Lifting Flags at Philipp’s House, Dinton

This is our local National Trust mansion. A Neo-Grecian country house built in 1816. Just 20 minutes up the road from the office at Tisbury, Wiltshire. Set within a tree-studded park, a good place to walk at lunch time as the seasons turn.


Philipp’s House set on a south facing slope with the chalk escarpment behind. In the trees at the top of the hill to the left is the Iron Age hillfort Wick Ball Camp. The NT only owns the southern edge of its rampart which is the property boundary. The line of the ha-ha wall and ditch can just be seen as a grey line across the centre of the photo. The whole point of a ha-ha was to create a boundary that kept the stock out of the garden but remained hidden from view and preserve the landscape aesthetic.

It was built to the design of the fashionable architect Jefry Wyatville for the owner William Wyndham. Presumably because he was a little tired of his old fashioned 17th century pile and had some cash to splash.

It was known as Dinton House then because the house and park lie beside the village of Dinton but, in 1916, it was bought from the Wyndham family by Bertram Philipps and he renamed the place after himself.

He gave it to the National Trust in 1943, making sure that it was leased to the YWCA.. and for the next 50 years it was.


The fine sweeping lines of the Wyatville Neo-Grecian staircase in the hall at Philipps House. Flagstones being lifted.

It became empty in 1993, which was the first time I went there during its refurbishment. I watched a service trench being dug across the park. Nothing much came up, just a couple of prehistoric flints and a sherd of medieval pottery.

The present house is lovely and made of finely dressed local Chilmark stone.. but what happened to the old one?

There is a mid 18th century map that shows an avenue of trees leading to the old place, and this seemed to indicate that it lay further west.

Later in the 90s ..I marked the area out with grids and with the help of Simon and Mike, the countryside rangers, did a resistivity survey where I thought the old house might be. A beautiful spring day with the foliage of the copper beech resplendent around us  …but no luck, the computer plot showed the data as random patches of dark and light. More geological than archaeological.

Then they cleared out the sunken ha-ha ditch that fronts the house and took away the revetment stones before rebuilding them. Behind the ha-ha wall, in the buried soil, deep down below the front lawn..was building debris including 17th and 18th century brick.

Then..later.. in the library below the decoration .. reused limewashed bricks there… Tends to be the case that if you are taking down a house to build a new one it would be a shame to waste the old stuff.  You can hide it in the new structure without affecting the shiny modern glow of the new residence.


Below the floorboards of the 1690s Dyrham, a reused Tudor timber presumably salvaged from the old place. One of many hidden in the present house. Here you can see the cut chamfered upper edge of a sill beam two mortise holes to hold posts once fixed by pegs driven into holes drilled into the sides of the mortise sockets and along the top a grove into which the planks were placed between the posts.. to create a division between two rooms,  once part of the old Dyrham House.

Look below the floorboards of Dyrham House near Bath and there’s all sorts of old wood there. Bits of Tudor chamfered joists and beams and last time I looked in January, part of a plank and muntin screen re-used as a girder.

So always worth grabbing new opportunities to see beneath the skin of a place.

A few weeks ago, Emma told us that some of the entrance hall flagstones needed re-setting as they were getting uneven.. so we went over and saw what lay beneath.

Some had been lifted more recently than others and several were sand on top of soil but, at the foot of the great staircase we found stone and brick beneath the paving…beneath the sand.. remains of a wall.


The buried limestone blocks and flanked by brick walls in front of the staircase. Evidence of an earlier structure here.

At first we thought it might be part of the cellar structure but the plans show that the cellars don’t come this far.

Perhaps the old house lies beneath the new, perhaps parts of it were built on the old footings… Then Meg texted me a map dated 1800 she had discovered on the web site of the National Library. Much more accurate than the 18th century one and…. there is the old house just where the 1816 house would be built.

Problem solved. Now we need to find out more about the designed landscape around the mansion.

This new 1800 map shows some interesting details. The park is much bigger now than it was then and there are avenues leading to a structure on a hill beside the house…


The view out into the designed park. The ornamental lake lies top left in this picture. Again, on this photo the ha-ha line is only visible as the tops of fence posts across the centre of the picture.

One of the nice things about being an archaeological curator for the National Trust is to work long-term with staff, volunteers and other researchers to gradually unravel the stories of a place .. we all know.. beyond the scope of history there is only archaeology.

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.


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?)


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.


‘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.


‘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.


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?

Sunset 8.15pm Chedworth 2017

So the 5 year North Range research agenda is complete.

Chedworth Roman Villa 1 cMike Calnan_ Naitonal Trust

Picture copyright Mike Calnan taken by mini-copter on Thursday. The North Range to the left with the green and blue gazebos in Room 27. You can just see our exterior trenches beyond the walls on the slope top left.

We had started backfilling on the previous day so it seemed unlikely that we would leave late for home on Friday.

Always the optimist. I had arrived at 7am to video the site amongst birdsong.

Carol crossed the corridor, climbed the bank and picked blackberries.

Fay squinted at the rising sun in the valley as I moved the pencil along the staff. Taking levels on the boundary wall.  ‘There’s a breathless hush in the close tonight’. The lull before the storm.
‘Ten to play and a match to win’

Nothing like a bit of imperialist poetry to steel one against the day but who would come to help us? So much recording to do…so many trenches to fill.

Then John kindly arrived despite his birthday, Nick and Nick and Alexander and Harry to join the rest of us stalwarts and we began the long day…

We loaded the last tools as the sun began to set and Amy remained with us until the end. Fabulous! Carol said that the last day on a dig was like childbirth… painful but worth going though again. We were so grateful to everyone for putting the site back together after all our exploration.


Plan from an old guide book to show the numbers of the rooms in the north range 27-30. Our boundary wall and drain trenches were above 30.

What can be said.

On the north side, the boundary bank ran clear across the trench and was easily traced following the contour of the valley above the North Range. A heap of Roman debris lay over it and below the rubble a level stony area suggests a trackway though we did not fully excavate this.


Detail of the Roman wall on the outside face of Room 30. This shows the time when the North Range had a new suite of rooms added to the east. The foundation trench for the old build is stony and has the ranging pole on it. That to the left more soily marked by the trowel. The courses above abutt except for one which cuts into the old build and ties the walls together.

Just below is Rob’s trench against the exterior wall of the kitchen. The beautifully placed 0.33m wide flagstones 0.3m from the wall face. We thought the stones covered a drain. We lifted one and the surface crumbled into hundreds of fragments. Below was only 0.1m of sand and charcoal above the natural clay.

The current story is that the stones were the firm foundation for a timber drain that was built along its surface. The wood had long rotted away but there are stories of iron linking rings being found here.  We still need to track down the source.

No doubt now about the later addition of the suite of rooms 30-32 onto the east end of the North Range. Both in Fay’s trench, within Room 30, and this trench, the abutting joints and change in foundation trench fills were clear.

Our two small trenches in the North Range Corridor showed that there was no mosaic left east of Room 26 but that the narrower and earlier corridor wall could be traced past Room 27. It was not found opposite Room 30 but the ground here has been badly disturbed. Sir Ian Richmond’s 1964 breeze block wall ran deep this far east.


The two trenches in the north range. The one in the foreground had the stones of the narrower and earlier corridor in it.

Peter’s trench in Room 27 had now been backfilled and made  level with replaced turf….. but what had been the point of the deep dressed stone wall against the corridor. Was it an early pre-corridor wall. I am placing a lot of faith in comparative C14 dates from foundation trench fills. The fragments of charcoal have been helpfully plentiful in these but not an ideal dating tool …too crude really for Roman deposits.

We stopped for lunch and the discussions …over leaving cake …turned to mattocks. We admired the prize tool of the dig … the new yellow fibre-handled mattock which Nancy purchased specially. Mattocks are wonderful things… if deftly hefted. We told mattock stories……

We then faced Room 28. I moved forward with parallel tapes and ranging poles, drawing metre by metre and as each space was vacated, the terram, topsoil and turf followed.


The topsoil and terram being placed.

The mosaic survived best in the north… though its gradual deterioration south documented its loss.. Down through the mortar bedding and limestone rubble hardcore. Even the hardcore disappeared in the room’s central zone… becoming a dark soil containing the two hearths and a foundation of rubble between areas of burning. These ragged remains are an exciting discovery. We need to search for comparisons and obtain radiocarbon dates from their organic deposits. I hope for a 5th-6th century date to reveal a time when the villa was still standing.. but had declined from a grand mansion house to a manufacturer’s workshop.

Chedworth Roman Villa 4 cMike Calnan_ National Trust

Copyright Mike Calnan photo of Room 28 on Thursday. Peter’s trench in Room 27 bottom left.

The last trench was Peter and Alexander’s, behind Rooms 25 and 26. Peter had been digging there until the afternoon to understand it better. The trench showed that 25 had been added on but it had once had a different broader plan. This earlier phase had  been part demolished before being rebuilt. The foundation trench along 25’s  north side was clear but to the east the natural bedrock had be dug away deeply and steeply. I jumped down onto a loose mortar surface and slid the trowel under the lowest course of the earliest phase of 25. This cutting continued north-east through the trench section into the slope of the hill. Perhaps a drain or earlier stoke hole… but time was up.


The deep trench cutting natural and the wider foundation under Room 25. Room 26 is on the left. The cutting continues under the section line to the right.

Fay shouted out the levels from the slope and I joined the backfilling.

but the story is not over until the samples are analysed, we have made cross-comparisons and the reports are written. What of our painted glass.. the pottery, the charcoal and other finds?… we will see what they tell us.

Day 13 We Need to Talk About Room 27

We need to talk about Room 27 …..but first the biscuits at morning tea break.


Milk chocolate hob nobs, digestive biscuits (McVities of course) and Oreo thins. Not sure where they came from but I think Fay had something to do with it.. and tea brought to us on a tray under the gazebo during our regular 11am rendezvous. The conversation slid from regional the Orkneys… to Stockholm and then fragmented into things generally Scandinavian …before we turned back to the trenches.


Jenny and Fay were moving back along the east wall of Room 28 where sections of tessellation are emerging from beneath the Victorian topsoil. Nearby I spent a bit of time uncovering the stone-kerbed hearth, one of three (Dark Age?) that had helped destroy the central pattern of the mosaic. This one is made of crushed reused Roman box flue-tiles and is difficult to clean.


Alexander and Nick had the quiet trench, away from the visitors, tucked behind Rooms 25 and 26. The modern overburden is all but gone and the underlying rubble contains largely Roman material apart from a stray fragment of tobacco pipe stem….perhaps brought down through a stray vole hole. An earlier foundation of Room 25 is emerging. Nick found a nice chunk of samian base.


Jill and Les have now defined both sides of the boundary wall.. up-slope on the north side of the villa. Large chunks of bone and Roman pottery were being found …..when Peter called me over.

Now Room 27 seemed to have been sorted out in the first few days of the dig.

In trench 5c, in the north-east corner of the room, there was the remnant of a pink cement floor founded on a limestone and mortar hardstanding. The partition wall with Room 28 was a late Roman insert abutting the north wall which was earlier. Both cut the natural rock 10-15cm below the surface.

Peter’s south-east trench 5d was therefore a formality.  Check out one or two shallow features cut into the hardstanding …otherwise the pattern would be the same…peel back the thin yellow mortary mix and there would be the natural limestone and clay just a few centimetres beneath.

It doesn’t want to be found.. two weeks in and the archaeology refuses to be bottomed. Deep stripes of stratified Roman deposits slope towards the south wall which is broad, nicely constructed and now 4 thick courses deep. There are some good rim sherds of pottery down there.

That’s not why Peter called me over.

IMG_7685He had found a fragment of glass.


A high class find. Never seen anything like that before.

What else lies beneath Room 27.. and… what is this deep space that is being uncovered.


Trench 5n…Chedworth’s Boundary Wall

I leave the cottage early and travel 10 minutes through the Cotswold countryside to the villa. It all seems so luxuriously well kept. Hedges and walls and distant rolling views across the harvesting wheat fields.

The partridge and pheasants crowd the narrow road just past the perfect creamy stone Yanworth.. and in the stubble field off to the right 2 tall hares with black tipped ears remind me of the triclinium mosaic in the West Range.


So park, unload the bucket of tape measures, the drawing boards and the mounting number of context sheets, bulging in the bright yellow lever arch file.

Time to mark out a new trench on the terrace above the North Range. This will be 5n. Lovely view from up here. I look down onto trench 5m, where Rob has discovered the neat, stone capped drain. I am looking for the boundary of the villa and a possible Roman path-way running beside it.

Triangulate the right angles and string out a 3m by 2m trench across the supposed line of the wall. I discover that it can be felt beneath the grass.

Everyone arrives and the turf is gone by tea break. Carol cries ‘clear up your loose! and we congregate in the shade under the gazebo. Our talk is of empires and invasions or to be more modern .. of pc peaceful coexistence and the generous exchange of ideas and land (after all we’re all farmers at heart).


Then back to the soil and John has found large lumps of tegula (evidence of roof collapse) and Rob has discovered shale… The boundary is large and chunky and continues, easily traceable, in a previously unsuspected way, along the valley slope parallel with the villa.


Peter has found another extraordinary course of faced Roman wall in his Room 27 trench. He has resigned himself to the reality that trench 5d will be his life from now on ..and the Roman stratigraphy will never stop. There are regular pottery updates but nothing definitely 2nd century and no coins.. though these are required.


I stay late to draw the floor of Room 28 but assure the friendly Italian family that we have the digi tech people to do it properly. They will scan it next Wednesday… All must be pristine and ready by then. The turf is almost gone.







Day 6: Chedworth 5 more trenches

Best to begin with the hard graft so we started the day by taking the turf off some more trenches.


There are now windows into Rooms 29( the room next to the mosaic room)..29a..a lobby? or stairway and the kitchen 30.

The other two were on the north side outside the villa against the slope. One between 30 and 29a, to check the theory that the North Range was extended in the late 4th century


and the other at the junction of the hypocaust stone sentinel pilae room 26 and the apsidal room to the west 25. We are looking to discover which came first and whether there are stoke holes to provide heat for underfloor heating.


Then it was time for tea. Kindly brought to us from the kitchen in the Lodge. This is rather a luxurious excavation.

Then it was back to teasing out what remains of the mosaic in room 28…to finish recording all the stratigraphic details in the trench 5c in the NE corner of Room 27 and to wonder at Pete’s trench 5d in the SE corner which has very different layers below the same 4th century floor surface. Deep dark pottery bearing soil cut by the foundation trench of the partition wall between 27 and 28.


At lunch time a discussion took place concerning why Spock, Captain Kirk and Dr McCoy are always in the landing party when they are the senior officers on the Enterprise and whether they had violated the prime directive in the last episode…

and what the names of the bean like things in the mosaic roundels were called… I have read Steve’s mosaic report now… they are heart-shaped petals and the room may once have been a summer dining room.


Day 5: Chedworth’s Room 27

We have concentrated on the mosaic in Room 28 but over the next couple of weeks we will open a number of trenches within the central rooms of the Chedworth’s North Range 2.  Numbers 27-30. We want to know more about how this part of the villa worked and how the building was extended to the east during the 3rd and 4th centuries.


At the moment we are looking in the east corners of Room 27.


Ranging rod in the NE corner of Room 27 next to the mosaic room 28

We found that very little of the original floor survived but along the north edge we discovered just the last trace of the original opus signinum pink cement floor (no mosaic here).

There were fragments of baked clay in mortar but not the smooth solid level floor which would have been the original surface. The bottom edge of the wall plaster was sandwiched between this and the original Roman wall and it lay above the make up layers of the floor..a fine mortar crust above a crushed layer of limestone fragments set in mortar.


Above the Roman nail (bottom left) and the bird skull (bottom centre) is the white line of the mortar bedding for the remnants of the opus signinum floor (orange red bricky bits)which lies against the line of wall plaster in front of the Roman wall (top right).

This lay above the natural limestone bedrock but this had been cut by the foundation trench for the wall between 27 and 28.


The floor remnant overlying the foundation trench which had been cut through the creamy yellow natural limestone.

So the Roman builders cut a trench…built the wall in it….filled the trench and then laid the floor surfaces.

Excitement! A coin found in the foundation trench filling would date the wall construction…. Little bits of bird and fish bone, a black piece of Roman pottery, couple of bits of painted plaster but no coin this time. We collected bits of charcoal so we could radiocarbon date the construction but not precise enough really. A result of some time from the 3rd to the 5th century would not be very helpful.


The east wall (right) overlies the north  wall (top) which has a different rust coloured mortar.

What we could say is that the east wall boundary with 28 was built after the north wall as it’s stones were built over the north wall’s footing. The mortar is a different rusty colour and has been cut away by the east wall foundation trench. Traces of an earlier, lower floor also cut away by the trench.

Ahhhh, the beauty of archaeological relationships and recording sequences of events in the right order (admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea)

But anyway. Here again is the star of the show… the Room 28 mosaic at the end of day 5….