Gateway to Nowhere..



This is a gateway that now leads to nothing but a patch of grass.

Above is a gatehouse with windows and roof timbers typical of the medieval period.

What was it for? Where did it lead to?

It is all that remains of the old manor house, once the centre of the 12,000 acre Holnicote Estate in West Somerset. It burnt down hundreds of years ago but this gatehouse somehow survived surrounded by later workshop buildings.

Chris the building surveyor took me there on Monday. It needs a roof repair to protect the timbers from damp and at the same time we will carry out tree ring dating to get a precise date for its construction.

As trees grow they create annual rings and the pattern of rings depends on the weather. Timbers with 50 rings or more create a unique pattern that can be precisely dated, especially if there is sap wood surviving at the edge.

For Horton Court in Gloucestershire we had a date of Spring 1517 for the construction of a garden building, which is extraordinarily accurate when compared to other dating methods like Radiocarbon analysis.

The gatehouse is one of hundreds of buildings on the Holnicote Estate. Many are very old. We visited a cottage in Tivington made of earth and stone. The tenants love their home and told us about the smoke in the attic and the cattle in the kitchen.

Where do archaeologists go to find the age of buildings? The best place is often the roof because it is generally the least lived in and therefore least changed. The roof timbers of this cottage showed smoke-blackening.

This was first built as a medieval long house. Livestock at one end and the family in the other with a timber cross-passage screen between and open to the rafters. No fireplace, just an open hearth with smoke wafting up and blackening the roof timbers.

So many generations since then.. inserting Tudor floors, Jacobean fireplaces, 18th century bread oven, new windows in the Victorian window and now the colour HD TV plays cash in the attic as we discuss the cracks in the walls.

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