A Drain at Montacute

Richard rang. Could I come to Montacute. A tenant had some damp problems and he needed to dig a French drain.

Though he had a vague memory that a drain had already been dug against the building… back in the 80s… he said that ‘The Borough’ was at the gates of the Montacute House and was one of the oldest houses in the village.

Probably best to have an archaeologist watch the soil while he wielded the JCB.

To be honest it would be good to get out. Too many on-screen meetings from my back room since returning from furlough, so I took the A303 west into South Somerset.

Soon, I was driving down the main street of the ancient honey-coloured Ham stone village. I passed the church on the right and arrived at the gates to Montacute House.

They were locked… with a message on the railings to phone the house. Graham answered and walked up the drive to let me in.

We greeted each other, shared our ‘lockdown’ experiences… from a distance…and then I drove round the corner to the overflow car park.

The corner of the car park looking west with The Borough abutted by two tall stone garden walls

There, in the corner of the grass covered area, was the gable end of the Borough with 4m high stone kitchen garden walls running up to it from the north and the east. The ground floor window was almost at soil level. No wonder there was a damp problem with the cottage kitchen floor over a metre below the car park ground surface.

Richard had already taken off a 1.5m wide strip of turf against the cottage and I got out my drawing board and created a scale plan. I could see that there was a gravel surface 0.7m wide against the wall and then dark soil, so as I can’t help but think in context numbers… the turf would be (1), the gravel (2) and the dark soil (3). (3) had bits of coal and clinker and a mix of pottery.. blue and white willow pattern but no plastic so it felt like a pre 1960s deposit.

I guessed that the gravel (2) was the upper filling of the old, now useless, drain that Richard had mentioned.

Richard turned up with the digger and Dean with the mini tractor and trailer and the gravel was scraped off. This turned out to be just a skim on top of the real drain filling which consisted of large chunks of Ham stone in a clinker and ash silt.

This I called (4).. and it was 0.7m deep … so (2) and (4) filled a trench [6] which was cut down through (3) . Dean gave me a whole Victorian wine bottle he had pulled out of (4) but there were fragments of more modern pottery too. The blocks of stone were debris from some demolished building or buildings because some had moulded and dressed edges.

As Richard dug them out, Dean pulled them from the trailer and placed them against the wall for reuse,

The wall of the cottage at this modern drain level had been lined with Welsh slate on concrete…to keep the damp out…unsuccessfully…. as it turned out.

Suddenly the ash and stone filling stopped and the digger bucket scraped yellow clay. I jumped down with the trowel and started cleaning.

The black ash and Ham stone reused building rubble used to fill the drain lined with Welsh slate bedded on concrete and below this the top of a the yellow clay. looking south west.

I found a smooth clay layer (5). As I scraped my trowel, it hit something brittle and white, an oyster shell… always a good indicator that things are getting older.. and a moment later, a fragment of earthenware with bits of green glaze on …and a thin white tube.. part of a tobacco pipe stem.

At this level, the dressed Ham stone wall face of The Borough disappeared and it seemed that the footings had been lost.

(5) was about 5cm deep and my trowel started hitting fragments of Ham stone and the clay became stickier. I called this (7) and a fragment of grey and brown salt-glaze pottery flicked out of it as well as a fragment of a jug with a hard-fired fabric and a shiny deep green glaze.

The pottery finds from the drain filling (7) salt-glaze top left and shiny green jug fragment tor right

This kind of stuff was early 17th century..possibly late 16th, the sort of thing we had found at Corfe Castle in the Civil War deposits… and dated to about the time of the construction of Montacute House itself …which stood in all its golden grandeur just a couple of hundred yards away.

At this level, at the edge of the trench, there was a plastic grey clay which I could follow down with my trowel (10) and this turned out to be a water-proof drain lining which (7) was filling. The Borough wall face emerged again at this level but this time the wall was of unshaped local rubble stone. Perhaps an earlier building on the same site?

The reused blocks of stone forming the garden wall sit on the clay layer (5) and abut the Borough wall which is lined with Welsh slate to the top of (5), The original drain filling (7) contained lumps of Ham stone and the trowel rests against a large block which might once have been part of a gutter, The grey clay lining slopes up to the bottom right and the cut level floor of the drain is cut into natural bedrock. The rubble stone footings of the house have been built off this at the bottom left edge of the photo.

Suddenly the trowel hit stone bedrock which had been cut flat and level with this earliest foundation of the Borough built directly on it. The original drain of the house had been well made but at some stage. loads of soil had been brought in to raise the ground level and the wall face had been buried almost a metre deep.

Behind me, Richard had continued digging out the mid to late 20th century drain filling and he had reached the garden wall further east. Here the soil was jumbled and mixed. He said that when he was a boy he had known the bloke who ran the market garden here. On market days he’d sell the produce to the villagers.

1887 OS map of the Montacute walled garden. The excavation trench was on the north side of The Borough which is the building end on to the bottom left of the large enclosure with the blue cross-hatched greenhouses in.

I had a look at the old Ordnance Survey maps and from the 1880s through to the early 20th century there were extensive greenhouses here. The high walls sheltered vulnerable plants from cold winds, enabling fruit and vegetables to be produced out of season. A few years before, I had recorded a flue in one of these kitchen garden walls. The gardener apprentices had the job of stoking the hearth to keep exotic plants warm on the heated wall during frosty weather.

The earliest map, is Samuel Donne’s Montacute plan of 1774. It was lost about 60 years ago but we found that Country Life magazine had included a section of the map in their 1950s article on Montacute House. We tracked down their archivist and asked if they had a photo of the map and they checked their photograph files and sent us a copy of the whole thing …in the post!

The Borough is left of garden plot 197 and 196 on this 1774 map. There is a row of houses on the other side of the road which are no longer there.

So good to see it, as it shows clues to an earlier designed landscape. The roads and main entrance to the house were on the east side then. The western approach was only installed in 1785 and involved much landscaping and demolition of parts of the village. The map shows the Borough as one of a number of buildings lining what is now the visitor entrance to the house.

The excavation site was not part of a kitchen garden then… but a gap between two houses in a street with their long back gardens continuing to the east.

Montacute goes back to Saxon times… at least… and the 1774 maps shows a village in transition as the owning Phelips family extended their influence and absorbed ancient streets within their expanding parkland…..

Dean brought me a clay tobacco pipe bowl. On the base it read ‘Will Pitch’ and underneath ‘er’ … perhaps William Pitcher made this. It had a shape and design typical of about 1670-1700 …but it was out of context.. the mixed garden soil contained all sorts of jumbled finds from the 17th through to the 20th centuries.

I had been privileged to gain another small glimpse of the complex past of Montacute.

I finished the drawings and photography, checked that I had numbered up all the finds bags… said goodbye…. and drove home.

Chedworth Villa, The LiDAR

At Chedworth Roman Villa in Gloucestershire, past blogs have concentrated on the place itself… though it is only one luxury home among many.

copyright Mike Calnan, drone flight showing Chedworth Roman Villa looking north-west, the landscape hidden by trees.

How does Chedworth fit into the wider local Romano British landscape?

Who were the neighbours?

The ground surface of the surrounding countryside is hard to see because much of it is shrounded in woodland and it has long been an ambition to have a LiDAR survey flown across the area. This would enable a high resolution 3D scan of the ground surface.

This process is particularly wonderful because the ‘first returns’, (the light impulses that bounce off the tree tops) can be filtered out leaving only those that hit the woodland floor (second returns). Suddenly the trees are gone and the earthworks they hide are visible at last.

Map showing the location of Chedworth in relation to Cirencester , Bourton and Wycomb. Each black dot a known villa site. Definitely a desired location for the wealthy Romanised population.

The Roman route to Chedworth is easy to find. From Corinium (Cirencester). Take the straight road heading north-east towards Bourton on the Water (another Roman settlement). This is the Fosse Way and after 7.5 miles, take a left at Fosse Bridge.

Here, the road meanders north-west five miles along the River Coln until it reaches Wycomb, another Roman small town, and along this road the rolling countryside is studded with Roman villas.

A busy and wealthy landscape.

LiDAR image with the locations of Roman sites and potential Roman sites.

After leaving the Fosse Way, the road hugs the south-west side of the river and the villas lie in valleys facing east towards the Coln. The first great house lies in Listercombe Bottom. Mosaics were discovered here in 1760 with some additional excavations in 1930. The arrangement of buildings here is not well understood.

A mile further along the river and right beside the road is a stone platform where a grand columned Roman temple was excavated in 1926. This is clear on the LiDAR and then just round the corner Chedworth villa’s valley opens up.

The LiDAR shows the entrance drive which can still be traced in the field though it was once regularly ploughed. It runs straight across the field to the villa’s lower courtyard.

Chedworth’s valley is distinctive. We’ll come back to it at the end.

Back to the riverside road …and half a mile further on we come to something particularly exciting at Cassey Compton. The old Ordnance Survey maps mark earthworks here but the LiDAR shows the details clearly. The river skirts the south side of the site but at a later stage a straight leat was constructed which cuts through the middle of the site. It’s the sort of thing done to power a water mill but the regular earthworks at Cassey Compton match the size of Chedworth, particularly the long rectilinear ranges subdivided into rooms.

Top centre-left is the Cassey Compton villa? site cut by a leat with the river running on its south side. Top right earthworks of a ‘celtic’ field system preserved and hidden under woodland. Centre-left rectilinear earthworks across the north-west side of Turpin’s Green valley (another villa or Roman structure?). Bottom left corner cut by the Victorian cuttings and embankment of a railway now disused. The bottom centre ridge has two Bronze Age round barrows on its summit, both crossed by antiquarian excavation trenches.

A site undamaged by ploughing or excavation it seems. It may have later medieval buildings overlying it.. but underneath, it looks like a villa and there is the potential for waterlogged deposits at this riverside site where wooden and other organic artefacts may be preserved.

The earthworks of the Cassey Compton site cut by the leat and skirted to the left by the River Coln. The rectilinear arrangement and long ranges of rooms suggest that this is a villa site but with later building activity and trackways overlying them.

On the upper edge of the valley, just to the south, are other rectilinear earthworks that might be structures. Another villa? Seems unlikely in such close proximity but pairs of villas are not unknown here.

Another mile or so down the valley is the village of Withington and and another villa was found here in 1811. The antiquarian Samuel Lysons excavated and found intricate mosaics. Then, in 2007, Time Team investigated more Roman finds, discovered 150m east beside the Coln. The excavations uncovered another elaborate villa-like building. Do these two sites represent separate ownerships or homes for different parts of the same family?

A drawing of Samuel Lyson’s excavation of Withington Roman Villa in 1811.

Three miles on there is Whittington Roman Villa excavated 1948 beside Wycomb settlement and a mile away down a separate valley to the north-east is Compton Abdale Villa excavated in 1931.

So Chedworth was part of a community of villas, a society of wealthy families meeting, doing business, helping each other out, gossiping and probably trying to outdo each other in fashion and style. I’m getting a bit Jane Austen I know.

The journey back from the market at Cirencester would meander along the Coln and around each bend of the river would lie a mansion set in its garden and park surrounded by the fields of the owner’s tenant farmers.

Most of these Roman fields have been ploughed away in modern times but under the woods, above Cassey Compton, the LiDAR reveals a surviving group of earthworks typical of ‘celtic’ fields used during the Romano-British period.

So back to Chedworth and the LiDAR shows a distinctive square-ended valley where the villa was built. Narrow coombes run up slope from its north-west and south-west corners. There is also a slighter central combe… though all cut by the creation of the railway in the 19th century, a clear point of reference snaking across the LiDAR image.

Image of Chedworth Villa valley with its squared west end and coombes running south-west and north-west to join the White Way on the ridge top. Bottom centre on the spur top can be seen an ‘L’ shaped bank and ditch with traces of a bank forming a south side (potentially a prehistoric enclosure cut by a track through the middle. Along the north side of the villa, the track is cut by a later lime kiln. Top centre is the irregular shape of a limestone quarry with an east-west track running beside it, which in turn is cut by the Victorian railway that crosses the left hand side of the image.

As well as the formal straight central drive leading to the lower courtyard, there is also the present drive which continues the route used in Roman times to give access to Chedworth’s South Range. Merchants and tradesmen would perhaps have uses this for deliveries to the villa’s store houses and kitchens with the option to continue up the south-west coombe to the ancient ridge top route known as the White Way.

Another route can be seen as an embankment leading from the Coln-side road and running along the north side of the villa. The metalling for this track was found during excavations in 2003 and 2017. The LiDAR shows that the track has been cut by a post-medieval lime kiln but beyond this its route can be seen running up the north-west coombe to join the White Way.

Looking across the villa to the south, the LiDAR shows a ditch and bank on the ridge top and this may be the remains of an Iron Age enclosure. We have found scraps of pottery and a burial dating to this period so it may be a pre-Roman in date.. though only the north and west sides of this potential enclosure are visible. There is perhaps a bank defining the south side with the hollow for a pathway or track running through the middle of it.

The LiDAR is a wonder and the more you look, the more you see: old excavation trenches; water pipe routes; garden beds; boundary banks and wall alignments. Mysterious patterns that emerge when a false light is shone across the image from a certain direction but which disappear as the light is rotated around the landscape.

A closer LiDAR view of Chedworth showing the intricacies of the earthwork evidence there.

These images will not date the features they show…though a kind of landscape stratigraphy can be discerned. Beyond that…it is time to journey out into the real landscape and ‘ground truth’ where the LiDAR has unravelled significant earthworks ….beside the rivers and beneath the trees.

Killerton, ColumnJohn & the Culm

This is about the archaeology involved with tree planting and waterways. The National Trust has a Green Recovery Programme for improving nature…. but this while enhancing and valuing the historic landscape..

The River Culm at Columbjohn

A snowy Sunday afternoon in Warminster… but today let us imagine ourselves out west and at the front door of Killerton House in Devon.

The Acland family gave the mansion and the 2600 hectare Killerton Estate to the National Trust in 1944 …but their first house was down by the River Culm. A Domesday manor which they acquired in the late 16th century. Killerton Estate could have been the Columbjohn Estate if the Aclands hadn’t decided to move.

Killerton House

Columbjohn House was a Tudor rebuild of the medieval manor.. but after its capture by Parliament, during the Civil War, the family decided to shift to a newer acquisition 2km to the east at Killerton. They took up residence in the late 17th century but still valued their roots at Columbjohn.

The 1756 estate map shows an avenue of trees leading straight across the farmland to the river. Halfway along, there is a domed hill with the ruined folly on top (we excavated there in 2017 https://archaeologynationaltrustsw.wordpress.com/2017/07/30/killerton-folly-day-2/ ).

The avenue, with its track back to Columbjohn is long gone… so, from Killerton we must drive back to the park gates passing below Dolbury Hill’s Iron Age hillfort. Once at the gates, we turn right and along a winding road to eventually reach Columbjohn and the river.

The old gateway c.1600 that once gave access to the now demolished Columbjohn manor house

There is an older stone arched gateway here, dated to about 1600, and this once gave access to the drive to the house… but now there is just an area of grass where it once stood. The 1888 Ordnance Survey map marks a cross on the site and if you fade this out as a GIS layer on LiDAR, the cross sits neatly in a rectangular hollow… on the lip of a straight-edged terrace above the River Culm. Once there would have been a good vista from the lost mansion across the floodplain and the meandering river.

The OS 1888 map showing the site of Columbjohn mansion. The cross on this maps fits in the centre of a house platform shown as a neat rectangular earthwork on LiDAR images.

So, the old mansion was demolished after the move to Killerton but Columbjohn chapel is still there. It lies amongst some trees and the Acland family still valued this place as a burial ground. In the graveyard is the imposing tomb of Thomas Dyke Acland who took the name of his wife Elizabeth Dyke, heir to the 5000 hectare Holnicote Estate in Exmoor. They married in 1753 uniting the two great estates.

The grave of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland beside the chapel at Columbjohn

I brought you to the river to talk about river archaeology. From the site of Columbjohn, the Culm takes its sinuous course north along the floodplain, to the west of Dolbury Hill and Killerton Park as far as Silverton and the Killerton Estate boundary.

Columbjohn Chapel

This river meadow land has been chosen as an area for habitat improvement.

Paul, the project manager, phoned last week and talked about the ambition to plant trees, enhance meadow pasture and create wetland areas. This work had the potential to affect archaeological sites along the Culm both known and unknown and we agreed to first have a focused historic landscape survey of the project area which could inform the ‘Green Recovery’ scheme. Then, once proposals had been formulated, a heritage impact assessment to highlight what additional archaeological recording work and evaluation was needed before the digging and planting work began.

We needed someone who had a particular knowledge of waterways and river archaeology and we were in luck. The Culm had been chosen as a pilot study area by Historic England and had employed Antony to do the work, a specialist on the archaeology of waterways, meadows and wetlands.

Before phoning him, I did some homework on what we already knew about the area. I went through aerial photographs, documentary maps and LiDAR. Amazing what can be done digitally by overlying map and photo layers.

The Culm is a restless river, a classic geography lesson in oxbow lakes and moving meanders. Past generations had tried to tame the river but it was hard to pin down.

The 1888 OS map showing Columbjohns Corn Mill just before it burned down. Leat, sluice gates and footbridge shown. Perhaps there had been a mill on the site since the medieval period. The water structures and channels needed to be constantly checked and repaired to maintain the flow across the water wheels to grind the grain.

Just north of the Columbjohn Chapel is the site of Columbjohn Mill. It is clear on on the 1888 Ordnance Survey Map, but burnt down in April that year and was never rebuilt. There had been a mill at Columbjohn since at least 1086. The Area Ranger Fi and her team of archaeology volunteers have cleared the scrub from the site and the mill footings and leat channels have been revealed.

After the 1888 fire, the 1904 OS map shows that the mill has gone.. though the water channels remain

It had been difficult to keep the mill fed with water along the leat from the Culm. The maps show sluice gates and a weir which impeded the water flow and raised the water level so that it could be sent down towards the mill. The river wanted to move west and its course today is different from 1888. There were mills all along the river and regular disputes between neighbours…when leat and sluice work of one miller impeded the water flow to the next mill.

High rainfall would provide too much water so systems were needed to divert the overflow. In dry weather, every drop of water was needed.

The weir and boat house at the 18th century Cubbyclose Cottages. The weir raised the river water to send it down the mill leat towards Columbjohn Mill.

Beside the weir there is a cottage called ‘Cubbyclose’ and there was once a boat house there. Antony wondered whether the Aclands brought guests here to enjoy fishing and wildfowling.

Across the flood plain are linear divisions, clear on the LiDAR, earthworks across the old, grassed over meanders of the river. He talked of water meadows created for a flow of water across the pasture to raise temperature for an early growth of meadow grass to fatten livestock in the spring. A valuable Tudor farming innovation though Killerton’s water meadows are undated.

Antony talked of fish ponds and osier beds for coppicing willow for withies. From these baskets and fish traps could be woven.

Beneath all this historical stuff lies the potential of water-logged preserved wood from hidden lost mills and jetties and trackways across the marshes…who knows…. but the people of Dolbury hillfort and their predecessors would surely have used the watery resources of the Culm.

We’ll see what we find.

East of Salisbury, Figsbury Ring

Today the drive is towards the east border of the National Trust’s South West Region. Out on the edge of Wiltshire, the cathedral city is behind us now.

The car is climbing steadily, up out of the valley onto the chalk plateau. This motor makes it feel easy but thinking back to 84, the Hillman Hunter struggled…. and threatened to die on this long steep gradient. A stream of stronger fitter vehicles impatiently trailed out behind me threatening a risky overtake in frustration.

In a few minutes, we will cross the border into Hampshire but I need to keep my eyes open; I don’t want to miss the turning… otherwise we’ll end up in Andover… or perhaps the archaeologically famous Danebury Hillfort.

There it is, the National Trust Figsbury Ring finger post. It always catches me out. Indicate left,put the brakes on and do a screeching turn onto the bumpy gravel track which comes up suddenly. A complete change in pace, navigate the pot-holes and bumps slowly to reach the car park.

In the far corner is the path that leads to our destination, an isolated rectangle of National Trust property, acquired in 1930. It is wedged between open arable farmland and a Ministry of Defence research establishment.

The east entrance into Figsbury Ring, remains of the barbican are just beyond the gate and worn path in the foreground.

A couple of hundred yards brings us to a gate and a metal omega sign telling us that we have arrived. Directly in front of us is the rampart and its east entrance but we cross the remnants of another bank and ditch to get there, indicating that there was once a barbican type additional defence in front of this gateway.

It looks like a hillfort on the outside…but it seems different. Rather than climbing up through the defences to reach the summit, the walk through the entrance is level. The rampart that surrounds this circular 6 hectare space, blocks out all views except through the north and south entrances. Thirty paces inside, and concentric with the rampart…we encounter a deep wide ditch.

Looking across the inner ditch causeway towards the Figsbury east entrance

Very unusual. Where did the spoil from this ditch go? Perhaps to build the rampart…but there is a wide outer dich which should have provided the material for this.

How strange. We’ll walk across the enclosure, though the opposing ditch causeways and climb up onto the rampart.

Looking south=west from the rampart top towards Salisbury

Let’s sit on the grassy bank and enjoy the view back south-west to the city and spire of Salisbury Cathedral…far away and below us.

I open the backpack and pull out a 1928 copy of ‘Wessex from the Air’ and turn to page 84. There’s a vertical air photograph. This shows Figsbury to be oval rather than circular and that the interior had recently been cultivated. Military buildings had already been built against Figsbury’s northern boundary.

Air photograph published in Wessex From The Air (Crawford and Keiller 1928). North is bottom right where the military buildings have been constructed. East entrance through the rampart and ditch bottom of the photograph.

The text notes that a Late Bronze Age sword or ‘rapier’ was ploughed up here in 1704 and that the renowned Wiltshire archaeologists Captain and Maud Cunnington had recently (1924) completed an excavation which cut trenches across both of Figsbury’s ditches and recovered about 100 pieces of pottery.

So, are we sitting on a hillfort, built as a secure place to defend the interior from attack, or on a sacred boundary enclosing a holy place?

The Cunningtons found red All Cannings Cross pottery and showed that the outer ditch was ‘V’ shaped. That is evidence to support the idea that this was an Early Iron Age hillfort dating to about 500 BC. Perhaps there was a smaller enclosure that predated it….. say, 1000-750 BC to account for the find of the bronze rapier here.

In contrast….which rather blows the hillfort idea…..the excavations across the inner ditch revealed that it was ‘U’ shaped with a wide base. It was not continuous but dug in various lengths and widths with causeways across….very Neolithic.

This type of ditch construction is more the sort of thing found in enclosures of 3600-2400 BC. Perhaps it’s an Early Neolithic ’causewayed enclosure’ but it seems much more likely to be a Late Neolithic ‘henge’.

Henges have the ditches inside their bank …not usually 30m away from it though. The great henge at Avebury, for example, has the bank right beside the ditch.

In the 1980s, the Cunningtons’ pottery was looked at again and fragments of distinctive ‘Grooved Ware’ were found… so just the right sort of date (c.2,600-2400 BC) for a henge …huge amounts of Grooved Ware have been found at Durrington Walls henge near Stonehenge.

Grooved Ware pottery being excavated at Durrington Walls henge in 2007

It seems that people have been using this place for a very long time,,,, reworking Figsbury for their own needs. This pattern of deep time at hillfort sites happens again and again (e.g. like National Trust’s Badbury and Hambledon in Dorset, Cadbury Camp in Somerset and,Whitesheet in Wiltshire).

Geophysics hasn’t told us much more but the rabbits have scraped up the odd struck flint from time to time.

There are a lot of rabbits…which takes me back to 1984, the Hillman Hunter and the Wessex Archaeology survey of the Porton Down military research establishment… just across NT’s northern border.

Porton Down was acquired by the army in 1916. The secret experiments carried out here have kept this 2800 hectares of chalk downland from being extensively developed.

When I worked there, my security pass needed to be quickly available as uniformed guards regularly arrived to check out who the suspicious character was…. wandering across the facility taking photographs. The off white Hillman Hunter Estate didn’t give a good impression. It broke down in a remote part of Porton one day and I had to walk back to the Admin building for help. The staff had their own archaeological society so it turned out that they were sympathetic.

I encountered fabulous archaeological earthworks at Porton, including flint mines and groups of Bronze Age disc and bell barrows….but lots and lots of rabbits who used the barrows as warrens.

Backflling rabbit burrows with sterile chalk and fixing in place with hazel stake woven hurdles. Inner ditch Figsbury Ring.

They are still there.. and National Trust rangers Ben and Loretta have spent a lot of time and grant funding at Figsbury to repair and protect this nationally significant henge/hillfort against the Porton rabbit population.

Negotiations are taking place …and funding from our ‘Hillforts and Habitats Project’ has been allocated to ‘build a wall’ or at least a rabbit proof fence.

Devon & Cornwall and the Roman Conquest

Calleva has fallen.

The Atrebatic nation humiliated: driven towards the coast.

Verica sends envoys to Rome. An excuse to sound the drums of war

Four legions cross the Channel.

To force back the Catuvellaunian confederacy

Fighting across the Thames…..but

The final assault on Camaladunum (Colchester)…paused… for Emperor Claudius

Who, arriving with elephants, takes the capital and the surrender of 11 British kings…..

The Roman historians, Tacitus, Dio and Josephus, provide us with these details of the conquest of south-east England ..but say nothing much about the south west.

We must be glad that Suetonius gives an idea… while writing of the future emperor Vespasian.

In AD 43, he was commander of II Augusta legion: sent west to mop up the lesser tribes.

It was a joint operation by land and sea. A campaign probably launched from friendly territory near Noviomagus (Chichester).

Suetonius tells us that Vespasian’s army took Vectis (Isle of Wight)….the last locational clue….Suetonious drops a few more crumbs of history….mentioning 30 battles, 20 oppida captured and 2 warlike tribes..defeated.

A great deal of grief in an economy of words.

So, the Roman killing machine marches into historical darkness…. through Dorset, Somerset and into Devon and Cornwall.

Hod Hill Roman fort reconstruction within the hillfort cleared of native round houses. (Nick Skelton)

Only archaeology is able to find the clues to plot its route through the landscape. We find the occasional stray protectile blade and pebbles as sling shot that indicate conflict…(like those from Badbury Rings and Hod Hill) ..but the course of the Roman campaign is mostly traced by locating signal stations forts and marching camps.

In Dorset there is Poole Harbour’s Hamworthy supply base, Lake Gates legionary fortress on the edge of the Kingston Lacy Estate, the National Trust’s Hod Hill fort in central Dorset and Waddon Hill near the Devon border. Just those few that are known and occupied c. AD 44-65.

I’ve been writing up the geophysical survey we did at Killerton near Exeter (blog: Killerton’s Roman Fort Sept 2019) which revealed evidence for three military ditches and timber framed barrack blocks hidden beneath the ploughsoil.

I needed to write a conclusion to the report and so it was time to update my knowledge of Devon Roman forts.

The ‘playing card’ outline of Killerton Roman fort with other archaeological features visible as crop marks bottom left and to the right….perhaps the remains of associated settlement. (FM Griffith English Heritage)

I went through the list on Heritage Gateway and circled each site on an old road map.

I soon proved to myself that I had no idea of the scale of the military investment in Devon and Cornwall. There may be four sites in Dorset but there are upwards of thirty forts known in Devon.,, including the Legio II Augusta legionary fortress at Exeter.

A distribution map of some of the Roman military sites known in Exmoor, Devon and Cornwall with the Killerton site added (Chris Smart Exeter Univerisity)

Across Devon, forts are spaced stategically 5-8 miles apart. One lies just on the edge of the National Trust’s Knightshayes Estate near Tiverton.

When Knightshayes Lodge was built in the 1870s, a 1st century cremation burial was found in the garden (perhaps part of a military burial ground like that found outside the Lake Gates Fortress near Wimborne). It is likely that any vicus settlement associated with the fort would continue into Knightshayes Park and it would be good to check that out with geophysics some time soon.

I got very excited last year by an excellent crop mark which showed road alignments and rows of rectangles of various sizes indicating regimented occupation.

Raef, who looks after the Park… broke it to me gently. I was seeing the site of the Mid Devon showground….the tents had only been taken down the week before.

Jim phoned me up from Cornwall. Good to hear his voice again now that we are back at work after furlough. Chris from Exeter University had spotted something on LiDAR which crosses onto National Trust land.

Chris had made out the classic rounded ‘playing card shape corners of a 10 hectare enclosure. It had lain hidden beneath the trees, abandoned by its Roman unit when they marched away.. almost 2000 years ago, now pitted by Victorian quarry workings.

That makes 4 forts found in Cornwall now. Who knows how many others are out there. LiDAR is a great tool for locating new sites.

So why were there so many forts? It feels a little like the Hadrian’s Wall military zone…

Many of them were rebuilt on the same site to a different plan and scale. Either they were abandoned and then needed to be occupied again or there was a permanent military presence that needed to be adapted, enlarged or contracted depending on the shifting pattern of the military campaign in the south west.

They are occupied for longer too. Many seem to be used into the AD 80s. Seems like the Roman army swept through the south-east, sorted out Dorset …by AD47 had set up the Fosse Way military zone between Lincoln and Axminster ….but it seems that beyond that temporary frontier. they encountered fierce resistance in Devon….a sort of Afghanistan which bogged down the military for decades.

Not quite the Romanised place that Dorset became. If you search the database for Roman forts, Devon definitely wins 30 to 4. Switch the search to Roman villas and Dorset becomes the place to be with 32 compared to Devon’s 6 ….and those all in the south east against the Dorset border.

So the Dumnonian peoples of Devon and Cornwall seem to have been rather hostile and not agreeable to the civilising influence of Rome. Perhaps it was for this reason that the commander of the Second Legion stayed in Exeter and did not send troops to support the provincial governor Suetonius Paulinus when, in AD 60, Boudicca rebelled in the east and burned Camaladunum, Verulamium and Londinium ….

The Mid Devon landscape looking out from Dolbury Hillfort on the National Trust’s Killerton Estate

Hard times in the land of cream teas.

Kingston Lacy: Digging the Beech Avenue

This story goes back to the early days, when Nancy and I were archaeologists employed by the National Trust’s Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle Estates. Mr Bankes had given his land to the NT just 6 years earlier. It was the winter of 1988-89.

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Kingston Lacy’s Beech Avenue heading east towards Kingston Lacy Park. The edge of Badbury Rings on the left

When driving towards Wimborne Minster from Blandford Forum, the boundary of the Kingston Lacy Estate is clear. After the village of Tarrant Keyneston, the road rises from the valley. At the crest of the slope, suddenly, the great beech tree avenue begins. Hundreds of mature graceful trees flank the road all the way to Kingston Lacy Park, a distance of 3km.

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William John Bankes had them planted in 1835 to create a natural gothic arch of beauty. It is said that this was in honour of his mother Frances. The beeches are fabulous any time of year. The sunlight will flicker through October russets.. or perhaps the intense green of May. But now, with the leaves almost gone, the low sun will intensify their silhouettes and their smooth forms will create unique trunk and branch-scapes, a parade of bold pleasing patterns with glimpses of Badbury and the wider Estate farmland beyond..

On one side of the road, 365 trees … one for each day in a usual year. On the other side 366..an extra tree for leap years. All nicely aligned and regularly spaced but each using its 185 years of life to grow into its own unique natural form.

The storm of October 1987 hit the avenue badly, blew over many of William John’s trees and though most survived, many were shaken to their roots and became unstable. Many more were affected in 1990. The storms reminded the National Trust that the avenue would not live for ever. A long term plan was needed. And so it was decided that a second avenue would be planted on either side of the 1835 trees.

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The fallen trees along the Beech Avenue after the storm of January 1990

In the Hillbutts Kingston Lacy Estate Office, I was shown the plans and compared the proposed tree plantings with ancient features visible on aerial photographs. The trees that had fallen in 1987 had torn up chunks of archaeology in their roots, and the planting of new trees would also destroy archaeological information. This would take place gradually as their developing roots infiltrated and disrupted the buried stratigraphic layers of information below the ground.

We plotted the known archaeological sites where they lay in the path of the proposed new planting and persuaded the Estate to allow us to dig where the trees would go.

At the west end of the avenue, there was a good opportunity to take two Bronze Age round barrows out of arable cultivation to preserve them under grass. Good conservation practice that would protect these burial mounds far into the future. It meant that there would be a short gap on the south side of the avenue, but the managers agreed to this because these mounds were scheduled monuments of national importance.

One of the barrows might be the famous Badbury Barrow where Rev Austen found many burials and a stone.. carved with daggers (see blog Badbury Barrow and Rock Art 26th August 2018).

This was our winter of 88-89, working along the beech avenue investigating the archaeological lines seen on aerial photos where the trees would go. Usually there were three of us, me, Nancy and Rob…and the Estate let us have an old white caravan to shelter in for tea breaks and store the tools.

We began at the west end with a 60m diameter ring ditch beside the Swan Way trackway. This was part of the group which included the two we had removed from arable.

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The Bronze Age 60m diameter ring ditch beside the Swan Way at the wwest end of the Beech Avenue.

A JCB stripped the ploughsoil as we watched. It turned out that everything had been scoured down to the bedrock and there were furrows cut into the chalk as though a steam plough had been used to subsoil the interior of the site. However, the 1.25m deep ring ditch was still filled with Bronze Age archaeology. It measured 4.2m wide at the surface and narrowed to 1.7m wide at the bottom. Its flat bottomed ditch was once the quarry around a now lost burial mound. Debris from funerary deposits formed part of the filling, including a human hip bone and fragments of a c.3,000 year old Deveral Rimbury barrel urn…..At a deeper level were clusters of flint flakes that fitted together. We imagined someone in the Bronze Age, sheltered in the hollow of the silted ditch, making tools out of chunks of stone..

In January, our caravan was moved east to the grassland south of Badbury. Here, we started to look at a large ditch which had been part excavated in 1965. At that time, there was a bank beside it, they found a 1st century ballista bolt under its eroded edge…but after the dig, the whole thing was bulldozed flat. We found the caterpillar tracks of the earthmoving machinery etched onto the chalk bedrock…and old tin cans which once held evaporated milk… from the excavation tea breaks… tossed into the backfill.

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The deep Bronze Age ditch near Badbury Rings which continues south to Shapwick a huge excavation. At the top below the plough soil and horizontal ranging pole you can see the jumbled soil above Nancy’s green safety helmet. The evidence of the 1965 excavation.

Below this, thousands of years of silting, with sherds of c. 3,700 year old Middle Bronze Age pottery found over 2m down in the lower silts. This was a huge construction, a sharp ‘V’ shape over 4m wide and 3.2m deep. The air photographs showed it crossing under the line of the Blandford Road, running south for 1.5km to the edge of Shapwick village and then turning abruptly west and continuing across the Estate. The bank had been on the east side of the ditch and an earthwork of this scale was surely a fortification against some unknown and forgotten Bronze Age threat in the direction of Blandford. We discussed it over tea in the caravan … alongside politics, philosophy and religion.. but came to no agreement.

The weather was kind to us and from time to time visitors came to help and asked how we were getting on.

Angus, the farmer, had noticed patterns after ploughing and took us out to show his discoveries. Here were the clear soil marks of ancient stock enclosures that had emerged that winter in his fields. We walked across the ploughsoil and picked up Roman pottery.

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The soil marks of the Roman stock enclosure ditches photographed by model plane in February 1989

David, the Kingston Lacy warden showed us where he had found a Late Bronze Age palstave axe in a drainage trench beside our excavation. He introduced us to a man with a model plane with a camera fixed to it and we welcomed his offer of flying the Estate. His photos of the soil marks are some of the best we have.

We came across no other bronze metalwork but instead found a ring of posts-holes with Bronze Age pottery in the fillings. The remains of a timber framed round house complete with a porch. Its intercutting post-holes showed that it had been repaired more than once….as the timber uprights rotted and needed replacement.

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One of the pairs of post-holes of the round house.

Seeing how they secured the house uprights with flint nodules rammed into the post-holes against the timber… we copied our ancient ancestors to create a stile over the fence for easy access to our caravan.

Further east… and the A-team turned up for the day. My Sunday School class, who were already veterans after two expeditions to the digs at Corfe Castle. They tackled a shallow scooped profile ditch which had the root holes from an ancient hedge beside it. The filling contained Romano-British pottery. We found three ditches like this as well as the side ditch of the Roman road to Dorchester.

One of the rounded shallow ditches (left) and small v shaped field boundary ditches (right)

Our last finds were two small ‘V’ shaped ditches which contained earlier pottery. We had found a similar ditch when we dug across Kingston Lacy’s amphitheatre the previous year (see blog ‘Kingston Lacy’s Roman Amphitheatre’ 15th February 2014). These ditches are part of the ‘celtic field system’ dating back to the Bronze Age and still visible as white ghost lines on aerial photographs after ploughing.

We had expected snow, wind and torrential rain but December to February that year had been good to us. We felt sad to load up the tools and say goodbye to the old white caravan.

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Another fallen tree in 2014 with the new avenue growing beside it.

Since then, I have driven along Kingston Lacy’s beech avenues many many times times and seen the new trees growing and the old trees becoming a little fewer year by year. I rarely need to stop.. but in March I went back to the gap for the barrows beside the Swan Way. It was a meeting with Bournemouth University to plan for geophysical survey and a new research project to locate the Badbury Barrow.

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The short gap in the new avenue on the south side of the old avenue where the two scheduled Bronze Age burial mounds were taken out of arable and included in a new hedged area of permanent pasture beside the Swan Way track (on the left edge of this photograph)

It was strange to be back. I placed my hand on the trunk of one of the trees.. now over 30 years old. They’re growing well…back then they were saplings, with stems less than a wrist thick… but now they are grown over 30cm across. They are well established now… all set for the 22nd century.

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The west end of the Avenue forming a living gateway to the Kingston Lacy Estate with the new avenue growing either side of the surviving 1835 trees.

Trees are planted for the future… and… as I consoled myself…even William John, never expected to see his great avenue achieve its full glory.

On Top of Turnworth Down

The visit to Turnworth Down was an afterthought.

It was Hod Hill the meeting was really about.

We were to meet Keith there, the Historic England Inspector. It was to review the management of the hillfort

It was positive, the conservation grazing and scrub removal now enabled the details of the earthworks to be seen. The result of a lot of hard work. After discussion, the ranger and farmer agreed the next set of actions and we descended the steep hill….back to the little car park on the road to Child Okeford.

Hod’s ranger, Michael, wanted us to look at Turnworth. I hadn’t been there for years but Simon our nature conservation advisor offered to guide me through the back-roads. Keith would come along too…  together with Marie and some of the West Dorset rangers.

It was still very early spring, overcast but warm enough as we crossed the Stour, skirted the edge of the Blackmore Vale and started to rise onto the chalk again.

It had been a long morning, we parked up on a verge beside the property gate and Simon walked across and joined me in the car. The others had gone hunting for lunch in a shop somewhere.

We ate sandwiches and talked of our families and the National Trust.

Our usual combination of archaeology and nature conservation in a landscape…beside a long quiet road, lined with mature trees on the lower slope of a chalk escarpment.

Keith arrived and said that he had agreed my application and would make sure the scheduled monument consent for Cerne Abbas would be processed before the start of our excavation there on Monday.

A couple of landrovers swung onto the verge and Michael unlocked the gates. We began the ascent of Turnworth …or Ringmoor as it is sometimes called.

I’d not done my homework.

What was this landscape all about? We’d noticed the large trees along the Turnworth Road but it was clear that another avenue diverged from our lay-by and followed the path we were on. The trees were mature, gnarled and twisted and had been planted along the hollow of a wide, dry coombe. There were gaps… and a couple of large trees had recently fallen.

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The fallen tree once part of an avenue shown on the 1791 map.

So this place was more than common sheep pasture… at some time it had been included in a designed landscape… though why this avenue had been planted was hard to tell. It seemed to go nowhere.

We stood beside the fallen giant tree, its root plate now vertical.

‘How old is this’ I asked Simon.

‘Its been here well over 200 years’

We walked round to see the tangle of roots. Nothing clearly archaeological in the debris. Large nodules of flint in clayey brown earth.

‘I wonder why these trees were planted here?’

‘The site of Turnworth House lies over the ridge’ said Michael ‘huge place, burnt down in the 1940s, there’s just a bungalow there now’

We followed the trees for a while and looked across the pasture field. This National Trust property is an island of grassland in a sea of deep ploughing. Outside this reserve, the archaeological earthworks had been levelled by arable farming long ago.

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The Turnworth Estate map dated 1791 which shows the ‘Y’ shaped avenues of trees. We had lunch where the avenues join  and walked up the hill along the trees to the left. Far left, the pond can be seen and below a dark mark is the now ruined cottage. The circle, left of centre, is presumably the Iron Age farmstead enclosure.

Turnworth was Tornworde in 1086, a manor held by Alfred of Spain (I looked it up when I got home). Alfred’s a Saxon name.. how did he survive as a landholder in the new Norman regime… and why of Spain.. curious

This pasture field had not been ploughed in the last few hundred years and still had medieval strip lynchets carved into the steeper slopes. A place of community farming within its strip field system… until the lord of Turnworth decided to include it in his wider parkland…complete with tree-lined carriage drive.

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A break of slope, marking a medieval strip lynchet terraced into the slope.

I’ve just made that up. Definitely tree-lined but was it a carriage drive? Nice idea but no clear evidence. The 1791 enclosure map shows the trees clearly. Already well grown by then.

We turned away from the medieval, left the re-wilded avenue behind and climbed steeper up the ridge to see the main attraction.

This is the bit that even the medieval cultivators set aside. Sheep pasture long before the  Saxon open field system was established.

A high down-top with wide views out across the lowland of the Blackmore Vale, Hardy’s ‘Vale of Little Dairies’.

As we crested the slope, we found ourselves in an area of short grassland dotted with occasional trees and bushes. Emerging from this were distinct banks enclosing rectilinear plots of land. We entered an old trackway, defined by two parallel banks, that led us along a curving path into an oval enclosure with two level areas created…for round houses.

We had entered an Iron Age world. A rare survival. We were standing in a homestead  where a farming family once lived some 2000 years ago. It was surrounded by their small square fields linked by trackways. The sort of fragile ancient earthworks that have usually been ploughed flat, sacrificed to the demands of modern agriculture.

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Aerial photograph showing the prehistoric field system preserved on Turnworth Down. The oval Iron Age farmstead enclosure can be seen top left, With the trackway on its left side.

Who knows when this land was first cultivated but the farmstead on Turnworth Down probably continued to be used without much change throughout the Romano-British period. It has never been excavated so dating is hazy….but definitely old, very old.. and precious. A scheduled monument of course, as Keith reminded us.

This place had not been completely ignored by people in the intervening years. There were pits, deep pits. They are shown on the 1880s Ordnance Survey map as ‘disused gravel pits’…though mainly dug for extracting flints for 18th and 19th century road hardcore or for local buildings and walls.

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One of the deep disused 18th-19th century quarry pits.

Then we came across a short long mound on the hill top. This could be a ‘pillow mound’. Was this place used as rabbit warren at some time? These high out of the way places were often used to farm rabbits with pillow mounds built to house them.

In the highest corner of the property, Michael led us to a pond beside a ruined cottage. Perhaps this building was once a keeper or stockman’s house …remote beside its watering hole.

Fifty years or so ago it became too inconvenient a place to live.. or perhaps there was insufficient cash or inclination to repair it.

The silted pond and become a wildlife reserve. The natural and historic environments, mutually beneficial and blended in the landscape.

We discussed future management needs, made a plan and took a new route back down the hill.

The terraced boundaries of the prehistoric field system drifted under the mature woodland of the lower slopes. We were soon surrounded by moss and fern covered ancient trees. Craggy outstretched branches, open grown, demonstrating that they had once matured in managed open parkland.

In single file, we meandered deeper into the trees. A visit like many before, though it felt like a conclusion. Looking back, there seemed to be something…etherial, enigmatic…a line of figures disappearing into a fading light.

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One of Turnworth’s open grown parkland trees covered in fern and moss.

 I have tried to find out more about Turnworth. The names of the owners of parish and park. The church largely rebuilt in the 19th century, the mansion house gone in the fire and its historical records perhaps gone too. All those hidden past lives in this small pocket of Dorset.

I can list the owners back to the 18th century …but not much more…The documents show that the great house was once a wealthy, thriving place. In 1861 mum and dad, 12 children, a governess and 13 servants all lived there… all named in the census.

Though, at the top of Turnworth Down, the names of the windswept occupants of the ancient farmstead will remain a mystery, alongside the hopes and dreams of Domesday’s Alfred of Spain.

The 5th Century Chedworth Mosaic

It is evening. The sun casts long shadows and the man lingers a moment beside the shrine, watching the life-spring of his home trickle into the octagonal basin. He turns and walks the length of the corridor, up the stone steps, along the passage and finds his wife in the dining room.

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The octagonal basin within the Nymphaeum shrine at Chedworth Roman Villa, Gloucestershire

‘Did you hear the news ?

‘Yes…we are governed by selfish incompetents. How on earth will we be able to manage here in the future?

‘I think we have enough for now…but it’s the children I worry about.’

By the end of the 4th century, Chedworth Roman Villa was at its best. A fine home for a wealthy family.

Whatever became of it? How did such a place become a ruin?

Archaeologists investigating the Romans generally depend on an abundance of finds for dating. Coins, pottery and all the other lovely things that the Empire enabled merchants to import from around the Roman world.

This world gradually fell apart. The tap was turned towards off in the 5th century. Some coins enter Britain in the early 400s and there was some pottery production. A few shipments of exotic wine made it as far as Gloucestershire.

There is a piece from a 6th century Palestinian amphora unearthed at Chedworth. Could there still be people living at Chedworth able to afford such things?

Whatever…. finds are few and generally the events of the 5th-7th centuries are tough for archaeologists to unravel.

A challenge then: particularly as the upper archaeological levels were stripped away and discarded in 1864, when the Villa was discovered, and then rapidly excavated down to its mosaics.

So…come and visit Room 27 with me in Chedworth’s North Range. It is 2017 and I am excavating the trench in the north-east corner.

I must warn you….I am going to talk stratigraphy at you… I have to I’m afraid, you won’t believe me otherwise. Archaeologists live and breath stratigraphy. How can things be proved without it?

So, I am kneeling in my trench: In front of me is the north wall of the room and immediately to my right, beyond the east wall, are a line of archaeologists in Room 28.

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Looking across the wall from Room 27 watching the Room 28 mosaic being uncovered.

They are working backwards from the north wall carefully uncovering and cleaning a mosaic. They are finding a row of circles containing three and four petalled flowers alternating with woven knots and linked by woven strands of guilloche in red, white and blue tesserae.

Their room is more exciting than mine. I only have a thin band of a plain crushed tile and mortar floor (opus signinum) surviving against the north wall. Below this is the floor’s mortar bedding and below this the floor’s mortared limestone hardcore which survives across my trench.

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Looking east within Room 27 the surviving piece of opus signinum floor is against the north wall on the left The hardcore it was built on is to the right of the ranging pole with its 0.2m long red and white divisions. I have taken out a section of it to reveal the dark soil against the east wall at the top of the picture. This east wall runs up to the north wall but is not bonded to it. A later insert.

I told you I’d talk stratigraphy. This is the important sequence of events, most recent at the top and the earliest at the bottom…. and what you extract from each of the distinctive layers is important to enable you to unpick the past…. century by century.

You know…. if you went on holiday and forgot to cancel the papers… they’d pile up below the letter box. The earliest would be at the bottom.

So.. the hardcore which supported the crushed clay tile and mortar floor. Well, it covered the foundation trench for the wall between Rooms 27 and 28.

We have come to the point in the sequence of events when the wall was constructed.

The builders dug the trench, placed the foundation stones for the wall in the trench and then shovelled soil and rubble..and anything lying about… back into the trench, packing it against the newly built wall.

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Looking down on my trench. The inserted east wall on the right and the north wall it was built against it at the top of the picture. At this stage, I have left the strip of opus signinum floor against the north wall on its thin bedding layer of mortar. This lay above a gravel and mortar hardcore layer about 5cm thick and this covered the dark loamy soil filling the foundation trench. In this soil I found a fragment of black pottery some charcoal twig fragments and two small fragements of animal bone. This foundation trench cut through the creamy yellow limestone fragments set in clay which was the natural bedrock. This can be seen on the left hand side of the trench. When I excavated a small section against the north wall, it could be seen that the foundation trench of the east wall also cut the foundation trench of the north wall.

The technical archaeological term for this is ‘the foundation trench filling’ and anything found in this helps date the construction of the wall. My boring opus signinum floor and my neighbours’ exciting mosaic floor must be later than the wall because my floor is built over the foundation trench filling. You cannot lay out a mosaic design to fit a room until the walls are built. That makes sense doesn’t it? Hold onto that thought.

In August 2017, I looked carefully for finds from the soil of this precious ‘filling’, a coin would be excellent in such a context…but no, all I got were fine strands of charcoal twig, two small fragments of animal bone (traces from a meal I suppose) and a single black piece of pottery.

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Pete’s trench in the south-east corner of Room 27. The walls need deeper foundations here because the natural valley slope, that Chedworth is terraced into, drops away to the south and to create a level floor surface material needs to be brought in. Notice the completely different designs of the wall footings. On the right hand side of the picture; the south wall, like the north, is of regular courses of nicely faced stone; whereas the east wall, on the left hand side, has a cap of roughly dressed stone on top of a heap of rubble with bits of tile in . It is clear that this is later than the south wall because it is built as a straight joint against it.

This east wall foundation had cut the foundation trench of the north wall and the stones of the east wall abutted the north wall…. What I’m saying is that the east wall was not part of the original construction of the North Range.

Pete had dug another trench at the other end of Room 27 in the south-east corner. The soil was much deeper there. The building had been constructed into a valley slope. It was cut into the bedrock on the north but the foundations needed to be much deeper to the south and to make a floor, lots of soil needed to be brought in to create a level surface. A wedge of soil above the sloping bedrock deepest against the south wall.

The style of construction of the south wall looked much the same as the north wall and the east wall butted up against it and was clearly a later construction. There were sherds of pottery and charcoal in the foundation trench of the south wall….

So the contemporary north and south walls were continuous through the space which became Rooms 27 & 28. When our new wall was inserted it became the east wall of 27.. which of course…was the west wall of 28.

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Drone photo (copyright Mike Calnan) of the east edge of Room 27 and mosaic room 28. The mosaic pattern is lost in the centre and in the bottom left quadrant of the room are the remains of two later hearths with traces of burning around them. Notice how the surviving mosaic runs up against the wall top left and how the whole mosaic pattern has been made to fit this room. Beyond wall on the far left, is my trench (top left) in the north-east corner of Room 27 (just above the rolled up white geotextile matting). This is where the radiocarbon dates were taken..from the foundation trench on the left side of the dividing wall. Pete’s south-east Room 27 trench is bottom left on this picture.

We soon found out that the mosaic in Room 28 had been worn away in the centre of the room. There had been a workshop here. Two fireplaces or hearths had been made out of reused bits of villa and built into the burnt eroded centre of the room.

At the end of the 2017 excavation, we thought we had the answer. In the 4th century, a new wall had been built in the North Range to create two new rooms. A plain floor was constructed in 27 and a new mosaic created for 28. By the 5th-6th century, Chedworth was falling apart. The economy had crashed and the once rich owners had abandoned Its beautiful mosaic rooms…..it was not being looked after.

Instead, 28 had been turned into a workshop…..or so we thought.

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Looking again at the finds that Nancy and her team had recorded and catalogued from the 2017 excavation at a picnic table within the mansion house courtyard.

Join me now at a wooden picnic table in the summer sunshine of 2019. We are in the stable-yard of a National Trust mansion house where Nancy and her volunteers have finished processing the Chedworth finds.

The charcoal strands from the foundation trenches of 27’s south and east walls, along with the ash from 28’s late hearths will be sent for radiocarbon dating. The pottery from the south wall foundation trench looks good for the 2nd century. A flanged bowl with acute cross-hatch decoration is particularly appropriate. Jane the pottery specialist will check it out…I wonder what she will make of my black bit from the east wall trench filling.

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Pottery finds from the Room 27’s south wall foundation trench filling. The sherd bottom right is part of a ‘flanged’ bowl which comes from the kilns around Poole Harbour in Dorset. The flange is flat and angled from the rim of the bowl. the cross-hatch decoration inscribed on the side is acutely angled and decorates a broad area of the side of the bowl…. I tell you this because it is typical of 2nd century Black Burnished pottery produced in Dorset at that time. It backs up the radiocarbon date.

The radiocarbon dates come back first. The charcoal from the south wall matches the pottery …mid to late 2nd century. We have had similar dates from other parts of the early North Range.

Then I see the date from the charcoal found in the foundation trench of the inserted east wall…AD424-544 at 95.4% probability !! That’s not even tentatively into the 5th century…it might even be 6th. I contact the mosaic specialist.

‘Have you come across any British 5th century mosaics?’

‘No, the economy collapsed, coinage and pottery production disappeared. Would a mosaic business survive? Would a villa have the confidence and wealth to redesign the house and lay new floors? Anyway… what about the 5th – 6th century workshops in Room 28’

‘The radiocarbon dates say they’re 12th to 14th century. Medieval rather than Dark Age’

‘The dates must be wrong. The Room 28 mosaic is one of the later more poorly constructed mosaics. There are lots of mistakes in the design but I would need a lot more proof before I could believe that it was made in the 5th century.’

I ask around.There are hints.of late mosaic floors but radiocarbon dating within British Roman villas has not been common.

I need confirmation. Nancy gets the larger of the two pieces of animal bone found in the foundation trench and Mark, Chedworth’s manager, agrees the funding to send it for a second radiocarbon date. It could be just a stray piece knocking around the site from an earlier period…but it’s worth a try. The result will take several months to process.

Then the pottery report comes back from the specialist. The fragment of black pottery from the trench turns out to be Late Roman Shelly Ware. It dates from after AD 360…it could be much later but nobody knows when production stopped for this ceramic type…anyway it confirms that our inserted wall was at least a latest Roman construction.

We waited…and waited… and eventually our second radiocarbon date was ready….

Not as clear cut as the charcoal date but the bone date definitely supports it. In the 95.4% probability band the date is split AD 337- AD432 (87%) and AD491 – AD531 (8.4%).

The radiocarbon date is measured from when the animal died or the wood was cut and burnt. It then becomes debris to lie around and then fall into the building trench for a new wall…..against which the mosaic floor was later built.

We have at least a 5th century mosaic at Chedworth…could even be 6th century but that would be pushing things a bit. There are two other mosaics in the North Range with Room 28’s late style. The corridor mosaic (Room 33) is particularly quirky.

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The mosaic of the corridor of the North Range. A similar level of skill to the Room 28 mosaic. This is phase 3 of mosaic design at Chedworth…OK but full of errors and mosaic making past its 4th century best. This one could also be 5th century but there is no surviving evidence to date it.

Anyway, time to go back to the worried owners of Chedworth Roman Villa…. having their conversation in the dining room…one evening at the end of the 4th century.

‘Don’t worry. The kids will be alright. Cirencester (Corinium) and the rich villas surrounding Roman Britain’s second largest town will keep the Romanised flame flickering for a little while after the Empire’s soldiers sail away’ …

but……perhaps the great great grandchildren should watch out.

In a very rare historical survival from the early 6th century, the British monk Gildas writes of corrupt government and warns of trouble brewing …but according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, the Saxons didn’t defeat the Romanised British kings of Bath, Gloucester and Cirencester until the Battle of Dyrham in AD 577.

Plenty of time for new 5th century floors to be made in West Country villas. Let’s find some more.

Upper Bugle Street

Last Day

Evening falls and the familiar figures meander homeward                                                  People who were strangers, now friends, will soon forget,                                                        Once the trains leave, spreading a team across a nation,                                                      Something newly precious will be gone,                                                                               Pleasant memories, will then become dreams,                                                                           And those glowing faces will fade with the passing of time.

This was long ago.

Our archaeology course required us to do 14 weeks of digging in our holidays. We needed to book what was available and hope for enough subsistence payment to enable us to break even.

Another time…when a sustainable career in archaeology seemed very unlikely..I did it anyway.

And so you find me in my father’s car in the back streets of Southampton. It is September 1977, the summer is all but gone, the nights are closing in.. and… by the end of the month I’ll be back for my final year at Weymouth.

Therefore, on a late dig placement….we are guided in our Cortina by the 70s equivalent of a sat nav, which amounts to a sketch drawing and a set of directions scrawled on the back of the letter of acceptance.

It was dark, and the guidance proved to be inadequate. After exploring for a long while, we eventually arrived in Upper Bugle Street. At first glance it was disappointing and also at second glance…it consisted of 3 buildings. At one end, a tired looking darkened house which later proved to be the archaeological office …and at the other end,  a slum with a light on ….and beside that … the Juniper Berry pub.

We tried the slum. Pat opened the door and confirmed that I had arrived at my destination. So my stuff was unloaded, the car turned for home and I was abandoned. Pat said she had come down from London for the dig and that the others had gone  down the Anchor, so we walked there together and found them there.

I recognised Patrick and Alphonse from Winchester (the dig at Easter). The strangers were Tracey, who was trying out some practical archaeology before studying it at Exeter, Heather from America, Imo from Devon, Anne from Cambridge (who knew latin) and Hilary from Liverpool who was studying at Reading.

A disparate group of people in their teens and twenties who had washed up on the shore of Upper Bugle Street. We would inhabit a condemned building for a fortnight…a place accidentally spared for us …from a street demolished…for a development…presently put on hold.

It took a little time to gel. We divided our sleeping into rooms, dossed on beaten up mattresses, made meals in tarnished saucepans on a dodgy stove and re-stuffed newspaper into window cracks when the wind blew.

We walked to the site together through the Southampton Streets. Alert and questioning. We searched and discovered each other. Leaving the walled medieval town through the Bargate, we aimed for Six Dials and the international Saxon port of Hamwic….which turned out to be a large open area covered in weeds and a wooden, flat pack tea hut …which we later erected in one corner.

Dave and Mort met us and put us to work.

They told us about the importance of the 8th century archaeology beneath our feet. Recently, rows of Victorian terraces had stood there.

Our job was to dig foundations, carry metal hoops and set them in place to create a series of parallel poly-tunnels.

The geology is Southampton is brickearth they said. It goes rock hard when it dries out; the tunnels would keep it moist enough to dig and protect it from getting waterlogged and sticky.

They were all wonderful. Tracey was lovely. Alphonse was from Germany. He was so funny and good to talk to. He’d appreciate everything you said…which is always encouraging. ‘Tell me another’ he’d say. ‘Once in a Blue Moon?’ …’Amazing… what does it mean…and another ‘talk the hind leg off a donkey’ he broke down into fits of laughter.

Sombrely, once the tea hut was complete, he placed the sign ‘Arbeit macht frie’ over the door. He said it was fitting.

We talked of economic models while we worked…laws of diminishing returns and marginal utility.

Mike was rarely seen, though I would meet him in Northampton. He was famous because he owned the hostel TV… but most evenings, after our struggle to create edible food from meagre resources, we would devise games. They were great but I don’t remember them.

It took a little time but we became a bubble of familiarity.

Each evening.. back out into the dark streets of Southampton… but never to the Juniper Berry… It was infamous. The girls warned of strange happenings there. The sounds beat out until early morning and we wondered…cries and strangely dressed figures.

We invaded a darkened playground and swung, slid and spun.

One Saturday Imogen, Heather and I took the ferry to the Isle of Wight and spent the day at Carisbrooke Castle and Newport Roman Villa.

I had to leave for Weymouth and said goodbye. Alphonse helped me carry my bags to the station.

I came back at Christmas but the site was closed. Upper Bugle Street had one inhabitant and it was freezing. They shifted me to Micheldever to work in the permafrost.

I came back in March but only Dave was there, the others.. I never met again. The poly-tunnels were finished.

To the sound of Blondie ‘Touched by Your Presence’ I walked through the early morning mist…. rising from the brickearth …through a plastic cocoon.

Kneeling, I began to trowel the surface as directed, a silver stater burst from the earth and later… at the end of the tunnel…a deep rubbish pit full of Saxon pottery and exotic glass…the things we prepared for but never had the chance to work on…

They all signed my book, and 43 years later it is open beside me.

‘Well, Martin, as the saying goes, everybody’s got to go their own way. It was fun while it lasted (as they say) so until our paths cross again on some dig or maybe I’ll meet you in that big dig in the sky. So, we will always remember our great voyage to the Isle of Wight (because it wasn’t too dear) Yours Heather’

Till we meet again

We are sorry dear friends that we will be a bit quiet for a while as we are furloughed to help our great charity weather the storm of Covid 19.

BUT we will be back with many more stories and the reveal of the age of the Giant at Cerne Abbas later in the year.

In the mean time please browse our older posts, we started in 2013 so lots to check out, the word cloud on the right will help you find stories that may interest you, just click on the subject and enjoy.

Till we meet again, keep well and stay safe

View of Brent Knoll from the west on the way back from Brean Down on the coast.