Day 10 – Chedworth charm

The day started with mist raising over the fields and the rattling call of young Mistel thrush as we arrived at the Vila. The trenches were draped with numerous spiders webs dripping with droplets of water. As the sun warmed the site the lizards appeared dropping from the walls to grab a worm or insect disturbed by our troweling.

The next section of turf was lifted in room 28 as we headed for the centre of the room.

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Turf cutting

 

Fay went down a few more courses of wall to prove once and for all that the eastern end of the north range was extended.

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The wall coming in from the left is the end wall of the range , with the wall coming in from the right just butting against it. The stones are not inserted into the other one

 

Martin and Seb worked behind the wall to see if the hexagonal part of the room had been so in roman times or if the Victorians had made a best guess.

Martin recording the trench, drawing to scale the layers, wall and features

Back in room 28 – the mosaic room, the removal of the soil above hopefully mosaic was going apace, Tony, Ann, Carol and James worked steady and carefully having been briefed that there may just be small sections of mosaic.
But it was not mosaic they uncovered but another possible hearth!

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James, Tony and Ann cleaning back the soil

 

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The ‘hearth’ edged with old box flue tiles from the under floor heating system.

 

The white tag in the picture is marking where Ann found some roman glass ūüôā

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Ann and her glass find

 

And finally it was not who stole all the pies but who stole all the kneeling pads! I am afraid it was me as I went back over the area around the first ‘hearth’ and was trying not to damage the surface already exposed.

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My kneeling pad path

 

It’s all in a name .. UPDATE

With some fresh eyes and a consensus of Mitchell ūüôā I found an Isaac Mitchell¬†on the 1841 and subsequent censuses¬†in Shapwick¬†(good work Carol you spotted him as well¬†)

Isaac (54 years old) is listed as a carpenter on all the census I looked at and on the 1851 one, which was clearer to read, he is married to a lady called Love (52 years old) and his son Dennis (23 years old) is also listed as a carpenter. It is interesting to see his mother-in-law,  called Hester Jefferies,  also lived with them  and is an amazing 95 years old!

The Dunster Castle Mosaics

Dunster Castle in west Somerset, is one of three Wessex Norman motte and bailey castles now owned by the National Trust. Their 11th century designers all used natural hills. Each was a strategic location but history changed them.. only Dunster has remained a residence through 1000 years.. a grand mansion house, impressive in scale and outline, high above the road into Exmoor.

1754 painting2

1754 painting of Dunster’s dramatic setting on display in the Castle

In south Somerset, Montacute Castle, on St Michael’s Hill , is now only visible as earthworks under trees. It ended its military life in the 12th century when the land was given to Montacute Priory.

Corfe Castle thrived as a royal castle, particularly in the 13th century, but had become old fashioned by Tudor times. Elizabeth I sold Corfe and it became a rich family’s trophy house.. They backed the King (the losing side) and so in 1646 it was made uninhabitable. Now it’s a craggy ruin.

Dunster is different.. It survived the turbulent years of the English Civil War. It progressed.. and was developed during the 18th and 19th centuries.. complete with stables, outbuildings designed parkland, gardens and summerhouses.

And so it was… that last August I took the long and winding road from Taunton to Minehead in search of a Dunster mosaic.

Don’t get me wrong… these are pebble mosaics not Roman ones .. but they are intricate designs, hidden and poorly understood.

The thing about Dunster Tor is that it’s got unstable slopes. The paths and access road, spiraling up the steep hill to the Castle’s front door, keep slipping away.

I arrived at the right time, morning tea-break in the bothy, and then Robin the Head Gardener guided me up the hill with drawing board, camera, notebook and measuring tapes.

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Starting to clear the overgown path below the Castle. 

A busy summer day, many visitors enjoying the sunshine but I was shown down a lost path. Closed because of health and safety. It doesn’t go anywhere now. After about 30m, it stops abruptly at a steep slope, where the old route has tumbled down the hill.

Robin found the spot and pulled some creeper plants which had grown across the abandoned path. There, was a pattern of pebbles set in a hard white mortar.

He wished me well and left me to it ..and that was my home for the day.. shaded by the bushes and tall plants and all around me the voices of happy holiday people walking along other paths. Nearby but out of sight.

The path had been cut into the hillside. On the uphill side, I pulled back the greenery and found the red sandstone blocks of the revetment wall. Where the path met the wall there was a heap of soil and roots. I moved the vegetation… and just above the mosaic surface were fragments of plaster and pieces of brick and slate.

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The pebble mosaic running under the revetment wall.

There were also two blocks of stone joined together and forming an 120 degree angle as though they once formed the corner of a polygonal building. The revetment wall had been built above this corner and the mosaic ran up to it….The archaeological sequence .. first the stone corner, then the pebble floor built against it and then, at a later date, the revetment wall for the path built above them.

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Now it was time to clean back from the wall and reveal the pattern of the white pebbles. It was edged with a curving fan of long, pitched, red-brown stones. Then there were zig-zag patterns of long grey stones among the white pebbles. In the centre of each zig and zag, was a rosette of long stones with a pebble in the middle. Beyond that and further downslope there were interlocking arcs of grey stones dividing up the white pebbles…but then I ran out of path.

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The stone rosettes 

Slabs of the mosaic had  fractured and tipped down slope and then had been covered and resurfaced in the 1970s to repair the path and make it horizontal again.

Really good mortar… it held the pebbles fast as the floor cracked and slipped away down the hill.

By the end of the day I’d uncovered about half the surviving semi-circular design. Originally, it must have been about 5m in diameter but ….how old was it and what period in the Castle’s long history did it belong to?

I’ve been writing up the report and the answers are not easy to find.. definitely 18th or 19th century but surely we can do better than that.

There are two known Dunster mosaics. The other one, on the north side of the castle, was built against the 15th century gatehouse. This floor design is a series of concentric pebble petals and was carefully uncovered and drawn in the 1990s. Robert the excavator concluded that the mortar used in the floor was a kind of ‘Roman’ cement and was therefore at least earlier 19th century in date.

The one I had revealed was on the south side of the Castle and although it had a different design, the mortar and types of stone were similar. There is no reason to doubt that they are contemporary and part of the same period of garden design.

Dunster Castle has such a dramatic scenic profile: it has been drawn, painted and mapped many times since the early 18th century.

Changes usually take place when there is money and the Luttrell family (the owner occupiers of Dunster from the 1404-1976) didn’t always have large amounts of spare money.

In the early 18th century, Dorothy Luttrell had cash to spend and used it to redesign the gardens. A drawing of Dunster in 1735 shows a white building in the area where I drew the mosaic. There is a painting dated 1754 which also shows the building. Is this the building which covered the mosaic. There’s no similar structure for the north pebble floor and the the type of mortar doesn’t work for such an early date. ‘Roman cement’ was invented by James Parker in 1798 and is unlikely to have been used at Dunster until the early 19th century.

18th century

The early 18th century painting at Dunster showing a little white building on the left side of the Castle in the area of the pebble floor.

Henry Fownes Luttrell 1747-1780 had money and lived at Dunster much of the time as did his son John 1780-1816 but the next owners lived mainly in London and the Castle went into decline.  Then, in 1867, George Luttrell inherited and took the place in hand. He commissioned fashionable architect, Anthony Salvin, to design a gothic revamp for the place.

The surviving later 19th century photos maps and plans give no hint that the mosaics were created at this time.

However, they may have been designed and seen for just a few years and any covering pavilion or summer house building may have been a light timber framed structure quickly removed.

My best bet… given the type of mortar …and the occupation history of the Luttrell family, is that the floors were commissioned by John Luttrell before 1816… can’t prove it though.

Unfortunately William Turner’s painting of 1811 shows nothing and neither does the tithe map of 1840. But they were ¬†not created to show garden detail….

1840 Dunster

Dunster’s Tithe Map 1840

so I must hope for a future researcher who one day.. at Taunton.. at a table in the Somerset County Record Office…working through deep pile of papers in the Dunster Archive, will suddenly alight on the conclusive document ….I hope he or she spots it.

 

All I want for Christmas……

It’s always exciting when¬†I am handed bags of finds from work done by archaeological contractors in and on our properties.

Box of delights

Box of delights

This week it was a few objects found by Ian, while doing a building survey, they were under the bedroom floor of a farmhouse in North Somerset. The main part of the house dates to the 18th century but it looks like it could go back  to the 16th or 17th centuries and was at times the home farm for a bigger estate.

I took out the bags and noticed it said wooden animal on all of them, so not the usual nails, fragments of wall paper, cigarette packets or chewed up paper from rat nests!

I took them out one by one, they were a bit nibbled but still recognizable as animals. But apart from the piggy they did not look like ordinary farm animals.

The wooden animals a pig, a Deer/Lama and a Sheep/?

The wooden animals a pig,  a Deer/Lama/?  and a long  legged Bear/?

I wondered if they could be from a¬†set of Noah’s Ark animals, I remembered seeing one at one of our properties, so I searched our collections database and found¬†quite a few images of very similar animals to the ones Ian found.

Wooden animal from the collection at Erddig, Wrexham

Wooden animal from the collection at Erddig, Wrexham

Wooden animals for Noah's Ark, from Felbrigg, Norfolk

Wooden animals for Noah’s Ark, from Felbrigg, Norfolk

Our animals have the remnants of paint on them so would probably have looked a little bit like the set below.

Wooden toy figures of Noah and his wife, and pairs of animals, next to the Ark, at Scotney Castle, Kent.

Wooden toy figures of Noah and his wife, and pairs of animals, next to the Ark, at Scotney Castle, Kent.

Close-up of the Pig showing evidence of paint

Close-up of the Pig showing evidence of paint

Close-up of the possible Bears head

Close-up of the possible Bears head

Probably more like this set from  Snowshill Manor

Close view of the wooden Noah's Ark with model animals made in the mid-C19th in the Black Forest area of Germany, collected by Charles Wade and displayed with other toys in Seventh Heaven, Snowshill Manor.

Close view of the wooden Noah’s Ark with model animals made in the mid-C19th in the Black Forest area of Germany, collected by Charles Wade and displayed with other toys in Seventh Heaven, Snowshill Manor.

So the¬†rest of ¬†the title would be¬†….. the rest of the Noah’s Ark animals, oh!¬†and an Ark to put them in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

2016 yr 4 Chedworth Villa 7am

 

The last two were 12 hr days but late summer Chedworth at 7am is lovely.

Walking past the Victorian Lodge with tapes and drawing boards. Look right down the valley towards the new day. The mist still hiding the lower fields and hedgerows.. and around the excavations the spoil heaps steaming in the rising low sunlight, burning off last night’s showers.

Pull back the tarpaulins and capture the moment. Birdsong and video.

What information do we have now? What has been gathered from our two weeks of labour?

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

The disabled access ramp was dismantled to give us sight of the north end of the East Gallery. Our trench 4a.. which is really four adjacent trenches.

Carol completed the removal of turf from the SE corner of the great reception hall. The NE corner we saw in 2013 (good condition). The NW corner (rubbish condition) and the SW (brilliant) corner we uncovered in 2014. So Carol’s SE corner (60% survives) confirmed that the striped red and white mosaic design bordered the whole 18m long floor and that although it had been lost against the south revetment wall, this loss had revealed a narrower North Range wall line beneath the mosaic.

The mosaic forming the SE corner of the reception hall and the top right the door threshold into the north corridor. Below this is the wider revetment wall of the north range. No doorway visible from the East Gallery but the offset wall at the bottom of the ranging pole is probably where the Roman floor used to be. The flagstones on the left abut the revetment wall and this is a later wall forming the west side of the gallery. On the right is the broad buttress wall which may have infilled an earlier doorway. Our deep interesting trench is on the right side of this.

The mosaic forming the SE corner of the reception hall and the top right the door threshold into the north corridor. Below this is the wider revetment wall of the north range. No doorway visible from the East Gallery but the offset wall at the bottom of the ranging pole is probably where the Roman floor used to be. The flagstones on the left abut the revetment wall and this is a later wall forming the west side of the gallery. On the right is the broad buttress wall which may have infilled an earlier doorway. Our deep interesting trench is on the right side of this.

Down below, at the north end of the East Gallery, we came down onto clay below the 1906 and 1911 pennies. No Roman floor survived. The offset stone course probably marked where the floor once had been… but it was long gone.

There was no entrance evidence at the north end of the East Gallery into the North Range. In fact the creation of the corridor or gallery seemed a very late Roman after thought..certainly later than the wider North Range revetment wall. This wall’s foundation cut that of the revetment…but, from the archaeological evidence, the doorway through the wall used by the modern disabled access ramp seemed a real Roman feature.

Then there was the thick buttress built into the east gallery wall. The east gallery wall foundations go down and down and this proved to be an early Chedworth feature. The buttress matches the width of the doorway in the west wall and it was Bryn who suggested that the buttress filled an early doorway. A weak point that needed filling in.

It was the trench on the lower east side of the buttress which was interesting. It’s near cousins to the west had been a little disappointing..

Samian in charcoal amongst mortar and painted plaster at the base of the buttress.

Samian in charcoal amongst mortar and painted plaster at the base of the buttress.

Once the modern upper soils had been removed, we hit the AD 295-305 coin and then the 3rd – 4th century mortaria rim and then the tiny late 3rd century coin. Eventually the rich dark soils turned rusty brown and then into an orange brown decayed mortar full of tile fragments and pieces of deep blue and red painted plaster. Against the revetment wall, this mortar ran under its lowest course and beneath a large square paviour of limestone wedged between the buttress and the wall.

On the last morning I cleaned back the mortar layer and found a seam of charcoal within it and a fresh square of samian pottery was flicked out by the trowel point. This boundary between the upper and lower Chedworth courtyard levels seems to have been established by the 2nd century?

Needs some more work next year.

Then there is Fay and Rob’s trench in Room 21. An extraordinary slice through time. A sealed 1600 year old heap of stuff (including a door key! as well as all the decorative plaster). The stacks of tile pilae protruding like broken teeth from the debis. They lie in ordered lines but survive at different levels. The idea that the blocked doorway from the east once led via steps up to the floor above the hypocaust… doesn’t seem to work based on the level of the pilae.

The two lines of pilae on the east side of room 21. The blocked door is top right. The burnt plaster lines the wall along the left side of the photo. A broken channel of box flue tiles was attached to this wall. Part of the later heating system.

The two lines of pilae on the east side of room 21. The blocked door is top right. The burnt plaster lines the wall along the left side of the photo. A broken channel of box flue tiles was attached to this wall. Part of the later heating system.

The door seems already to have been redundant and blocked before the hypocaust was installed. Red plaster surviving on the door jamb and burnt plaster within the room at hypocaust level suggest a room at a lower level swept away for the new heating system which in turn was backfilled and sealed with a new Roman crushed brick floor later in the 4th century. The mid 4th century coins just below this floor help us with our dating.

The foundations of the east wall of this room lie on a good early Roman line linked to the plunge pool of the early Roman baths.It was abutted by the charcoal sample we took in 2014 giving us an early 2nd century date.

Trench 4c, on the west side of Room 20 showed us that Sir Ian Richmond’s suggestion that a flight of steps may have existed here leading down from the West Range into the colonnade of the North.. did not exist.. but we found evidence for a narrow access passage down into the boiler room for the early North Range steam heat baths.

Lastly…4d, Alex, Harry, Peter and Les heroically removing the claggy clay backfill of the 1962 water works at the Nymphaeum. The Nymphaeum being the stone shrine created in the 4th century in honour to the spirit of the water source, the reason Chedworth could be created here.

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The pipes issuing from the Roman Nymphaeum culvert. Notice the Victorian change of build above Roman foorings at the grass level. The 1962 concrete wall on the left marks the line of a wall probably redundant and robbed out before the Nymphaeum was built.

The discovery of three water pipes..the 1860s lead pipe heading for the Lodge and the two 1960s iron pipes heading for the north range. They had been shoved into the original 4th century culvert.. which survived though slightly damaged. It was 0.3m wide and 0.6m high with a stone floor. I drew it and noticed that the proper Roman stonework was slightly offset and only survived beneath the turf line. Above..at least on the south-east side, was all a Victorian rebuild…

…and Sir Ian’s 1962 concrete interpretive wall, which continued the line of the North Range running into the threshold stones of the Nymphaeum, was built on almost a metre of 1962 made up ground. No Roman stone wall was found. A robber trench had been cut into the natural yellow clay and concluded that this wall had been taken away before the Nymphaeum was built.

Sue, the marble expert came to see us and believes that Chedworth’s marble is so rare for this country that it must have been used at a very special location within the villa. She believes that the octagonal basin at the centre of the Nymphaeum would be such a sacred place. Chedworth’s Nymphaeum cannot be compared closely with any known structure in Roman Britain. So perhaps a particularly sacred site..

Over for another year. Many thanks to everyone who has helped and supported the archaeological work at Chedworth during the last two weeks.

With best wishes

 

Martin

 

Day 7 – Plaster paradise

Hurray! the sky is blue and a shiny ball is warming the earth, rain hats stay in the bag as sun lotion is applied.  Now. once again the eyes are on the bath house trench and everyone squeezes in the get a taste of the amazing painted wall  plaster feast.

Rob, Fay and Allan trying to dig down but held up by numerous lumps of plaster and loose tesserae

Rob, Fay and Allan trying to dig down but held up by numerous lumps of painted wall plaster and loose tesserae

 

What's in the tray? Painted plaster they cry

What’s in the tray? Painted plaster they cry

A small sample of painted wall plaster

A small sample of painted wall plaster

New possible scenes and designs are being dug up with each scrape, many different colours including greens¬†that maybe trees and bushes.¬†Then Fay finds a piece with a nail hole, it¬†still has the rusty stain of the nail! Was it for a laying out line for a new painting or for building work of some kind? Or ……..?

The possible rural scene

The possible rural scene

The nail hole!

The nail hole!

close-up of the nail hole

close-up of the nail hole

After filling three large finds bags with single loose tesserae, Rob uncovered a large piece of mosaic in the last half hour of the day.

Robs Mosaic

Rob’s Mosaic

We must not forget Pat who has helped with post excavation work on the finds today, everyone is getting joy from the painted plaster and the warmth of the sun.

Lovely Pat cleaning the plaster

Lovely Pat cleaning the plaster