Walking to Maryland…Brownsea

You can’t be late for meetings on Brownsea.

Brownsea the largest island in the middle of Poole Harbour, Dorset. I took this photo from a light aircraft in 96.

Brownsea the largest island in the middle of Poole Harbour, Dorset. I took this photo from a light aircraft in 96.

There may be a queue through Shaftesbury or perhaps roadworks at Wimborne but even if the drive through Dorset is smooth, Poole will trip you up. It’s a busy place.. and by the time your car is skirting the harbour to Sandbanks, the clock is ticking perilously close to sailing time.

Then there are all the builders’ vans carrying out the latest refits to the Sandbanks mansions. Getting a car space can be problematic..so as you run for the ferry you know you’ve missed it. Nothing more defeating than standing on the jetty with the wind in your face watching it disappear towards Brownsea Castle.. after a long tense journey.

The castle and quayside cottages, (most old coastguards accommodation). This is the east end where most people live these days. We're heading west to where most people used to live.

The castle and quayside cottages, (most old coastguards accommodation). This is the east end where most people live these days. We’re heading west to where most people used to live.

If you get there though..it’s another world. The Castle looms towards you as you approach by boat and underneath it all there is a 1540s Tudor fort. Since the 18th century, it has been owned by wealthy men who bent the building and island to their will..This is a mini-kingdom, once with all the trimmings, many now decayed and hidden in the woods.

Brownsea Church built in the 1850s as part of Colonel Waugh's great development of the island.

Brownsea Church built in the 1850s as part of Colonel Waugh’s great development of the island.

The residents live mainly in the east. Once past the castle and the old coastguard cottages you are crossing the green, the Victorian church on the right and the model farm buildings on the left. The oldest visible building remains lie within the farm buildings. If you know where to look, the stones of a medieval chapel and the thin bricks of a fort governor’s house can be found. Medieval bodies lie beneath the farm cottages.

Brownsea's 1850s model farm built over older structures within this range are remains of the medieval chapel and a 17th century castle governor's house.

Brownsea’s 1850s model farm built over older structures within this range are remains of the medieval chapel and a 17th century castle governor’s house.

If you made the 8.30 staff boat, then once past the farm buildings the Island is yours. A scene from Bambi with red squirrels and deer mixing with the peacocks and seagulls. They cross your path as you progress west.

The first stop is the beach to view what the sea has done to the brick kilns. Each winter the storms cut a new trench into the south shore cliff and take away another chunk of industrial archaeology. We cleaned and excavated a section along the cliffs here in 2005 drawing and photographing what we saw. Each year Gill and Alan monitor the cliffs and record new exposures.

Along the south shore are remains of industry washing from the cliff. This is the 18th-19th century Barnes brick  kiln used in the 18th-19th century but further west are 16th-17th century copperas works and brick kilns.

Along the south shore are remains of industry washing from the cliff. This is the 18th-19th century Barnes brick kiln used in the 18th-19th century but further west are 16th-17th century copperas works and brick kilns.

Brownsea’s industry has been episodic. Rich men wanting to get richer, investing money for a while and then abandoning the place when things didn’t work out. The evidence for their efforts lies in the cliff face. There has been brick and tile making here at least from the early 17th century. The cliff is striped with bright red, orange and black debris soils and heaps of burnt clay and brick and kiln waste spew onto the beach. There are pits with thin hand-made bricks but the most visible kilns are 18th-19th century.

The south shore is lovely and it was a great place to work but back past the Victorian dog kennels and the scout camp towards Maryland.

To the right, among the conifers, are deep hollows stamped into the ground with a ridge around their lip. Once, I saw dinosaur footprints like this in a Purbeck quarry but they were half a metre across. These are ten times the size and not caused by a massive sauropod trudging through the mud. In the 1940s, German bombers were tricked into dropping their load on the island by a ‘starfish’ mock-up of Poole, created with wires and cordite by Elstree film men.

The entrance to one of the cottages. The front  door lock lying beside the threshold.

The entrance to one of the cottages. The front door lock lying beside the threshold.

At last I arrive at the west end and start to walk among brick ruins. A crescent shaped terrace of houses was built beside the sea in the 1850s for Colonel Waugh who believed the Brownsea clays would make him rich. This was his pottery workers settlement which he named after his wife Mary. Each family had a garden out the back and there are still fruit trees and paths and edging tiles showing their plots.

Over 200 people once lived at Maryland. We have their memories and the census returns describe the families and lodgers who occupied this place. Each day the children would go to school at the east end. We uncovered the pub in 2007 and brought in cider to toast the place, re-occupying the Bentinck Arms 80 years on.

Reusing the place after 80 years.  A drink with the volunteer archaeologists at the Bentinck Arms, Maryland.

Reusing the place after 80 years. A drink with the volunteer archaeologists at the Bentinck Arms, Maryland.

It’s all very Enid Blyton and full of stories. Now a tranquil place but once full of family life and industry.

Upside Down Archaeology at Corfe

It’s a basic rule of archaeology that the deeper you go the older you get. That’s why everything is excavated in sequence. Unpacking the information backwards from most recent to most ancient.

In 1987, we were puzzled by an apparent exception to the rule. It was the second year into the access and display archaeological project at Corfe Castle in Dorset.

Looking from the Inner Ward down onto the West Bailey in 1986. The tarmac path runs beside the remains of a wall thought to date to the 12th century

Looking from the Inner Ward down onto the West Bailey in 1986. The tarmac path runs beside the remains of a wall thought to date to the 12th century

Corfe ended its days as a stately residence in 1646. It was captured by parliamentary forces and blown apart. During our excavation campaign we only tended to take away the demolition rubble to reveal walls and pathways at Civil War level.

An important element of the National Trust access plan was to replace in stone the slippery tarmac path which led up the steep slope that crosses the Outer Bailey up through the middle gatehouse to the West Bailey.

In the West Bailey, traces of a wall could be glimpsed above the turf. This, it was thought, was a large medieval wall dating to the early 12th century. The idea was to uncover this wall and run the new path beside it showing it off to visitors so that they would know that this was the limit of the castle during the ‘Anarchy’ when supporters of the Empress Matilda held Corfe against King Stephen’s forces.

Just below the modern topsoil with its plastic smarties lids and crisp packets was a Victorian coin, some glass and below this large fragments of medieval pottery.

Just below the modern topsoil with its plastic smarties lids and crisp packets was a Victorian coin, some glass and below this large fragments of medieval pottery.

A scaffold walkway was erected as a temporary visitor route to enable us to dig up the path and reveal the wall.

We wanted to know the width of the great medieval wall, built to defend a royal castle. So we placed two exploratory trenches across it. The turf contained the sort of thing you would expect. Things dropped by recent visitors like snack debris (from Corfe, we have a near complete typological series of Twix wrappers decimal and pre-decimal!), the odd 6d and Victorian penny. Then quite a lot of 18th-19th century window glass… and then medieval.. lots of it. Chunks of limestone and pottery of various types.

This went down quite a way but beside us our medieval wall was looking rather puny. It only had a wall face on the east, downslope side. We scratched our heads and kept digging through the rubble.

Then the rubble disappeared. Peeled off onto smooth, level dark soil and out of it came a tobbaco pipe. That’s not right. Nobody was smoking in the middle ages, or were they… No, definitely not, the next find was a lead musket ball. Here was the missing Civil War layer beneath the medieval period and it continued under the 12th century wall. Madness. A puzzle. What was going on?

Curious. Below the medieval rubble was a smooth dark layer of soil. A buried turf and in it tobacco pipes and a musket ball or two.

Curious. Below the medieval rubble was a smooth dark layer of soil. A buried turf and in it tobacco pipes and a musket ball or two.

John Wesley gave us the answer in his diary Wednesday October 12 1774.–

” Afterward we took a walk over the remains of the castle, so bravely defended in the last century, against all the power of the Parliament forces, by the widow of the Lord Chief Justice Bankes. It is one of the noblest ruins I ever saw: the walls are of an immense thickness, defying even the assaults of time, and were formerly surrounded by a deep ditch. The house, which stands in the middle on the very top of the rock, has been a magnificent structure. Sometime since, the proprietor fitted up some rooms on the southwest side of this and laid out a little garden, commanding a large prospect, pleasant beyond description. For a while he was greatly delighted with it: but the eye was not satisfied with seeing. It grew familiar; it pleased no more and is now run all to ruin. No wonder:
what can delight always but the knowledge and love of God?”

The 1769 map of Corfe Castle by Archer Roberts  showing the ruined castle when the rector of the parish made himself a garden and residence in the north and south towers of the West Bailey.

The 1769 map of Corfe Castle by Archer Roberts showing the ruined castle when the rector of the parish made himself a garden and residence in the north and south towers of the West Bailey.

The Rector of Corfe, a relative of the owner, John Bankes, levelled up the West Bailey in the 1760s to create a quiet retreat within the ruined castle. So,our medieval soil was dug from the north side and dumped on the south burying the old grass surface for us to uncover again 220 years later. The wall was his garden wall made of chunks of demolished castle rearranged.

The section modern turf over medieval over the buried turf and within it the evidence of the 1640s Civil War. The limestone pathway lay beneath with fragments of 16th and 17th century broken stuff trodden into it. Our blog emblem head was found near here. The path ran under the wall. Not a 12th century bailey wall but Rector Thomas L'Anson Bankes' 18th century garden wall.

The section modern turf over medieval over the buried turf and within it the evidence of the 1640s Civil War. The limestone pathway lay beneath with fragments of 16th and 17th century broken stuff trodden into it. Our blog emblem head was found near here. The path ran under the wall. Not a 12th century bailey wall but Rector Thomas L’Anson Bankes’ 18th century garden wall.

Glad we sorted that one out. So where was the 12th century wall? Deeper. We found it almost completely robbed away a couple of years later.

What a load of rubbish!

Day five on the windy Dorset coast, with sand in our eyes, hair and ears the National Trust working holiday group reach their last day. The group have worked very hard to get as much excavated as possible, I cannot thank them enough.

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Again the girls and the boys worked at opposite ends of the site, the boys in the late 18th century and the girls in the 1940s!

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The rubbish pit produced mugs, plates, bottles, tin cans and a toothbrush! The plate gave us a good date 1943 written on the base and we had two fancy art deco type Brylcream jars, I think we are starting to build a good picture of the guys who dug the hole seventy years ago!

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Susie found a hoard of bottles and an enamel water flask.

Alison found the mugs, and Kathleen a drinks bottle.

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At three o clock the rain came but so did the chocolate cake 🙂 everyone left with warm glows and full tummies 🙂

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