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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Seymours Ruin in the Woods, Brownsea

1852 map of Brownsea Island. Not the enclosed lakes and the embankment built across St Andrews Bay top right.

1852 map of Brownsea Island. Note the enclosed lakes (upper centre) and the embankment built across St Andrews Bay top right. Seymours (top left in red)

Over the years I have occasionally come to this place. It’s known as Seymour’s House.

The effect is always the same: a romantic sense of … well, perhaps a whiff of Indiana Jones hacking back the remote jungle fronds and finding a Mayan temple.

Of course, that’s not quite it, this is Dorset… but the Island is a lost world, once a succession of rich men’s kingdoms. Their evidence hidden amongst the trees.

We landed on Brownsea in the early spring to check the winter’s erosion along the coastal archaeology. Each year increasingly exposed and washed away during the winter storms.

By chance, we had tripped over a perfect day: absolutely still; clear blue skies and bright low sunlight freckleing the water. Didn’t see anybody all day.. until the return to the ferry in the afternoon.

I usually get to Seymours from the west end. Climbing up from the ruins of Maryland settlement. We crossed the fence into the nature reserve.

There is no good path here. I always forget exactly where it is, peering through the pine trees to make out a craggy outline, treading the pine needles, hunting for a remote and rarely seen home, long abandoned.

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Then I pick out the line of the wild laurel hedge that once framed the garden and there is Seymours with its tall chimney and its circular privy.

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I first came here in 88 and I always expect it to have fallen down but it looks just the same, sheltered by the pines. It was once a single storey lodge with a verandah overlooking the coast.

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A flight of steps leading down to the beach. The roof has long gone with stacks of Welsh slate piled against the walls. In the kitchen, the hand pump over the sink is now missing but on the other side of the fireplace, the copper for heating water is still in place.

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The house clearly developed over time. It had over century of tenants before the last occupants left. The earliest brick building had pointed gothic windows and then these were blocked and the kitchen was built.

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The 1861 census records that the manager of the brickworks and his family lived here.. but when was it first built?

Time for some documentary research. Sir Charles Chad is barely mentioned in the Brownsea guide books but he came from a wealthy Norfolk family and owned Brownsea 1817-1840. I typed him and Brownsea into Google and there he was in ‘Jones Views of Seats, Mansions and Castles 1829’. It was just what I needed. ‘At Seymours, Sir Charles has also built another ornamental cottage which commands such a fine view of the Castle together with the Harbour and Town of Poole which can be compared to the beautiful scenes in several parts of Italy’

No views today, the place is shrouded in trees..

Usually Brownsea is famed for its scouting heritage and wildlife. Perhaps we have forgotten what the wealth of its various owners did to this place.

From the late 17th-early 20th centuries, each man bent Brownsea to his will.. creating a succession of designed landscapes to embellish a private kingdom… set apart from the world.

Contrived views and plantations, lakes, follies, a model farm and a kitchen garden reached via looping carriage rides.

Sir Charles’ other claim to Google fame is his long legal dispute with the fishermen of Poole. They were prevented from entering Brownsea’s St Andrew’s bay after dams were built across it to make the great lakes and lagoon….Sir Charles applied money and influence and eventually won the court case.

I came back to Seymours with Sarah and Jonathan a few weeks ago. This time we approached from the east between the great lakes. They have agreed to investigate Brownsea and at last tell the stories of its gardens and landscape parks. I look forward to reading their report.

Lodge Park Grandstand, Behind the Blocked Door

Lodge Park in Gloucestershire was where the last Lord Sherborne lived before he bequeathed his Sherborne Estate to the National Trust in 1982.

It wasn’t originally meant to be a home but a place to go with your mates. It was an ornamental grandstand built in the 1630s by the then owner John Dutton. A posh place to drink and bet on the deer selected from the adjoining park. The deer were sent down a walled corridor of land, chased by hounds across the front of this unique building. The assembly then probably got drunk and had venison for tea.

Lodge Park on the Sherborne Estate, Gloucestershire. This is John Dutton's grandstand where he and his mates could spend boozy afternoons betting on deer chased by hounds across the front of the building. About a century later the park behind the house was transformed into an avenued designed landscape by Charles Bridgeman. Our excavations were on the left (west) side of the building.

Lodge Park on the Sherborne Estate, Gloucestershire. This is John Dutton’s grandstand where he and his mates could spend boozy afternoons betting on deer chased by hounds across the front of the building. About a century later the park behind the house was transformed into an avenued designed landscape by Charles Bridgeman. Our excavations were on the left (west) side of the building.

The park is full of earthworks including the best preserved Gloucestershire long barrow and the earthworks of the strip fields of open field systems. Three parishes meet at a point just behind the Lodge and it was here in the 1720s that Charles Bridgeman chose the key outlook point for his innovative garden landscape design. A segway between earlier formal and later Capability type landscapes. Highly significant and we have his drawn plan. Was it ever completed? Did it work? Should NT redo it? Lots of discussions but that’s not the point of this blog.

We’ve discovered something new.

The stairs down to the 17th century basement kitchen infilled about 100 years ago and dug out again in the 1990s when Lodge Park was restored.

The stairs down to the 17th century basement kitchen infilled about 100 years ago and dug out again in the 1990s when Lodge Park was restored.

Back in the 1990s the NT took out the later additions and divisions within the Lodge Park Grandstand to return it to its 1630s form. The cellar had been backfilled about 100 years ago and this was dug out again to reveal the 1630s kitchens where John Dutton’s feasts were cooked. The cellar had vents put into it 20 years ago but despite this has always been damp wih mould growing off the walls and floors. Bit unpleasant.

One solution was to open the blocked door. In the 90s the discovery of the blocked door led to the suggestion that there had once been an external flight of stairs, a tradesman’s entrance where perhaps the venison and other food stuffs could be brought into the kitchen. So..find the stairs, uncover them, unblock the door, new access and extra ventilation…. damp problem solved.

November 2015 looking for the external stairway into the basement. No trace. We need a machine.

November 2015 looking for the external stairway into the basement. No trace. We need a machine.

So in November building surveyor Christina asked Jim and I to turn up with shovels and mattocks to look for the top step of the cellar stairway. On the most likely north side of the blocked door our hole just found modern service pipes. So we dug beneath flagstones on the south side nothing… the ground here seemed to be natural about 30cm down. We gave up and vowed to return with a machine.

The mysterious blocked door in the cellar. The ranging pole divisions are 0.2m and at 1.7m up you can see that the doorway and blocking has been removed and the wall rebuilt in the 19th century. Note the vent top right can be seen in the next photo outside to the left of the mini-digger.

The mysterious blocked door in the cellar. The ranging pole divisions are 0.2m and at 1.7m up you can see that the doorway and blocking has been removed and the wall rebuilt in the 19th century. Note the vent top right can be seen in the next photo outside to the left of the mini-digger.

A few weeks ago Jim brought his mini-digger. This time we aimed for the centre of the west side of the Lodge immediately above the blocked door. More reduntant drainage pipes and then clay and then… solid stone and mortar about 0.6m down. I jumped into the trench and cleaned back its gently arched top. There was a gap between the Lodge wall and the newly discovered structure. It was where the wall had been rebuilt about 100 years ago.

Mini-digger digs down to find the blocked door.

Mini-digger digs down to find the blocked door.

I took part of the filling from the gap and found that I could put my hand into a void under the structure. I was sitting on the roof of a vaulted chamber. I got a ranging pole and slid it into the gap and then swung it round into the void. It fell away. Only the front end was filled with spoil.

Solid stone and mortar roof of the vault cut by the rebuilding of the Lodge annex in the 19th century. We slid the ranging pole between the gap an waved it around in the empty space which is the hidden room or passage heading west...

Solid stone and mortar roof of the vault cut by the rebuilding of the Lodge annex in the 19th century. We slid the ranging pole between the gap and waved it around in the empty space which is the hidden room or passage heading west…

We speculated…is it a tunnel and where does it go? or is it just a hidden chamber. Jim reckoned it might lead to slaughter barn where the deer are supposed to have been dispatched before being brought to the Grandstand..

A mystery…I wonder whether we should unblock the door.

Sewage and the Infirmary at Lacock Abbey

Sorry to have to mention this but there has long been a problem with sewage at Lacock Abbey.

Looking north. Lacock's 2008 south park and monastic church resistivity survey in action . Meg and Tony are standing on the church site which became a Tudor garden beneath Fox Talbot's ornate 19th century windows.These windows were built into the monastic church cloister wall. The T junction of paths in the photo can be seen as blue bands on the resistivity plot (next image). The narrower path leads through a door beneath the smaller window into the cloisters.

Looking north. Lacock’s 2008 south park and monastic church resistivity survey in action . Meg and Tony are standing on the church site which became a Tudor garden beneath Fox Talbot’s ornate 19th century windows.These windows were built into the monastic church cloister wall. The T junction of paths in the photo can be seen as blue bands on the resistivity plot (next image). The narrower path leads through a door beneath the smaller window into the cloisters.

We thought it had been sorted out in 1995 (and there was good archaeological recording then) but the River Avon often floods in winter and at such times the system isn’t up to the job. When the Abbey was built in the 13th century…. it was a lovely setting beside the river but to be honest it’s too low lying. The people who built the village on the higher ground knew that. When Ella Countess of Salisbury came to build her nunnery, the locals may have shaken their heads…good meadow land but don’t you know it’s on a flood plain!

Our resistivity plot is full of detail. Top is north and the blue upper edge of the image is the Abbey with other unsurveyable paths and walls as parallel bands of blue. To orientate you to the last photo, the doorway to the left of Meg leading to the cloisters is the narrow vertical blue line top centre. Below this across the broader blue path is a circular feature,once a 17th century cut at its lower edge by the early 18th century garden wall, a very thin blue line with the Tudor garden paths and boundary wall, now under parkland grass visible further down the plot. The old London Road is the wide feature running from right to left across the bottom of the plot. The sewage pipe route ran along right edge of the plot and curved to run along the bottom edge. It was routed to avoid the detail of the Tudor garden and run along the road but found a Tudor culvert and clipped the corner of the garden wall beside the London Road.

Our resistivity plot is full of detail. Top is north and the blue upper edge of the image is the Abbey with other unsurveyable paths and walls as parallel bands of blue. To orientate you to the last photo, the doorway to the left of Meg leading to the cloisters is the narrow vertical blue line top centre. Below this across the broader blue path is a circular feature,once a 17th century fountain cut at its lower edge by the early 18th century garden wall, shown as a very thin blue line with the Tudor garden paths and boundary wall, now under parkland grass visible further down the plot. The old London Road is the wide feature running from right to left across the bottom of the plot. The sewage pipe route ran along the bottom edge skirting the parkland tree(which is the small blue hole in the lower left of the plot) and then curved round to the right to run along the edge of the plot . The trench was routed to avoid the detail of the Tudor garden.

One of the wonderful things about Lacock is that so much of the medieval structure survives. William Sharrington, who got the Abbey after the 1530s Dissolution, didn’t need the great monastic church so he knocked it down but he kept the cloisters and incorporated much of the dining room, dormitory, chapter house etc. in his new grand home.

The start of the pipeline on the east side of the Abbey where the old sewage works were. A medieval carved stone marking the point were the infirmary wall and drain were found.

The start of the pipeline on the east side of the Abbey where the old sewage works were. A medieval carved stone marking the point were the infirmary wall and drain were found.

The infirmary’s gone though. There’s just a passage from the cloisters into the east park with its name on. This was where the sick and the elderly nuns were cared for somewhere near the site of the modern sewage works.

So, in linking the Abbey sewage plant on its east side, to the village on the west, the new trench had to cross the park and follow the east and south sides of the Abbey. This was a minefield of archaeology ..and one does ones best to avoid cutting through it.. but the trench was bound to hit something.

We knew about the infirmary on the east and William Sharrington’s Tudor garden on the south. Both areas had been surveyed using geophysics and using this and all other available evidence Nathan plotted the route. Closer to the Abbey to avoid the Infirmary and swinging further south to skirt the garden.

It was bound to hit something, Lacock’s archaeologists Jane and Tony watched the work as it progressed and halted the excavation when necessary to record everything that came to light.

Lacock from the south west the trench skirting the parkland tree, the corner of the Tudor garden was just clipped by the trench before the pipeline continued round to the east skirting the 18th century bastion wall which separates Abbey and Park.

Lacock from the south west the trench skirting the parkland tree, the corner of the Tudor garden was just clipped by the trench before the pipeline continued round to the east skirting the 18th century bastion wall which separates Abbey and Park.

I visited before backfilling. Holes in the ground…if they can’t be avoided, are great opportunities to see and touch the story of a place and Lacock’s story is a fine one. A morning walk along the trench from the village and then to the south. Quiet along the line of the old London Road and then cutting behind a parkland tree the trench curved towards the east and clipped the very edge of the SE corner of outer Tudor garden courtyard. Nicely built, it gave reality to the ornate plan we had revealed by resisitivity in 2008. Just beyond this, the digger had clipped the lid of a deep 16th century culvert heading south from the Abbey. I turned the corner marked by the stone wall of the early 18th century garden bastion and followed the trench along the east side.

The corner of the Tudor garden exposed on the south side of the Abbey a couple of weeks ago.

The corner of the Tudor garden exposed on the south side of the Abbey a couple of weeks ago.

There were Jane and Tony in the distance, most of the trench had exposed debris… waste picked over and discarded, that Sharrington had spread out across the park and garden during his great alteration from a religious institution to a grand country home.

Tony showed me the infirmary wall, a wide, fine ashlar stone structure. Here there was much medieval pottery, oyster shells and bones from meals that had once been eaten by the monastic community. One metal object was decorated with curving lines inlaid with silver, perhaps a pendant but Jane is looking for comparisons.

A copper alloy decorated 'pendant' found close to the Abbey Infirmary.

A copper alloy decorated ‘pendant’ found close to the Abbey Infirmary.

Beside the wall, there was another stone structure. To lay the pipe, the top stones had to be moved but there was enough space to send a camera down. It was a beautifully made drain… presumably nobody had glimpsed its interior for 700 years.

Photo along the the 13th century monastic drain revealed beside the infirmary. The last person to see this was probably the medieval builder.

Photo along the the 13th century monastic drain revealed beside the infirmary. The last person to see this was probably the medieval builder.

I went on to the Lacock meeting. I was late.. looking down holes Martin they said. Take the opportunity, I encouraged them, it’s a great hole.

Neolithic and Roman Dyrham

It’s a fabulous piece of landscape between Bristol and Bath.

But you can’t really see Dyrham House at the moment it’s covered in scaffolding.

The west side of Dyrham House.Now covered in scaffolding while the roof is repaired. The medieval parish church beside it shows that there has been a house here at least since medieval times.

The west side of Dyrham House.Now covered in scaffolding while the roof is repaired. The medieval parish church beside it shows that there has been a house here at least since medieval times.

You can’t see Neolithic Dyrham either it’s covered in Roman Dyrham… and who’d have thought there was a Roman Dyrham. Paul found it a few years ago but he’s just found something 3000 years older.

The story we tell the visitors is that Dyrham is a great house and garden created by a wealthy man. A key player in William III’s government during the 1690s. That’s the most visible layer in the multiplex of Dyrham but it’s far too obvious and far too simple for the archaeological soul.

I got a text and decided to stop off on the way back from Brean Down. Parked at the top and walked down the bowl of the escarpment to the valley floor passing the scaffolded house to get to the West Garden.

I could see Paul’s trench at the far end and passed below the medieval church tower along the path to see what he had found. The gardeners want to recreate the late 17th century garden beds and the excavation was to find archaeological evidence for their location.

The view west along the access path towards the garden gate and to the left is the site of the excavation. It was dug to find the late 17th century garden beds but found something much older.

The view west along the access path towards the garden gate and to the left is the site of the excavation. It was dug to find the late 17th century garden beds but found something much older. The proposed sites for new garden beds can be seen as mown rectangles.

There wasn’t any really…but in the process Paul found a polished Neolithic axe made from stone brought all the way from south Wales. He also found some worked flint tools of the same date. He placed them on the table beside the trench. We wondered whether the 17th century gardeners had levelled the ground and cut down through the valley deposits reveal a Neolithic feature.

A polished axe made of stone from west Wales. It dates to the Neolithic period and is over 4500 years old.

A polished axe made of stone from south-west Wales. It dates to the Neolithic period and is over 4500 years old.

Things are not necessarily what they first seem. The next find from the feature was a piece of medieval pottery and then other things of various dates turned up..so the gardeners, 320 years ago, had dug up the Neolithic stuff from somewhere up-slope and then it became mixed with later material and dumped down slope to level out the garden terrace.

The gardeners’ redeposited soils were deepest at the south terrace edge. Mainly yellow and orange natural clay but then everything went dark again. There was still archaeology underneath. What could it be?

Then the Roman pottery started popping out of it, oyster shells and chunks of bone with cut and saw marks on, butchered joints of meat.

The pottery and bone from the Roman ditch filling.

The pottery and bone from the Roman ditch filling.

It went down and down.

It is good to imagine the generations who have enjoyed the gardens and then all those who lived here before the gardens. Lots to be discovered.. where are their houses now?

The view back towards the house showing the numbered archaeological layers filling the deep ditch filled with Roman pottery.

The view back towards the house showing the numbered archaeological layers filling the deep ditch filled with Roman pottery.

Industrial beauty

The forge

The forge

I started my digging life on an industrial site near Barnsley in Yorkshire, and my relatives worked in the mills and mines of West Yorkshire, so I have a soft spot for industrial sites from the past.

A while ago I visited one of our small industrial gems in Devon. I had some leather drive-belts to drop off for them to use from a large collection we acquired in order to get the  right sizes for some for our grist (corn and grain) mills.

leather drive belts of all sizes waiting for new homes

Leather drive-belts of all sizes waiting for new homes

The property was Finch Foundry near Okehampton, the last working water-powered forge in England. There are three water wheels powering hammers, shears and blade sharpening stones. This set up lead to the foundry becoming one of the South West’s most successful edge tool factories which, at its peak, produced around 400 edge tools a day, of many designs and types.

One of the waterwheels can be seen through the opening in the wall on the left

One of the waterwheels can be seen through the opening in the wall on the left

When you visit you are met by the smells and the noises of the machines, a taste of what it may have been like to work in this forge. But it is only part of the noise that would have been made, as not all the hammers, shears and grinders are in use during your visit!

Some of the workers and owners of the forge

Some of the workers and the owner of the forge

One of the water powered hammers

The water-powered hammers on the right and large shears on the left

There is also a carpenters’ shed at the forge. As the business grew Finch Bros expanded into providing carts, gates and even coffins. At the property you can see the  large variety of edge tools made at the foundry, along with a display of tools used by the wheelwrights and carpenters and learn about the Finch family. I recommend calling in if you have a spare hour, its not far from the A30, and there is a lovely garden and of course there is tea and cake 🙂

I hope this short video will give a flavour of the site, with all its squeaks, quacks, whooshes and clacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rose Garden at Lacock Abbey

7th May 1832
Monday
My Dear Henry
The Urn is up in my garden! Oh! how pretty! Persian lilacs in blow! Horse chesnuts coming in flower!

Long ago, if the day was dragging, we’d engage in conversation over afternoon tea, a nonsense exchange featuring National Trust places with all the wrong facts (yes I know.. we are far older, more sensible and open plan now). It ended with the words.. “of course that’s where photography was invented”. According to the rules that was never Lacock.

Last October, Sue showed me the Rose Garden. It is a 12.5m diameter circular iron trellis work punctuated by four arched entrances to north, south, east and west, and in between – four curving rose beds. To the north is an alcove seat set in a wall under a gothic arch. When sitting here you can see through the north arch of the Rose Garden and appreciate the classic stone Urn on its pedestal.. which forms its centre piece.

The Rose Garden looking east in October.

The Rose Garden looking east in October.

That was Lady Elizabeth’s alcove Sue said and this is her Rose Garden. Lady Elizabeth Fox-Strangeways was the mother of William Henry Fox Talbot (the inventor of photography). The garden was becoming tired. Sue needed to repair the trellis work and replace the soil in the rose beds.

I looked at the metal edging on concrete and she said: “This Rose Garden was only put up in 1992, the old one, so I’ve been told was taken down in the 1960s but they kept the trellis and stored it in a barn. I don’t think it’s in the right place though. We keep tripping up over bits of metal when we cut the grass.”

We agreed to meet again when the turf was up and the trellis down and that was last Tuesday.

The early 19th century was a massive time of discovery. Researchers did not limit themselves to particular subjects.. they grazed across the broad sweep of science and art. They were often clever wealthy land owners with money and time on their hands and sharp inquiring minds. NT SW has Andrew Crosse at Fyne Court (West Somerset) who engaged in electrical experiments. The locals thought he was acting as God and bringing things to life through harnessing lightning via wires draped in trees around his mansion. Mary Shelley heard him lecture in London.
William Bankes travelled in Egypt brought back the Philae obelisk to Kingston Lacy (Dorset) and helped decipher the hieroglyphs.

In 1832, W.Henry Fox Talbot married his wife Constance and took her to Lake Como in Italy. His frustration at not being able to draw the beauty of the scene led him to experiment and find a way to capture an image. The first photos anywhere. Science to enable art.

I returned to the Rose Garden last week. The metal spikes sticking out of the ground were clear. Sue, Reg and the garden volunteers cleared off the topsoil and they found that each fixing was set in lead within a chunk of dressed stone. The stones were all different shapes and sizes and were probably reused pieces of Henry’s home.. medieval Lacock Abbey.

Sue was right though, it was in the wrong place.. in 1992 it had been built 5m west of its old location. The view from the alcove should not be blocked by the Rose Garden.

There were six stones to each of the four entrances and two intermediary stones to carry the trellis between them. The outer ring was to carry swags of trailing roses. The inner stones carried the arched trellises for each of the entrances. The view to the west between the stone settings framed the spire of Lacock’s medieval St Cyriac’s church.

The view east towards the church through the 1832 east Rose Garden entrance. The site of the old urn pedestal lies in the centre of the photo in front of the 1992 urn.

The view east towards the church through the 1832 east Rose Garden entrance. The site of the old urn pedestal lies in the centre of the photo in front of the 1992 urn.

We measured to the centre and dug down. There was the plinth for Lady Elizabeth’s Urn. Her son Henry (he preferred his second name) took a picture of it for her in ..1840. Sue had relocated the scene of one of the earliest photographs anywhere.

W.H. Fox Talbot's photograph of the Rose Garden taken in June 1840. One of a group of photographs he sent to the Italian botanist Antoino Bertoloni. He wrote back to say that this was the image he liked the best.

W.H. Fox Talbot’s photograph of the Rose Garden taken in June 1840. One of a group of photographs he sent to the Italian botanist Antoino Bertoloni. He wrote back to say that this was the image he liked the best.

Reg brought the garden ladder and I photographed it again.

The Rose Garden from the garden ladder. The turf cut from the 1992 garden but the stones from the 1830s garden and central pedestal 5m left of it.

The Rose Garden from the garden ladder. The turf cut from the 1992 garden but the stones from the 1830s garden and central pedestal 5m left of it.