Chedworth and Sir Ian’s lost archive

Long ago, fresh out of school, I was told by Bill my mentor, that archaeology is an unrepeatable experiment.. you destroy what you uncover and you must record it properly. An excavation is never over until its published. This is the heavy weight of responsibility for all who go out and dig holes through ancient sites.

September 2000, a Roman wall footing from Badbury temple. Finally written up and sent for publication yesterday.

September 2000, a Roman wall footing from Badbury temple. Finally written up and sent for publication yesterday.

So.. part of my guilt trip is almost over as yesterday I sent the written report for Badbury Temple (dug in 2000!!!!) to Paul for publication. Nancy has sent out and gathered the specialist reports, Maggie has assembled her finds illustrations, I’ve got a drawing to finish this afternoon and then it’s done.

But…what if something happens?

Uncovering  and recording Sir Ian Richmond's excavations of 1958 and 1963 of the early North Range baths, Chedworth.

Uncovering and recording Sir Ian Richmond’s excavations of 1958 and 1963 of the early North Range baths, Chedworth.

We dug at Chedworth Roman Villa this summer and essentially were confirming something that was dug back in 1958 but never published. Chedworth’s a bit like that, lots of digs but little has been written up. From 1957-1965 Sir Ian Richmond investigated and re-interpreted Chedworth but he died in 1965 and his knowledge was lost to us.

Where were his excavation notes and drawings? They should be at Oxford University because he was a professor there but this trail seemed to have been followed in the past. I was told that the Bodleian Library only had a few notes.

In preparation for the dig this year, I reread the 1979 guide book.. because it has the best description of the North Range baths. In the introduction was a thank you to the archivist at Oxford for his help. I wrote to Roger, the author, and he told me to contact the Sackler Library.. so I did.

The nice lady on the end of the phone said that I should e-mail Graham. “I suppose you don’t have anything relating to Chedworth and Sir Ian….”

The Bodleian Library, Oxford.

The Bodleian Library, Oxford.

“Certainly, a stuffed box file with drawings and notebooks.. when would you like to visit?”

So on Monday I travelled into one of the world’s heartlands of learning..parked and took a double-decker into the ‘city of dreaming spires’. First to the vast Neo-classical Clarendon Building, where I handed in my form and was issued with a pass card. I had to read aloud a declaration saying that I would not light a fire or take a naked flame into the library… I agreed.

Then down Broad Street, past the Ashmolean and the Institute of Archaeology and round the corner to the Sackler. I pushed open the heavy double doors into the circular vestibule watched over by a porter (bit Harry Potter). Graham met me and swiped my card to give me access to the library. He led me to a desk containing a box file and various brown envelopes. Each one contained wonderful things (quite a personal sense of wonderful). Graham left me for a while and came back with notebooks and rolls of drawings..

Clarendon House, Oxford which issues access cards for the library.

Clarendon House, Oxford which issues access cards for the library.

Part of Sir Ian Richmond's archive within the Sackler Library his and Eve Rutter's notes in guide bookss from 1924, 1955 and 1963, notebooks, correspondence and drawings.

Part of Sir Ian Richmond’s archive within the Sackler Library his and Eve Rutter’s notes in guide bookss from 1924, 1955 and 1963, notebooks, correspondence and drawings.

Just a few hours to make a record of Sir Ian’s archive. This was what I had been hoping for. Here were his thoughts written in the notebooks, comments written in draft guides, and correspondence and manuscripts for articles and reports. The drawings showed plans and sections of his excavations. Very little photography though and there should be other drawings. I must make another trip in the Spring, not only for Chedworth but also to look at his excavation records for the Iron Age hillfort at Hod Hill in Dorset.

The last letter from Chedworth's custodian Norman Irvine to Sir Ian Richmond to update him on recent excavation work in the North Range (Sackler Library, Oxford University)

The last letter from Chedworth’s custodian Norman Irvine to Sir Ian Richmond to update him on recent excavation work in the North Range (Sackler Library, Oxford University)

This felt like a great discovery and Sir Ian’s records will certainly be a guiding light during our future work at Chedworth.

Arthur, Badon and Badbury

The end of our October walk standing on the inner rampart looking south beside the west entrance.

The end of our October walk standing on the inner rampart looking south beside the west entrance.

Each October I lead a walk at Badbury Rings as part of Dorset Archaeology Days. The weather is generally fine, I meet some great people and it’s an opportunity to share the stories of the place.

At the end, we walk up to the top of the rampart, we look out across the hillfort and surrounding landscape and I say.

“Some people believe that the battle of Mount Badon took place here”

blank faces

“But perhaps you know of Arthur. Not the romantic medieval mythical king but the person he’s based on”

Someone smiles “Yes but was he a real person?”.

Badbury Rings looking south with the west entrance and barbican on the right. The 6m square excavation trench was just above the entrance through the inner rampart.

Badbury Rings looking south with the west entrance and barbican on the right. The 6m square excavation trench was just above the entrance through the inner rampart.

“Well, there are different views. He’s the hero from a time when the Roman legions had withdrawn from Britain and left her citizens to fend for themselves ( many of them thought of themselves as Roman. Britain had been part of the Empire for nearly 400 years)”.

Badbury lies on a hill top at a route centre. It seems to have defended a crossroads on a border. To the east at Christchurch and north near Salisbury have been found Anglo-Saxon pagan warrior burials of 5th-6th century date. To the west at Tolpuddle, around Dorchester and on the Isle of Purbeck, contemporary burials are of Christian type, east-west without grave goods.

Batts Bed field north of Badbury where the Dorchester to London roman road crosses the Bath to Poole Harbour road. The parish  boundary hedge that crosses the picture top to bottom may preserve the line of the road to Hod Hill and Ilchester.

Batts Bed field north of Badbury where the Dorchester to London roman road crosses the Bath to Poole Harbour road. The parish boundary hedge that crosses the picture top to bottom may preserve the line of the road to Hod Hill and Ilchester.

The invading Anglo-Saxons were taking the land. Bit by bit the British were being pushed west. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle documents their triumphs but at the end of the 5th century the tide of conquest is halted.

A leader in the west united the British forces and defeated the Anglo-Saxons at Mount Badon. This battle stopped the Saxon advance for about 50 years. Rare scraps of historical evidence survive. Gildas, a British 6th century monk, comments that the battle took place in the year of his birth although he does not mention when that was or name Arthur.

The Welsh Annals do though

“The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights upon his shoulders and the Britons were the victors”

I particularly like this time (it’s a bit like an end of the world science fiction story). The fading of the old civilisation and the emergence of a new order. The lantern bearers holding back the dark. Traces of history merged with rare archaeological remnants.

…but was the battle in Dorset? Most people don’t think so. Some say it took place in Somerset near Bath on Bathampton Down. Others think it was in Wiltshire near Swindon at a place on the Ridgeway called Liddington Castle close to another Badbury.

The view from Badbury's west gate across the Roman temple along the Dorchester road to the group of three barrows by the entrance track.

The view from Badbury’s west gate across the Roman temple along the Dorchester road to the group of three barrows by the entrance track.

So.. back to last week when we stood on the windswept rampart looking out across the Dorset countryside…

“Nobody had ever recorded an excavation inside Badbury.. so in 2004 we asked for permission to dig a trench. We expected Iron Age occupation and we found it …but above it there was an unexpected floor of rammed chalk and scattered on its surface were scraps of occupation evidence. Fragments of worn late Roman pottery, a spiral bronze ring, a few nails, a worn 4th century coin and patches of charcoal perhaps remains of cooking fires.

Our 6m square excavation against the inner rampart of Badbury Rings. The chalk floor we found covering the Iron Age deposits

Our 6m square excavation against the inner rampart of Badbury Rings. The chalk floor we found covering the Iron Age deposits

Badbury’s population had left when the Roman army arrived in the 1st century. Most of them had probably shifted their homes down to Vindocladia, the small town beside the Stour a mile to the south…then about AD 410 the Empire ended in Britain, the legions left and the world became uncertain. A storm was brewing in the east. The old fortification was re-occupied.

A Late Roman bronze spral ring left on the chalk floor dated to AD 480-520.

A Late Roman bronze spral ring left on the chalk floor dated to AD 480-520.

We took the charcoal and sent away samples for Radiocarbon dating. All three dates came back as AD 480-520.

We cannot prove that the Battle of Mount Badon took place at Badbury in Dorset and that Arthur was there ..(although all patriotic Dorset people would like it to be true) but we now know that the place was certainly occupied then.

We can stand on the ramparts and imagine… a society on the edge..drawn back to the old secure place guarding the crossroads, people looking towards the threat from the north and the east as though a storm was approaching.

…as it is this evening.

Object of the month – One for ‘Dragons den’

When we find some  things, we find we often say ‘what a good idea’ or ‘see, it’s all been done before’ this months object could be this kind of object. It may also please all the young ones who keep secret diaries that have very tiny keys, usually lost in the first week or the lock is easily picked by curious (or nosey) siblings.

A bronze key ring or rather a finger ring that has a key on it.

A bronze key ring or rather a finger ring that has a key on it.

It’s the Romans again!  When we were excavating at Badbury Rings, a 15-year-old work experience lad found a Roman ring-key. (see Camping at Badbury post for more on this dig)

Amy, one of our Rural Surveyors tryed on the ring. Even though it felt heavy Amy found it was easy to wear and very comfortable.

Amy, one of our Rural Surveyors tried on the ring. Even though it felt heavy Amy found it was easy to wear and very comfortable.

These kinds of key were used throughout the roman period and were designed to be used as keys. They were for rotary locks and would have been used for caskets and small strong boxes. Some have decoration on them, but many are plain and probably indicates that their primary function was as a key rather than a fashion statement. I have seen a reconstruction of one of these locks and the key for it at the British Museum, so they can work.

Close-up

Close-up

So there is an idea for someone to get the TV programme Dragons to invest in…unless ‘its all been done before’ 🙂

Battleships at Lodge Farm

This is quite a retro post. One of my first jobs with NT.

Lodge Farm with most of the lime render that once covered it removed. Easy to understand that it could be mistaken for an 18th century cottage but the thick walls and the gothic window tracery were clues to its early history once they were revealed.

Lodge Farm with most of lime render. Easy to understand that it could be mistaken for an 18th century cottage but the thick walls and the gothic window tracery were clues to its early history once they were revealed.

While I worked at Lodge Farm, songs like ‘Thorn in my Side’ were blasting from the builders’ radios and as I measured roof trusses in the attic, drifting up from the living room, the sound of Stephen’s guitar ‘Free Nelson Mandela’.

The medieval roof was open to the hall below in the 15th century but in the Tudor period a floor was inserted. The roof timbers were later hidden by layers of lath and plaster and reed. Behind this we found a 17th century spur, musket shot and a leather purse.

The medieval roof was open to the hall below in the 15th century but in the Tudor period a floor was inserted. The roof timbers were later hidden by layers of lath and plaster and reed. Behind this we found a 17th century spur, musket shot and a leather purse.

Lodge Farm happened while I worked on the Kingston Lacy Estate in SE Dorset. I was asked to be the archaeologist who recorded the building while it was refurbished. It was a luxury. I had the summer from May to September to photograph and draw it and to then excavate where the architect and structural engineer required me to dig.

The original oak floor walked on by the medieval occupant of the lodge, the head forester and park keeper of Kingston Lacy (John Oak and later Henry Warren). This survived beneath an 18th century brick floor. The wood grain pattern shows that the boards were cut from the same tree dendro-dated to c.1420

The original oak floor walked on by the medieval occupant of the lodge, the head forester and park keeper of Kingston Lacy survived beneath the brick floor . The wood grain pattern shows that the boards were cut from the same tree dendro-dated to c.1420

Stephen had answered an advert placed by the land agent of the Bankes Estate. An 18th century cottage needed a tenant. It was quite isolated, half-way between Kingston Lacy House and Badbury Rings hillfort.. but he took it on. He soon noticed that the walls were very thick and of stone. He looked in a cupboard and found a very ornate arched window head. He started to think the place was much older. It was in a bad way though. There were deep cracks in the walls and when he went upstairs the curious brick floor had caved in. Then the National Trust was bequeathed the Estate by Mr Bankes and they took on the responsibility.

Stephen stands by the 18th century doorway cut through a medieval window.  The severe cracking in the wall to his left was the reason the building was underpinned.  The doorway in the centre of the picture once gave access to a room known as a garderobe (latrine).

Stephen stands by the 18th century doorway cut through a medieval window. The severe cracking in the wall to his left was the reason the building was underpinned. The doorway in the centre of the picture once gave access to a room known as a garderobe (latrine).


By 1986, NT had drawn up a plan to repair the building but it would require the walls to be underpinned because the foundations had apparently failed. After drawing the roof timbers and floors, I went outside and hand excavated the underpinning trenches.

The structural engineer stated that each trench should not be more than 1.2m long and no closer than 3m to the next. Once each trench had been dug, the foundations were reinforced with concrete. I gave each trench a letter in alphabetical order and assigned layer numbers to each.

Our first trench hit chalk natural at about 0.3m

Our first trench hit chalk natural at about 0.3m

This turned into a game of battleships to find the archaeology. Trench A at the south-west corner of the building..natural chalk bedrock at 0.3m. Trench B at the south-east corner..chalk bedrock at 0.25m…yawn. Trench C centre of the south wall chalk bedrock….where was it? Below the Victorian stuff, a fragment of Tudor pottery and below this clay tile and then a fragment of stone mortaria.. then a few oyster shells and something that looked like medieval cooking pot. Chalk was reached at 1.8m, at the curving base of a deep wide ditch.

The deer park ditch filling contained evidence of an earlier hunting lodge that was demolished in the 15th century.  Here is one of the fallow deer antlers that demonstrated Lodge Farm's link with the medieval deer park. There are also fragments of medieval cooking pot and clay roof tiles visible.

The deer park ditch filling contained evidence of an earlier hunting lodge that was demolished in the 15th century. Here is one of the fallow deer antlers that demonstrated Lodge Farm’s link with the medieval deer park. There are also fragments of medieval cooking pot and clay roof tiles visible.

The archaeology showed why Lodge Farm was collapsing. 600 years ago it was built on Kingston Lacy’s deer park ditch 3m wide and 1.5m deep, it ran under the south wall, turned in the centre of the building where we found a post-hole for the park gate and then out under the north-west corner of the building. The north side had a number of fallow deer antlers in and also rabbit bones along with ferrets used by the medieval warreners to flush them from their burrows.

This underpinning trench coincided with the centre of the deer park ditch and was almost 2m deep.

This underpinning trench coincided with the centre of the deer park ditch and was almost 2m deep.

In another trench we found some flinty pottery that looked a lot earlier. There were post-holes, ditches and a deep pit. The Lodge wasn’t the first use of the site. 2,500 years ago there had been Iron Age farmers here.

After the digging I wanted to know more. I took a trip to Dorchester and met Sarah the archivist. Mr Bankes had given all his family records to the National Trust and these included medieval accounts rolls for Kingston Lacy. They are on parchment, in a hard to read short-hand and in medieval latin. I had no chance of understanding them but Sarah had the skill. As she unrolled the first yellow document and weighted it down she said ‘they’re usually just summaries. It’s highly unlikely that any of them will refer to a single building’.

This was the account for the year from Michaelmas 1422-23. After a while she paused and read to me ‘the expenses of the park and warren of Badbury’ ..repairs to the park pale…. straw purchased to feed the deer in winter this year…underwood cut within the park…and on payment of 6d to William Hellier for two days work roofing the Lodge and …on the cost of two keys purchased, one for the park gate and for the door of the lodge there.

It’s good when fragments of history and archaeology merge and blend.

She rolled down the scroll a little further ‘and on the expenses of the repair of the manorial buildings of Kingston Lacy’….

Up On The Roof

We had a meeting at Kingston Lacy on Thursday. Sarah and Chris have just been appointed to create a conservation statement for Kingston Lacy park and garden. They wanted to get a good view, so Rob the House Steward took us up on the roof of the mansion.

The north side of Kingston Lacy House. Designed by Roger Pratt for Ralph Bankes in the 1660s. Revamped for Henry Bankes by Brettingham in the late 18th century and then done over again by Charles Barry for William John Bankes in the early 19th century.

The north side of Kingston Lacy House. Designed by Roger Pratt for Ralph Bankes in the 1660s. Revamped for Henry Bankes by Brettingham in the late 18th century and then done over again by Charles Barry for William John Bankes in the early 19th century.

We used the servants’ route via the back stairs, avoiding the billard room with its Egyptology collection and the library with its stunning array of 17th century Lely portraits. This includes one of Sir Ralph Bankes, who had the house built once Charles II became king (Parliament took the Bankes’ estates from them and had their old home Corfe Castle demolished because they backed Charles I in the Civil War).

Rob slid the roof door open and we climbed out into the sunshine and onto the flat lead roof. The park and gardens lay beneath us, bounded by a belt of trees and beyond it, on its hill, to the west was Badbury Rings hillfort.

We talked about the south lawn first. In the early 19th century, William John Bankes had brought back an Egyptian obelisk from his travels. He got his dad to put it up as the focal point of the lawn along with scupltures from Greece and Rome.

Kingston Lacy south lawn from the terrace showing the path to the centrally placed Egyptian obelisk from the Isle of Philae. James the curator has found letters from William John that indicate that he helped Champolion decipher the hyroglyphic writing that enabled the understanding of Ancient Egyptian history. The obelisk like the Rosetta   Stone has an inscription in more than one language.

Kingston Lacy south lawn from the terrace showing the path to the centrally placed Egyptian obelisk from the Isle of Philae. James the curator has found letters from William John that indicate that he helped Champollion decipher the hieroglyphic writing that enabled the understanding of Ancient Egyptian history. The obelisk like the Rosetta Stone has an inscription in more than one language.

It is so dry at the moment that traces of earlier gardens can be seen as parch marks emerging from the grass. These include some strange parallel rows of dry circles and also earlier paths and beds. Historic maps reveal how each generation has adapted and changed the park over time leaving elements of earlier schemes in place. Next week we will survey the south lawn.

William Woodward's 1774 map showing a very different design. On this map north is bottom right. Note the 'crow's foot' design of vistas flanked by trees leading to the old line of the Wimborne, Blandford road. This survives as an earthwork but the road is now further north because the Bankes had it moved to extend their park.

William Woodward’s 1774 map showing a very different design. On this map north is bottom right. Note the ‘crow’s foot’ design of vistas flanked by trees leading to the old line of the Wimborne, Blandford road. This survives as an earthwork but the road is now further north because the Bankes had it moved to extend their park.

Then we walked across the roof and looked directly north across the park where there had once been a grand avenue of trees shown on the 1742 map. Later, two diagonal avenues were planted to create vistas to the north-west and north-east. This was all a bit too formal and they were swept away by 1800. Chris and Sarah are starting by analysing the evidence of the surviving phases of tree plantings and how they relate to the earthworks on the ground.

The north view from the roof in 1990. Beyond the tent is the darker line of the wide central vista. On the right of this just above the tent is a chestnut tree and right of this is a circular earthwork, the footings of a classical temple folly. The tree was planted on a raised path running parallel with the drive.  Sarah thinks that in the 18th century visitors to the house  would approach along this path rather than spoil the prospect from the house by bringing their carriages along the central drive. The tree was planted to break up the straight line of the path when the less formal Capability Brown naturalised landscape park movement was in vogue. Left of the tent is a fallen tree blown over in the January 1990 storm. This revealed old Kingston Lacy in its roots.

The north view from the roof in 1990. Beyond the tent is the darker line of the wide central vista. On the right of this just above the tent is a chestnut tree and right of this is a circular earthwork, the footings of a classical temple folly. The tree was planted on a raised path running parallel with the drive. Sarah thinks that in the 18th century visitors to the house would approach along this path rather than spoil the prospect from the house by bringing their carriages along the central drive. The tree was planted to break up the straight line of the path when the less formal Capability Brown naturalised landscape park movement was in vogue. Left of the tent is a fallen tree blown over in the January 1990 storm that revealed old Kingston Lacy.

A 20m wide raised linear earthwork runs from the mansion house to the old road line and this preserves the line of the central avenue. When the soil was dumped here to create it, over 300 years ago, it lapped over the earthworks of something much older but that is another story.

Kingston Lacy park looking north. Egyptian obelisk bottom of the picture. The central drive lies immediately north of the house. The old north-west 18th century vista is preserved in the present access drive.

Kingston Lacy park looking north. Egyptian obelisk bottom of the picture. The central drive lies immediately north of the house. The old north-west 18th century vista is preserved in the present access drive.

Godolphin has launched the archaeology festival for NT in the SW. Kingston Lacy will get involved tomorrow and Tuesday. We’ll be setting up display and activity tents, geophyzzing the south lawn and plotting the parch marks and also giving guided tours of the remains of the original Kingston Lacy in the north park.

It would be great to see you there.DSCN3104

An interesting site

This week, I pulled together the drawings, finds reports and photos and began to write up a site which should have been published ages ago.

The ramparts and ditches of Badbury Rings hillfort are on the left. Along the bottom  of the picture above the car park is the line of the Roman road to Dorchester. Bottom left, just above the road and to the right of Badbury is the roughly circular parch mark of an enclosure (about 60m in diameter) and within it the square block of parched ground where the buried masonry of makes the grass die back in dry weather.

The ramparts and ditches of Badbury Rings hillfort are on the left. Along the bottom of the picture above the car park is the line of the Roman road to Dorchester. Bottom left, just above the road and to the right of Badbury is the roughly circular parch mark of an enclosure (about 60m in diameter) and within it the square block of parched ground where buried masonry makes the grass die back in dry weather.

The moles found it first. Heaving up bits of Purbeck limestone beside Badbury Rings. The stone shouldn’t be there. Purbeck is over 15 miles away.

Looking at it on the ground, the contours of something interesting can be seen. A 60m diameter bank surrounding a mound measuring about 15m across. It was suggested that it was a special kind of Bronze Age burial mound, which was reasonable given the number of barrows around Badbury.

In 1975, after a particularly dry summer, Brian visited, took photos and drew a sketch plan of what he saw. He sent it to the archaeological survey offices of Ordnance Survey, where it rested in their archive for 20 years.

Brian's photo taken during a very dry summer in 1975 when he thought he had discovered the temple.

Brian’s photo taken during a very dry summer in 1975 when he thought he had discovered the temple.

I found the plan during a documentary search, when the National Trust’s (which had been given Badbury and the Kingston Lacy Estate in 1982) managing agent asked me to write a survey report for the archaeology of Kingston Lacy. Brian had written at the top of his sketch. ‘A possible Roman Temple at Badbury Rings’

We went back to the mole hills. They were full of evidence, lumps of mortar, fragments of pottery, oyster shells and bone. All sorts of stuff and we would often find holes across the site where unknown things had been dug out of the ground and taken away.

We resolved to prove whether Brian’s temple theory was true, and protect it. English Heritage gave us permission to evaluate.

Geoff did our geophysics which showed an octagonal walled enclosure surrounding a 15m square building with another rectangular building against the inner edge of the octagon. So we laid out our long narrrow trench from this edge building to the centre.

It was mostly foul weather. We had decided to camp to stop finds being taken at night and it poured with rain as we cut the turf. Reoccupying an anciently occupied space and revealing it.. communing with the remains of past lives night and day, is a curiously poetic and emotive thing. At night, the wind rattled the guy ropes and the storm at the end of the dig almost brought our photographic tower down.

Base camp, Badbury,  the scaffold tower decorated for Helen's birthday.

Base camp, Badbury, the scaffold tower decorated for Helen’s birthday.

Day by day the temple building emerged. We cooked tea beside the trench and at night identified finds, by gas lamp, sitting on folding chairs around the folding table. One evening we walked around the Rings and the white ghost of a barn owl flitted across our path.

Most of it was gone, taken for building stone about 1500 years ago. It had been a sacred place for at least 500 years before that. In the Iron Age, when Badbury was still occupied, people had worshiped their gods here. They left offerings. After the Roman Conquest, when they had moved down to the Stour at Shapwick, their children and children’s children often returned to this sacred place, leaving more votive gifts, right up to the 5th century.

The stone from the temple wall had been robbed out leaving only a skim of mortar at the bottom of the foundation trench.  The building material salvagers have left the chalk floor of the 4th century temple and the flint and tile cobbled floor below it which had 2nd century pottery embedded in it.

The stone from the temple wall had been robbed out leaving only a skim of mortar at the bottom of the foundation trench. The building material salvagers have left the chalk floor of the 4th century temple and the flint and tile cobbled floor below it which had 2nd century coins embedded in it.

Who knows why this place was special. The barrows show that it was already significant in the Early Bronze Age, over 4000 years ago.

We found fragments of horse so perhaps a god linked to hunting or riding was honoured.. but this is a bit far fetched because we also found many tiny coloured beads and fragments of small pottery vessels (for incense?) neither very horse related.

The temple had once been nicely decorated, there were fragments of painted plaster.

There would have been a central square tower building with a covered walkway around it. The temple was originally roofed with clay tiles, later with Purbeck slates. This ‘cella’ building was surrounded by a gravel courtyard which ran up to the the octagonal temple precinct wall.. And we found the flint footings of the little building at the edge. Perhaps a Priest’s House or a store room.

The view of our trench after excavation from the scaffold tower. The temple building directly below looking toward the temple precinct wall in the distance.

The view of our trench after excavation from the scaffold tower. The temple building directly below looking toward the temple precinct wall in the distance.

The dig revealed pottery hidden beneath the soil. It would be bad conservation practice to dig everything up, it’s best to save things for the future, and also we did not have the time or the resources.. so we put a protective cover of chain link fencing over it. The grass has grown through it and buried it now.

Vindocladia

This week we took the opportunity to dig 3 trenches in the back garden of a cottage that awaits a new tenant.

It lies in the sleepy village of Shapwick. The shop closed in the 1990s. The pub is still open but it lies beside a market cross where there has been no market for hundreds of years. On its own, beside the river, is the lovely parish church. It looks towards the bridge across the Stour but the bridge is gone. Shapwick is a dead end now. However, the earthwork of the old road can be seen continuing across the Sturminster Marshall meadows beyond the river.

Shapwick beside the River Stour. The High Street (top left) follows the line of the Roman road. It now stops short of the River Stour but there is a ford there and the earthwork of the road continues across Sturminster meadows towards Dorchester

Shapwick beside the River Stour. The High Street (top left) follows the line of the Roman road.It now stops short of the River Stour but there is a ford there and the earthwork of the road continues across Sturminster meadows towards Dorchester”

This place hides its pedigree. After Dorchester (still the county town), Shapwick was once the second largest place in Roman Dorset (do you believe me?). The village High Street follows the line of the Roman road from Salisbury (Sorviodunum) to Dorchester (Durnovaria) but the line disappears in the arable fields between Shapwick and the crossroads at Badbury Rings (the spaghetti junction of Roman Dorset). These were the common fields in the medieval period but there are place name clues in the furlong names. ‘Stoney Lease’, ‘Blacklands’ and ‘Walls’. The old farmers were obviously finding stuff.

The three ditches of the Shapwick 4th century fortress. The furthest ditch was 3.5m  deep when we excavated it in 1995.

The three ditches of the Shapwick 4th century fortress. The furthest ditch was 3.5m deep when we excavated it in 1995.

There are few places where the Roman names are known. From Dorset we have two names, Durnovaria and a place called Vindocladia and for centuries historians have been searching for it. Back in the dry summer of 1976, a pilot spotted the outline of a Roman fort in the fields beside Shapwick and in 1991, the local farmer told me to look in a field beside the fort. It was covered in clusters of stone and flint rubble. I picked up part of a grinding stone, fragments of mosaic and painted plaster and a collection of pottery dating from the 1st to 4th century AD.

The story so far. The geophysical survey of the Roman town we think is Vindocladia. Fort top right, streets and builidngs and many other features. This week's trenches were at Hyde Farm which we will add to our survey later in the month.

The story so far. The geophysical survey of the Roman town we think is Vindocladia. Fort top right, streets and buildings and many other features. This week’s trenches were at Hyde Farm which we will add to our survey later in the month.

The local National Trust association gave us money to carry out a geophysical survey of the field. A couple of days in, I went to see John the surveyor. “Found anything?”, he pressed a button on his lap-top and there was a chunk of the town. Wow! Roads, buildings and property boundaries and an array of rubbish pits and post-holes. Since then, we have built up a picture of this place. It extends from the river, continues under the village and below the fields as far as an escarpment overlooking Badbury Rings. This place was already important in the Iron Age. It grew after the Roman Conquest, when round houses were gradually replaced by increasingly sophisticated rectangular houses.

The fort is a rare thing for the south of England. Not a AD 43-44 conquest fort but a ‘burgus’, dating from the late 4th century, when the province of Britannia was under attack and a secure place was needed. In one corner of the fortification, the geophysics shows what looks like a government inn and relay station (mansio)

We found that the fort overlay earlier Roman structures which were above Iron Age storage pits. This one dated from 300 BC and contained various skeletons including a pig, dog, and sheep.

We found that the fort overlay earlier Roman structures which were above Iron Age storage pits. This one dated from 300 BC and contained various skeletons including a pig, dog, and sheep.

In the 5th century, Britannia was on its own. It broke up into different political units. Communities that had to fend for themselves. The economic network of society crumbled. The population of Shapwick shrank and the roads and houses deteriorated. Building materials were taken for other uses and eventually, much of the old town became fields and was forgotten. By 1086, Vindocladia was known as the ‘sheep (shap) settlement’ (wick derived from the Roman vicus perhaps)’ and a small remnant has survived to the present day. The village has a long and fabulous past under its quiet streets.