Yesterday, we realised that a marvelous polychrome ‘mosaic’ tiled floor did not survive in our long trench at the west end of the Tyntesfield conservatory. The basement construction levels were likely to be deep so today we cut our losses and reduced the trench from 14m long to three smaller trenches.
It’s a good thing we did because the rubble went down and down. Terry and Paul dug down in two of the trenches and set aside all the fragments of interesting architectural building material. Terry found the first coin, a Victorian ‘bun’ half penny dated 1888. Well spotted amongst the heap of render, brick, mortar, rubble, moulded stone, shaped plaster, slate and loads of little white, red, green and brown shaped tiles that once decorated the conservatory. Very grumpy with whoever decided to smash the floor up before burying it almost 100 years ago.
Three of us cleaned back the wall footings against the the south wall to reveal a two brick wide inner wall, presumably to contain plant beds or support shelves for plant pots within the conservatory. Above this was a square brick structure which might have supported a decorative plant container. It was all becoming more interesting than we thought yesterday, but as one of us said. “archaeology tends to raise more questions than it answers”. We must all become experts in Victorian conservatories and how they worked.
Suddenly, Paul called out and brought something to show us from his trench. It looked like a strange hand (which was alarming) but on closer inspection we could see that there were claws emerging from each finger. This was thought to be part of a seated Lion holding a banner which the Gibbs family used as an emblem and can be still seen on the ridge tops of Tyntesfield House. It was made out of terra cotta or cove stone and soon Terry found the haunches of a seated Lion in his trench. Both were decorated with red paint.
At the end of the day we found the basement floor of the conservatory. A cement screed on brick with a heap of glass and tile fragments above it. Built out of it was a brick support wall, like the Roman pilae built to support mosaic floors above a hypocaust. The heated floor of the conservatory was very much like that, except it was driven by a steam boiler rather than slaves stoking a fire in the flue.