The Lost Villa of Bath Skyline

Last week we tested the evidence for a lost Roman villa.

It lies in a hidden, rarely visited field… full of earthworks and stones poking through the grass.

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Starting the excavation: we resurveyed the site with a resistivity meter (bottom left). Cutting the turf  at the lower end  (right) where a corridor? (continuing beyond the two groups of figures on the left side of the tree) gave access to rooms. Terraces at the upper end (left), a series of rooms beside the corridor?

On Monday, with the Volkswagon Golf bulging with tools, the farmer directed me across the farm.. through rough terrain and rutted gateways.

I needed to avoid the more direct route because it was full of new lambs with their mums.

Rob shook his head. ‘Are you sure you want to risk your car out there….We could transfer the equipment into a 4×4’.

‘No, that’s fine’ I said confidently ‘Coaxing inappropriate cars through rough terrain has become a mission. I once got a Vauxhall Nova up Golden Cap… well almost’.

Dodgy gates and a moonscape of deep ruts but the weather has been very dry so nothing untoward occurred during my outbound journey ..and I entered the field which was full of  wonderfully intriguing humps and bumps.

So this was exciting.

Full of archaeological potential.

Stones and walls jutted from terraces and banks. We were on the edge of the Roman city of Bath and this place had a fabulous view out over the Bathampton valley. A spring gurgled in a cutting a few metres downslope. This had every chance of  becoming a previously unrecognised Roman villa.

A home for one of the wealthy people associated with the sacred temple complex surrounding Bath’s magical hot springs.

The NT Bath Skyline team had set up their shepherd’s hut tea room with all the facilities. Luxury. Staff and volunteers were ready to become archaeologists. We all were.

The evidence for the villa seemed good, perhaps too good. Where were the shaped blocks of stone reused in the boundary walls….There were reports of Roman pottery in neighbouring fields but nothing of that date from this particular field. But it was all grass and without mole hills..how would it make itself known.

I introduced the site. Inspired by what we might find. Stories of collapsed walls, partly robbed in medieval times before the site was forgotten. Under this a fallen roof..a sea of tiles (limestone or clay). Then below this mortar and a layer of highly decorated painted plaster (which must be very carefully planned and lifted). Now perhaps we would find small rodent bones (owl pellets dropped when the grand villa had been abandoned, the birds flying in at night through broken windows to roost in the decaying rafters. Below this, of course, a splendid mosaic or mosaics. One must hope that they had not collapsed into the under floor heating system…classical scenes finely worked in cubes of stone and tile.

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Cleaning back the site following the removal of turf defining the corridor? and room? levels.

A trench was marked out to cross what appeared to be a corridor and a large room. The turf was peeled back. The team formed a line and we trowelled and uncovered the stonework.

At this point we expected fragments of baked clay, much mortar and blocks of cut stone, a scatter of oyster shell and animal bone and lots of Roman pottery….

We found a couple of pieces of 19th century glass and a nail.

The stonework was a heap of  unworked chunks of local limestone piled up to form a terrace.

Most disappointing.

The next day, I walked back towards the field edge to check out the fragments of wall we could just see sticking out of the grass. These were proper two sided stone walls.

Dave cut a trench across one section and I hacked into a hawthorn bush and made a space to investigate the footings of another wall heading under the 18th century field boundary wall,

Dave found .22  cartridge cases and  I found fragments of a white ware jar. The 1902 OS map showed a Boer War army camp in the next door field. Perhaps they’d chucked their rubbish over the wall (just like the army tipped their broken crockery over Durrington Walls during WWI).

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The mortared stone walls of the building looking back towards our first trench, the trees marking the corridor that turned into a trackway and in the middle distance the rooms that turned into stone faced field lynchets for small ‘celtic’ prehistoric? fields. Top left of the wall in the foreground is a massive stone that formed the door jamb. This was cut into to fit the timber door frame and a level horizontal area had a hole drilled for the door pivot. The wall continues to the right and the width of one of the rooms of the building is seen as it turns (top right) to run parallel with the wall in the foreground.

All still modern and not a fragment of anything Roman in sight, we strung out tapes from both walls and where they coincided we opened another trench to find the corner of the building.

The big trench was abandoned. Carol had found a bone fragment and a tiny piece of Roman grey ware (“that’s not really enough is it”). We concluded that our earthworks were part of a prehistoric field system, terraces levelled into a slope and faced with limestone rubble with a track defining their lower edge.

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Looking back towards the walls in the last photo. Top left of this trench had a flagstone in place, the key and the pitchfork were found here.

The team on the new trench found a flagstone on a mortar surface, a square section nail, an impressive looking pitchfork and a door key. The surface modern pottery gave way to fragments of tobacco pipe. In Dave and Fay’s trench we found a doorway with a pivot hole in it.

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The pitchfork and square sectioned hand made nail from trench C,

The maps show nothing here in the last 150 years. There are less detailed 18th century maps which also show a blank.

This field was enclosed from the Bishop of Bath’s deer park, in use from the 12th century. It does not seem to have been ploughed since then..but these mortared stone walls and finds are not as old as that… A cottage and/or outhouse in use from late 17th to early 19th century? We need to look at the tithe map and do some more documentary research.

In the end, as we all worked together to backfill the trenches and replace the turf…we agreed that…although we lost our dream of rediscovering a lost Roman villa, it had been good to work there together…

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amongst the sparking leaves and flowers in the cool April sunshine.

 

Stourhead? Where’s Stourton Castle?

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

but there is a problem…

We don’t know where it is

We have a picture.

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

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

Drawn from a 1670 sketch by the antiquarian John Aubrey.

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

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

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

but it’s gone.. apparently without trace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll keep looking.

Sherborne’s Romans: Under the Stubble

On Monday I had a meeting in Bristol but I really wanted to be in Sherborne Gloucestershire.

After several years of fieldwalking and geophysical survey, the time had arrived to test the ground and see if anything survived beneath the wheat stubble on Woeful Lake Farm. The survey plots showed rectilinear patterns across the fields, surely there were still building remains, enclosure ditches and other features…under the soil.

These fields had been ploughed for 100s of years and this vital process of producing food had gradually dug into, turned and jumbled the ground many, many times.. eroding away the archaeology.

Ann, Tony and other members Gloucestershire Archaeology had put in three small trenches over the weekend and they needed to be backfilled to enable the farmer to plant his next crop.

So, when the Bristol meeting was over,  I scooted up the M5 and across the Cotswolds via Crickley Hill and reached the field… to see everyone poised with shovels and spades. The ring of tea break chairs and a survey tripod silhouetted against the skyline…

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The excavation trenches on the skyline poised to be backfilled.

but I had arrived in time, the piles of spoil still stood beside the trenches and I was able to see what had been found.

One trench had come down onto an 0.8m wide limestone wall. The geophysical survey plot indicated that it should turn a corner in the next small trench but there was only the rubble foundation surviving there. The wall courses had been ploughed away.

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The newly unearthed Roman wall survives two courses deep on a rubble foundation just beneath the ploughsoil.

The best finds came from the trench about 15m further across the field. Here, a mint condition silver coin had been found. It lay where it had been dropped 1700 years ago on the surface of a rough limestone floor.

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The coin of Marcus Claudius Tacitus.. Emperor for 200 days  September 275- June 276

The name Tacitus could still be read around the head of the Emperor with his typical 3rd century spiky crown (barbarate radiate).

Later, I looked him up. He wasn’t a bad emperor and seemed to be sorting things out but only reigned 200 days. The jury is out, one source states that he died of a fever but he may well have been assassinated. These were unsettled times.

A pit had been cut through the limestone floor and within the dark soil filling was found a bronze brooch. This one was in very good condition and still had the pin to enable you to hold your cloak in place.

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Ann’s brooch from the pit. Bit of a clean up and it’s almost good enough to wear.

The pottery and other finds from the trenches showed that people had been living here from the 2nd-4th century.

I took some photos and thanked everyone for holding back until I could see their discoveries. Further deep ploughing would quickly damage the shallow buried remains but minimum tillage saves on agricultural fuel and preserves archaeology below the old ploughsoil depth.

These are just small window trenches. Perhaps we will return next year to see more of this Roman settlement at the head of a small valley just a few miles from Chedworth Roman Villa. There are many more acres to cover with geophysical survey before we have an idea of the extent of this place.

I wonder how many people lived here and what place name they had for their home.

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The earthwork remains of the Roman amphitheatre at Corinium Dubunnorum, a few miles down the Fosse Way from Sherborne. The tiers of wooden seats surrounding the floor of the auditorium have long gone .. as have the cheering and jeering local crowds who once watched the entertainment.

The Cotswolds had a high population in the Roman period. Their main town would have been Corinium, the second largest place in Roman Britain. We call it Cirencester today…I drove through the town on the way home and stopped off to look at the abandoned  earthworks of its amphitheatre.

Perhaps the owner of the newly rediscovered brooch once visited here to see a show….

 

 

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.

Day One – Down, down deeper and down ….

The day started with a cool breeze and a geophysics survey, Martin and Charlie were already on the hill, my duties were to sort out the porta-cabin  and open the gate for Clive the wonderful digger driver, who did a fantastic job when we dug on Golden Cap. With the arrival of Fay and Carol we had most of the coastal team back together 🙂

Martin and Charlie in the distance

Martin and Charlie in the distance

Having measured how far down the cliff the burnt material was, we knew we had to get Clive to keep going untill we found the burnt layer, at least a meter and a half deep. We started to find worked flint and even some pottery in the softer charcoal flecked layer, we had evidence of human activity, hurrah! There was even a chunk of Kimmeridge shale from about 45 miles further east along the coast. Tomorrow we will post pictures of the finds.

The turf is removed

The turf is removed Golden Cap n the distance

We  dug a test hole to see how far down we still had to go

We dug a test hole to see how far down we still had to go

We decided to only go down deeper in half the trench, with a option to extend if we needed to

We decided to only go down deeper in half the trench, with an option to extend if we needed to

An amazing place to dig!

An amazing place to dig!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shapwick’s Roman Fort, Kingston Lacy

This is the view along the Shapwick Road across our field towards Badbury Rings.

This is the view along the Shapwick Road across our field towards Badbury Rings.

Let’s walk across a Dorset field. It’s a good one.. and although we’ll stay in the same space we will be hopping about in time a bit. Well- we’re archaeologists after all.

For the moment it’s late summer, the corn’s been cut and as we leave the far hedge and walk diagonally towards the road our boots crunch on the stubble. Keep your eyes down, there are all sorts of things beneath our feet.

Yes. There. See it ? Sticking out of that tractor rut a black chunk of pottery. Pick it up.

On the upper edge it’s polished but on the rougher zone below you have that typical cross-hatch pattern. Iron Age? Roman?

I call this the ‘Long Field’. Not its old name.. but definitely very large and long. You’d notice that if you divided it up and surveyed it. There’s Geoff, laying out the grid, walking up and down with the magnetometer. He was the first man to map the archaeology here. I walked with him some days fixing the pegs, positioning the lines. We walked miles.. but the results were spectacular. Thanks Geoff.

The field is bottom left. This is Geoff's magnetometer survey showing the fort in detail and the underlying Iron Age settlement. If you look carefully you can see the parallel side ditches of the Badbury to Dorchester Roman road. Our walk is from fort entrance to fort entrance. From middle right to bottom left.

The field is bottom left. This is Geoff’s magnetometer survey showing the fort in detail and the underlying Iron Age settlement. If you look carefully you can see the parallel side ditches of the Badbury to Dorchester Roman road. Our walk is from fort entrance to fort entrance. From middle right to bottom left.

You almost missed that. An orange samian base fragment. It has that silk sheen to it. Unlucky, the potter’s stamp is fractured at the edge and we can’t quite read who made it. Came all the way from Gaul though.

We’re approaching a large’L’-shaped trench. Ian’s in a ‘bee-hive pit, narrow at the neck and twice the width at the bottom. It’s cool down there. He hands up something like samian except it’s ruby-coloured. An earlier pottery.. dates this grain storage pit to the Late Iron Age- 2000 years ago.

At the other end of the trench is Martin..he’s in a large pit. No, he’s gone,
someone’s placing a dog in the pit on top of a piglet. The field’s disappeared.. there are circular houses all around us, a hub-bub of people livestock and wooden fences within a settlement stockade.

Gone again.. the place is blacksmith’s workshop, furnaces and hearths. These guys look Roman.. at least the pots are 3rd century style.

From scaffold tower to scaffold tower. Looking towards the  trench to locate the SW entrance of the fort.

From scaffold tower to scaffold tower. Looking towards the trench to locate the SW entrance of the fort.

We’re in the field heading to another larger longer trench with a scaffold tower beside it. This is the main highway, the Roman road from Badbury to Dorchester but we are also in the middle of a large Roman fort.

It was first seen on aerial photos in 1976, three concentric ditches with rounded corners. The first idea was that it was 1st century.. built on top of the Iron Age settlement right after the Roman Conquest of AD 43-44. Very different to the Roman fort at Hod Hill a few miles away though. It has only two entrances, one in the NE corner and one in the SW… and the ditches at the corners don’t quite match.

Let’s climb the scaffold tower and look down at the trench. We’ve put it at the SW entrance. We can see the three ends of the ditches in plan. The road metalling has sunk into the soft ditch filling so it has not been ploughed away.

The fort SW entrance from the scaffold tower. The outer ditch terminal is clear with remains of road metalling crushed into its surface. The middle and deep inner ditch have not yet been excavated. Most of the upper layers including the road have been ploughed away over hundreds of years. This land was part of the Shapwick common fields in the medieval period.

The fort SW entrance from the scaffold tower. The outer ditch terminal is clear with remains of road metalling crushed into its surface. The middle and deep inner ditch have not yet been excavated. Most of the upper layers including the road have been ploughed away over hundreds of years. This land was part of the Shapwick common fields in the medieval period.

Gerald, Becki and Rob, if you could just remove the upper layers..yes, there are the ditches filled with pottery, animal bone and the occasional coin. It seems to date mostly to the end of the 2nd century. The outer two ditches are only a metre deep but the inner one is massive.. over 4m deep. Strange, some of the finds are 4th century.

Here it is..white chalk ramparts with a timber wall along the crest of the innermost defence. Inside it is full of rectangular buildings. Curious, the Dorchester road is blocked by the fort gates guarded by soldiers. They’re checking all the traffic. The Saxon raids along the coast have increased in recent months and this place, Vindocladia, is vulnerable. They haven’t the resources to build stone walls like those at Durnovaria (Dorchester). This secure place, the burgus fort, will have to do the job. A place of last resort for the Romanised Brits. Tense times.

Lets climb down from the scaffold and get into the car. I hope you enjoyed my favourite field. Nancy climbs in beside us. “How was it for you”…. “The earth moved”.. it certainly did.. and there was so much in it!

Archaeology SW Day 2014: Hambledon Sunset

This is the time to review the year and say thank you. The Christmas Archaeology Day is a good time to meet up, celebrate and share SW conservation work and discoveries.

We met at our new office at Tisbury.

The tithe barn at Court Place Farm beside the new NT office at Tisbury.

The tithe barn at Court Place Farm beside the new NT office at Tisbury.

Nancy organised lunch and talked about two Gloucestershire sites. Crickley Hill, which has had its archive and finds assessed this year (Crickley is a hillfort overlying a causewayed enclosure excavated 1969-93) and Chedworth Villa (analysis of the finds from the museum have highlighted some important new information about its Roman owners.. watch this space).

Nick (see FragmeNTs) talked of developments at Stonehenge and Avebury. Results from geophysical survey beside the great Avebury henge indicate an early settlement there and she also gave the latest on the plans for a dual carriageway tunnel under the line of the present A303 beside Stonehenge.

Jim brought a ‘Jamaica Inn’ style atmosphere to the room as he spoke of the wreck of the frigate’Royal Anne’ on Stag Rocks south of the Cornwall’s Lizard peninsula. In 1721, a naval ship, bound for Barbados was driven onto the rocks during a storm. The locals picked over the remains to remove valuables. The bodies of the crew are thought to lie in a narrow valley above the cliffs known as Pistol Meadow. Bournemouth University have geophysed the field and a scatter of trench and pit-like anomalies suggest the locations of mass graves.

Mid afternoon and we piled into cars and headed for Hambledon.

Last year we went to Whitesheet Hill on the Stourhead Estate, it rained hard and we got soaked but a good experience. The year before, a windswept bitter day. Cley Hill near Warminster circled by a war of showers, rumbles and shafts of sunlight. This year looked very promising.

The view of Hambledon from the Childe Okeford road. It looks a bit like a great green whale.

The view of Hambledon from the Childe Okeford road. It looks a bit like a great green whale.

We set out late. A squadron of 5 cars. The route rather convoluted between Tisbury & Childe Okeford. Out of the Nadder valley, over NT’s Win Green Hill, along the brink of the chalkland valley bordering the NT Fontmell and Melbury Estate and down into the Blackmore Vale. 3 cars made it to the lay-by. A phone call spoke of a traffic jam at Fontmell Magna so we climbed the hill. Meg who’d completed the Hidcote Estate Archaeological Survey this year, Carol researcher of Westbury College Gatehouse, Alice fellow Chedworth archaeologist and an astrophysicist from English Heritage.

Friday's sunset through the SW gateway into Hambledon Hill. The photo is taken from a large oval terrace cut into the slope of the hill. This was the site of a significant round house in the Iron Age.  This thatched timber framed building would have been the most prominent structure if you were to enter the hillfort over 2000 years ago. The entrance track splits in two in front of the building. The way forward either NW or SE of it. You would have entered the fortified settlement through double-leaved timber gates. Now the gateway is a grassy gap between banks as shown in the picture.

Friday’s sunset through the SW gateway into Hambledon Hill. The photo is taken from a large oval terrace cut into the slope of the hill. This was the site of a significant round house in the Iron Age. This thatched timber framed building would have been the most prominent structure if you were to enter the hillfort over 2000 years ago. The entrance track splits in two in front of the building. The way forward either NW or SE of it. You would have entered the fortified settlement through double-leaved timber gates. Now the gateway is a grassy gap between banks as shown in the picture.

The sun was setting as we neared the summit. The sky cloudless and clear. The SW entrance was protected by a funneled corridor approach between banks. There was a gap between the ramparts which once held massive double-leaved gates. We passed through.. and in front of us was a raised platform cut into the slope. We stood on it and looked back towards the sun. This terrace must once have held a large timber round house and as we continued up hill, smaller hollows and platforms could be seen all around us. There had been 100s of buildings here over 2000 years ago.

At the top of Hambledon’s chalk ridge we found the remains of a Bronze Age burial mound.The low winter sunlight was showing up the faint earthworks beautifully and traces of narrow ridge and furrow here were evidence that the summit had been ploughed briefly during the Napoleonic wars. Now the long concentric circuits of massive ramparts and ditches could be better appreciated.

The view south from the southern rampart across the hillfort interior. Middle top left is the SE entrance. It is thought that it was here that a charge by Cromwell's cavalry was driven back by musket fire from the Dorset Clubmen who had occupied the hillfort in 1645. Top left is the central dome of the hill which is the site of the causewayed enclosure dated c.3600 BC.

The view south from the southern rampart across the hillfort interior. Middle top left is the SE entrance. It is thought that it was here that a charge by Cromwell’s cavalry was driven back by musket fire from the Dorset Clubmen who had occupied the hillfort in 1645. Top left is the central dome of the hill which is the site of the causewayed enclosure dated c.3600 BC.

We walked north towards the middle. Here, a cross rampart blocked our way. We climbed it and looked back. The inturned SE entrance was clear and beyond it the dome of the hill top where the great causewayed enclosure had been excavated in the 1970s. Dated to c.3600 BC, the people of Hambledon hillfort lay mid-way in time between us and them…. but in 1645 Oliver Cromwell fought the clubman here. Back then, a mere 370 years ago. Volleys of musket fire from the Dorset ‘clubmen’ (who supported neither King nor Parliament) drove back a cavalry charge from Cromwell’s besieging forces.

The Wiltshire rangers arrived from Fontmell. Ben, who has recently led the repair of erosion scars at Figsbury Ring and Cley and Mike who’s formidable work on the Stonehenge Estate has led the conservation of the earthworks on the World Heritage Site.

We continued to the long barrow and wondered what this long ridge on the summit was. A 5,500 year old communal burial place or something else? It had been dug into in two places. Perhaps the work of Edward Cunnington who excavated here before 1894.

Two more silhouettes approached. Dave and Gill had found us at last. Dave had geophys mapped the whole of Hambledon and nearby Hod Hill. Gill monitors and records the Brownsea industrial archaeology as the sea gradually erodes the island’s shoreline.

One more stop at the northern cross-ditch. Some think the hillfort developed over time. First the northern third, then the middle section including the long mound.. and then the southern third was finally enclosed. The pottery from the northern ditch is Early Iron Age.. All Cannings about 500 BC.

A plan of Hambledon. The top northern part of the hill probably contains the earliest part of the hillfort. The remains of its southern limit can be seen as a cross-rampart just north of the narrow neck of the hillfort. Later, this neck was included within the defences and a second east-west rampart was constructed on its south side. This new area included the long barrow aligned north to south on the summit of the neck. It is thought that the southern part of the hillfort with its SW and SE entrances was the last part of the hillfort to be enclosed.

A plan of Hambledon. The top northern part of the hill probably contains the earliest part of the hillfort. The remains of its southern limit can be seen as a cross-rampart just north of the narrow neck of the hillfort. Later, this neck was included within the defences and a second east-west rampart was constructed on its south side. This new area included the long barrow aligned north to south on the summit of the neck. It is thought that the southern part of the hillfort with its SW and SE entrances was the last part of the hillfort to be enclosed.

“Look!” said the astrophysicist, ‘the last before solstice’ and as small dots on the whale-back of Hambledon, we felt the ancient world turn. We watched… and the bright full moon erupted from Melbury Beacon as the vivid orange sun plunged below the Childe Okeford horizon at our backs.