Windrush and Horton

Yesterday…was an open plan office day.. a core team briefing day followed by meetings and emails. Overnight there had been a storm. Today I headed north into Gloucestershire. Gradually the rain cleared, the clouds faded and the autumn sky transitioned into blue.

On the radio they discussed Constantine the Great and his city.. how would things have been different without him?  Conveniently, the programme ended as I arrived.

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I looked out onto the ruins of a WWII airforce base. Three eyebrow hangers reused as farm buildings and a concrete machine gun post beside the watch tower. I was parked on the overgrown runway looking out across a newly ploughed field. I had an hour before the meeting at Horton Court.

The field was full of sharp lines and colours. The trackways and foundations of the RAF buildings. After photos, I took the bucket of tapes out of the boot and paid out the 100m along with two 50ms set at right angles.

A wide-open level farming  landscape. Big skies and just the sound of the breeze. I measured, paced and drew, walking over occasional chucks of brick, broken tarmac and ironwork. Here and there in the harrowed field was a white flash of pottery. A tea-cup handle, part of a plate and a fragment of bowl..conveniently dated 194–(why can’t all pottery be like that?)

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Then, an approaching tractor and I walked up to greet the driver and introduce myself. Meeting on the deserted runway.

He said the field had once been arable but had not been ploughed for over 70 years. Not since the base was built. A place to train pilots on Avro Ansons for Mosquito bombers.

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‘I wonder what it was like here then? These days, it’s the children of the RAF personnel who come’ he said. ‘They want to know the place their fathers talked about’

I drove back past Windrush hillfort and headed south again through Cirencester and Tetbury to Horton.

Horton Court is a rambling combination of building phases set on the spring-line below the Cotswold escarpment. It has a 12th century hall parallel with the medieval parish church. A later medieval wing was added which was converted into an early 16th-century courtyard house. On top of this are various 18th-20th century extensions.

I found a space in the car park and signed in at the office. James was excavating where a new soakaway was required. He had just found a 13th century jug fragment in a layer of occupation material below the 18th century garden soil.

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‘How did the excavation in the stable go’ I asked. We went into the small early 18th century building. It had somehow survived with little disturbance amongst all the changes the various rich owners had lavished upon the place. One small trench was required to support the roof structure but the rest of the flagstone floor would remain.

We had seen it before: so much can go on around an old building but often, their floors act as protective canopies over precious stratigraphy. Here, in this little stable.. medieval Horton survived beneath the floor.

We walked out and looked back at the church and house. The site of the stable occupied higher ground. James had found a 12th-13th century hearth in a service trench where we now stood.

It now seemed likely that this was the site of the old Horton manor house. The Norman hall of the present Horton Court may well have been the old church. Some time in the 14th-15th century, they had built the new church beside the old and included the old church in the new house.

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A good theory. The refurbished Horton will be ready for the new tenants in the spring.

I said goodbye and headed back to Wiltshire where there had been a discovery at Lacock.

The Christmas tree hole had just uncovered a herringbone wall diagonal to the Tudor courtyard. Under a black layer of soil full of medieval pottery and animal bone. It ignores the alignment of the 13th century Abbey completely….Roman?

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