Close”

Whitesheet Hill.. the chalk downland high above the Stourhead Estate. One of the most impressive groups of archaeological sites in NT South West Region.

Good to highlight the earliest and the latest there.

Whitesheet has a 5,700 year old Neolithic causewayed enclosure. The earliest type of archaeological earthwork generally seen in Britain…. but then… in stark contrast to this  and just a few steps away ….an abandoned Cold War monitoring post.

The first monitoring post was built in 1956 and the last was closed in 1991.

I gave my talk at Brean Down Cafe and included my usual  Whitesheet comparison of ancient and modern archaeology…This time, it caused Ian to approach me and to begin speaking of nuclear war.

As a teenager, he had been an air cadet and saw an advert for trainee recruits for the Royal Observer Corps.

After WWII, many of the men who had watched for German planes, were retrained for the changed circumstances of the Cold War… but by the late 70s they were reaching retirement and there was a need for fresh blood…….

A few weeks later, we met outside Stourhead reception and Kim took us in the NT landrover: turning at the Red Lion, along the droveway and up the steep gradiant to the summit of Whitesheet.


The Bronze Age round barrow with Colt Hoare’s excavation dimple on top, its quarry ditch cutting the edge of the faint ancient earthwork of the Early Neolithic causewayed enclosure.

We crossed the stile by the Neolithic enclosure and I mentioned the way the Bronze Age round barrow cuts the Neolithic ditch…1400 years between the two events. On top of the mound is a dimple marking the place where the then owner, Sir Richard Colt Hoare, cut a shaft to find the 4000 year old burial.

That was c.1810, but in the grass below can be traced a brick outline where an observer building was built in the 1940s, looking out towards the US Zeals Air Force base.


From the top of the barrow mound, the outline of the WWII observer post.

Great views from here across to Mere and down to Stourhead House within its park far below.

09.10.15 Portland Culverwell 056

The view towards the Iron Age hillfort.

Ian led us to the concrete hatch.  ” there were 12 of us in our Royal Observer Corp Unit. Eight were men in late middle age, two were women in their 20s and me and and another guy were 18″. When there was an alert, the first four to arrive at the observer station occupied the bunker … we locked it from the inside and the rest went home.”


The remains of the Cold War monitoring post. Two ventilation shafts. The furthest attached to the concrete bunker hatch which has now been welded shut for safety. To the right are metal tubes that supported the blast detector and radiation fallout monitor.

I imagined the situation.. saying goodbye to families….collecting their rations from the Yeovil HQ….showing their security passes to get them through the checkpoints….the world in turmoil….high on the downs and the thick steel hatch sealed.

There were one or two metal pipes jutting from the ground. “This was where the radio aerial plugged in. Here we fixed a blast detector and over here the radiation fall-out monitor. Beside the hatch we placed the photographic unit which measured direction and angle of the nuclear detonation flash.”

18.11 Cold War

A plan of the monitoring post.

A vertical metal ladder took you down to the bunker. A table with the monitoring dials and two beds. In an alcove was a chemical toilet and store. Everyone had dosimeters and the least contaminated went up to check the monitoring equipment.

“A loudspeaker in the bunker ticked all the time…and when it stopped you waited for an announcement ….or if your equipment detected a detonation you passed the information on to HQ and the other 20 stations, scattered on hilltops around Yeovil”

I wondered how long they were supposed to last out for.

“Just 21 days, we were only given rations to last that long..”

He said that the Royal Observer Corp was mobilised for regular three day practice sessions. It was very cold and damp in the bunker but they got on well as a group.

From time to time they popped out for chips and refreshment at the local pub.

We looked out across the cross-ridge dyke …towards the hillfort and listened to the wind across the grassland.

Thinking back…New Year’s Eve 1979 .. Soviet troops invade Afghanistan..the political gloom of 1984 ….then 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall …relief that this concrete pit was never properly used.


We pondered what might have been…. and hugged the grandeur of the Wiltshire countryside.

National Trust Fortifications & the Bedford Van

Forts are places of security, places to defend and to protect. Their remains can be seen across the countryside.

Eggardon Hill 001 Camb. Univ. Coll. ANF 68. Mar. 1966

Eggardon Hill Iron Age Hillfort Dorset

Ever experienced a fort?

When I was growing up, my dad abandoned a derelict white Bedford van in the garden and my friends and I armed it with loaded washing up liquid bottles, water pistols, pea shooters and rotten plums. We held it bravely against my brother’s gang and kept them back for a short while until the ammunition ran out and our position was taken. Once they were at the windows we were sitting ducks and became very wet and fruit spattered.

Then there is the sand fortification: proudly constructed on the beach against the rising tide. The defences prudently strengthened with stone slates and pebbles. You stand back, proud of your creative military efforts and wait.

At first the water dribbles into the outer ditch and creeps away. You feel smug, 1-0, you and your castle have won the first round. But the tide re-groups comes back more strongly. The ditch fills, the rampart holds, but needs a few remedial repairs. Extra buckets of sand are brought to the front.

It holds again but this time the wall needs significant reconstruction. There is little time to build it back up again. The enemy now has irresistible strength, returns in overwhelming force, the defences are shattered and the wave crashes over and hits the castle mound.

10.03.08 Leigh Woods, Michaels Hill, Golden Cap 169

Corfe Castle, Dorset

‘Pardon I beseech you my lateness and my haste. My good news is the cause of both. This morning twixt four and five a party of six score firelocks got into the castle. Two hundred was the number intended and decided upon but ere all could be got in, they discovered us and shut their sallyport against us.’

As a National Trust archaeologist.. I have proper castles to occupy now. Back in the day, these castle garrisons were seriously engaged. The above quotation is from a letter jubilantly written in 1646 by a parliamentary soldier, Captain John Fitzjames. He was letting the Speaker of the House of Commons know that the mighty stronghold of Corfe Castle was about to be taken.

Of course, the natural chalk mound of Corfe in Purbeck has long been an obvious strategic position and the Normans knew that and created a castle there; Montacute too (it means steep hill in Norman) and Dunster, both in Somerset. These strongholds were first built during the reign of William the Conqueror: later, each developed differently through time.

Montacute St. Michael's Hill 2 Undated

St Michael’s Hill, Montacute

St Michael’s Hill, Montacute was unsuccessfully stormed by the Saxons in the 11th century and once peace was established, in the 12th century, its Norman lord gave the land to Montacute Priory. The monks had no need for the castle and used the hill top as a chapel. Only an 18th century prospect tower occupies the summit now.

Corfe in the 12th century was the scene of a siege by King Stephen’s men against supporters of the Empress Matilda. They built a ring and bailey siege-works on the west side of the castle which can still be visited. Corfe Castle proved impregnable on that occasion but Corfe’s capture during the English Civil War was its death knell as a stronghold. The parliamentary soldiers undermined the walls and turrets, set gunpowder charges and blew it to bits, creating the picturesque ruin we see today.


The First Tower, Corfe Castle. Blown apart in 1646.

Like Corfe, Dunster also supported the King but was allowed to live on as a mansion. However, it did not escape completely, its curtain walls and turrets were taken away to make sure it could not be defended again. Dunster was redeveloped into a wealthy family’s mansion house and much of the medieval castle is hidden or lost while Corfe’s medieval strength can still be appreciated even in its ruined state.


Dunster Castle, Somerset

In the South West, there are many ancient forts, castles and defences cared for by the National Trust. Most would have faced attack and danger ..though often these dramatic events have been lost in time, their stories never written down. There will always have been conflict and one of the earliest known battles took place at Crickley Hill in Gloucestershire …where many flint arrowheads were found embedded into the banks and ditches of the 5500 year old earthwork enclosure …still visible on the hill top.

The same hill was fortified in the Iron Age, 3000 years later. On two occasions the defences were burnt and its enclosed village abandoned. Who were these people? Who were their attackers?

The National Trust looks after over 50 of these prehistoric forts in the South West. They are high places, in strategic positions with amazing views out to the wider landscape. Walk along the ramparts and imagine the hundreds of people working together on these hills to create these earthworks of chalk and stone, digging deep into the bedrock with flimsy tools of bone, iron and wood.

Pilsdon RCHM Air Photos. ST4001 1 2336 April 1947

Pilsdon Pen Iron Age hillfort, Dorset

The names of some of the British tribes were first recorded by the Romans. One such group, the Durotriges of Dorset, defended their land against the Roman army in AD 44. Though wonderful to see, these massive hillforts were not strong enough. National Trust hillforts such as Badbury Rings, Eggardon Hill, Pilsdon Pen and even the mighty Hambledon Hill all fell to the soldiers from across the sea. Hod Hill even has a well-preserved Roman fort built into one corner of the hillfort, clear evidence of the Roman conquest and suppression of this community. Roman artillery spear heads were found embedded in the footings of round houses which together with native sling stone pebbles provide evidence of the attack and defence of the fort.

We have always needed defences. There is the 1540s stone fort, built for Henry VIII, which still lies at the core of Brownsea Castle. There is one of Lord Palmerson’s follies, the 1870s gun battery at Brean Down, an example of a chain of forts built to ward of a French invasion that never materialised.


Brean Down, Somerset: Victorian Fort refortified in WWII

Then all along the coast and inland are the 1940s pill boxes and gun emplacements like those along Studland Beach and across the heath in Purbeck.


WWII Machine Gun Post Studland Heath, Dorset

Others guard installations like the deserted WWII airbase at Windrush on the Sherborne Estate, Gloucestershire. These concrete and brick structures have often survived remarkably intact complete with fixtures and fittings and sometimes graffiti. The narrow machine gun slits facing towards an enemy that never reached them.


Inside the pill box, Windrush WWII RAF station, Sherborne Estate, Gloucestershire

My childhood memory reminds me of my Bedford van fort experience and what happens to defenders in confined spaces if the ammunition runs out…



















The Deer Hill Stones Kingston Lacy

Last time I wrote of the Badbury Barrow and the Bronze Age carvings on a stone now in the British Museum.

I needed to find the cup and ring marks which had been found at another site at Kingston Lacy.  Ploughed up in a field called Deer Hill Field.

I had phoned around and arranged a day to track down the evidence.

A lovely summer. So dry and hot during our Chedworth Roman Villa excavations… but my luck ran out as I drove down from Wiltshire with all of the geophysics equipment heaped up in the back of the car.

The windscreen wipers were working hard from Blandford through Tarrant Keyneston village rising up to the Beech Avenue which loomed out of the rain marking the edge of the Kingston Lacy Estate.

I turned left into Badbury Rings car park and found Dave who was outside his car and looking grumpy and wet. He complained that I was late which was true and I led him down side lanes to the large Victorian farmhouse. The Kingston Lacy farmhouses are little mansion houses and this one has a lovely garden.


The farmer and his wife welcomed us in and we had coffee in their large kitchen. I got out my note book and asked them about the Badbury Barrow. They thought that the garden might have been created out of the remains of the barrow as it was designed soon after the barrow’s destruction and the garden terraces and archways were made up of thousands of large flint nodules. Reverend Austen had described many such flints built to create the chamber of the Badbury Barrow’s central burial area.

We talked about ploughing in the 1950s-70s and how government grants encouraged bigger and deeper digging ploughs. He pointed to a map and showed where his new plough had torn up a large lump of sandstone in the 1960s, on the south side of Badbury Rings, and below it he found a human skeleton. Not the Badbury Barrow though, the potential site lay a few hundred metres further east in the same field. This site could be seen as ring ditch i.e. the soil filled circular quarry ditch for a Bronze Age burial mound levelled by ploughing.  It was very clear on aerial photographs with a black mark in the centre which was presumably the grave pit.

Kingston Lacy NT403 4 Feb 1989

Bottom centre: The ring ditch south of Badbury with the dark mark perhaps of a burial at its centre.

I had planned to survey it that day but on reflection I doubted whether geophysical survey would give much more information than the aerial photograph already showed This photo did not show indications of the complicated burial structure described in 1846….so I allowed myself to be distracted by Deer Hill field.

We went round the garden and looked at the stones the farmer had ploughed up in 1978 in Deer Hill field. This lies east of Badbury and High Wood and was once part of the medieval deer park (hence the name). Good cut stones of brown sandstone and one of limestone. Clearly once made for a substantial building. I asked the farmer questions….were they mortared into a wall? No. Were they associated with any particular finds? No. …strange

He collected them up and heaped them in a neighbouring copse where the old chalk pits and shooting butts lie. Here there are a group of four oval ditched planting platforms for groups of beech trees linked by banks of elder bushes. An ornamental feature created as an 18th century eyecatcher to be seen from Kingston Lacy House. These have been long abandoned and the heap of stone and flint from the discovery is now overgrown between two of the ovals.

The farmer had chosen some of the stones he had found for his garden. I photographed them and then he took us to the site. The rain was clearing and we negotiated the drying land tentatively taking the cars via the hunting lodge track at Lodge Farm out towards High Wood.

We talked about our memories and his long connection with the farm. The family picnics and the midsummer sunrise. The fields experienced in all weathers and in all seasons.

Kingston Lacy CUAP AHT 70

Deer Hill field between High Wood (top left) and Pitts Copse (bottom right). Note the large square crop mark with curved sides near the centre of the field. Our survey was at the field edge near top left of the field.

The views out from this place across the Allen valley were beautiful, gentle birdsong after the much needed downpour on a summer baked land.

He took us to the the site and we thanked him for his hospitality and said goodbye.

Dave used the GPS equipment to fit our 20m geophysical survey grid to the Ordnance Survey grid. Mark arrived from the KL ranger team and helped with the earth resistance as we marched across the ploughed stubble and wildflower verges to survey as much as we could in the time available.


Fixing the grid with the GPS before the geophysical survey looking towards Wimborne and Pitts Copse (on the horizon)

There was little to indicate what lay beneath. I found a piece of black pottery which could be Roman.. a chunk of Purbeck limestone and a couple of fragments of baked clay tile. The magnetometer was much faster so the score at 3pm was 6 grids to Dave and 4 to me and Mark and it was time to pack up and move to my next appointment….down the road to Keeper’s Lodge.


The cup and ring marks on the stone at Keeper’s Lodge

A lovely thatched cottage with outbuildings. This was an important place in the 16th century. The old medieval Kingston Lacy manor house was a ruin and the present house was yet to be constructed. There are fragments of the old manor house salvaged and reused to build Keeper’s Lodge.

David was there to meet me.

In 1978 he had heard of the discovery of the stones and had been shown the pile in the wood. The farmer had given him stones for his garden and we went to find them where they had been placed in the garden bed revetment walls. Large stones neatly faced along one or two edges. Mostly they were plain but one stone he noticed had spiral designs and hollows on its upper surface and part of the pattern had been cut when the stone was reused and dressed.

I took some more photographs and drove home. All this had happened in the time when Mr Bankes still owned the estate but it was good to try to piece the story of the discovery together now the the National Trust cared for the land.

I downloaded the geophysics into the computer.

It’s like fishing..  you never know quite what will be found. It can be very disappointing. The earth resistance survey had been a waste of time. The technique on arable land tends to reveal modern plough lines and tractor ruts and that is what I got. Then I loaded Dave’s magnetometer survey. Bingo! Good clear lines of early field and property boundaries and splodges of high magnetic responses. Particularly at a field corner. At least one large building just where the farmer had said it would be.


The results of the magnetometer survey with the suspected building site top centre right.

Though the farmer noticed no finds at the time of the discovery David had found Roman pottery here and. This land had been open land, part of the Kingston Lacy deer park back to at least to the 13th century. The stones are most likely to be part of a Roman building, perhaps a farmstead. When building it, the masons had picked up the ring carved stone and re-shaped it to fit the wall.

What other carved prehistoric stones lie undiscovered on the Kingston Lacy Estate. Cup and ring marks are features of the north of Britain not Dorset so the discovery is rare and interesting. We need to go back into Pitts Copse and check the other stones that still lie there and… also a trip to the British Museum would be in order to take some high resolution photographs of the Badbury Barrow carved daggers ….which are so like those at Stonehenge.

Babdury stone




Badbury Barrow & Rock Art Kingston Lacy

It was a recent phone call from Bournemouth University which restarted this.

‘Where was the Badbury Barrow?’

Nobody knows exactly… though I had put together a file on the potential locations of the site back in the 90s. There were some loose ends to tie up. An unresolved archaeological mystery involving the Kingston Lacy Estate in south-east Dorset.

Back in the early 19th century, farmers wanted every inch of land it seems and they employed labourers as winter work to level out earthworks that got in the way of the plough.

The details are recorded by Rev John Austen, a local antiquarian.

“On Nov. 1, 1845, I accidentally ascertained that a barrow situated about five miles from Wimborne, Dorset, upon the road leading to Blandford, and in the immediate neighbourhood of Badbury camp, was in progress of being levelled. The circumstance which chiefly attracted my notice was the vast quantities of large sandstones and flints which had been taken from it. Unfortunately nearly two-thirds of the tumulus were already removed. From the remainder, however, I have obtained a tolerably accurate idea of its interior arrangement, which, with perhaps the exception of the ‘Deverill barrow’, opened by W. Miles, Esq., in 1825, is more highly interesting than any yet examined. The labourer employed could give me but little information respecting the part already destroyed, further than that he had thrown up many pieces of pottery, and found one urn in a perfect state, but in removal he had broken it” (for the full description read the blog by Northern Antiquarian Badbury Barrow, Shapwick)

Although much of the barrow was damaged, Rev Austen recorded a cemetery within a wall of sandstone and flint. Some of the remains were crouched skeletons but most of the burials consisted of cremated human bones and ashes placed in pots typical of the period 1800-1400 BC.  He thought that the burial area had been opened from time to time so that new burials could be made. These were marked or covered by large blocks of local sandstone known as Heathstone.

The number of burials and the form of the central stone structure makes this Bronze Age round barrow very rare. However, the most interesting part was the evidence for carving on one of the blocks. Daggers and cup marks.


The dagger carvings at Stonehenge more have been found in recent years by laser scanning the surfaces of the stones.

This brings to mind Stonehenge where several of the megaliths have been found to have had daggers carved into them. The daggers on the block of Badbury Barrow Heathstone look very similar.

The Badbury Barrow stone with the carvings found its way into Henry Durden’s collection and now lies within the British Museum.

Stonehenge and the Badbury Barrow. Are there other Bronze Age dagger carvings in Britain?

This had been a large barrow so it would be good to see if any barrows are shown on maps that pre-date its destruction.

Since the 1990s, NT and the Dorset History Centre have had the old maps scanned in high definition. Now we can zoom into any small map detail easily.

There are over 100 round barrows on the Kingston Lacy Estate but very few on the Blandford Road and most are just ring ditches visible on aerial photographs, the soil filled quarry ditch which once surrounded a burial mound has been levelled by many 100s of years of agriculture

So the pre-1840s maps to look at are the 1774 Kingston Lacy Estate Map and the 1813 Shapwick parish enclosure map. They both show the same distinctive barrows. The three untouched grass-covered mounds on the entrance track to Badbury Rings and the four to the west, close to a track known as the Swan Way. All of these last four have been ploughed down in the past and are now low humps in the fields. The National Trust have put them under grass since the 1980s and they will remain in pasture.

1774 Woodward BB

The Barrow mounds shown on the 1774 map of Kingston Lacy Estate surveyed by William Wooodward. Best candidates for the Badbury Barrow one of the two along the road to the right of the Roman Amphitheatre (see blog post on this)

Two of these, on the south side of the Beech Avenue are shown as large mounds on the old maps. They lie right beside the Blandford Road and 5 miles west of Wimborne. I think that one of these is most likely to be the Badbury Barrow.

Bournemouth wondered whether another ploughed down barrow, south of Badbury Rings and the Blandford Road might be the one.  It was 4 miles west of Wimborne and visible as a clear ring ditch on aerial photographs and had clearly lost its mound at some time though it was not prominent enough to be shown on the old maps.

I agreed to arrange a geophysical survey and phoned the farmer.

He was happy for the survey to go ahead once the crop was off the field and I asked him about the stones he had ploughed up in the 70s. He said that he would show me the ones in his garden in August when I came over for the survey.

I phoned Dave and he was agreed to carry out the magnetometry survey and fixed a day.

The last phone call was to the retired Kingston Lacy head ranger. Yes it would be OK for me to see the cup and ring marks on the stone in his garden again, one of the ones ploughed up by the farmer 40 years ago.


One day at Kingston Lacy.

A summary: Chedworth 2018

The soil is back in place and the dust has settled. The North Range corridor and grand reception room mosaics now lie 10-15cm deep.


Who knows when they will be uncovered again but thanks to the help of so many ..we have been able to make an excellent record ….into the future they can be seen as fine images and videos ….while the originals lie protected from the weather and erosion under the ground.

We had glimpsed bits of these mosaics in 2013, 2014 & 2016.  Before that, in 2000, Cotswold Archaeology had uncovered an area and Roger Goodburn revealed other sections in 1990.

We thought that everything had been uncovered by James Farrer in the 1860s.. but this year, we revealed sections of mosaic, particularly along the south side of the reception hall, which were still covered by late Roman building debris..mainly roof tiles and rubble. Simon identified a coin we found here as belonging to Theodosius I (AD 379-395), one of the last Roman emperors to circulate coins in Britain.

This rubble was not a pristine collapse of debris, left where it had fallen after the villa roof fell in. It was a remnant..picked over for goodies perhaps in the 6th-10th centuries. However, we have identified nothing later than the Theodosian coin in this stuff so far.

By the close of the excavation, we had uncovered sections of mosaic covering an area over 30m long and 6m wide. At times, it seemed, we had taken on something over-large ..but the weather, although very hot, helped us work together to achieve the hoped for result. More survived under the tarmac and grass than we suspected.

As we reburied them… we wondered what world the mosaics would be exposed to when eventually uncovered again.

Last year, we excavated the mosaic in Room 28. It was perhaps used as a summer dining room…so lets imagine and go for a stroll with the owner… after a meal taken here in the late 4th century.

We walk from the room and enter the 3m wide corridor with its hopscotch pattern of decorated squares, each a different design. We progress west as far as a chequerboard mosaic doormat in front of a broad stone threshold.

Perhaps servants are here to open the double doors for us and we step into the great reception room. It stretches before us now.. long and broad and high.. decorated with brightly coloured panels of painted wall plaster. The floor is beautiful .. we know it now. Intricate grouped geometric designs  bordered by 3 bands of alternating white and red tesserae with a broader white band around the edge of the room.

Half-way along, on the south, is a stepped? external entrance into the courtyard. Although the archaeology was badly damaged here, lines of dressed stones suggest a doorway …and it would be expected.

We still stand in the corridor doorway and directly in front of us at the other end of the room are the kerbstones which mark the entrance to the colonnade leading to the West Range of the villa and the flight of steps which lead to the baths.

Jutting into the courtyard at the south-west corner of the reception hall is the ornate square water feature which we excavated in 2014. Another revelation of the grandeur of this place.

To the right of this, the red stripe border turns west at right angles to mark the position of a foundation (utilising an earlier wall line), a secure foundation for a heavy imposing decorative feature, built against the centre of the room’s west wall. We can imagine an important fixed feature. Perhaps the statue of a god, an ancestor or emperor. From here, leading north, a flight of steps carries us into…the owner’s office. A place of discussion, business and command. This is Room 24, where, in 2014, we found the evidence of the raised pillar hypocaust.

This year, the fragment of carved stone, Nancy found, is thought to come from an ornate stone side table which is evidence for the furniture which once graced this room. We can place this with our exotic eastern mediterranean marble fragment found near the centre of this room in 2014.

Towards the east end of this north wall would have been another door. This time into Room 25 but an entrance less imposing. It did not need steps to enter because Room 25 has a channeled hypocaust .. so the floor was built at the same level as the reception room. The evidence for this doorway is a concentration of erosion, the mosaic floor worn away by 5th to 6th century footfall.. repaired with only mortar and clay at a time when the Romano-British economy had fallen apart and the mosaicists had ceased to trade.

The steps and statue focus on Room 24 ….as the centre of power.

Steve has identified an unexpected change in the central mosaic pattern design and perhaps this pointed to the position of the doorway into the courtyard….but it may just be a mistake.

Of course.. I am spinning a yarn. It is good to have a story and I am giving you my best truth based on an interpretation of the evidence.


A dodgy drawing of my imagined view from the north range corridor through the reception hall towards the colonnade and the west range. The line of kerb stone here suggest a broad open entrance and perhaps, at this point there were once folding shutters rather than doors.. to act as a screen in the colder weather. A splash of blue on the left indicates the water feature. I have picked up the mistake in the central panels of the mosaic and drawn a central doorway to the courtyard on the left. Steps have been created up to room 24 and no steps for the suspected doorway to Room 25.  I have put a statue on a plinth to explain the kink in the red stripe border and decided that the staircase to the baths was a single flight accessed from the colonnade. Also two side tables are shown as interpreted by Anthony from the carved fragment Nancy found this year.

There were four other trenches.

Two were to pick up the line of the outer west boundary wall of the villa. We found this wall, made of chunky blocks of stone bonded to the south Nymphaeum wall. Even in the drought the Nymphaeum spring water still trickled into its pool. The wall’s junction with the Nymphaeum shows that it has been largely recreated in the 1860s. There is a straight joint and then the ashlar gives way to irregular blocks of stone. Different phases of construction but not enough time to fully understand the sequence properly.


Where the villa west boundary wall joins the Nymphaeum (scale 20cm divisions)

Peter and I projected the wall line 12m to the south and excavated another trench. Although there was a spread of rubble here, nothing but a patch of mortar indicated that the wall survived this far south.


The second trench to locate the boundary wall. Just rubble this far south. Peter stands where the alignment of this wall joins the Nymphaeum

The third trench was in raised baths Room 21 on the west side of the reception room. This was dug to find the wall dividing the early tepidarium bath with the room we found under the east side of Room 21 in 2015-2016. Amy and Fay found a line of blocks of stone on the proposed alignment but they were loose and we did not have the time in the end to go deep enough to prove the theory.


The trench to locate the earlier tepidarium east wall. Richmond interpreted it in his 1960s rebuild where the vertical ranging rod stands. His work cut away the south (top in photo) edge of the archaeology. Displaced blocks of stone on this alignment suggest that it might survive at a deeper level.

The last trench was a revisit and expansion of one excavated in 2016. This was to date three walls. Firstly, the south wall face of the North Range Corridor and Reception Hall. Secondly, the buttress which supports this wall on the south side where the wide doorway leads from the corridor into the reception hall. Thirdly, the east wall of the gallery which divides the inner and outer courtyards of the villa.

I am particularly interested in finding new evidence for the beginning and end of the villa and this trench it seems contains evidence of an earlier phase.

At the end of the 2016 season we found a square flagstone and the top of a heap of yellow mortar and rubble which contained 2nd century evidence. This year we confirmed that the coins in the darker soil, above the yellow building rubble dated to the late 3rd century. Nothing 4th century: which is unexpected because we were sure that both the buttress and the corridor wall had been built towards the end of the 4th century.

I found a cutting against the corridor wall filled with a dark grey silt which had been dug through the deep mortary building rubble. This contained two worn undateable coins. At first it seemed that this was a foundation trench for the corridor wall but it didn’t work archaeologically… The trench cut the rubble.. the rubble was heaped up against the buttress foundation …and the buttress foundation abutted the corridor wall. You see what I mean ? …It creates a time warp. You can’t build a wall before its buttress.

My present story is that it is a later trench cut perhaps to take away a flagstone, a neighbour to the one we found wedged between the buttress and the corridor wall. There may once have been a line of flagstones against the corridor wall here.

The yellow rubble layer was deep and interesting. Full of blue and red painted plaster debris and occasional sherds of pottery including a fragment of samian and the rims of two 2nd century black burnished ware jars. It had been heaped over a water tank beneath a stone spout. If this rubble is late 2nd century then the buttress and corridor wall must be earlier…

…Though of course finds in dumps of rubble can be displaced and redeposited. Cross reference everything and assume nothing.

The tank had an outlet hole that drained into a ditch. The tank and debris sat on a spread of grey limestone slates spread across to create a rough floor surface. On the last day, Stephanie and her daughter found an oyster shell, charcoal and occasional scraps of pottery and tesserae here and Carol and Nick found a deposit of animal bones under the buttress foundation.


The rough stone floor surface continuing under the stone tank and beneath this the foundation of the East Gallery wall. The foundation for the later stone buttress for the corridor is on the right edge of the photograph.

I made one last small incision against the gallery wall and found beneath the stone slab floor and the mortar layer below it, a foundation trench filling and the base of the gallery wall.

So the sequence is clear…first the gallery, then the corridor then the buttress. We will take our samples for radiocarbon dates and Nancy will send the finds for analysis. They will help us tell a better story.. something a little closer to the truth

And so we say goodbye to our excavations at Chedworth Roman Villa. Thank you so much to all the staff, specialist experts and volunteers who have helped us since 2010. Particularly of course the property staff and volunteers at Chedworth. You are all wonderful.

And looking back…Guy, Aparna, Catherine and James…Harry, Kate, David and Mike. Fay and Carol our fine supervisors of course. The core team Peter and Amy, younger Nick and Nick the wise and Stephanie… who discovered archaeology this year and  Rob our longest volunteer (since 1986!) who in this last evening photo…conveniently stands where the statue might once have been.


Thank you !



Day 19 – The end for now ….

The core team left to right Stephanie, Fay, Rob, Amy, Carol, Martin, Pete and Me

Well, we reached the last day and had a few last jobs to do as well as back-filling the trenches. Martin had recording, drawings and the odd extra bit of digging to do, to answer a few questions in the buttress trench. Fay and Amy had a little more digging in the bath house trench to find the wall, and the rest of us had finds and tools to pack up.

We have to record everything by scale drawing and photography, as once its dug out we cannot go back to check any details.

In the buttress trench Martin has been finding lots of painted plaster including different blues and greens. Then he found this large piece, amazing colours and design.

In the buttress trench Martin has found lots of lovely painted plaster, mainly blues, but then he found this stunning piece

A close-up of the plaster

One job we had to do was to put in a little extension to find out how big the water tank was, it turned out to be quite small, but perfectly formed. We also found the outlet hole!

The extent of the tank


The tank  had slipped forward, note the crack in the lower right

The outlet hole

The last trench to be filled in was the buttress trench, we protected the tank with geotextile, then left messages for future archaeologists to find, in an empty bottle of fizz we had for Amy’s 21st birthday.

For future archaeologists to find

Nearly there

Also on the last day we had another birthday to celebrate – Pete’s. So it was a double celebration and a big cake provided by lovely Sue, who had been doing all the finds washing for us, thank you Sue.

When you only have a grubby wooden knife a trowel has to do

As we put back the last turf we had our last visitor, a frog that had managed to survive the back filling and the heat!

Our last visitor

As they say ‘that’s all folks’ for daily up dates from the dig, but Martin will do a summing up of the dig and we will post updates of the finds when we have their stories back from the specialists. So keep checking in.

All that’s left to say is a massive thank you to all our volunteers who came to dig with us and especially those who helped with the mammoth back filling task. We hope you all enjoyed your experience. Thank you to all our blog followers, and its been lovely to meet many of you on-site, your kind words helped to keep us going through the hottest parts of the day.

Until next time………


Day Eighteen – Heelis Heroes

Well the day had come to start to back fill the site, in other words put back all the soil we had spent two and a half weeks digging out! Plus 6 tonnes of top soil!

Arriving on site the task look insurmountable, we were all exhausted after all the digging and the hot weather. Then from across the site came a large group of people with wheelbarrows and shovels, the volunteer team from our central office at Heelis had arrived.

We first put geotextile along the edges of the mosaics to support them and then covered them with more geotextile, we organized the teams and off they went.

The white expanse of geotextile covering

The bucket chain

Many buckets to fill!

we rotated the jobs  as it was so hot we needed to keep having water breaks

The white geotextile is disappearing

The large spoil heap is nearly gone!

The group was leaving us at 3.20pm and they were determined to finish moving the whole spoil heap and at 3.21pm they did it!

Thank you so much we couldn’t have done it without you, we love you all

Thank you all so much,  you were our hero’s you did so much we now have a manageable (hopefully) day tomorrow with the corridor to cover, the buttress trench and Fays small wall trench to back fill. Thank you Ros and Jane and your volunteers as well, we became one big team. We then will pack up all our kit and the finds and head south. But stay tuned as there will be news from the buttress trench tomorrow 🙂