The Treasurer’s Window Glass at Martock

As it’s medieval March, a blog written about the Treasurer’s House at Martock, Somerset was reposted a couple of weeks ago. I wrote it in 2013… and it tells the story of the discovery of the wonderful 13th century painting of Jesus on the cross with his mother Mary and his young apostle John…hidden under limewash for almost 500 years (John 19 v 27-29).

The reconstruction drawing of the 13th century solar decoration within the Treasurer’s House surrounding the window

About 1250, the Treasurer of Wells cathedral commissioned it to be painted in the solar of his first floor hall house.

The blog described the painting but not the glass.

Martin reminded me of the this blog is about the excavations that took place at Martock in 1993.

The earliest dateable piece of architecture at the Treasurer’s House, is the first floor solar window.

Inside the solar, the mid-thirteenth century window is surrounded by the red painted lines of the Treasurer’s private decorated room. Below the crucifixion, the wall was painted to look like ashlar stonework, with a white background on which flowers.. harebells and daisies alternated.

It was the outside face of the wall which was the problem in 1993.

When the house was first built, the communal meeting place (the hall) ..and the private room (the solar) were on the first floor. It was fashionable to put the living spaces upstairs.. Originally, this style of building gave security in case of attack. Downstairs was the undercroft where provisions were stored.. more of a work space…. narrow single light windows were useful as a defensive measure but also kept the storage space cool to preserve food stuff.

How the Treasurer’s House would have looked in the mid thirteenth century. The living accommodation on the first floor. A garderobe tower (the latrine) jutting to the right of the solar gable window. Note the single light windows of the ground floor undercroft.

In the 15th century, a huge ground floor hall was added to the building and the 13th century undercroft was converted into a parlour. Here, the Treasurer could entertain honoured guests. He needed new larger windows to improve the lighting during meals.

Below the solar window, two sets of gothic, three light windows were hacked into the gable wall of the undercroft, and a new door added to give direct access to the kitchen. It worked well for a while and I guess the Treasurer was pleased with his new dining space.

The Treasurer’s House in the 15th century, the great hall added on the left and the enlarged kitchen on the right. The parlour windows have been cut into the gable below the solar window, the weakened wall supported by buttresses. Our trench was to the right of the kitchen door and went from the kitchen wall to the ‘P’ of the word Parlour on the drawing.

However, with the passage of time, it became clear that that the wall was not designed for such large windows and it began to buckle. At some stage, buttresses were built to prop it up… but by 1993….it was ‘delaminating’.

Tim, the building surveyor explained that the facing stones were not keyed into the core. The exterior wall face was in danger of imminent collapse. The structural engineer proposed a scaffolded prop to keep the wall stable while the money was found to tie the wall together and grout it.

A trench was needed as an anchor for the scaffolding.

I advised that the trench should be dug by archaeologists.

Tim agreed.

I had just finished working at the 14th century Priest’s House, just up the road in Muchelney. I’d visited regularly during 1992 but the ground around the building had been disturbed in the past and none of the trenches revealed any surviving stratified medieval deposits. Just the odd medieval pot sherd mixed in with modern material.

Perhaps this trench at the Treasurer’s House would be a waste of time.

Nancy, Martin and I would find out over the next few August days at the empty Treasurer’s House.. and we soon realised that it was a privilege to have the place to ourselves.. for this short window of time.

One day, I took the tenor sax into the great hall..the acoustics were good.

The empty 15th century great hall with its open medieval roof decorated with three tiers of curving wind braces.

It was warm and the flowers gave rich colour to the neglected garden. Good company….good archaeology?

We mapped the flagstones of the courtyard and wrote numbers on each one to correspond with those marked on the drawing. Then, we lifted them and stacked each carefully in order.

We broke up the lime mortar bedding below the flagstones and cleaned back onto the buried soil.

The trench excavated to take the scaffolding foundation to support the solar wall.

Our first find was a tobacco pipe bowl. This little rounded object was just like the ones we excavated from under the demolition rubble at Corfe Castle. Therefore, pre-1646 …and all the pottery in this layer confirmed this early date. We were barely 50mm below ground surface and had already stepped back over 350 years.

The dark soil turned into an orangey layer and a new context number was written.. we kept the finds separately. Fish bones and Tudor pottery with chunks of Ham stone.. perhaps remnants from when the parlour buttresses had needed to be built.. but who knows… the soil was peeling off onto the next layer.. grittier and darker again.

This time the trowel scraped onto a clustered spread of objects, smooth, brittle and sharp and amongst them… thin, grey metal strips… which bent easily.

We gently cleaned with wooden cocktail sticks around one of the smooth thin objects and carefully lifted it. Yes, as we had by now suspected…this was degraded glass and we began to see red lines stained into it.

The discovery of the layer of painted glass within the trench. Note the traces of red line decoration on the piece to the left of the picture.

We had come across a dump of medieval decorated glass mixed with the lead cames which once held the design within the window.

Were these from the parlour window or the solar window? Jill, the glass specialist later looked at them and identified Lombardic script which she said was typically used in the 13th century… so, it seemed most likely that we were looking at part of the glass decoration within the solar window.

Drawings of fragments of decorated glass. Showing architectural design (top) and an example of Lombardic script (bottom)

How rare that elements of the 13th century decorated scheme, both the wall painting and the glass would survive. But what did the writing say?

The pottery from this layer was late medieval ..which indicated when the glass was removed, perhaps when the parlour work was carried out.

Below the glass deposit, another layer, containing earlier medieval pottery.. and below this a ditch cutting the natural geology of the site… probably dug in the earlier 13th century as a drain from a kitchen predating the existing medieval structure.

Nancy and Martin excavating the lower medieval deposit above the drainage ditch.

A lot of information from a narrow trench. I’m glad we dug it by hand. The rest of the glass still lies there beneath the flagstones where it fell about 600 years ago. We’ll archive our finds so that the decorative scheme can be reunited… some time in the future if the flagstones are ever lifted again.

Martin excavates the medieval ditch cut into the natural clay at Martock, predating the 15th century kitchen which is the building behind him.

This first trench led to others drains were needed round the great hall to prevent the damp penetrating the building. We were helped on the excavations by a team of volunteers on a National Trust working holiday..once called ‘Acorn Camps’.

These excavations also revealed undisturbed medieval archaeology including fragments of green glazed tiles which once decorated the ridge top of the great hall.

Rob found a green object near the corner of the hall which turned out to be a bronze seal. It had a loop by which it could have been fixed to a cord and hung around the neck of the owner. He would use the object to make his mark into melted wax to seal official documents. His name was William Pate and the specialist said his seal was of 14th century design…

The 14th century bronze seal inscribed with the name William Pate found in 1994 beside the great hall of the Treasurer’s House.

We’ve searched, but have never found William’s name amongst the list of medieval Treasurer’s of Wells Cathedral. Perhaps someone just lost it while visiting..bit like losing your credit card I suppose.

1 thought on “The Treasurer’s Window Glass at Martock

  1. Amazing!! SO much history so relatively near the surface. Great that you took such care and it paid such dividends. Thank you!

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