Lifting Flags at Philipp’s House, Dinton

This is our local National Trust mansion. A Neo-Grecian country house built in 1816. Just 20 minutes up the road from the office at Tisbury, Wiltshire. Set within a tree-studded park, a good place to walk at lunch time as the seasons turn.

IMG_8236

Philipp’s House set on a south facing slope with the chalk escarpment behind. In the trees at the top of the hill to the left is the Iron Age hillfort Wick Ball Camp. The NT only owns the southern edge of its rampart which is the property boundary. The line of the ha-ha wall and ditch can just be seen as a grey line across the centre of the photo. The whole point of a ha-ha was to create a boundary that kept the stock out of the garden but remained hidden from view and preserve the landscape aesthetic.

It was built to the design of the fashionable architect Jefry Wyatville for the owner William Wyndham. Presumably because he was a little tired of his old fashioned 17th century pile and had some cash to splash.

It was known as Dinton House then because the house and park lie beside the village of Dinton but, in 1916, it was bought from the Wyndham family by Bertram Philipps and he renamed the place after himself.

He gave it to the National Trust in 1943, making sure that it was leased to the YWCA.. and for the next 50 years it was.

IMG_8375

The fine sweeping lines of the Wyatville Neo-Grecian staircase in the hall at Philipps House. Flagstones being lifted.

It became empty in 1993, which was the first time I went there during its refurbishment. I watched a service trench being dug across the park. Nothing much came up, just a couple of prehistoric flints and a sherd of medieval pottery.

The present house is lovely and made of finely dressed local Chilmark stone.. but what happened to the old one?

There is a mid 18th century map that shows an avenue of trees leading to the old place, and this seemed to indicate that it lay further west.

Later in the 90s ..I marked the area out with grids and with the help of Simon and Mike, the countryside rangers, did a resistivity survey where I thought the old house might be. A beautiful spring day with the foliage of the copper beech resplendent around us  …but no luck, the computer plot showed the data as random patches of dark and light. More geological than archaeological.

Then they cleared out the sunken ha-ha ditch that fronts the house and took away the revetment stones before rebuilding them. Behind the ha-ha wall, in the buried soil, deep down below the front lawn..was building debris including 17th and 18th century brick.

Then..later.. in the library below the decoration .. reused limewashed bricks there… Tends to be the case that if you are taking down a house to build a new one it would be a shame to waste the old stuff.  You can hide it in the new structure without affecting the shiny modern glow of the new residence.

IMG_6033

Below the floorboards of the 1690s Dyrham, a reused Tudor timber presumably salvaged from the old place. One of many hidden in the present house. Here you can see the cut chamfered upper edge of a sill beam two mortise holes to hold posts once fixed by pegs driven into holes drilled into the sides of the mortise sockets and along the top a grove into which the planks were placed between the posts.. to create a division between two rooms,  once part of the old Dyrham House.

Look below the floorboards of Dyrham House near Bath and there’s all sorts of old wood there. Bits of Tudor chamfered joists and beams and last time I looked in January, part of a plank and muntin screen re-used as a girder.

So always worth grabbing new opportunities to see beneath the skin of a place.

A few weeks ago, Emma told us that some of the entrance hall flagstones needed re-setting as they were getting uneven.. so we went over and saw what lay beneath.

Some had been lifted more recently than others and several were sand on top of soil but, at the foot of the great staircase we found stone and brick beneath the paving…beneath the sand.. remains of a wall.

IMG_8343

The buried limestone blocks and flanked by brick walls in front of the staircase. Evidence of an earlier structure here.

At first we thought it might be part of the cellar structure but the plans show that the cellars don’t come this far.

Perhaps the old house lies beneath the new, perhaps parts of it were built on the old footings… Then Meg texted me a map dated 1800 she had discovered on the web site of the National Library. Much more accurate than the 18th century one and…. there is the old house just where the 1816 house would be built.

Problem solved. Now we need to find out more about the designed landscape around the mansion.

This new 1800 map shows some interesting details. The park is much bigger now than it was then and there are avenues leading to a structure on a hill beside the house…

IMG_8243

The view out into the designed park. The ornamental lake lies top left in this picture. Again, on this photo the ha-ha line is only visible as the tops of fence posts across the centre of the picture.

One of the nice things about being an archaeological curator for the National Trust is to work long-term with staff, volunteers and other researchers to gradually unravel the stories of a place .. because..as we all know.. beyond the scope of history there is only archaeology.

The glass find – first thoughts

The glass when first found

Now we have recovered from the digging and back filling of the trenches at Chedworth Roman Villa, we can start on the post excavation work and find out more about what we found. The star find this year was a small fragment of glass that Pete found in room 27. Having contacted the main specialist on roman glass and sent lots of photographs, an e-mail returned asking for a very detailed description of where it was found, as they had not seen anything exactly like it before in Britain. They needed to see it in the flesh and as luck would have it we were both attending the Roman Finds Groups conference so I took it along. After looking at it from all angles the verdict was that it needed to be shared wider, to roman glass specialists, roman archaeologists and roman finds people beyond Britain. The only possible comparable piece Jennifer had ever seen was from near Iran! The post excavation work is like excavating again, in that you never know what you will find out about the objects you have found, discovering the story never ends. Once again Chedworth villa produces something unusual, watch this space for more updates on this wonderful fragment of glass.

The lovely colourful glass

Windrush and Horton

Yesterday…was an open plan office day.. a core team briefing day followed by meetings and emails. Overnight there had been a storm. Today I headed north into Gloucestershire. Gradually the rain cleared, the clouds faded and the autumn sky transitioned into blue.

On the radio they discussed Constantine the Great and his city.. how would things have been different without him?  Conveniently, the programme ended as I arrived.

IMG_7981

I looked out onto the ruins of a WWII airforce base. Three eyebrow hangers reused as farm buildings and a concrete machine gun post beside the watch tower. I was parked on the overgrown runway looking out across a newly ploughed field. I had an hour before the meeting at Horton Court.

The field was full of sharp lines and colours. The trackways and foundations of the RAF buildings. After photos, I took the bucket of tapes out of the boot and paid out the 100m along with two 50ms set at right angles.

A wide-open level farming  landscape. Big skies and just the sound of the breeze. I measured, paced and drew, walking over occasional chucks of brick, broken tarmac and ironwork. Here and there in the harrowed field was a white flash of pottery. A tea-cup handle, part of a plate and a fragment of bowl..conveniently dated 194–(why can’t all pottery be like that?)

IMG_8018

Then, an approaching tractor and I walked up to greet the driver and introduce myself. Meeting on the deserted runway.

He said the field had once been arable but had not been ploughed for over 70 years. Not since the base was built. A place to train pilots on Avro Ansons for Mosquito bombers.

IMG_7985

‘I wonder what it was like here then? These days, it’s the children of the RAF personnel who come’ he said. ‘They want to know the place their fathers talked about’

I drove back past Windrush hillfort and headed south again through Cirencester and Tetbury to Horton.

Horton Court is a rambling combination of building phases set on the spring-line below the Cotswold escarpment. It has a 12th century hall parallel with the medieval parish church. A later medieval wing was added which was converted into an early 16th-century courtyard house. On top of this are various 18th-20th century extensions.

I found a space in the car park and signed in at the office. James was excavating where a new soakaway was required. He had just found a 13th century jug fragment in a layer of occupation material below the 18th century garden soil.

IMG_7989

‘How did the excavation in the stable go’ I asked. We went into the small early 18th century building. It had somehow survived with little disturbance amongst all the changes the various rich owners had lavished upon the place. One small trench was required to support the roof structure but the rest of the flagstone floor would remain.

We had seen it before: so much can go on around an old building but often, their floors act as protective canopies over precious stratigraphy. Here, in this little stable.. medieval Horton survived beneath the floor.

We walked out and looked back at the church and house. The site of the stable occupied higher ground. James had found a 12th-13th century hearth in a service trench where we now stood.

It now seemed likely that this was the site of the old Horton manor house. The Norman hall of the present Horton Court may well have been the old church. Some time in the 14th-15th century, they had built the new church beside the old and included the old church in the new house.

IMG_7990

A good theory. The refurbished Horton will be ready for the new tenants in the spring.

I said goodbye and headed back to Wiltshire where there had been a discovery at Lacock.

The Christmas tree hole had just uncovered a herringbone wall diagonal to the Tudor courtyard. Under a black layer of soil full of medieval pottery and animal bone. It ignores the alignment of the 13th century Abbey completely….Roman?

Sunset 8.15pm Chedworth 2017

So the 5 year North Range research agenda is complete.

Chedworth Roman Villa 1 cMike Calnan_ Naitonal Trust

Picture copyright Mike Calnan taken by mini-copter on Thursday. The North Range to the left with the green and blue gazebos in Room 27. You can just see our exterior trenches beyond the walls on the slope top left.

We had started backfilling on the previous day so it seemed unlikely that we would leave late for home on Friday.

Always the optimist. I had arrived at 7am to video the site amongst birdsong.

Carol crossed the corridor, climbed the bank and picked blackberries.

Fay squinted at the rising sun in the valley as I moved the pencil along the staff. Taking levels on the boundary wall.  ‘There’s a breathless hush in the close tonight’. The lull before the storm.
‘Ten to play and a match to win’

Nothing like a bit of imperialist poetry to steel one against the day but who would come to help us? So much recording to do…so many trenches to fill.

Then John kindly arrived despite his birthday, Nick and Nick and Alexander and Harry to join the rest of us stalwarts and we began the long day…

We loaded the last tools as the sun began to set and Amy remained with us until the end. Fabulous! Carol said that the last day on a dig was like childbirth… painful but worth going though again. We were so grateful to everyone for putting the site back together after all our exploration.

IMG_4788

Plan from an old guide book to show the numbers of the rooms in the north range 27-30. Our boundary wall and drain trenches were above 30.

What can be said.

On the north side, the boundary bank ran clear across the trench and was easily traced following the contour of the valley above the North Range. A heap of Roman debris lay over it and below the rubble a level stony area suggests a trackway though we did not fully excavate this.

IMG_7850

Detail of the Roman wall on the outside face of Room 30. This shows the time when the North Range had a new suite of rooms added to the east. The foundation trench for the old build is stony and has the ranging pole on it. That to the left more soily marked by the trowel. The courses above abutt except for one which cuts into the old build and ties the walls together.

Just below is Rob’s trench against the exterior wall of the kitchen. The beautifully placed 0.33m wide flagstones 0.3m from the wall face. We thought the stones covered a drain. We lifted one and the surface crumbled into hundreds of fragments. Below was only 0.1m of sand and charcoal above the natural clay.

The current story is that the stones were the firm foundation for a timber drain that was built along its surface. The wood had long rotted away but there are stories of iron linking rings being found here.  We still need to track down the source.

No doubt now about the later addition of the suite of rooms 30-32 onto the east end of the North Range. Both in Fay’s trench, within Room 30, and this trench, the abutting joints and change in foundation trench fills were clear.

Our two small trenches in the North Range Corridor showed that there was no mosaic left east of Room 26 but that the narrower and earlier corridor wall could be traced past Room 27. It was not found opposite Room 30 but the ground here has been badly disturbed. Sir Ian Richmond’s 1964 breeze block wall ran deep this far east.

IMG_7868

The two trenches in the north range. The one in the foreground had the stones of the narrower and earlier corridor in it.

Peter’s trench in Room 27 had now been backfilled and made  level with replaced turf….. but what had been the point of the deep dressed stone wall against the corridor. Was it an early pre-corridor wall. I am placing a lot of faith in comparative C14 dates from foundation trench fills. The fragments of charcoal have been helpfully plentiful in these but not an ideal dating tool …too crude really for Roman deposits.

We stopped for lunch and the discussions …over leaving cake …turned to mattocks. We admired the prize tool of the dig … the new yellow fibre-handled mattock which Nancy purchased specially. Mattocks are wonderful things… if deftly hefted. We told mattock stories……

We then faced Room 28. I moved forward with parallel tapes and ranging poles, drawing metre by metre and as each space was vacated, the terram, topsoil and turf followed.

IMG_7896

The topsoil and terram being placed.

The mosaic survived best in the north… though its gradual deterioration south documented its loss.. Down through the mortar bedding and limestone rubble hardcore. Even the hardcore disappeared in the room’s central zone… becoming a dark soil containing the two hearths and a foundation of rubble between areas of burning. These ragged remains are an exciting discovery. We need to search for comparisons and obtain radiocarbon dates from their organic deposits. I hope for a 5th-6th century date to reveal a time when the villa was still standing.. but had declined from a grand mansion house to a manufacturer’s workshop.

Chedworth Roman Villa 4 cMike Calnan_ National Trust

Copyright Mike Calnan photo of Room 28 on Thursday. Peter’s trench in Room 27 bottom left.

The last trench was Peter and Alexander’s, behind Rooms 25 and 26. Peter had been digging there until the afternoon to understand it better. The trench showed that 25 had been added on but it had once had a different broader plan. This earlier phase had  been part demolished before being rebuilt. The foundation trench along 25’s  north side was clear but to the east the natural bedrock had be dug away deeply and steeply. I jumped down onto a loose mortar surface and slid the trowel under the lowest course of the earliest phase of 25. This cutting continued north-east through the trench section into the slope of the hill. Perhaps a drain or earlier stoke hole… but time was up.

IMG_7903

The deep trench cutting natural and the wider foundation under Room 25. Room 26 is on the left. The cutting continues under the section line to the right.

Fay shouted out the levels from the slope and I joined the backfilling.

but the story is not over until the samples are analysed, we have made cross-comparisons and the reports are written. What of our painted glass.. the pottery, the charcoal and other finds?… we will see what they tell us.

Day 18 and 19 – So long, farewell … and so to bed

Day  18 – the last chance to investigate those areas and layers that just need a little bit more excavation to glean the last drop of information from the site before recovering it with soil and turf.

A little bit more digging  in Robs drain trench, to look for any iron rings that may have been used to connect wooden pipes that the large stones may have been protecting.

We also sectioned part of the ‘hearth’ to see if we could recover any charcoal for dating, find any clues to its use  and also to see how it was constructed.

Part of the ‘hearth’ sectioned, under the tile was ashy soil and then more box flue tile

From the other ‘hearth we have taken a sample of the very burnt and fractured quern stone, we can then find out what stone it is and were it has come from.

Ashy soil can be seen in the section on the right

Day 19 – Today the back-breaking back filling of the trenches is going a pace with many called in to help, even an odd hour is very much appreciated.

Alex, John and Nick covering the boundary wall trench first with the breathable geo-textile then the soil that was taken out goes back in

We put down a breathable geo-textile on top of were we stop excavating, this stops plant roots but allows water through and is great if we do uncover it again as we can dig down to the cloth and then peel back to were we stopped last time.

Pete’s deep trench and Martins complicated wall phasing trench in room 27 all back filled

We put a bottle, from our celebration when we finished yesterday, with various objects in it, as well as a message to the future in the deepest part of Pete’s trench were the glass had been found. A kind of closing ritual we usually do when back filling trenches.

Our message to the future, the fizzy wine bottle with messages and coins and other objects inside it

Hopefully we will not have to stay into the evening to finish the ‘putting to bed’ of the site, a very heart-felt thank you to all who have helped us this year with special mention to the back filling crew Fay, Carol, Amy, Pete, Harry, Alex, Nick and Nick, John and John.

Farewell until the next dig, were ever that may be……………..

Some of the core team Harry, John, Martin, Fay. Amy. me, Carol and Pete

Day 17 – Rain, a long pole and a party

We were all up and out early as the laser scanner folk were due before 8am and we also had a lot of trenches to finish digging, with three days to go.

As well as scanning the guys took high-resolution photographs

The rain had made all the colours zing across the site, showing the contrast in the soil with areas of burning showing up red. But it was also frustrating as we could not get to work, as the rain made the site difficult to work on and the layers we would be digging would not be easy dig. The mantra is ‘if it’s raining and the site will suffer by working on it  (layers of soil sticking to boots and depositing the soil and finds on another part of the site) you don’t work, but if the site will not suffer you go out in the rain!’

Ready for the rain

Once the rain stopped, Rob headed for his possible drain, it was time to lift the lid, we all gathered round with thoughts of a lovely stone lined drain with just enough sludgy soil to hold all the goodies, rings that slipped of bathers fingers or glass oil jars. The stone came up, it was beautifully tooled on the underside, but no sign of stone sides of a drain. He troweled back underneath but only found more of the layer either side of the stones!

So what is/was it, it maybe the bottom of a stone drain missing its sides and top, or could it relate to what was found in an earlier excavation about twenty years ago a bit further down the north range.  They found what they thought to be iron rings that would have held wooden pipes, did they sit on the stone? The stones are very well worked, a lot of effort has gone into shaping them so probably not? its  yet another puzzle to ponder over the next few months.

Rob lifted the stone from his possible drain behind the wall of the kitchen

the tooling under the stone

We ended the day with a gathering of staff and property volunteers for a tour of the site and talk about what we have found, this was followed by a ‘bring a plate’ buffet and drinks to toast our efforts and carry on conversations about the villa. Thank you everyone for a lovely evening.

A good turn out for Martins talk and tour

Day 16 – at last, the last of the turf…

A long day of cleaning and topsoil removal in room 28. As the misty rain began we hardly noticed, as all heads were down digging. Rosie, Jackie, Charlotte  joined us for the last push ahead of the laser scanning guys due at 8am tomorrow.

Charlotte and Amy finding the last of the mosaic

Rosie (in pink)cleaning of the dark topsoil to reveal a stony area

Jackie drew the short straw and had to clean of the sand put down by he excavators 17 years ago

Jackie, Amy and Carol worked to clean off the yellow sand, put on top of the mosaic seventeen years ago, it sticks to the stone and is hard to clean. By the end of the day it had gone from looking like the picture above to what you can see below!

The beautiful cleaned mosaic

And finally……

Gingerbread decoration competition