ALERT – Return to Chedworth Villa – just one more time

This is the mosaic we will be revealing again and extending the dig to uncover the full 18m x 6m area of the reception room and part of the corridor beyond (the tarmac path in the background)

One week to go before we are back at Chedworth Villa for the final excavations around the North Range. We will be re visiting the 2014 excavations by uncovering the reception room mosaic and then working on the parts we left  unexcavated last time. The room measures 18m long by 6m wide and we hope more survives at the east end, so we will at last see the full extent of this very large room. We will be extending the trench down the north range corridor as well, and investigating a few more areas to hopefully answer a few questions while we have permission from Historic England.

Come along and see what else we find, we are excavating from the 9th July until the 27th July. Follow each day here on the blog and the property Facebook site . Hope to see you all soon 🙂

 

Books & Our Landscapes

Books transport us, take us beyond ourselves- but to a recognisable place. Often we are ambushed by the words, words that touch us and unlock our heart.

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Blackmore Vale from Hambledon Hill, Dorset

We all view the world though our own unique experience and as an archaeologist I see the beauty of our countryside as the expression of the many generations that worked and shaped it, a precious jewel to be conserved. Writers evoke the many moods of places…places like Thomas Hardy’s Dorset or Winston Graham’s Cornwall .

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Hardy’s Cottage near Dorchester, Dorset: the birth place of Thomas Hardy

Through their writing, we are drawn to the locations that helped spark these authors into their creative genius – Hardy’s Cottage, Max Gate, Trerice. The buildings are the launch pad to their setting – the intricate majesty of the south west’s coast and countryside.

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Gunwalloe. Cornwall

The first book I recommend is by W.G. Hoskins. In his introduction, he tells the book’s story: he had searched in vain for a book which unravelled the intricate history of the landscape -therefore, in frustration, he created this pivotal work. He writes: ‘The English landscape itself, to those who know how to read it aright, is the richest historical record we possess. There are discoveries to be made in it for which no written documents exist, or have ever existed’ (The Making of the English Landscape).

At college, his book inspired me to go out and seek the myriad hidden stories held within ordinary farmsteads and fields.

However, landscape is far more than a museum of past lives: it is a work of artistry. The landscape has moods, light and shade, it constantly alters in weather and seasons, has memories.

How can our experience of it be captured? A book can guide us there, perhaps in a few pages describing an ordinary, though extraordinary, Mayday walk through fields to a village. ‘I seemed to capture everything together-medieval England, myself at ten, the summers of the past and the summer really coming….Dodie Smith writes a fabulous dream-like passage in ‘I capture the Castle’ such a surprising book… ‘Did anything as beautiful as this ever happen before?’

Our surroundings are so precious, internationally so. This was certainly the opinion of George Orwell who after escaping from the horrors of the Spanish Civil War wrote: ‘And then England – Southern England, probably the sleekest landscape in the world. It is difficult when you pass that way…to believe that anything is really happening anywhere’ (Homage to Catalonia).

Books grab us and encourage us to go and care for and experience our surroundings before it is too late. My last quote is from The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Stephens, the butler, is given leave to escape his gilded cage, a great house in Oxfordshire (Dyrham in the film).

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Dyrham, Gloucestershire

To take a journey across the south west to meet a love he cannot acknowledge. He stops in unfamiliar surroundings and an old man invites him to take a path ‘you won’t get a better view anywhere in England’. The incident is a metaphor for the book. Take your chances while you can. Stephens is persuaded to climb the steep and winding path…. and is not disappointed.

That evening in Salisbury he recalls the moment.

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Marshwood Vale from Lambert’s Castle, Dorset

‘For it is true, when I stood on that high ledge this morning and viewed the land before me, I distinctly felt that rare, yet unmistakable feeling-the feeling that one is in the presence of greatness. We call this land of ours Great Britain, and there may be those who believe this a somewhat immodest practice. Yet I would venture that the landscape of our country alone would justify this lofty adjective’.

Open a book today, let it beckon you down a new path.

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Bibliography:

Hoskins, W.G., 1955, The Making of the English Landscape, Penguin Books, 14-15.

Kazuo Ishiguro, 1989,The Remains of the Day, Faber, 24-27.

Orwell, G., 1938, Homage to Catalonia, Penguin Books, Faber & Faber, 220-221.

Smith, D., 1949, I Capture the Castle, Random House, 177-185.

Return to the Priest’s House, Muchelney


Heading south-west out of Wiltshire, along the floor of the Deverill valley. . and at Kingston, climbing out of the greensand, up, up onto the high curvaceous chalkland. The icy gloom giving way to bright skies with a first chance to see the potential of the developing day.

Not until the road came to the brink of the escarpment was it possible to appreciate what was unfolding. Over the brow of the downs, the land dropped away and as far as the eye could see… were flat-lands overlain by undulating mists. Networks of hedgerows were translucently visible but the isolated, conical Duncliffe Hill broke out of the fading milkiness high into the blueing sky.

Below lay the border town of Mere and beyond lay Dorset and….

Somerset:

At Lytes Cary we took the road to Huish Episcopi.

I remembered to turn left at the church tower and onto  the level, hedge-lined road which led across the flats to Muchelney.

The winter of 92-3 was wet and my car had struggled here. The road was flooded. The builders had told me not to wait too long, the water was rising and the village was becoming an island again.  I did the archaeology and thankfully made it back to the mainland that night.

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The Priest’s House in January 2018

Returning after a quarter of a century to this little hill with its church and ruined abbey, it seemed hardly to have changed. A few scattered cottages and there was the Priest’s House. Everything silvered grey with frost..the sun here still only a glowing orb above the mist.

The National Trust has owned this place since 1911. Rescued by the Society of the Protection of Ancient Buildings with work carried out by Ernest Barnsley, a master builder of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

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The Priest’s House after work was completed in April 1993

At the end, I had left it with its fresh yellow thatch ..but knew it in my time mostly as a scaffolded canopy, the skeleton of medieval timbers exposed for repair.

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The medieval common rafters of the hall after removal of thatch. Looking through these you can see the horizontal timber known as the purlin which supports them and below and attached to the purlin can be seen the curving wind braces which demonstrate that the hall was open to the roof in medieval times as does the truss with its principal rafters which the purlin is supported on. This truss has an arch braced collar which was built to be seen as a decorative feature from the ground floor.

This was the early 14th century vicar’s house. The priest was a paid staff member of Muchelney Abbey and took the services in the parish church, serving the village community.

Quite a lowly cleric and the size of his house reflects his status… but he and his home survived Henry VIII’s religious upheavals of 1538-40. At that time most of the Abbey was demolished and the monks were pensioned off. The great Abbey church is just a pattern of stone footings now.

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Muchelney parish church seen across the footings of the once much larger Abbey church. The Priest’s House lies just beyond. 

This priest’s house is too far from Ham Hill. This is the edge of blue lias country, the walls are of this grey slatey stone, only the windows and doors are of golden Ham stone.. though it has fenestration way above its pay-scale. I suppose, once the great Abbey had been pulled down there were plenty of opportunities to upgrade from the ruins.

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One of the large windows of the hall. Rather grand for such a small building.

One day the builders showed me 12th-13th century chunks of carved and painted stone they had found during the repairs. This was more re-cycled Abbey, reused as rubble to infill a redundant flight of stairs  up to the first floor.

The Priest’s House had been built with a cross-passage with opposing front and back doors.

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The medieval wattle and daub screen to the guest room under repair. This Tudor doorway was inserted into it when the the first floor was created over the hall.

Through the front door, on the right was a timber screen and beyond it the hall was  open to the roof  decorated with curving wind braces. Beyond the hall was the parlour with its moulded timber ceiling, a stair led to the solar or private room of the priest. Later, the hall was roofed to create a first floor above and a huge decorated stone fireplace was hauled into the room. Evidence of more of the Abbey salvaged from the ruins.

To the left of the cross-passage were the store rooms, the pantry for food and the buttery for drink and the now blocked stair which once led to a guest room above. The kitchen would have been a separate building. In medieval times it was thought sensible to keep the cooking fire from the main building in case of accident. In the builders’ trenches, I never saw evidence for this kitchen though it could have been a timber framed building which left little trace.

Examples of these medieval kitchens still stand at nearby NT places …Stoke Sub Hamdon Priory (‘Prayer for the Future’) and Treasurer’s House Martock (‘The Treasure beneath the Limewash’)… Their residents were grander than Muchelney’s vicar and could afford something more substantial.

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Frosty Muchelney Abbey last week looking across the demolished cloisters towards the Abbot’s hall.

But it was now time to leave Muchelney. There were other places to visit.

We climbed back in the car and continued our journey south between melting frost-spangled fields and sleeping winter-bare orchards …deeper and deeper into cider country….Kingsbury Episcopi, Martock, Stoke Sub Hamdon..Montacute.

 

Day 1 Chedworth Villa …..and we are open

The turf is removed

The first trenches have been de-turfed and the test trenches dug in the year 2000 discovered.

Terram — a breathable membrane a tell-tale sign of the test trench from 2000

 

Ready to peel back the terram to find the sand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The breathable membrane was put on top of yellow sand that sits on the mosaic. Seventeen years ago it  was thought to be a good way to protect the mosaics and make it easy to re dig if checking on its condition. The problem is that the sand is builders sand and stays wet and the yellow colour  can stain the white tesserae, it sticks to the surface of the mosaic and takes a lot of work to clean it off.

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Ta Dar! we have a lovely mosaic in very good condition, hopefully this bodes well for the rest of the room and we will have much more to show you over the next few days.

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Finding Killerton’s 1776 House 2

To make sense of this you will need to read the first post which describes how a grand 18th century house designed by a famous architect was never completed. This is on the Killerton Estate near Exeter, Devon where the mansion house is…well.. it’s a little disappointing.

The many thousands of acres both at Killerton and on the Holnicote Estate in west Somerset were given to the National Trust in the 1940s by the Acland family.

It’s been 18 months since the first discoveries and things have moved on.

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Killerton House with its roof covered in scaffolding. There is limited access for visitors while the repairs are taking place. The roof archaeology is being recorded and fragments of 19th-century wall paper and early 20th century photos of the Acland family have been found amongst the rafters. 

The present Killerton House is having its roof repaired and the 1776 house has been cleared of undergrowth.

We wondered whether the LiDAR survey had see the cellars of the abandoned house under the trees of Columbjohn wood. Now that we can see ground beneath the vegetation there are heaps of bricks everywhere.

The workers charged with salvaging the building materials had left the broken bricks behind.

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The scrub has been cleared in what we think was the main cellar of the 1776 house and the remains of its demolition and salvage have been found:  lots of broken bricks scattered in piles in the hollow.

Project manager Fi has co-ordinated a series of events which will enable visitors to explore Killerton’s historic landscape. This will happen during the CBA Archaeology Festival later this month. A team of National Trust Heritage Archaeology Rangers have been trained and Bryn from South West Archaeology is supervising the investigation of the lost house of Killerton .

A couple of weeks ago they mapped the earthworks and these fit with the architect’s plans for great house. At the end of July, they will dig some evaluation trenches to ‘ground-truth’ the remains.

Visitors will be very welcome and the mock-up of an 18th century doorway has been erected amongst trees as an entrance to the excavations.

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The newly erected doorway based on the original architect’s drawings of the house that never was. Visit and pass through the doorway to see the excavations in a couple of weeks….

I will spend a couple of days at the folly on the hill-top working out what remains of the ‘white tower’. This folly is shown on an 18th century painting . At this stage we don’t understand quite what the building looked like. It had been demolished long before any photos had been taken.

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The new National Trust HART ranger team for Killerton. Practicing making condition monitoring records of the 18th-century folly site on the conical hill top across the valley from Wyatt’s lost house. We will take off the turf on July 27th and see what lies beneath.

It’s all in a name .. UPDATE

With some fresh eyes and a consensus of Mitchell 🙂 I found an Isaac Mitchell on the 1841 and subsequent censuses in Shapwick (good work Carol you spotted him as well )

Isaac (54 years old) is listed as a carpenter on all the census I looked at and on the 1851 one, which was clearer to read, he is married to a lady called Love (52 years old) and his son Dennis (23 years old) is also listed as a carpenter. It is interesting to see his mother-in-law,  called Hester Jefferies,  also lived with them  and is an amazing 95 years old!

Under the First Tower Corfe Castle

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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