It’s all in the name..

Close up detail of plaster work around the top of the ceiling above the marble staircase

Once again I headed for Kingston Lacy with a mission to check under the floorboards in the house. A condition survey was being carried out by Clivedon Conservation on the plaster ceiling above the marble staircase.

Douglas and Tina (National Trust paintings conservator) surveying the painted plaster ceiling

It was while looking under the floor in the third Tented Room above the ceiling that Douglas from Clivedon Conservation spotted some writing on one of the joists of the superstructure, but he had not had time follow it up further.

“James” written in pencil on the wooden joist

So as well as looking between the joists for objects lost down the cracks between the boards or hidden on purpose, I had a look at the faces of the joists to see if I could find more writing. It was difficult to get the right lighting and angle to make out the words, especially as not all the boards had been lifted. But with the help of torches and various settings on my camera I could make out one full name, a part name and a date!

The surname “Game” to go with the first name James

The complete name was James Game, followed by the name Isaac and something illegible, presumably a surname, and then the date November 25th 1837. William John Bankes commissioned Charles Barry in 1835 to remodel Kingston Hall. This work was completed circa 1841, so the 1837 date fits with work being carried out in the house.

November 25th 1837

With access to the 1840 census I thought I would look up James Game to see if I could find him in the area or on the estate. It was exciting to find someone of this name living at Hillbutts, a small group of dwellings beside the boundary of the parkland around Kingston Lacy house. But best of all, his occupation was listed as a joiner!

I think the second name of Isaac starts with an N? All ideas and suggestions welcome, then we’ll see if we can find Isaac on the census as well!

I think the surname of Isaac starts with an N, or perhaps M

The name Isaac written in pencil


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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’.


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


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

Just an 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.





Corfe Castle Begins


It would be wrong to let the day go by without our NT anniversary post. This was the Outer Gatehouse at Corfe Castle, Dorset on 7th April 1986. I was there again today 30 years later.

The ticket office and the turnstiles are gone now and the Outer Bailey today was alive with people dressed in medieval costumes, amongst the tents and archery practice. Lots of children on holiday getting involved and soaking up the atmosphere.

In 1986, Nancy and I met the first mini-bus full of National Trust working holiday campers and we began to cut the turf to understand what lay under the grassy mound.


Under the turf was a courtyard of limestone gravel and the west wall of the Outer Gatehouse guard chamber which had fallen against the curtain wall (to the right) burying a flight of stone steps.

The mound turned out to be a large block of walling, part of the Outer Gatehouse guard chamber which had been blown up in 1646. After the second siege, the Parliamentarian soldiers captured the Castle and undermined the walls. It seems that they filled the guard chamber with gunpowder and blew it to pieces. Everything flew outwards and the barrel vaulted roof dropped onto the floor burying the guard chamber fireplace and flagstone floor.

Nancy excavated the diamond leaded window which had been scattered outside the blast tore through it.DCOC743

Nancy excavating the diamond leaded window pieces. The stone west window of the guard chamber top right.

We found that the top and edges of the collapsed wall had been picked over and a lot of the good stone blocks had been nicked by the locals to make repairs to their houses.Well, why not after all the damage that had been done to their properties during the Civil War… some of the Corfe cottages acquired some very grand fireplaces in the 17th century.

The west wall had fallen and broken over the stairway that once led to the top of the gatehouse.


Clearing the broken blocks of fallen gatehouse to reveal the stairway up to the top of the curtain wall. Part of the first floor of the gatehouse can be seen to the right 90 degrees out of true.

We cleaned the revealed walls, photographed and drew them and then it was time for the stone masons to come and consolidate the masonry.. the mystery of the mound of grass had been revealed.

I got a particular buzz when we cleaned the steps and saw the wear marks of the feet on the stone. Nobody had walked there for 350 years. We walked up and down them..our feet where theirs had trod.





Time Vault Town House, Corfe

Back in the 80s and 90s, soon after the Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle Estates were first given to the National Trust, many discoveries were made as its ancient buildings were repaired.

One day in 1990, sitting at my desk at the Kingston Lacy Estate Office, the phone rang. ‘Could you come to Corfe Castle please’ we’ve found a vault. The builders working at the Town House had disturbed a flagstone in the entrance passage and it had fallen into a hole.

330 Nov90 010 The picture was taken in 1990 from the Outer Gatehouse, Corfe Castle. Dorset in front of the church in the centre of the photo is the Town House. The door below the large window leads to the entrance passage.

When I arrived, the builders were clustered around the small hole in the floor and had let a ladder down. They shone a torch into the space and the beam reflected from a stone lined cellar. Its floor had a jagged uneven surface and the beam glittered off reflective surfaces.

I climbed down and they passed me my camera and drawing board.

355 21

They lowered down a light bulb to illuminate a space with a vaulted roof 2.5m deep about 1.5m wide by 3m long. I stood on the bottom rung of the step and looked at a floor covered in pottery and glass bottles.

355 19

We recorded them where they had been left and then asked Jo the pottery specialist to date them. Verwood earthenwares, blue and white fine glazed Chinese imitation wares all dating from the late 18th century. They had been hidden in the dark for over 200 years.



Object of the month – very timely

As we head towards the end of the year, the passage of time crops up in many conversations; ‘where has the year gone!’, ‘I have no time to get everything done for Christmas’, ‘time is just flying by’. We take it for granted that we can look at our watches or phones and know exactly what the time is and how long is left in the day for those vital chores.

Over many hundreds of years the way to mark time passing has become more sophisticated, from water clocks and candles to digital and perpetual clocks. Early time devices, which relied on water, fire or the sun, were on the whole not very portable, but with all technology someone is always working on making things smaller!

During the excavations at Corfe Castle in 1989 we uncovered a curious flat bronze disc with strange symbols engraved on one side.

A bronze disc with engraved decoration and roman numerels

A bronze disc with engraved decoration and roman numerals

The symbols were roman numerals, but not like a clock we would recognise, from one to twelve, but four to twelve and one to eight. There were two raised sockets, one on the upper flat edge and one on a decorated bar that ran from one side to the other one third of the way down the inner edge. What we had found was part of a pocket sundial.

A drawing of the sundial showing the decoration and sequence of roman numerals

A drawing of the sundial showing the decoration and sequence of roman numerals

There would have been a ‘gnomon’, the usually triangular shaped part that casts the shadow, between the two raised sockets, and the ring would have been set above a compass. You would need to know were north was so that the sundial could be orientated north. You would also need to know what latitude were you were as each dial would have been made for use at different latitudes.

Engraved brass pocket compass and sundial with German inscription on the reverse the last letters reading 'And. Vogh'. Folding with a shaped outer rim. Part of the NT collection from Snowshill Manor Glos.

An example of a complete engraved brass pocket compass and sundial. Part of the NT collection from Snowshill Manor, Glos.

We contacted the British Sundial Society ( for help to identify our dial. They told us that “the part of the pocket dial you have appears to be the top ‘lid’ of a portable dial typical of many from the late 18th early 19th century. The bottom part of the dial would have contained a magnetic compass in order to orientate the dial so that the gnomon faced north. The spacing of the hour lines around the ring indicate that the dial was made for the latitude of about 51 degrees and this would also have been the angle of the gnomon”

The 51 degree latitude line is the one that passes through Southampton

The 51 degree latitude line is the one that passes through Southampton

Corfe Castle is where the ‘t’ in Bournemouth is on the map, just to the south of latitude 51 degrees. We need to make a gnomon and take the dial, and a compass, to Corfe Castle to see if it works, something we have never done!  I will try and remember to post about our test when we have had chance to do the experiment. It’s catching a sunny day that may hold things up!

The diameter of the dial is 460mm

The diameter of the dial is 460mm

Uvedales, Corfe Castle from Town House to Poor House


Old stone towns have ancient houses. This is certainly true of Corfe village in Dorset. A picturesque place dominated by the craggy ruins of Corfe Castle.

Much of Corfe belonged to the Bankes family who gave it to the National Trust in 82.. including Uvedales House. As you enter East Street and cross the bridge by Boar Mill you would be forgiven for missing it. There are far more dramatic views to be enjoyed by looking up to the castle.. and Uvedales is beside a busy road and next to the disused public lavatories.

Uvedales House on East Street, Corfe Castle. The large windows have the letters IV and HV carved into the stone on either side. Henry Uvedale.

Uvedales House on East Street, Corfe Castle. The large windows have the letters IV and HV carved into the stone on either side. Henry Uvedale.

Cross the road and look on either side of the two big windows. On the first floor are the letters H on the left and V on the right and on the ground floor I and V.

Back in 1774, the historian John Hutchins described painted glass windows which once told what these letters stood for.. but the windows have long gone. They included the coat of arms of local landowners the Uvedale family and the arms of the ancient borough of Corfe. John Uvedale was mayor of Corfe in 1582 and Henry became a churchwarden.

Many people have lived in the house since then. Its walls contain diverse stories and have been altered infilled and repaired over the centuries. The building is having a 21st century conservation refurbishment at the moment and needs a buildings archaeologist to record what is revealed as it is opened up.

Buildings archaeology is a specialised skill. Clues within walls, within roof structures under floorboards and beneath the ground as new service pipes and drains are laid.

Buildings like Uvedales have been repaired and adapted over 100s of years. Here a modern fireplace in the east sitting room of the central ancient Uvedales stack is only the latest in a nest of fireplaces which, like Russian dolls, have filled up the space within the the original inglenook.It can be seen emerging from under the wallpaper.

Buildings like Uvedales have been repaired and adapted over 100s of years. Here a modern fireplace in the east sitting room of the central ancient Uvedales stack is only the latest in a nest of fireplaces which, like Russian dolls, have filled up the space within the the original inglenook.It can be seen emerging from under the wallpaper.

I met Bob there a few days ago.. to walk round the house with him and to find out what he has discovered as earlier phases of Uvedales have been revealed beneath layers of wallpaper and modern additions.

What do you trust? Is that 17th century doorway where it began or has it been shifted from somewhere else. Read the clues. It’s not like buried dirt archaeology, the evidence is not sealed but chunks of building can be moved and reused.

The oldest parts of the house lie in the central stack with large inglenook fireplaces on the east and west sides. The west side is the most interesting. Underneath the modern layers was found a fine stone fireplace, probably earlier 17th century, but this had been inserted through an earlier fireplace. The later fireplace may have been salvaged from Corfe Castle following its capture and demolition by the Parliamentarians in 1646. Dendro analysis of part of the roof dated it to the 1650s. This evidence demonstrates extensive repairs to the house following the Civil War. Much needed, the village had been badly beaten up during the two sieges of the Castle in 1643 and 1645-6.

On the west side of the stack another fireplace which has been opened up to reveal a 17th century fireplace cutting through an earlier (probably 16th century stone fireplace). Removing the wallpaper and plaster has revealed a bread oven on its left side and a blocked doorway and buried flight of steps to the first floor.

On the west side of the stack another fireplace which has been opened up to reveal a 17th century fireplace cutting through an earlier (probably 16th century stone fireplace). Removing the wallpaper and plaster has revealed a bread oven on its left side and a blocked doorway and buried flight of steps to the first floor.

In the 17th century, Uvedales House became the property of the Okeden family and by 1732 it was known as the ‘Kings Arms’. The Bankes family archive includes records of licence agreements. These list the alehouses allowed to trade in Corfe Castle. There is a detailed map of the town drawn by Archer Roberts and dated 1769. It shows the ‘Kings Arms’ and by this time it is owned by John Bankes.

The peeling of wallpaper uncovered a bread oven opening and left of this a blocked door and beyond a flight of stairs(very Enid Blyton) The steps had been covered in building rubble and as they were exposed, the wear marks of numerous feet on the timber treads could be seen. This change of stairway layout probably took place when, in 1796, Mr Bankes agreed to convert the building to a Poor House.

In that year, the overseers of Corfe’s poor agreed to take Mr Bankes’s house’and put as many poor in it as could comfortably be lodged’ the whole place was divided up into accommodation units and there are still little fireplaces inserted throughout the building and steep narrow flights of stairs.

On the second floor, the spaces beween the joists were found to be filled with sand. Insulation? sound proofing? It had been there for at least 150 years it seems because the latest coin found in the sand was 1838.

On the second floor, the spaces beween the joists were found to be filled with sand. Insulation? sound proofing? It had been there for at least 150 years it seems because the latest coin found in the sand was 1838.

Up on the 2nd floor, I met the builders repairing the joists and cleaning out the sand between them. Strange to find sand there but perhaps it was for insulation or sound proofing. Whatever.. the excavation became interesting work because coins kept turning up. It seems that over the years, various occupants had lost loose change between the cracks in the floorboards. The earliest was a florin of Charles II (1660s-80s) and the latest a penny of William IV (1838).

The coins sifted from the sand dated from late 17th to early 19th but mostly George III.

The coins sifted from the sand dated from late 17th to early 19th but mostly George III.

The 19th century census returns show Uvedales packed with labourers and men on low wages who were employed to cut clay on the heathland between Corfe and Wareham (great clay…it got shipped up to Staffordshire for Wedgewood’s potteries). By the 1850s, East Street was known as Poor Street. Quite a come down for the wealthy Tudor Uvedales’ family home.

Over the years the tenements were merged and became larger… and now the house is being rearranged again for its new 21st century occupants.