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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 completely..no 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’.

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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 !

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.

Boundaries & Hedges: Look Deeper

Look into this photo…look deep into this photo.

What do you see?

Kingston Lacy NT403 4 Feb 1989

Yes, I know.. it’s just a bit of farmland.

Look deeper…there’s at least 4000 years of farmland here.
Look at the hedgerows….they’re very precious …on a European scale, our bushy boundaries are surprisingly rare and wonderful for wildlife.

Off to the left is the edge of Badbury Rings.. so we’re on the Kingston Lacy Estate in Dorset again.

Kingston Lacy for me is like Miss Marple’s village.

We are on the south side of the grand Beech Avenue. William John Bankes had this planted for his mother in 1835.

This land has been ploughed for many generations. Bottom centre, there’s a dark circle with a black blob in it.

The ploughing has levelled an Early Bronze Age burial mound and all that is left is the cut of the quarry ditch. From here the chalk was dug to heap up the bright white mound over the grave. Perhaps the body is still in the grave pit marked by the blob.

The Round Barrow was once an eye-catcher. About 1000BC the land was divided into units by linear boundary ditches. Perhaps population was rising. Boundaries needed to be clear and well defined. The barrow mound formed a good fixed point and the boundary runs against it.

Look again. This linear boundary does not follow a straight line. It has to weave between existing fields. Can you see the white ghost lines of the chalk field banks it has to negotiate. These are small ‘celtic’ fields, in use from the Bronze Age through to the Roman period and later.

Many hedge and wall field systems in the west still follow boundaries as old as this.

Nothing is completely static.

Look up to the centre right and see a group of dark-lined enclosure ditches overlying the ghosts. I walked there with the farmer once and recovered scraps of Roman pottery from the new ploughed field. Stock enclosures, Roman development over part of the old system.

Zoom out a little… can you see broad bands of darker and lighter stripes running roughly with the hedgerows?..

These are the remains of the furlongs and strips of Shapwick’s common arable field system. A time of centralisation when scattered farmsteads and fields became concentrated. Devised by the Saxons, around the 10th century, communities farmed their scattered strips within the great fields, managed by the lord’s manorial court.

At Kingston Lacy, this system continued right down to the 19th century. We have a great map showing all the strip fields in 1773-4, it tells us who farmed what.The small guys were being squeezed out by the larger farmers.

How old fashioned! This was the advice of William Woodward, the surveyor, who advised the Bankes family to enclose the land. In 1813, a new map was made and the land was divided up into large economic farms with straight hedge boundaries. The smallholders became farm labourers.

Kingston Lacy 39007 Aug. 1994

Look into this photograph. Look deep into this photograph. We are east of Badbury now. Towards Kingston Lacy Park.

Bottom left is the tree-edged enclosure of Lodge Farm. All the names in the landscape matter. It’s ‘lodge’ after the medieval hunting lodge.

The stone lodge itself now has a lawn in front of it. A 15th century building on the site of an earlier building at the gateway to the royal deer park and warren of Badbury. This park is documented right back to Henry de Lacy’s time in the 13th century.

Top, right of Badbury, is the medieval High Wood, and middle right is a hedgerow strip marking the deep survival of the broad medieval deer park ditch. Designed for fallow deer to leap in but not get out. Deer were valued for their high status meat, a preserve of the rich carefully nurtured and guarded.

Badbury Warren was maintained right up to bachelor John Bankes’ day. There were complaints that the thousands of rabbits kept there, got out into the corn and coppices and damaged the crops.

John’s mum Margaret always kept the accounts and when John took over the Estate he followed her example….right up to 1740, when he closed the account book and left a few sheets of paper there.

One of these contained the inked in costs of enclosing the Warren. All the hedges in this photo were planted at this time. Their names give away the old use of this new farmland…’Lodge Field’, ‘Deer Hill Field’, ‘Hare Run Field’ and ..

‘Watch House Field’ (watching for poachers? a dangerous job, one of the medieval keepers Henry Warren was murdered…)

Sometimes… in the right conditions…. the Roman road from Poole on the coast to Badbury can be seen running from Lodge Farm across the fields.. aiming for the saddle of land between the hills of Badbury and High Wood.

Not in this photograph though..

each year brings new conditions of ploughing, drought, snow and frost and …new revelations of the past become possible…

Kingston Lacy 39017 Aug. 1994

Look into this photograph…north of Badbury now…what can you see?

The spaghetti junction of Roman Dorset! We’re looking down the barrel of the late 4th century road from Old Sarum (Salisbury), the London Road, to the civitas captital of Dorchester (still Dorset’s county town).

This late road crosses two, perhaps three earlier roads. The Poole road turns in the middle left of the photo and splits.

First joining the field boundary running to bottom centre (the road to London).

Second crossing the centre of the field, under the Dorchester road, and continuing to Bath and….

Third.. following the straight, thick hedge boundary between Badbury and the arable fields. Another road, long forgotten, heading for the Somerset Roman town of Ilchester.

This boundary, preserved and managed over the centuries.. ancient, ancient boundary held in the landscape as a hedge…once a Roman road.. it became a convenient straight marker in the 12th century to divide off  the new manor of Shapwick from the royal manor of Wimborne Minster…

and today it remains the parish boundary between the St Batholomew’s Church of Shapwick  and St Stephen’s of Pamphill.

Everything in the landscape speaks. Ancient public footpaths, names of fields, woodlands, coppices…all  full of stories and ….hedgerows are particularly precious and vulnerable…

 

 

 

 

The Knight and the Otter, Boynton Church

Wiltshire is named after Wilton, once the county town;

Wilton is named after the River Wylye which meanders from my home town of Warminster to the 13th-century cathedral city of Salisbury.

In NT terms from Cley Hill to Mompesson House but…

this blog tells of a rare encounter; so forgiveness please as I stray from National Trust boundaries.

I am on holiday after all.

The faster route is the main valley road, following the the edge of Salisbury Plain. The slower, more beautiful route lies close to the other side, a sleepy, tranquil drifting lane against the high chalk ridge dividing Wylye from Nadder.

A string of ancient settlements, parishes and manors follow the river to Wilton; each with thatched flint and limestone cottages and little mansion houses. Bishopstrow, Sutton Veny, Tytherington, Corton, Boynton….it’s good to glide along these lanes on a bicycle..and do it often to catch the seasons passing. The bluebells are all but gone now.. the bright green leaves are reaching their peak, the copper beech trees are maturing to a deeper red, the red campion are giving way to a landscape of buttercup yellow, white ox eye daisies and corn parsley….

So many generations have farmed here and seen these changes year by year. A harder life with lower yields, terraces of contoured strip lynchets stand out in shadow on the steeper slopes, helping to extend the arable onto more marginal land.

Last week, a chilly overcast day turned into warm sunshine so Jan and I went for an afternoon cup of tea at Boynton …but the cafe was closed.

We could go to the church instead. I’d been a couple of times before.. in the autumn, but this was during the historic churches ride. The parishioners signed our sponsorship cards and fed us cakes and lemonade as we cycled to the next one. Not much time to get your head round the history of each place.

The Church of the Blessed Mary is hidden down a lane beside the High Street; we parked under a tree and opened the churchyard gate..the door was open. A peaceful place, just the sound of birdsong and the children playing in the nearby garden. Inside it was mainly 13th century, across the nave was a chapel with the bright light from a large circular window drawing us to the life sized sculpture of a knight. His shield revealed the coat of arms of the Giffards, an ancient family, whose ancestors accompanied William I when he brought his army from Normandy in 1066.

Boynton had long been a Giffard manor and the chapel was their family chantry. The adjacent building had housed the chantry priests who were provided with an income to say daily prayers for the family.

Rich and pious medieval families would build chantries sometimes in churches and sometimes as separate foundations like Stoke Sub Hamdon in Somerset and Wilkswood Farm in Purbeck.

The stone knight was well preserved; quite often sculptures were defaced during the religious turmoils of the 16th and 17th centuries but not this one. Though it had once been brightly painted. Traces of gold, red and white paint survive. An oyster shell, the artist’s palette, was found during the 1950s renovation still with splashes of colour within it.

What was that at his feet? An unusual sleek animal with a long broad curving tail.

The 1960s guide book identified the animal as an otter ..and the knight as Sir Alexander Giffard. Otters were once a feature of the River Wylye. Was this a symbol of Sir Alexander’s riverside manor? Otters were driven from the Wylye valley for many years.. but more recently there have been rumours.

The guide book’s preferred explanation for the stone otter was more symbolic. The otter-like escape of Sir Alexander that saved his life! He was a crusader and in 1250 fought beside the Earl of Salisbury in the battle of Mansourah in Egypt. When all was lost, he evaded capture by slipping into the nearby river and swimming away….

He died in 1262 and soon afterwards the chantry was created. His tomb has remained through the generations, lying in this quiet place, dressed for battle, with a sword at his hip and an otter at his feet. I suppose back in the day otters were quite common.

Two days later Jan said we should go to Langford Lakes.. a little beyond Boynton. It’s a nature reserve between the Langford villages. Archaeologist does nature..armed with bird and wild flower books we stepped out onto the first lakeside jetty.

A brown thing dipped beneath the water. I pointed to the spot expecting a duck to surface but something very unexpected popped up. It was a large sleek otter, brown teddy bear face and rounded ears. I don’t think he’d arrived from Egypt.

Sunset over the Wylye Valley

Sunset over the Wylye Valley

He gave us a look and glided away.

Finding Killerton’s 1776 House

Killerton near Exeter Devon is a large farming estate. The Acland family gave it to the National Trust in the 1940s along with their Exmoor Holnicote Estate.

Killerton was where the main house was and generations of the family lived there. If you go there today you’ll see the house nestled beneath Dolbury hillfort and surrounded by mature wooded parkland.

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Killerton House with Dolbury Hill behind

In the medieval period, the old centre of the Estate lay to the west, beside the river at Columbjohn. There is still a chapel there where some of the Aclands are buried… but 250 years ago Sir Thomas Acland wanted a new grand house and shifted his home to a new location.

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The chapel near the old manor house site at Columbjohn

I had a meeting a couple of weeks ago. It was to discuss the recent archaeological recording work and repair along Killerton’s scheduled park boundary wall.

When I got there I was shown a LiDAR image of the park. The amazing thing about LiDAR is that it can strip away the trees and show the archaeological earthworks hidden beneath. As the plane flies over, it fires numerous laser impulses at the ground. The first return hits the tree canopy but the second return is from the laser impulses that filter though and bounce off the ground beneath. The thing to do is to filter out the first returns and there is your picture of the archaeology on the forest floor.

The LiDAR showed something very strange in Columbjohn Wood. A big rectangular feature on the ridge top with an L-shaped feature to the west.

There was time. Friday afternoon, a bright clear winter day, leafless and no undergrowth. I set off on a ground-truthing exercise. Up past the mansion house, through the garden and the parkland edge, crossing the boundary into Columbjohn Wood. Then through the trees and along the ridge top looking at the ground beneath my feet (archaeologists tend to look at the ground).

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The ditch and stone revetted boundary bank of the 18th-century deer park

Great views out to the south.. and there was the conical Mount Pleasant, which, I had been told, had the foundations of a hexagonal garden folly tower on it. Worth having a look….

…a great location and the stone footings were still clear jutting from the top of a barrow-like mound. The folly tower would once have been clearly visible in the surrounding landscape but not really from the present Killerton House.

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Mount Pleasant from Columbjohn Wood with the folly mound on the top

Back down the hill and then up to Columbjohn Wood ridge again and ..there were some clay roof tiles churned up in an animal burrow and ..there was the L-shaped rampart and a large rectangular pit. A track cut close to its north side and here I bumped into a spread of brick rubble eroding out of the wheel ruts… Amongst the trees were scattered chunks of stone.

Interesting…

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The site? of  Sir Thomas Acland’s never completed mansion in Columbjohn Wood.

I spoke to Denise at Killerton House. She told me that it might be the house that Sir Thomas Acland changed his mind about.

1775-76: in America, the British colonists had chosen to disconnect themselves from the mother country and at Killerton, Sir Thomas had chosen the location for his new house. He appointed a fashionable architect  James Wyatt and work began.

The Acland family archive contains the accounts for £1000s spent on building work.. creating the cellars and beginning to construct the walls, but something went wrong. There’s a terse exchange of letters in early 1777. Mr Wyatt was to cease all work and the builders were to leave the new site.

Everything stopped. Then the work began again in 1778-9 but at a different site and with Mr Johnson not Mr Wyatt. The accounts tell of payments to the salvage team, 33 men taking down bricks from the site on the hill and unpicking the mortar. Loading the materials onto carts to bring to the new site where Killerton House is today.

Nobody had worked out where this almost mansion was but it seems that the LiDAR has found it for us. Our big rectangular pit may be the cellars mentioned in the documents and the pile of stuff to one site may be unwanted building material left behind during the salvage work. IMG_3104

Old oak at the foot of Mount Pleasant

Perhaps this 1775-6 site was a windier location… but with great views across the Devon landscape and with the hill top tower folly clearly visible in the foreground. I wonder why Sir Thomas changed his mind.

The Foundations of Clevedon Court

Last week I crossed the Mendips and headed for Clevedon. At the roundabout I ignored the lure of the town centre and the coast and took a right along the foot of the Failand Ridge towards Tyntesfield but I was going somewhere much older.. Clevedon Court. Up a short drive, screened by some mature trees.. it surprised me when I first saw it. How was this place not better known? A medieval manor house but leaning towards a castle. There’s a turret in the garden…

The south front with its 14th century porch and to the left of it the decorated windows of the late medieval 1st floor chapel.

The south front with its 14th century porch and to the left of it the decorated windows of the late medieval 1st floor chapel.

There were rumours in the files of something much older. A record of discoveries during gardening work of a skeleton found beside an ancient wall. The local society dug on the south side of the house in 1961 and found a cobbled surface a thick stone wall and Roman pottery. All we had was a framed plan of the dig in the house but the site was unlocated within the grounds.

Below the garden is a Roman occupation. This pottery was found at the lowest levels. There are records of an early burial being found here.

Below the garden is a Roman occupation. This pottery was found at the lowest levels. There are records of an early burial being found here.

The house is a jumble of styles, a jigsaw made by generations of owners…mending rebuilding and reworking.

A plan of Clevedon Court showing how many times the building has been added to and rebuilt during its 800+ year history.

A plan of Clevedon Court showing how many times the building has been added to and rebuilt during its 800+ year history.

Last week I revisited after a gap of several years. One of the upper garden terrace brick revetment walls was bowing outwards and in danger of collapse. The place is so ancient, already a manor in the 1086 Domesday survey, that holes in the ground need to be recorded archaeologically. These holes were warmed by the November sun and demonstrated that the collapsing wall was a late 18th century brick skin which had detached from a substantial stone wall behind. Kath the building surveyor was pleased.. it would be much easier to rebuild the skin than to re-create a failing terrace wall broken by the weight of the carboniferous limestone ridge to the north.

Our earliest drawn evidence of Clevedon Court is this painting still hanging in the house dated c.1730.

Our earliest drawn evidence of Clevedon Court is this painting still hanging in the house dated c.1730.

Time for coffee with David the custodian and to remember past investigations when we relocated the 1961 trenches found Roman pottery in the car park and geophyized the gardens… but as David reminded me ..the most useful archaeology was found during my first visit when looking down a drain.

The two superimposed stone yards below the south garden dating to the 18th century and earlier.

The two superimposed stone yards below the south garden dating to the 18th century and earlier.

The drain had been dug some years previously and filled with gravel but the gravel had been removed by the time I turned up to dig a soakaway trench. The soakaway was full of old render showing that the house had been covered in white plaster in the 18th century but the empty drain showed the building phases of the south front of the house with different sized stone offsets stepping over each other showing how the building had been changed and added to from the 12th-14th century.

Looking back on Clevedon Court from the evaluation trench dug to discover why the brick garden wall was collapsing. The wall had not been tied in to the earlier stone wall behind it.

Looking back on Clevedon Court from the evaluation trench dug to discover why the brick garden wall was collapsing. The wall had not been tied in to the earlier stone wall behind it.

There are still a lot of mysteries to be discovered at Clevedon Court both within the building and below the ground. Well worth visiting next summer.. standing on the Octagon terrace and looking back across the house over the valley towards Clevedon, Weston Super Mare and the Bristol Channel.

Below Westbury College, Before Bristol

The other week, I got the chance to go to a new (for me) National Trust property. Westbury College Gatehouse given to NT in 1907.

Westbury College Gatehouse now used as the Westbury parish meeting rooms and as the Air Training Corps centre.

Westbury College Gatehouse now used as the Westbury parish meeting rooms and as the Air Training Corps centre.

Westbury lies beside the River Trym, originally a Saxon minster church settlement, in recent centuries it has become swallowed up by the expanding city of Bristol.

It was a place I had wanted to visit but I had no excuse and city driving..and parking being difficult, it was not an easy place to get to.

Mel from English Heritage said that we needed to meet Michael there so I contacted Bill at Leigh Woods and he got the keys (loads of them) and he drove us out there. He dropped us off and went to find somewhere to put the car. I shook hands with Michael mentioning that it was my first time at Westbury College Gatehouse. Why ? He said. This place has an older history then Bristol.

Westbury College was rebuilt in the 15th century  and has a round tower at each corner with a gateway tower in the centre of the south side.

Westbury College was rebuilt in the 15th century and has a round tower at each corner with a gateway tower in the centre of the south side.

Back in 1967, a fire had destoyed an 18th century mansion that lay beside the Gatehouse and before some new flats were built in their place, the site was excavated by Bristol City Museum. Michael, directed the dig and found that the archaeology was full of interest…. but it was raining and we couldn’t work out which key was which.

Bill came back and found a door that would let us in. Outside within the red brown stonework various blocked windows and doors could be seen suggesting the long development of the surviving medieval building but inside, the rooms had been converted to meeting rooms and little detail could be seen until we entered the gateway tower.

The tall square tower above the gateway

The tall square tower above the gateway

The building was constructed in the 15th century as a college of priests for Bishop Carpenter of Worcester Cathedral. It had a round turret at each corner. The north side fronted the river and in the centre of the south side was a large square tower above the main gateway. The east part of the college now lies under terraced houses, apart from the gate tower and range to the south-west turret, only the isolated north-west turret survives behind the 1970s sheltered housing.

The sheltered accommodation built on the site of the early 18th century mansion that burnt down in 1967. The surviving 15th century NW college turret can be seen above the roof line top right.

The sheltered accommodation built on the site of the early 18th century mansion that burnt down in 1967. The surviving 15th century NW college turret can be seen above the roof line top right.

The road outside the gate tower is now much higher than the medieval level. We had to walk down some steps to see the decorated vaulting for the 15th century passage way. The tower staircase took us up past rooms used by the Air Corps, full of uniforms, tents and equipment until we reached the roof and Michael told us the story of Westbury with the settlement spread out below us.

The ground outside the gatehouse is much higher than it was in the medieval period. The main gateway passageway is decorated with medieval bosses but the entrance has been blocked and infilled with a window. The area is now a tucked away store room down a flight of stairs.

The ground outside the gatehouse is much higher than it was in the medieval period. The main gateway passageway is decorated with medieval bosses but the entrance has been blocked and infilled with a window. The area is now a tucked away store room down a flight of stairs.

In 1968 and 1970, his team had found items dating back to the Mesolithic. These were stray flints indicating that people had lived in the area for at least 7000 years, there were also scraps of Roman pottery but… he pointed down to the gardens of the modern flats that now occupied the site… they had found a grave and parts of skeletons in other dug out graves alongside the Saxon river wall beside the Trym.

Westbury upon Trym church today but the original Saxon minster may lie under Westbury College.

Westbury upon Trym church today but the original Saxon minster may lie under Westbury College.

There is a document of the 8th century which suggests that a minster church had been founded at Westbury at this time. The great Mercian King Offa granted land at Westbury to Worcester Cathedral in 792. The present parish church on a hill south-east of the College has nothing earlier than 1200 in its architecture apart from a reused Saxon grave marker.

Michael thinks that the evidence of graves beneath the College suggests that the minster church once occupied the site and that it was moved away from the river to the hill, perhaps in the 11th century, when most of the graves were exhumed and reburied at the new church site.

There were extensive footings of a 13th-century monastic site which was replaced by the 15th century college. In the 16th century it became a private house. In the 1640s the Royalist commander Prince Rupert stayed at the house before his attempt to capture Bristol during the English Civil War. He burnt down Westbury College as the Royalist forces retreated. The site was redeveloped in the early 18th century and a roof of this date survives within the Gatehouse building.

The roof structure above Westbury College is probably contemporary with the 18th century mansion.

The roof structure above Westbury College is probably contemporary with the 18th century mansion.

We walked beside the river, Bill spotted in the Management Plan that the National Trust retains riparian rights over a section of the Trym. I wonder how far that dates back ..and Michael talked of the phases of river frontage wall he had excavated dating back to the 8th century from which wharfs and jetties could be constructed and fishing could be carried out. He had also found remains of ponds, perhaps fish ponds which are often associated with monastic sites.

We considered all this for a while until Mel said that there must be a dryer place to discuss it.. so Bill bought us all a welcome coffee in the local cafe and we worked out a plan for funding the writing up and publication of such an important excavation.. to help tell the early story of Westbury and therefore the origins of Bristol.

The plaque on the front of the Gatehouse tells its story

The plaque on the front of the Gatehouse tells its story