Day 2 … mosaics here, there and everywhere

Only the second day and we have wonderful mosaics and not just in the test pit from 17 years ago!

Most of the sand has been removed and the finer cleaning begins

Fay, Carol, Helen, Rob and Pete took off the next layer just above the mosaic, it contained Victorian glass, the odd iron nail and one piece of roman pot. In places the layer was not as deep and glimpses of mosaic were seen. Amy and Charlotte joined them in the afternoon when we started to clean the last of the soil to reveal the mosaic. Exciting to see it was in such good condition and how small the tesserae are.


The girls working hard to get to the layer just above the mosaics


A glimpse of the wonders to come

I wonder what is under the slate? probably put down by the Victorians when they first explored the room

We also opened two more trenches in room 27 where a pot was found dug into the ground during the test pit survey in 2000, we have no idea what else we may find, time will tell.


The two trenches in room 27, there is evidence of burning next to the large stones just below the red and white scale.

Today was very sunny and we had some very small visitors on site and in our buckets!


A lovely little lizard


Day 1 Chedworth Villa …..and we are open

The turf is removed

The first trenches have been de-turfed and the test trenches dug in the year 2000 discovered.

Terram — a breathable membrane a tell-tale sign of the test trench from 2000


Ready to peel back the terram to find the sand










The breathable membrane was put on top of yellow sand that sits on the mosaic. Seventeen years ago it  was thought to be a good way to protect the mosaics and make it easy to re dig if checking on its condition. The problem is that the sand is builders sand and stays wet and the yellow colour  can stain the white tesserae, it sticks to the surface of the mosaic and takes a lot of work to clean it off.


Ta Dar! we have a lovely mosaic in very good condition, hopefully this bodes well for the rest of the room and we will have much more to show you over the next few days.


The count down begins…….


Just one week to go before we are back at Chedworth Roman Villa, following in the footsteps of the Victorians.
We will be on site each day from the 14th August until the 31st Aug/1st Sep. Come along and see us if you can or if you are  not able to visit, follow our progress on this blog each day. See you soon 🙂


Killerton Folly Day 2

It had been raining heavily and the approach to the hill top through the the herd of rather glamorous limousin cows was potentially dodgy. But the landrover coped well on the red Devon clays and we arrived without too much difficulty.


The north-east side of the upper folly showing the rubble stone between dressed quoins with traces of white render on. Bottom right the north annex joins the north side of the quoin. A displaced brick on the surface on its left side.

Unloading the tools beside the cedar tree, I climbed the last 2m to the top of the mound and looked out. Although of burial mound size, yesterday’s work had demonstrated that the whole thing was built of stone and brick shrouded by the bramble and turf of long abandonment.

Sited on top of an isolated domed hill, there were clear views across the Devon countryside in all directions. Though it is not visible from Killerton House to the east, it is visible from the abandoned 1770s James Wyatt house to the north-east. However, our folly site was chosen and built long before that. It must relate to the old Acland family home at Columbjohn which once stood beside the river to the west. Only a stone gateway and a chapel mark the manor house site today.

We started out by thinking that the folly was built in the later 18th century but yesterday’s finds show that it is older than that. A fancy building too. We found carved stone, westcountry roof slates and also glazed ridge tiles with an apple-green glaze.


The glazed ridge tile fragments. Top right a smal fragment of glazed floor? tile. For scale 10p coin is 2.5 cm across and below and right of it an iron nail. To left of it a fragment of westcountry roof slate.

In the morning Katie and I defined the hexagon, part of the south side had been lost but the rest was clear. Good ashlar quoin stones but between, faced rubble stone which had become cracked and broken with frost. There were the remains of thick white render attached to some of the stones  and scattered in the soil.. where it had fallen at the foot of the building.  An old 18th century painting shows the tower standing out white in the landscape.

Claire arrived on her quad bike and began to examine the heap of rubble against a brick wall at the base of the mound. We wondered whether this might mark the position of the original flight of steps to the top of the mound.


The ranging pole (0.5m divisions) marks the position of our supposed flight of steps to the top of the mound. A level course of brick at the centre of the wall. Bottom left are the fragments of stone window mullions.

Sure enough, once the turf had been peeled back, there was a level line of bricks 1.5m wide constructed in the central section of the top course of the wall… suggesting that the access was from there.. though no stone treads..just a bent nail..perhaps the steps were wooden and had rotted away.

Claire found large chunks from a ovolo moulded window mullion here. They look 17th century.

In the afternoon, Michael and Katie cut back the turf along sections of the lower edge of the bottom edge of the mound. The brick walls continued, a series of straight walls sections, it seems, encircled the folly. We were now looking at two concentric hexagons, the lower, sides 7.8m long, largely of brick, and the upper, with sides 3.1m long, of stone.


Two sides of the lower folly hexagon after cutting back the turf around the edge of the mound.

At the end of the day, Fi went back to where she had found the glazed ridge tile fragments and this time discovered a small fragment of tile with a thin mottled yellow and black glaze. Perhaps evidence that the floor of the folly was decorated with glazed floor tiles?

It was the end of the afternoon. Some suggestions.. not many are conclusive.. the usual archaeological the ideas up the flag staff to let them be shot at… to create a better truth.


Eyre’s Folly or the Pepperbox on Bricksworth Down near Salisbury, Wiltshire 

So what can be said…How old is it? The ridge tile is like stuff we found at Corfe Castle below the rubble so just before the Civil War demolition of 1646. The stone discoveries with stepped concave and convex architrave mouldings alongside the chunky ovolo window mullion fragments also suggest a 17th century date. The bricks are hand made and small compared to those at the 1776 house but not thin as you might find in 16th and early 17th century buildings. The lower hexagon is of flemish bond which became popular after about 1680.

Looking for comparisons…. Nothing quite like Killerton’s concentric hexagons found yet but the National Trust’s Pepperbox Hill has a hexagonal brick folly on a hill top. Built in 1606 for the owner Giles Eyre to be seen from Brickworth House near Salisbury. Then there’s the octagonal brick bowling green summer house on Dunster Tor. This was built for Dorothy Luttrell in the 1720s. I found a fragment of green glazed ridge tile in its foundation trench a few years ago. This is also of flemish bond.

folly painting

Our best illustration of Killerton Folly includes in a later 18th century painting of the Killerton Estate.

Based on all this, Killerton is perhaps about 1675-1725. Bright white with a slate roof, the glazed ridges running up to a round finial on the top as shown in the 18th century painting. Perhaps steps from the south and the small annex breaking out from the higher hexagon on the north.. this might be a stair turret to the upper stories. A place for the Acland family and their guests to look up to from the house or to ride up to and visit.. to survey the landscape.

One other thing…an 18th century document mentions the Folly Garden. The LiDAR plot shows the mound at the centre of a rectangular cultivated enclosure with earthwork features… perhaps we have just scratched the surface of a wider garden landscape….we must delve deeper into the Acland papers held at the Devon Record Office to find out.

Finding Killerton House 1776: 3



Time to walk through the door of Killerton House, Devon and see whether Jo and his team of volunteer archaeologists have found the buried walls of the house James Wyatt never quite built for Thomas Dyke Acland in the 1770s.


He created the drawings, dug out the cellar and started to build but was told to stop work and abandon the project. The builders then salvaged most of the building materials and left the site to scrub over and be forgotten.


I visited today. Fi introduced me to Jo from SW archaeology and he showed me what had been discovered. No doubt now. Massive outside foundations about 1m thick and then interior walls of brick clearly showing in the two trenches he has dug with the Killerton volunteers. The footprint of the house must be about 60m long and 25m wide.


Dave, Derek and Fi took me up by landrover to Folly Hill. We cleared a bit more scrub and then took off some turf and topsoil to work out what was there.


By the end of the day we had found that the tower folly had been hexagonal built on a a brick faced foundation twice as wide as the tower. Fi found fragments of decorative


glazed ridge tile and Dave a massive chunk of moulded stone. The tile suggests that this was built in the late 17th -early 18th century. Dunster has an octagonal brick summer house which dates to 1720 and I have found similar tile there.


One more day tomorrow to get a better idea.

Into Silbury Hill

I saw it once by moonlight. Returning on the Marlborough Road, in the dark, surrounded by the silver-washed, gently curving chalkland. Then dreaming..forgetting…and a little before the Avebury turning… it reared up from the right, huge and impossible. Surely too big to be made, a conical flat-topped mass. A passing Neolithic shock.


I remembered 1968, my mum calling me to the TV. Live archaeology and Professor Atkinson driving his tunnel to the centre. I had no idea what Silbury was then. I never saw it until I was 18.

Then in the 90s, after moving to Wiltshire, sitting in Devizes Museum at the WAC meeting. At the end, we drank coffee and Gill and Andrew said: ‘yes, we were there with Atkinson.We walked with him to the centre’. Wow! What a thing!

The National Trust have never owned Silbury but have managed it as part of their Avebury Estate.

In May 2000, we were excavating the Lacock Rockworks. Rosie, the Avebury archaeologist ranger, arrived late. She had been called to the top of Silbury with Chris, the NT property manager. ‘There’s a hole!’ she said, ‘a vertical shaft right down to the centre of Silbury’.

English Heritage fenced it off and considered the options. The Hill was not as stable as might be imagined.

For many generations visitors had wondered. Was this the tomb of a great king? Something so huge had surely been raised in honour of someone exceptional and his grave must be furnished with fabulous treasure. So, in 1776, Edward Drax, with some support from Hugh Percy duke of Northumberland, directed a group of miners to sink a vertical shaft to the centre. They were disappointed, no tomb was found. Silbury was further disturbed in 1849, by Rev John Merewether, who organised the digging of a new horizontal tunnel, no finds for him either except his report of preserved organic remains near the centre. Then a pause for a century plus and Professor Atkinson, famed for his work at Stonehenge, directed the campaign I had seen on TV as a child. Another horizontal tunnel with branches.

The experts shook their heads. Something must be done. A conference was called and the players assembled at Devizes Corn Exchange. I sat and heard the debate and remembered Professor Bradley strongly advocating the solution. Reopen Atkinson’s shaft, assemble a crack team and employ the very best archaeological techniques that the 21st century can offer. Create a new exceptional record and then backfill with packed chalk…and seal for all time.

And so it came to pass. The tunnel was opened, the section through the hill was scanned, drawn and photographed in great detail. Samples were taken and analysed…..and then, the invitations went out.


In the autumn of 2007, we assembled at the portacabins for the health and safety talk. David Attenborough, almost 40 years later, had just returned again from the centre… and now it was our turn.

Along a track…Silbury looming over us…we circled the perimeter of the artificial mountain, to arrive at a concrete portal at its base. The worn green door had a futuristic S on the front, not superman.. Silbury of course, and above it on the lintel ..1968.


Jim Leary, the English Heritage site director, gave an introductory talk on the threshold,…then the door was opened and we were allowed to enter. ‘we few, we happy few’.

A line of steel ‘U’ frames ran into the distance illuminated by rigged strip lights a network of wires and ribbed ventilation tubing but amongst it all and between the frames the stratigraphy of the mound. ‘Here is the trampled chalk’ Jim pointed. The ancients had worked here compressing the chalk rubble with their feet as they built their mountain.

Further in and the frames were bent and twisted. The torch illuminated a void sloping upwards. Was this where Professor Atkinson cut Rev Merewether’s tunnel?


Deep below the mound and far from the entrance, the white chalk walls turned brown. We had crossed the inner ditch and here were the beginnings of the construction. Silbury had been built in successive phases but the C14 dates tell us that all the work took place over a short period, c.2400-2300 BC. They started small, heaping gravel from the nearby river and then cutting the turf and topsoil and heaping it into a mound.


We reached the far end and here was the treasure where we stopped. The famous turf stack where the 1960s diggers had told their stories of green grass and beetles’ wings. Extraordinary environmental survival, sealed within the earth. Many more samples were taken and the list of plants and invertebrates grew and told of a landscape of chalkland pasture. Though we do not know the exact year, the insects tell us that this organised and presumably vast community of farmers cut this turf in the summer. Some of the creatures that were found, only emerge from their larvae in August.


They didn’t stop. They kept building. What drove them on? They dug deep into the chalk creating a massive moat that  still fills with water after heavy rain in winter. They heaped the chalk higher and higher. A monument to the very end of the if to say. ‘See! This is what we can do with bone and wood and stone’. That was before the strangers came with their clever rocks from far away. Rocks that could be melted and mixed and beaten to create sharp blades and shiny ornaments.


Nancy and I retraced our steps, back down the tunnel and out into the light. Best to go to the Avebury Henge, to walk beside the megaliths and then to take tea in the Stones restaurant beside the tithe barn.

To savour the electricity of the moment.

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.


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.


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.

20170607_145723 website

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.


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.