The Dunster Castle Mosaics

Dunster Castle in west Somerset, is one of three Wessex Norman motte and bailey castles now owned by the National Trust. Their 11th century designers all used natural hills. Each was a strategic location but history changed them.. only Dunster has remained a residence through 1000 years.. a grand mansion house, impressive in scale and outline, high above the road into Exmoor.

1754 painting2

1754 painting of Dunster’s dramatic setting on display in the Castle

In south Somerset, Montacute Castle, on St Michael’s Hill , is now only visible as earthworks under trees. It ended its military life in the 12th century when the land was given to Montacute Priory.

Corfe Castle thrived as a royal castle, particularly in the 13th century, but had become old fashioned by Tudor times. Elizabeth I sold Corfe and it became a rich family’s trophy house.. They backed the King (the losing side) and so in 1646 it was made uninhabitable. Now it’s a craggy ruin.

Dunster is different.. It survived the turbulent years of the English Civil War. It progressed.. and was developed during the 18th and 19th centuries.. complete with stables, outbuildings designed parkland, gardens and summerhouses.

And so it was… that last August I took the long and winding road from Taunton to Minehead in search of a Dunster mosaic.

Don’t get me wrong… these are pebble mosaics not Roman ones .. but they are intricate designs, hidden and poorly understood.

The thing about Dunster Tor is that it’s got unstable slopes. The paths and access road, spiraling up the steep hill to the Castle’s front door, keep slipping away.

I arrived at the right time, morning tea-break in the bothy, and then Robin the Head Gardener guided me up the hill with drawing board, camera, notebook and measuring tapes.

IMG_4898

Starting to clear the overgown path below the Castle. 

A busy summer day, many visitors enjoying the sunshine but I was shown down a lost path. Closed because of health and safety. It doesn’t go anywhere now. After about 30m, it stops abruptly at a steep slope, where the old route has tumbled down the hill.

Robin found the spot and pulled some creeper plants which had grown across the abandoned path. There, was a pattern of pebbles set in a hard white mortar.

He wished me well and left me to it ..and that was my home for the day.. shaded by the bushes and tall plants and all around me the voices of happy holiday people walking along other paths. Nearby but out of sight.

The path had been cut into the hillside. On the uphill side, I pulled back the greenery and found the red sandstone blocks of the revetment wall. Where the path met the wall there was a heap of soil and roots. I moved the vegetation… and just above the mosaic surface were fragments of plaster and pieces of brick and slate.

IMG_4908

The pebble mosaic running under the revetment wall.

There were also two blocks of stone joined together and forming an 120 degree angle as though they once formed the corner of a polygonal building. The revetment wall had been built above this corner and the mosaic ran up to it….The archaeological sequence .. first the stone corner, then the pebble floor built against it and then, at a later date, the revetment wall for the path built above them.

IMG_4904

Now it was time to clean back from the wall and reveal the pattern of the white pebbles. It was edged with a curving fan of long, pitched, red-brown stones. Then there were zig-zag patterns of long grey stones among the white pebbles. In the centre of each zig and zag, was a rosette of long stones with a pebble in the middle. Beyond that and further downslope there were interlocking arcs of grey stones dividing up the white pebbles…but then I ran out of path.

IMG_4916

The stone rosettes 

Slabs of the mosaic had  fractured and tipped down slope and then had been covered and resurfaced in the 1970s to repair the path and make it horizontal again.

Really good mortar… it held the pebbles fast as the floor cracked and slipped away down the hill.

By the end of the day I’d uncovered about half the surviving semi-circular design. Originally, it must have been about 5m in diameter but ….how old was it and what period in the Castle’s long history did it belong to?

I’ve been writing up the report and the answers are not easy to find.. definitely 18th or 19th century but surely we can do better than that.

There are two known Dunster mosaics. The other one, on the north side of the castle, was built against the 15th century gatehouse. This floor design is a series of concentric pebble petals and was carefully uncovered and drawn in the 1990s. Robert the excavator concluded that the mortar used in the floor was a kind of ‘Roman’ cement and was therefore at least earlier 19th century in date.

The one I had revealed was on the south side of the Castle and although it had a different design, the mortar and types of stone were similar. There is no reason to doubt that they are contemporary and part of the same period of garden design.

Dunster Castle has such a dramatic scenic profile: it has been drawn, painted and mapped many times since the early 18th century.

Changes usually take place when there is money and the Luttrell family (the owner occupiers of Dunster from the 1404-1976) didn’t always have large amounts of spare money.

In the early 18th century, Dorothy Luttrell had cash to spend and used it to redesign the gardens. A drawing of Dunster in 1735 shows a white building in the area where I drew the mosaic. There is a painting dated 1754 which also shows the building. Is this the building which covered the mosaic. There’s no similar structure for the north pebble floor and the the type of mortar doesn’t work for such an early date. ‘Roman cement’ was invented by James Parker in 1798 and is unlikely to have been used at Dunster until the early 19th century.

18th century

The early 18th century painting at Dunster showing a little white building on the left side of the Castle in the area of the pebble floor.

Henry Fownes Luttrell 1747-1780 had money and lived at Dunster much of the time as did his son John 1780-1816 but the next owners lived mainly in London and the Castle went into decline.  Then, in 1867, George Luttrell inherited and took the place in hand. He commissioned fashionable architect, Anthony Salvin, to design a gothic revamp for the place.

The surviving later 19th century photos maps and plans give no hint that the mosaics were created at this time.

However, they may have been designed and seen for just a few years and any covering pavilion or summer house building may have been a light timber framed structure quickly removed.

My best bet… given the type of mortar …and the occupation history of the Luttrell family, is that the floors were commissioned by John Luttrell before 1816… can’t prove it though.

Unfortunately William Turner’s painting of 1811 shows nothing and neither does the tithe map of 1840. But they were  not created to show garden detail….

1840 Dunster

Dunster’s Tithe Map 1840

so I must hope for a future researcher who one day.. at Taunton.. at a table in the Somerset County Record Office…working through deep pile of papers in the Dunster Archive, will suddenly alight on the conclusive document ….I hope he or she spots it.

 

Purbeck: Treswell’s Palimpsest

February: last week, meetings with Historic England. 5 hillforts in 2 days.

We were puffed out. It’s a long slog up the path to the ramparts of Hambledon Hill.

We paused near to top…just beyond the gate, and looked down on the Dorset countryside.

I turned to our Clive…

‘How did the conference go ?’

‘Good. I discovered a new archaeological term…now what was it?’

‘We tried to guess’   stratigraphic relationship? Harris matrix? Deverel Rimbury Culture?

‘Ah yes! Palimpsest!

High above Child Okeford, we gazed north beyond the chalkland into the Blackmoor Vale. Our eyes drifted across the sunlit network of field systems, farmsteads and trackways, disappearing into a late winter haze.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The view from Hambledon Hill north into the Blackmore Vale

The archaeological metaphor. The palimpsest of the historic landscape. We nicked the term (archaeologists are scavengers). Wipe a slate clean but earlier messages can never be quite erased..look carefully…they can still be read.

Rip out a hedge, plough two fields as one, but the boundary will still be visible as a dark line.

Abandon a farm, pull down the buildings and walk away… but thousands of years later, scatters of finds will be evidence. Silent witnesses of past lives.

Wouldn’t it be good to go back and take a video or at least a snap shot.

Well, there are old maps at least.

Detailed Ordnance Survey will take you back to the 1880s. Then most areas are covered by the parish Tithe Maps of the 1840s.

If you are lucky..wealthy landowners commissioned surveyors to map their land..often in the 18th century.

Before that there are written documents but no visual links…but in Purbeck there is Ralph Treswell’s survey.

He was an artist cartographer commissioned by Elizabeth I’s favourite Sir Christopher Hatton.

Hatton’s family were from Northamptonshire, but after Elizabeth sold him Corfe Castle in 1572, he decided to carve out a Purbeck empire. He bought various blocks of land across this chunk of south-east Dorset and then decided to have them surveyed (this is the core of the National Trust’s Purbeck Estate).

The result is the Treswell Survey which took my breath away when I first saw it in the Dorset History Centre. It had survived the English Civil War and the plunder of Corfe Castle and been kept by the Bankes family in a cupboard at Kingston Lacy until the 1980s.

The maps are beautiful and detailed. Colour drawings of Tudor life and land tenure with the names of tenants and their land holdings across the Corfe Castle Estate in 1585-1586.

1-furzecutter-middlebere

Middlebere Heath 1586 with Ralph Treswell’s drawing of a Tudor furzecutter with red deer (no longer found in Purbeck)

Gold cannons line the upper terrace at Corfe Castle. Deer prance across Middlebere Heath. Working men stand with their furze cutting tools and rabbits emerge from burrows. High on the Purbeck hills above Langton is a timber beacon tower with ladder to the fire pot ready to warn against Spanish invasion. In the vale to the south, Langton West Wood follows the same contours as today, shrouding the worked out Roman and medieval Purbeck marble quarries.

2-beacon

The signal beacon drawn on the chalk ridge crest above West Wood (bottom right) which was planted on worked out medieval Purbeck limestone quarries.

Farms and villages occupy the same locations as farms and villages today. The long boundaries across the limestone plateau mark medieval manorial divisions …Worth from Eastington from Acton from Langton..the boundaries survive today and can be traced back to Domesday of 1086 and beyond.

3-acton

The long boundaries of stone walls (still in the landscape today) divide the Domesday manors and therefore Saxon land holdings of Worth, Eastington, Acton and Langton.

At Studland, the coast has changed completely..no sand dunes then and the good arable land between chalk ridge, village and heathland is crowded with strips forming the common field system indicated as ‘hides’ by 1086. Studland Wood is larger than today but not ploughed since Roman times because Treswell’s map shows it then and under the trees today are the earthworks of ancient ‘celtic fields’.

4-open-fields

The East Common Field of Studland divided into arable strips between the chalk ridge of Studland Down and the village of Studland. Studland Wood is shown though larger than today. The tree cover preserved evidence of earlier Roman and preshistoric agriculture in the form of ‘celtic fields’. The name Castell Leyes may indicate the site of a 13th century coastal castle or fort referred to in medieval documents of King John.

The maps are a fabulous marker at a time when things moved slowly, reflecting far more of medieval life than can the later estate maps and tithe maps.

These Tudor surveys show how precious our landscape is. Built by the many generations of ancestors who have never been quite rubbed out. Their evidence is all around us. Treswell’s maps prove it !

Under the First Tower Corfe Castle

dcoc612

Sometimes, at a distance, when the sunlight hits Corfe Castle… it seems whole again..

Just an illusion..it has been a battered shell since 1646, when, after a long siege, it was captured and blown apart by the Parliamentarians.

They made sure that the supporters of King Charles could not use it again..unpicking the defenses, trenching under the walls, packing with gunpowder and throwing the turrets and walls in all directions.

But this blog is also about something that happened 300 years earlier ..when Corfe Castle was one of the brightest and best within the league table of medieval fortresses.

About 1250, the 1st Tower was created for King Henry III.

When first added to the defensive circuit, this structure was a cutting edge design, built to protect the southern and western approaches. The barons were often restless.

A wonderful thing, with its rounded tower and its 3 arrow loop embrasures.. from these, bowmen or more probably cross bowmen could take aim and fell an attacker up to 300m away. A crossbow bolt could penetrate a knight’s armour.

We only know of one illustration and then only in plan.. drawn for the new owner Sir Christoper Hatton..14 years after it was sold to him by Elizabeth I. Such castles were old fashioned by then.

1st-tower-treswell

Ralph Treswell’s 1586 survey of Corfe Castle shows the 1st Tower between the steps up to the Outer Gatehouse (right) and the Outer Bailey latrines (left). 60 years later it was blown in two.

The Parliamentary demolition team searched for weak spots and made them weaker. They set their charges and the explosion fractured the 1st tower.. right down its central arrowloop. It must have sounded like an earthquake in the town.. and when the dust settled, the east half leaned drunkenly outward and the west half  had been flipped 180 degrees coming to a rest half way down the hill slope.. This is where it has remained gathering soil, vegetation and scrub for another 371 years.

dcoc591

Looking along the west wall of the Outer Bailey from the SW Gatehouse towards Corfe Village. The scrub covered fallen 1st Tower lies below the castle wall hidden by vegetation directly below the position of the church tower.

Other parts of the Castle have been cleaned and consolidated over the years but the chunks that lie tumbled across the slopes, or down by the river, have not. The largest of these pieces is the First Tower, and now …the scaffolding is upon it.

So last week I headed south through a cold winter morning of dramatic contrasts: on the high chalk downs, bright melting sunlight above vales of mist.. but down on the heath, thick freezing fog and brittle white frosted trees.

The caged Tower loomed but nobody was on it. I found them in the tea rooms beside the Outer Bridge. Architects, builders and property staff… after warm drinks we headed for the vertical ladder up from the ditch.

img_5980

The route up to the First Tower from the Castle Ditch. The standing half of the tower is on the right with part of the 13th century cross-loop visible, the other half is part buried beneath the lowest scaffolding.

A good time to visit. Most of the centuries of roots and soil had been removed. We climbed over the scaffolding and saw, up close, the medieval construction, types of mortar, the galleting of the joints and the different beds of Purbeck stone, the arrangement of rubble and fine ashlar.

img_5982

But everything in reverse. When we got to the top, we saw the great slabs of Purbeck Marble laid down as foundation layers before the tower proper was built above. Someone saw tool marks around their edges and suggested they may have been recycled coffin cover rough-outs.

img_5997

The foundation of the Tower made of large long slabs of stone, then rough block work, not meant to be seen, followed by the finely worked ashlar burr stone forming the battered plinth (three course vertical, three at 60 degrees and then vertical again rising to the top of the rounded tower).

A stranded whale of a thing, its construction now more visible than at any time since it was built.

Could we laser scan it and capture this revelation in time?

Yes it can be done.

It will be partly obscured soon, new mortar and capping needs to be placed over the Tower to protect the newly exposed structure from weathering.

Both halves will be digitised.

The scaffolding will be edited out, and then, by the touch of a button… the First Tower will be reunited again.

IMG_5973.JPG

 

 

 

Cold Case: Skeleton Cave , Leigh Woods

Sometimes names are a mystery… and until recently that was true for ‘Skeleton Cave’.

Back in 98 we commissioned an archaeological site survey for the National Trust’s Bristol property ..Leigh Woods. It found that one of its Avon Gorge caves (near the Clifton Suspension Bridge), was named Skeleton Cave. No explanation could be discovered, just an empty cave with a name.

10-03-08-leigh-woods-michaels-hill-golden-cap-022The view from Stokeleigh Camp down to the Skeleton Cave at Leigh Woods

Bones preserve well in the carboniferous limestone caves and are often found when cavers dig there…though discoveries may be centuries old and poorly recorded.

Deep cave deposits can be  of many periods. The National Trust has a good Somerset cave collection.. at Leigh Woods, Brean Down and the Mendips properties. Cave deposits tend to be very ancient indeed. At Cheddar there is a cave known as the Bone Hole where many prehistoric bones have been found. The Royal Holloway College has been carrying out exceptional research at Ebbor. Here, after a decade of excavations,through layers containing Pleistocene animal remains, some human occupation evidence has recently been found. This is over 30,000 years old and below layers containing bones of long lost British creatures like aurochs, arctic foxes, reindeer and bears.

img_1386Pleistocene animal bones from Ebbor Gorge

So Skeleton Cave is a cold case.. and an unexpected email from Graham at Bristol University reopened the files. First, and most obviously, it is Skeleton Cave because back in 1965 two men dug there and found prehistoric flint flakes and a skeleton. National Trust had no idea the excavation was taking place until a report appeared in the local paper. At that point the Bristol Spelaeological Society at Bristol University wrote to NT to raise their concerns.

Surviving cave deposits are rare and any excavation needs to be backed up with the resources and experience to analyse the finds and publish the information. So the excavation stopped and the finds were handed over to the National Trust. Bristol Spelaeological Society put together a file on what they could find out about the excavation.

Graham let me see the Bristol correspondence and hoped to find more from the National Trust files. The NT archive is curated in environmentally friendly conditions in old WWII tunnels near Chippenham, Wiltshire. The relevant files were called up and brought to our office at Tisbury. A morning of searching revealed very little additional information.

Back in the 1960s, the National Trust had very few staff compared with today and some properties were administered by local management committees. Some of the letters in Graham’s file were from the Leigh Woods committee and this reminded me of the tin trunk we once had in the cellar at our old office at Eastleigh Court, Warminster.

The box had been full of minute books and maps and other documents held by the Leigh Woods Management Committee and was transferred to the Leigh Woods property hub at Tyntesfield when we moved. I contacted the collections manager there and Graham went to Tyntesfield to look inside the box…Unfortunately,  just committee stuff and nothing about Skeleton Cave.

Within the Bristol University files were letters from the old Wessex Regional Office at Stourhead. Perhaps the 2 boxes of finds from Skeleton Cave were taken there. No, they may be hidden somewhere but the Stourhead collection is largely catalogued and there is nothing from Bristol.

Another of Graham’s 1960s letters is from Lacock and this is a more likely place for something to be hidden. The Talbot family were finding things on their Wiltshire estate for centuries before it came to the Trust and there are numerous rooms and boxes all through the ranges of Abbey buildings. The collection is still being catalogued. Visions of the two lost Leigh Woods finds boxes hidden like Ravenclaw’s diadem within Lacock’s ‘rooms of requirement’ (Lacock featured in the early Harry Potter films).

No luck so far. Usually back then, NT archaeological finds would be deposited at the local museum which would be Bristol City Museum. They have no records from Skeleton Cave.

However, not all is lost. Graham has a drawn section of the cave, notes on the excavation and a precious human lower jaw which was given to the University by the finders. He will publish an account of the discovery and Lisa at Tyntesfield has found the money to provide a radiocarbon date for the mandible.

10-03-08-leigh-woods-michaels-hill-golden-cap-023Bristol Suspension Bridge and the Avon Gorge from Stokeleigh Camp Iron Age hillfort.

It was analysed a few days ago and we await the result.

 

 

 

 

Badbury and the Devil’s Footprint

This is about the 6th century… Dark Times.

You will need to go to Badbury Rings in Dorset and head to the west side of the outer rampart. Stand where the great Roman road, known as the Ackling Dyke, touches the hillfort and then look north.

From the Badbury Roman cross-roads take the road to Old Sarum (nr Salsibury) where there is another hillfort at another cross-roads. After the Roman conquest, just like at Badbury, a small Roman town grew up nearby. At Badbury it’s Shapwick (Vindocladia) at Old Sarum its Stratford sub Castle (Sorviodunum).

The Roman administration lasted about 400 years then the troops left for the continent and Britain sorted out its own politics. It broke up into factions, petty political infighting and one by one these new Romanised British states caved in to alien cultures from outside the old empire. Our modern counties tell the story of conflict and the place names of our villages and towns in the east are almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon. Bit by bit the Roman centres were abandoned or taken over. In recent years it has been suggested that British and Germanic incomers integrated more amicably than has traditionally been believed…but ancient DNA compared with DNA from modern populations argues for the old fashioned view …that the Brits were ethnically cleansed from the east.

The Saxons took Old Sarum in AD 552, their history book, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, states this. A worrying time for the Romanised peoples of Dorset and Somerset. Time to block the Ackling Dyke. It was too easy an access route for the invaders. The old earthwork marking the Dorset border, Bockerley Dyke, was strengthened and the road was blocked here (General Pitt Rivers discovered this during his excavations in 1890). It was re-opened again soon afterwards…

Early aerial photograph of Badbury Rings (Wessex from the Air 1928). The Ackling Dyke runs top centre to centre left. Notice the way the outer rampart touches the road and covers its south eastern bank and ditch. The Devil's Footprint is top centre cutting the road at right angles. The line has been subsequently been rebuilt but over the years has slumped into the old cutting.

Early aerial photograph of Badbury Rings (Wessex from the Air 1928). The Ackling Dyke runs top centre to centre left. Notice the way the outer rampart touches the road and covers its south eastern bank and ditch. The Devil’s Footprint is top centre cutting the road at right angles. The line has subsequently been rebuilt but over the years has slumped into the old cutting.

Badbury at the cross-roads needed re-fortification. Imagine standing here in the 6th century.. can you feel the vulnerability. What happened?

There are three ramparts around the hillfort. The two inner ones lie close together and look similar…they are Iron Age. What about the outer one? It is further out, slighter, bit humpy…unfinished?. Some say it was built about AD 44 ..on the eve of the Roman Conquest, but stand on the west edge where it runs beside the Ackling Dyke and look at the earthworks.

Which came first? The great Ackling Dyke is 25m across. Late Roman banks and ditches flank the road on either side. Recent LiDAR laser scans, along with aerial photographs, show something new. The east road bank is cut by Badbury’s outer ditch. Excavation at Shapwick has shown that the road is late 4th century…so Badbury’s rampart is later still. Last week I visited and saw it on the ground.

Then there is the chalk quarry just a little to the north.. known as the Devil’s Footprint. It runs from the rampart across the line of the road to the steeper slope to the west. Once it was covered in gorse but NT rangers have now made the earthwork clearly visible and it is not a random digging. It cuts the Ackling Dyke at a right angle. A wide formidable defence acting as a cross-ridge dyke.

Back in 2004, we radiocarbon dated the re-occupation of the hillfort to the 5th century, so good evidence that Badbury’s people re-made this place as a fortress. The British Dorset militia quickly threw up Badbury’s outer rampart and dug the wide trench, the ‘Devil’s Footprint’,to hold back the Saxon tide…. well..now..as the archaeology of the earthworks has demonstrated, there’s a strong argument to be made for this.

Stourhead? Where’s Stourton Castle?

In south Wiltshire, on the border with Dorset and Somerset was built a great and ancient house. It lay at the centre of a large estate and was known as Stourton Castle..

but there is a problem…

We don’t know where it is

We have a picture.

An enhanced drawing based on John Aubrey's original sketch.

An enhanced drawing based on John Aubrey’s original sketch.

Drawn from a 1670 sketch by the antiquarian John Aubrey.

The place was massive and must have looked a bit like Lacock Abbey

Lacock Abbey in north Wiltshire. Stourton Castle was arranged around two courtyards like this and would have been of similar scale and outward appearance.

Lacock Abbey in north Wiltshire. Stourton Castle was arranged around two courtyards like this and would have been of similar scale and outward appearance.

but it’s gone.. apparently without trace.

The story of the removal of Stourton Castle and the creation of Stourhead House has a touch of Poldark about it.

The Stourtons (old money Poldark) and the Hoares (new money Warleggan)

The Stourton family had taken their name from the village of Stourton (the farm by the River Stour), a place recorded in Domesday and at least Saxon in origin. The Stourtons claimed that their line went back to a mighty Saxon lord… Botulph.. and William Camden, writing in 1607, saw a ‘monstrous bone’ displayed in Stourton Castle… a leg of their legendary ancestor.

The surviving records trace the family back to the 12th century but the Stourtons only emerge as lords of the manor in the 13th century documents. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the family did very well and built up cash reserves via good marriages and military service in France.

Their manor house blossomed and flourished. Aubrey’s picture shows that it was built around two large courtyards and had a tall tower and shows parapets with military style battlements.

Things fell apart for the Stourtons in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the early 16th century, William Lord Stourton was working for Henry VIII in France and left the care of his estate to his trusted steward William Hartgill…he also looked after Lord Stourton’s  wife Elizabeth.

When Lord Stourton died in 1548, his hot-tempered son Charles inherited the Estate. He rode with a band of henchmen to Kilmington near Stourton and found his mother living at Hartgill’s house. A feud grew up between the men and eventually, in 1557, Lord Stourton kidnapped William and his son John, murdered them and buried their bodies in a cellar within the Castle.

As a catholic, with Queen Mary on the throne, Charles believed that he would get away with the murders. However, William Hartgill had friends and they made sure that the Castle was searched, the bodies found and Lord Stourton arrested. He was convicted and executed in Salisbury. His wife was forced to pay for her husband’s property which had been forfeited to the Crown following his trial. She was also separated from her eldest son John, who was only a child at the time.

The family backed the wrong side in the Civil War. In September 1644, Parliamentarian forces set fire to one of the gates, captured the house, ransacked it and made it untenable.The eldest son John was killed at the battle for Bristol and when the Royalist cause was finally lost, the estates were confiscated and heavy fines were imposed.

The family fortunes continued to decline and by 1686 the impoverished Stourton family had mortgaged their ancestral home and by 1704 it was for sale.

Enter the Hoare family who had made a fortune through banking. In 1720, they purchased the whole estate, demolished the castle and built a new flashy Palladian villa… quite the latest thing. They changed the name to Stourhead. The house at the source of the River Stour.

The Hoare family made sure the transformation was carried out quickly. They paid for a survey of their new property in 1722 and the Estate Map shows the new house completed… Stourton Castle was gone.

The 1722 map shows the new Stourhead House with its garden intruding slightly onto the courtyard of the stables and outbuildings below and to the right. Was this a retained part of the old house?

The 1722 map shows the new Stourhead House with its garden intruding slightly into the top left hand corner of the stable courtyard. The courtyard is below and right of the house. With a large gateway facing south. Was this the outer courtyard of the old house?

Finding the site has been difficult, the normal techniques have proved to be inconclusive and the quest for the Castle has become a great archaeological challenge.

It seemed simple at first. The 1880s 25 inch OS map marks a cross about 100m east of Stourhead House with the legend ‘site of Stourton Castle’ So we geophysed it and the results were very disappointing. Since then, year by year, we have surveyed around the house but nothing has been revealed.

When Meg did her student placement for the National Trust, I asked her to find the Castle and her MA dissertation tracked down the documentary references and descriptions of its chambers and halls and its chapel, which included a decorated tiled floor inlaid with the initials WS for William Stourton. Documents in the record offices of Cornwall, Wiltshire, Somerset and nearby Longleat House were examined. These built up the background: the estate, the farmland, the deer park and hunting lodge, the warren and the warrener’s lodge… bits about the repair of the great house and its approximate location… but nothing to pin it down.

We looked at the fabric of the stone-lined cellars of Stourhead House. Had they built the new house on the old?

The cellars of Stourhead House. Some reused stone but nothing to indicate that these were once the cellars of Stourton Castle.

The cellars of Stourhead House. Some reused stone but nothing to indicate that these were once the cellars of Stourton Castle.

We examined the stableyard to the south. This includes in its walls great chunks of reused? stone and a 16th century? doorway. Was this the remodeled outer courtyard of the Castle?. We dug a trench on its north side, hoping to find medieval walls leading to the inner courtyard.. just 18th century pottery above deep soil.

Our fieldwork in Stourhead Park. Earth resistance meter against the railings and our trench beside the stables courtyard to the left. The Hoare family's 1720s mansion Stourhead House can be seen top right. The site of old Stourton Castle lies somewhere to the right of this picture.

Our fieldwork in Stourhead Park. Earth resistance meter against the railings and our trench beside the stables courtyard to the left. The Hoare family’s 1720s mansion Stourhead House can be seen top right. The site of old Stourton Castle lies somewhere to the right of this picture.

So where is it hiding? A LiDAR laser survey of the parkland ground surface might help or more sensitive geophysics… perhaps ground probing radar. Everything seems to point near the cross marked by Ordnance Survey. A line of pre-Stourhead House chestnut trees are aligned north towards this point where there is a mound in the park. From the east, an old drove-way passes through Drove Lodge and runs as an earthwork into the park.

Our site is most likely to exist where these two alignments meet. Surely the backfilled cellars and extensive robbed out walls lie there or thereabouts.

We’ll keep looking.

2016 yr 4 Chedworth Villa 7am

 

The last two were 12 hr days but late summer Chedworth at 7am is lovely.

Walking past the Victorian Lodge with tapes and drawing boards. Look right down the valley towards the new day. The mist still hiding the lower fields and hedgerows.. and around the excavations the spoil heaps steaming in the rising low sunlight, burning off last night’s showers.

Pull back the tarpaulins and capture the moment. Birdsong and video.

What information do we have now? What has been gathered from our two weeks of labour?

Map of the west end of the North Range showing the trench locations

Map of the west end of the North Range showing the trench locations

The disabled access ramp was dismantled to give us sight of the north end of the East Gallery. Our trench 4a.. which is really four adjacent trenches.

Carol completed the removal of turf from the SE corner of the great reception hall. The NE corner we saw in 2013 (good condition). The NW corner (rubbish condition) and the SW (brilliant) corner we uncovered in 2014. So Carol’s SE corner (60% survives) confirmed that the striped red and white mosaic design bordered the whole 18m long floor and that although it had been lost against the south revetment wall, this loss had revealed a narrower North Range wall line beneath the mosaic.

The mosaic forming the SE corner of the reception hall and the top right the door threshold into the north corridor. Below this is the wider revetment wall of the north range. No doorway visible from the East Gallery but the offset wall at the bottom of the ranging pole is probably where the Roman floor used to be. The flagstones on the left abut the revetment wall and this is a later wall forming the west side of the gallery. On the right is the broad buttress wall which may have infilled an earlier doorway. Our deep interesting trench is on the right side of this.

The mosaic forming the SE corner of the reception hall and the top right the door threshold into the north corridor. Below this is the wider revetment wall of the north range. No doorway visible from the East Gallery but the offset wall at the bottom of the ranging pole is probably where the Roman floor used to be. The flagstones on the left abut the revetment wall and this is a later wall forming the west side of the gallery. On the right is the broad buttress wall which may have infilled an earlier doorway. Our deep interesting trench is on the right side of this.

Down below, at the north end of the East Gallery, we came down onto clay below the 1906 and 1911 pennies. No Roman floor survived. The offset stone course probably marked where the floor once had been… but it was long gone.

There was no entrance evidence at the north end of the East Gallery into the North Range. In fact the creation of the corridor or gallery seemed a very late Roman after thought..certainly later than the wider North Range revetment wall. This wall’s foundation cut that of the revetment…but, from the archaeological evidence, the doorway through the wall used by the modern disabled access ramp seemed a real Roman feature.

Then there was the thick buttress built into the east gallery wall. The east gallery wall foundations go down and down and this proved to be an early Chedworth feature. The buttress matches the width of the doorway in the west wall and it was Bryn who suggested that the buttress filled an early doorway. A weak point that needed filling in.

It was the trench on the lower east side of the buttress which was interesting. It’s near cousins to the west had been a little disappointing..

Samian in charcoal amongst mortar and painted plaster at the base of the buttress.

Samian in charcoal amongst mortar and painted plaster at the base of the buttress.

Once the modern upper soils had been removed, we hit the AD 295-305 coin and then the 3rd – 4th century mortaria rim and then the tiny late 3rd century coin. Eventually the rich dark soils turned rusty brown and then into an orange brown decayed mortar full of tile fragments and pieces of deep blue and red painted plaster. Against the revetment wall, this mortar ran under its lowest course and beneath a large square paviour of limestone wedged between the buttress and the wall.

On the last morning I cleaned back the mortar layer and found a seam of charcoal within it and a fresh square of samian pottery was flicked out by the trowel point. This boundary between the upper and lower Chedworth courtyard levels seems to have been established by the 2nd century?

Needs some more work next year.

Then there is Fay and Rob’s trench in Room 21. An extraordinary slice through time. A sealed 1600 year old heap of stuff (including a door key! as well as all the decorative plaster). The stacks of tile pilae protruding like broken teeth from the debis. They lie in ordered lines but survive at different levels. The idea that the blocked doorway from the east once led via steps up to the floor above the hypocaust… doesn’t seem to work based on the level of the pilae.

The two lines of pilae on the east side of room 21. The blocked door is top right. The burnt plaster lines the wall along the left side of the photo. A broken channel of box flue tiles was attached to this wall. Part of the later heating system.

The two lines of pilae on the east side of room 21. The blocked door is top right. The burnt plaster lines the wall along the left side of the photo. A broken channel of box flue tiles was attached to this wall. Part of the later heating system.

The door seems already to have been redundant and blocked before the hypocaust was installed. Red plaster surviving on the door jamb and burnt plaster within the room at hypocaust level suggest a room at a lower level swept away for the new heating system which in turn was backfilled and sealed with a new Roman crushed brick floor later in the 4th century. The mid 4th century coins just below this floor help us with our dating.

The foundations of the east wall of this room lie on a good early Roman line linked to the plunge pool of the early Roman baths.It was abutted by the charcoal sample we took in 2014 giving us an early 2nd century date.

Trench 4c, on the west side of Room 20 showed us that Sir Ian Richmond’s suggestion that a flight of steps may have existed here leading down from the West Range into the colonnade of the North.. did not exist.. but we found evidence for a narrow access passage down into the boiler room for the early North Range steam heat baths.

Lastly…4d, Alex, Harry, Peter and Les heroically removing the claggy clay backfill of the 1962 water works at the Nymphaeum. The Nymphaeum being the stone shrine created in the 4th century in honour to the spirit of the water source, the reason Chedworth could be created here.

IMG_5326

The pipes issuing from the Roman Nymphaeum culvert. Notice the Victorian change of build above Roman foorings at the grass level. The 1962 concrete wall on the left marks the line of a wall probably redundant and robbed out before the Nymphaeum was built.

The discovery of three water pipes..the 1860s lead pipe heading for the Lodge and the two 1960s iron pipes heading for the north range. They had been shoved into the original 4th century culvert.. which survived though slightly damaged. It was 0.3m wide and 0.6m high with a stone floor. I drew it and noticed that the proper Roman stonework was slightly offset and only survived beneath the turf line. Above..at least on the south-east side, was all a Victorian rebuild…

…and Sir Ian’s 1962 concrete interpretive wall, which continued the line of the North Range running into the threshold stones of the Nymphaeum, was built on almost a metre of 1962 made up ground. No Roman stone wall was found. A robber trench had been cut into the natural yellow clay and concluded that this wall had been taken away before the Nymphaeum was built.

Sue, the marble expert came to see us and believes that Chedworth’s marble is so rare for this country that it must have been used at a very special location within the villa. She believes that the octagonal basin at the centre of the Nymphaeum would be such a sacred place. Chedworth’s Nymphaeum cannot be compared closely with any known structure in Roman Britain. So perhaps a particularly sacred site..

Over for another year. Many thanks to everyone who has helped and supported the archaeological work at Chedworth during the last two weeks.

With best wishes

 

Martin