Hidcote: The Far North

Hoarfrost in 2010 along the trees which line the field containing the medieval building earthworks.

Recently, things have been happening in the far north – so- as the last hours of the decade fade away it is time to visit a place this blog hasn’t been to before.

Hidcote is the very last bit of Gloucestershire.

Looking across the border into Worcestershire at the north end of the Hidcote Estate. The rainbow crosses Meon Hill in the centre of the photo which is the local Iron Age hillfort.

Immediately across the National Trust’s Hidcote boundary lies Worcestershire and the Midlands.

It is still just within the Cotswolds but it is further north than Chipping Campden where the Cotswold Way begins (See CW1-CW8). Anyway, it takes 2.5 hours to drive there from southern Wiltshire so I usually need a good excuse to go.

The National Trust acquired Hidcote from Major Lawrence Johnston in 1948. By this time, Johnston had created a nationally significant Arts and Crafts inspired garden. He purchased Hidcote Bartrim in October 1907 and gradually created a series of extraordinary garden rooms…though there was a necessary gardening gap 1914-18.

It is the garden that visitors come to see but this is a landscape full of archaeology and in the last few weeks new things have been discovered.

Meg researched the Estate, walking the surrounding fields and plumbing the depths of the archives to complete the National Trust Historic Landscape and Archaeological Survey for the property in 2014. The sites she identified can be found by searching National Trust Heritage Records Online.

The long winter shadows ripple across the undulations of the common field farming system. This was one large arable field with villagers working scattered strips (the ridges) with their neighbours. I guess there were chats.. when they rested… as we do today.. down the allotment, over the garden fence. How did you cope with that late frost…too much rain… not enough…what happened to the summer this year?

The survey demonstrated that Hidcote has the very best classic medieval ridge and furrow in the whole of NT South West (granted these earthworks are more of a Midland thing).

Meg found that Hidcote was a settlement recorded in William I’s Domesday survey of 1086 so it had been occupied at least since the Saxon period (there is a Saxon charter which mentions Hidcote dated AD 716! …but its authenticity is disputed).

However, there are two Hidcotes. Hidcote Bartrim is the NT bit with Hidcote Boyce a kilometre down the valley to the south. In history they are often confused.

The stone buildings are likely to occupy ancient sites and a group of earthworks in a neighbouring field are probably medieval house foundations. This suggests that the village was once much larger and has declined in importance over time.

The Hill Barn at Hidcote

Fieldwalking in the 1990s, found many bits of debris including Roman pottery and this was collected and plotted onto maps.

This year Judith will write the Hidcote Conservation Managment Plan.She will weigh the entire property in the conservation balance and filter out its significances (in consultation of course).

Chris the General Manager asked what additional archaeological work could be commissioned to support the CMP.

LiDAR, Geophysical Survey and Building Analysis were suggested and this was agreed.

Soon we were walking across the large arable field south of the village with Professor Dyer where he talked through the results of the fieldwalking he had carried out 20 years earlier. He pointed out a couple of areas where there were particular concentrations of finds. Some pottery was prehistoric but most of the sherds were Romano British dating from the 1st to 4th centuries. He also found the rare Post-Roman grass-tempered wares near the stream in the centre of the field.

Later, we walked around the village with Ian the building specialist: the farmhouse; the cottages; the ranges of outbuildings. We examined the clues in the building fabric and discussed similarities and differences in style. The shells of the buildings may be several hundred years old but they have been modified over time. The village is now rather picturesque..like a film set, designed for something essentially English… adapted in an arts and crafts style..probably during Johnston’s time but possibly in the late 19th century.

We wandered down an alley and turned a corner and Ian spotted a complete single light window carved out of a block of stone and reused in a wall. Roman? he wondered….seemed unlikely.

People had suggested that the scatter of chipped and broken pottery in the field could be the result of kitchen waste….gathered somewhere else… then mixed with manure and scattered. Could there really be a villa or farmstead lurking beneath the ploughsoil? Perhaps our newly commissioned fieldwork will detect something there.

So… the LiDAR has been flown and the report will arrive in the next couple of months. The building analysis is about to start ….but… the geophysical survey is complete.

The field with the earthwork house platforms and the arable field to the south have been covered using magnetometry. Earth resistance takes longer and is more expensive to survey and therefore this was concentrated where archaeology showed up on the magnetometry or as undulations in the ground.

Martin, the geophysicist contacted me after the magnetometry survey. ‘The field is full of archaeology’ he said. The plot shows a tangled web of geophysical anomalies. There are all sorts of phases of activity going on.. and as one might expect…it is concentrated where Professor Dyer’s fieldwalking highlighted areas of Roman building debris and pottery.

Part of the survey plot of Hidcote carried out by Tigergeo. Earlier mainly Roman? enclosures and building remains have been cut across by the later medieval strip fields ‘ridge and furrow’ these linear ploughing strips are arranged in parallel blocks or ‘furlongs’ mainly crossing the image from top to bottom but the furlong strips top right run from left to right. For scale this magnetometry survey
plot is 250m wide

So Hidcote…in the far north, beyond the Cotswold Way, you are far more than a beautiful garden. Already elderly at the time of the Domesday Survey, you have revealed yourself to be a long favoured place to live….. soaked in archaeological deep time.

We await the LiDAR.

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