Finding Killerton’s 1776 House 2

To make sense of this you will need to read the first post which describes how a grand 18th century house designed by a famous architect was never completed. This is on the Killerton Estate near Exeter, Devon where the mansion house is…well.. it’s a little disappointing.

The many thousands of acres both at Killerton and on the Holnicote Estate in west Somerset were given to the National Trust in the 1940s by the Acland family.

It’s been 18 months since the first discoveries and things have moved on.

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Killerton House with its roof covered in scaffolding. There is limited access for visitors while the repairs are taking place. The roof archaeology is being recorded and fragments of 19th-century wall paper and early 20th century photos of the Acland family have been found amongst the rafters. 

The present Killerton House is having its roof repaired and the 1776 house has been cleared of undergrowth.

We wondered whether the LiDAR survey had see the cellars of the abandoned house under the trees of Columbjohn wood. Now that we can see ground beneath the vegetation there are heaps of bricks everywhere.

The workers charged with salvaging the building materials had left the broken bricks behind.

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The scrub has been cleared in what we think was the main cellar of the 1776 house and the remains of its demolition and salvage have been found:  lots of broken bricks scattered in piles in the hollow.

Project manager Fi has co-ordinated a series of events which will enable visitors to explore Killerton’s historic landscape. This will happen during the CBA Archaeology Festival later this month. A team of National Trust Heritage Archaeology Rangers have been trained and Bryn from South West Archaeology is supervising the investigation of the lost house of Killerton .

A couple of weeks ago they mapped the earthworks and these fit with the architect’s plans for great house. At the end of July, they will dig some evaluation trenches to ‘ground-truth’ the remains.

Visitors will be very welcome and the mock-up of an 18th century doorway has been erected amongst trees as an entrance to the excavations.

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The newly erected doorway based on the original architect’s drawings of the house that never was. Visit and pass through the doorway to see the excavations in a couple of weeks….

I will spend a couple of days at the folly on the hill-top working out what remains of the ‘white tower’. This folly is shown on an 18th century painting . At this stage we don’t understand quite what the building looked like. It had been demolished long before any photos had been taken.

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The new National Trust HART ranger team for Killerton. Practicing making condition monitoring records of the 18th-century folly site on the conical hill top across the valley from Wyatt’s lost house. We will take off the turf on July 27th and see what lies beneath.

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.

 

Day 12 – the last hurrah

The last day is upon us, Martin is on site at the crack of dawn to get on with recording the trenches, while its quiet. When we get to site he has exposed more of the large stone in the Buckeye tree trench and enlists our help to lift it to see if it is carved. It appears to be shaped and shows signs of  wear from possible foot fall. Martin will look at it in relation to the rest of the trench and surrounding walls, so more later.

When moved the shaping of the stone is clearer. the edge at the top of the picture is smoother and angled down slightly. There is also an area in the bottom right that looks like a square area has been cut out.

When moved the shaping of the stone is clearer. The edge at the top of the picture is smoother and angled down slightly. There is also an area in the bottom right that looks like a square section has been cut out.

A side view of the stone, the sloping edge is on the left

A side view of the stone, the sloping edge is on the left

While everyone else started the task of back-filling the trenches, Carol finished the mosaic trench excavation, and Fay and Rob headed for the bath house trench looking for the floor level.

Back filling comenses

Back-filling commences

The back-filling produced one last find. Max, not to be out done by his Dad, Steve the finder of the key, found this object still found in may shops but more expensive now 🙂

An old Maltesser packet costing 1 shilling/5p so datable to about 1972

An old Maltesers packet costing 1 shilling/5p so datable to about 1972

Fay and Rob came up trumps! The floor of the hypocaust phase of the bath house room we have been excavating was found. The pilae are each sat on a large limestone slab which then sits on a very hard mortar floor. There is often nothing better than finding a good floor surface!

Three pilae with a box flue tile (bottom left of the picture) the lovely hard mortar floor inbetween

Three pilae with a box flue tile (bottom left of the picture) and the lovely hard mortar floor in between

Two other areas were excavated to check the floor carried on at the opposite end of the trench and it did

Two other areas were excavated to check the floor carried on at the opposite end of the trench, which it did

Once Martin had finished his recording of the floor and sections (sides) of the trench it was time to put back all the soil we had just spent two weeks digging out!

Martin taking some levels in the bath house trench

Martin taking some levels in the bath house trench

The spoil heap now you see it....

The spoil heap: now you see it….

....now you don't!

….now you don’t!

It only remains to thank all our wonderful volunteers especially our core team, Rob, Fay, Carol, Alex, Peter and Harry. So until next year its au revoir Chedworth Villa, thank you for making us so welcome and providing the Wows!

And finally .....

And finally …..

Day 11 – 21 today, 21 today…..

The last full day of digging as dawned and its all hands to the pump to get to the bottom of the bath house and gather the last ounce of information from all the trenches.

Eileen set to work in the Buckeye tree trench next to the cross passage ‘buttress’ her task was to find out what was happening next to the wall were the soil changed colour.

Eileen cleaning the last of the upper dark soil from the trench

Eileen cleaning the last of the upper dark soil from the trench

Eileen soon popped up to alert us to the answer,  a very large stone in the corner where the ‘buttress’ meets the corridor wall of the north range.

A very happy Eileen

A very happy Eileen

The top of the large stone on the right of the picture, with the 'buttress' wall to the right of the stone

The top of the large stone on the right of the picture, with the ‘buttress’ wall to the right of the stone

Carol was joined by John and Les in the mosaic trench to finish checking if the mosaics were in good condition.

Les enjoying revealing mosaic after a couple of days in the sticky clay Nymphaeum tench

Les enjoying revealing mosaic after a couple of days in the sticky clay Nymphaeum trench

Once again we travel past the bath house trench (more later :-)) up to the Nymphaeum  trench and Peter who has been gallantly digging through the sticky clay to find the  probably roman culvert from the Nymphaeum  spring. It looks like all his hard work has been successful, under the three metal pipes the wall continues and seems to be forming the sides of a stone culvert.

Peter determined to reach the roman culvert

Peter determined to reach the roman culvert

The probable roman stone culvert wall to the right of the pipes

The probable roman stone culvert wall to the right of the pipes

Now back down the steps to the bath house trench, were Fay and Rob are working hard to get to the bottom of the hypocaust pilae (the pillars that the floor sat on, so the hot air could circulate around)  and find what kind of floor is under them.

Rob and Fay working round the pilae to find the floor

Rob and Fay working round the pilae to find the floor

They were joined in the trench by our colleague Claudine, a National Trust archaeologist from Wales.

Claudine happy to be back in a trench digging

Claudine happy to be back in a trench digging

Steve and Max returned to give us a hand back filling. We were not ready to do any, so Claudine who needed to stretch her legs offered to let them dig the bit she was doing. Steve went first and within minutes had found a wonderful object under a piece of flue tile.

A roman Key next to another piece of flue tile

A roman Key next to another piece of flue tile

 

A well deserved find Steve, please don't feel guilty Claudine has forgiven you I am sure :-)

A well deserved find Steve, please don’t feel guilty Claudine has forgiven you I am sure 🙂

So the day ended with a fantastic find and Rob and Fay are poised above the floor. Half a digging day left, so it’s an early night for all.

Day 10 – Wow!

Two full digging days left, another hot day, the press coming and lots of roman specialist visiting to see what we have found. Our wonderful volunteers put their heads down and delivered the goods.

In the sticky clay trench next to the Nymphaeum Les and Peter carried on uncovering the water pipes, the lead one looks very Victorian rather than roman and seems to be diving deeper than the iron ones. No sign of any roman culverts yet.

Les and Peter managing to work through the sticky clay, the lead pipe is the nearest pipe curving downwards

Les and Peter managing to work through the sticky clay, the lead pipe is the nearest pipe curving downwards

Harry swapped place with Carol and carried on finding a rough wall in the trench behind the north bath house. This trench is nearly finished as it has provided some answers to the questions that dictated its position.

Harry happy with is work

Harry happy with is work

Moving past the north bath house trench, saving the best till last 🙂 we find the mosaic trench opened up yesterday. Carol has experience digging the mosaics so was put in charge of revealing a lot more, and checking the wall that joins the cross passage corridor. Jeannette and Mike joined her on the quest and as you can see found the white and red border just like we found in  the opposite  corner a few years ago.

Jeannette uncovering the second red band

Jeannette uncovering the second red band

Its great to share the joy of archaeology and we were very happy to provide a little digging experience for one of our regular visitors Mike

It’s great to share the joy of archaeology and we were very happy to provide a little digging experience for one of our regular visitors Mike. Great job Mike

Oh! the next trench behind the buttress under the Buckeye tree again provided a wow!  Kerry and Jackie were tasked with removing the dark layer in this trench, Martin had already removed this at one end and found a cut line, were one side is lighter and more yellow than the other. He found some pottery including part of a mortarium- for grinding ingredients for cooking. This trench had already produced the large roman coin and  now produced a very small roman coin! Kerry did a great job spotting this small minim especially with martin watching!

Kerry in the white hat just after her find. Jackie and Kerry being very careful to check their spoil before it goes in the bucket

Kerry in the white hat just after her find. Jackie and Kerry being very careful to check their spoil before it goes in the bucket

The coin –  dates to the 270s on fist look, we had three roman coin specialist on site today, including one who was a visitor from the Netherlands. It’s so small the picture is a bit blurry and I could not hold the camera still enough.

The coin - the spiky crown is know as a radiate

The coin – the spiky crown is known as a radiate

Now back to the bath house trench were the guys have been working hard in the hot conditions to get to the bottom of the rubble and plaster, to find if there is a floor from the earlier 2nd century room. Rob found a large iron object which looks like a wall tie of some kind but when lifted it appears to be more interesting but we will have to get it x-rayed to see its original shape.

Rob's iron object

Rob’s iron object

Last but not least ….Fay had been working for a few days digging past a large stone that would not budge and was in the way. She had found a few large building stones already and thought this would be the same. But it soon showed it was out of the ordinary as she removed more of the rubble layer. I think the pictures say it all but just in case here is what every one exclaimed WOW!!

A view from above

A view from above

A side view of the piece of column

A side view of the piece of column

The last full digging day looms and as the law of archaeology proclaims everything is found on the last day…………..

Day 5 The 4 Trenches and a day of moisture

I’m back in Warminster this evening so we have internet connection for the blog.

Our nice dry site became very wet today but we pressed on and made some good discoveries.

So from east to west.

Map of the west end of the North Range showing the trench locations

Map of the west end of the North Range showing the trench locations

Trench 4a: The north end of the East Gallery where it abuts the North Range. What is this corridor between 2 walls for? Was there ever a doorway into the North Range corridor from here? Is the disabled access route through the west wall into the courtyard original? What is the big thick wall against the North Range for?

Well, we’ve found that the original gallery floor level has gone. Below the soil containing 20th century coins was a worn hardcore layer of limestone which once supported the Roman floor.

Looking north-east showing the two walls of the East Gallery butting onto the higher North Range reception room (we will uncover the mosaic, if it is still there, under the turf top left next week). The probable doorway into the courtyard bottom left. Mortar floor cut by foundation trenches bottom left. Thick buttress wall top tight.

Looking north-east showing the two walls of the East Gallery butting onto the higher North Range reception room (we will uncover the mosaic, if it is still there, under the turf top left next week). The probable doorway into the courtyard bottom left. Mortar floor cut by foundation trenches bottom left. Thick buttress wall top tight.

No evidence of a door into the North Range and the threshold in the west wall to the courtyard is lost but there was probably an entrance there. The foundation trenches for the walls were excavated and the mortar floor between them is cut through by them and is therefore earlier. Any finds in the mortar floor or below it will pre-date the gallery and North Range wall

The thick wall in the east East Gallery wall is deeply rooted on a clay and mortar foundation and we think that it is a sturdy buttress to brace the North Range from downslope movement at a weak point where a wide doorway led from the great reception hall into the private apartments.

The east side of the buttress looking south west. Where the coin and carved stone fragment were found.

The east side of the buttress looking south west. Where the coin and carved stone fragment were found.

Sue excavated on the east side of the buttress where the early 4th century coin was found yesterday and discovered painted plaster and a carved fragment of stone column.

Room 21 Trench 3b/c: We have joined up the two trenches we had last year along the eastern edge of the changing room for the North Baths. We are now back into the 4th century time vault of the backfilled hypocaust. This afternoon Rob and Julian found additional pieces of the painted plaster jigsaw to link up with last year’s finds. This room is part of the early bath house room leading to the 2nd century tepid and hot baths which we part excavated in 2013.

Latest painted plaster finds from trench 3c this evening.

Latest painted plaster finds from trench 3c this evening.

The blocked doorway from the grand reception room is gradually being revealed.

Trench 4c: In Carol and Seb’s trench on the west side of the North Baths we are looking for steps down from the West Range into the North Range colonnade and steps down into the boiler room and fuel store which created the steam baths of the earlier bath house. We are still on backfilled Roman and later rubble with no trace of steps so far. The walls of the boiler room have been refaced and repaired in the 20th century and this helped to hide the evidence.

Investigating the south wall of the boiler room in 4c

Investigating the south wall of the boiler room in 4c

Trench 4d: The last trench is right at the water source in the north west corner of the villa site. Alex and John have been working in the wet clay there today. We are looking for the link between the North Range and the water shrine or Nymphaeum. A concrete path, one of the interpretation features of the 1960s put in by Sir Ian Richmond, seems to be built on clay rather than a Roman wall but at the end of the day Alex found a black soil layer under the clay. The Nymphaeum structure seem to be mostly Victorian on the east side but today we found the Roman stone under the 1860s stonework… but following a different angle.

The Nymphaeum north east wall showing the Roman stonework under the 1860s reconstruction.

The Nymphaeum north east wall showing the Roman stonework under the 1860s reconstruction.

We are hoping to find the main drain feeding the baths in this trench but it looks unpromising at the moment.

What will tomorrow bring? Wind and rain according to Holly on the local news.

Day 3 – It’s from where?

The day started with a surprise and it was yet another coin, this time from the trench next to the Nymphaeum. There is a tradition of throwing coins into the pool and we think that this Nigerian coin from 1976 may have landed over the wall as it was thrown too enthusiastically. I wonder who it belonged to and what they thought of the villa, had someone brought it back from a trip to Nigeria or was it a visitor from Nigeria, what stories can we weave about its journey to Chedworth.

The Nigerian coin

The Nigerian coin

The reverse of the Nigerian coin

The reverse of the Nigerian coin

News from the other trenches is that the roman levels are appearing and we are finally leaving recent times behind us.

Megan was joined in her trench by Max who had an amazing knowledge of history and told us many things we never knew about roman times. Thank you Max you did a great job 🙂

Max digging next to Megan

Max digging next to Megan

In the bath house trench Carol and Rob began to take of the degraded opus signinum – roman crushed tile floor surface, under this will be the painted plaster layers. Fingers crossed for new patterns and designs watch this space 🙂

Carol in last years trench with the red opus signinum in the foreground

Carol in last years trench with the red opus signinum in the foreground