Last week I crossed the Mendips and headed for Clevedon. At the roundabout I ignored the lure of the town centre and the coast and took a right along the foot of the Failand Ridge towards Tyntesfield but I was going somewhere much older.. Clevedon Court. Up a short drive, screened by some mature trees.. it surprised me when I first saw it. How was this place not better known? A medieval manor house but leaning towards a castle. There’s a turret in the garden…
There were rumours in the files of something much older. A record of discoveries during gardening work of a skeleton found beside an ancient wall. The local society dug on the south side of the house in 1961 and found a cobbled surface a thick stone wall and Roman pottery. All we had was a framed plan of the dig in the house but the site was unlocated within the grounds.
The house is a jumble of styles, a jigsaw made by generations of owners…mending rebuilding and reworking.
Last week I revisited after a gap of several years. One of the upper garden terrace brick revetment walls was bowing outwards and in danger of collapse. The place is so ancient, already a manor in the 1086 Domesday survey, that holes in the ground need to be recorded archaeologically. These holes were warmed by the November sun and demonstrated that the collapsing wall was a late 18th century brick skin which had detached from a substantial stone wall behind. Kath the building surveyor was pleased.. it would be much easier to rebuild the skin than to re-create a failing terrace wall broken by the weight of the carboniferous limestone ridge to the north.
Time for coffee with David the custodian and to remember past investigations when we relocated the 1961 trenches found Roman pottery in the car park and geophyized the gardens… but as David reminded me ..the most useful archaeology was found during my first visit when looking down a drain.
The drain had been dug some years previously and filled with gravel but the gravel had been removed by the time I turned up to dig a soakaway trench. The soakaway was full of old render showing that the house had been covered in white plaster in the 18th century but the empty drain showed the building phases of the south front of the house with different sized stone offsets stepping over each other showing how the building had been changed and added to from the 12th-14th century.
There are still a lot of mysteries to be discovered at Clevedon Court both within the building and below the ground. Well worth visiting next summer.. standing on the Octagon terrace and looking back across the house over the valley towards Clevedon, Weston Super Mare and the Bristol Channel.