A summary: Chedworth 2018

The soil is back in place and the dust has settled. The North Range corridor and grand reception room mosaics now lie 10-15cm deep.

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Who knows when they will be uncovered again but thanks to the help of so many ..we have been able to make an excellent record ….into the future they can be seen as fine images and videos ….while the originals lie protected from the weather and erosion under the ground.

We had glimpsed bits of these mosaics in 2013, 2014 & 2016.  Before that, in 2000, Cotswold Archaeology had uncovered an area and Roger Goodburn revealed other sections in 1990.

We thought that everything had been uncovered by James Farrer in the 1860s.. but this year, we revealed sections of mosaic, particularly along the south side of the reception hall, which were still covered by late Roman building debris..mainly roof tiles and rubble. Simon identified a coin we found here as belonging to Theodosius I (AD 379-395), one of the last Roman emperors to circulate coins in Britain.

This rubble was not a pristine collapse of debris, left where it had fallen after the villa roof fell in. It was a remnant..picked over for goodies perhaps in the 6th-10th centuries. However, we have identified nothing later than the Theodosian coin in this stuff so far.

By the close of the excavation, we had uncovered sections of mosaic covering an area over 30m long and 6m wide. At times, it seemed, we had taken on something over-large ..but the weather, although very hot, helped us work together to achieve the hoped for result. More survived under the tarmac and grass than we suspected.

As we reburied them… we wondered what world the mosaics would be exposed to when eventually uncovered again.

Last year, we excavated the mosaic in Room 28. It was perhaps used as a summer dining room…so lets imagine and go for a stroll with the owner… after a meal taken here in the late 4th century.

We walk from the room and enter the 3m wide corridor with its hopscotch pattern of decorated squares, each a different design. We progress west as far as a chequerboard mosaic doormat in front of a broad stone threshold.

Perhaps servants are here to open the double doors for us and we step into the great reception room. It stretches before us now.. long and broad and high.. decorated with brightly coloured panels of painted wall plaster. The floor is beautiful .. we know it now. Intricate grouped geometric designs  bordered by 3 bands of alternating white and red tesserae with a broader white band around the edge of the room.

Half-way along, on the south, is a stepped? external entrance into the courtyard. Although the archaeology was badly damaged here, lines of dressed stones suggest a doorway …and it would be expected.

We still stand in the corridor doorway and directly in front of us at the other end of the room are the kerbstones which mark the entrance to the colonnade leading to the West Range of the villa and the flight of steps which lead to the baths.

Jutting into the courtyard at the south-west corner of the reception hall is the ornate square water feature which we excavated in 2014. Another revelation of the grandeur of this place.

To the right of this, the red stripe border turns west at right angles to mark the position of a foundation (utilising an earlier wall line), a secure foundation for a heavy imposing decorative feature, built against the centre of the room’s west wall. We can imagine an important fixed feature. Perhaps the statue of a god, an ancestor or emperor. From here, leading north, a flight of steps carries us into…the owner’s office. A place of discussion, business and command. This is Room 24, where, in 2014, we found the evidence of the raised pillar hypocaust.

This year, the fragment of carved stone, Nancy found, is thought to come from an ornate stone side table which is evidence for the furniture which once graced this room. We can place this with our exotic eastern mediterranean marble fragment found near the centre of this room in 2014.

Towards the east end of this north wall would have been another door. This time into Room 25 but an entrance less imposing. It did not need steps to enter because Room 25 has a channeled hypocaust .. so the floor was built at the same level as the reception room. The evidence for this doorway is a concentration of erosion, the mosaic floor worn away by 5th to 6th century footfall.. repaired with only mortar and clay at a time when the Romano-British economy had fallen apart and the mosaicists had ceased to trade.

The steps and statue focus on Room 24 ….as the centre of power.

Steve has identified an unexpected change in the central mosaic pattern design and perhaps this pointed to the position of the doorway into the courtyard….but it may just be a mistake.

Of course.. I am spinning a yarn. It is good to have a story and I am giving you my best truth based on an interpretation of the evidence.

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A dodgy drawing of my imagined view from the north range corridor through the reception hall towards the colonnade and the west range. The line of kerb stone here suggest a broad open entrance and perhaps, at this point there were once folding shutters rather than doors.. to act as a screen in the colder weather. A splash of blue on the left indicates the water feature. I have picked up the mistake in the central panels of the mosaic and drawn a central doorway to the courtyard on the left. Steps have been created up to room 24 and no steps for the suspected doorway to Room 25.  I have put a statue on a plinth to explain the kink in the red stripe border and decided that the staircase to the baths was a single flight accessed from the colonnade. Also two side tables are shown as interpreted by Anthony from the carved fragment Nancy found this year.

There were four other trenches.

Two were to pick up the line of the outer west boundary wall of the villa. We found this wall, made of chunky blocks of stone bonded to the south Nymphaeum wall. Even in the drought the Nymphaeum spring water still trickled into its pool. The wall’s junction with the Nymphaeum shows that it has been largely recreated in the 1860s. There is a straight joint and then the ashlar gives way to irregular blocks of stone. Different phases of construction but not enough time to fully understand the sequence properly.

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Where the villa west boundary wall joins the Nymphaeum (scale 20cm divisions)

Peter and I projected the wall line 12m to the south and excavated another trench. Although there was a spread of rubble here, nothing but a patch of mortar indicated that the wall survived this far south.

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The second trench to locate the boundary wall. Just rubble this far south. Peter stands where the alignment of this wall joins the Nymphaeum

The third trench was in raised baths Room 21 on the west side of the reception room. This was dug to find the wall dividing the early tepidarium bath with the room we found under the east side of Room 21 in 2015-2016. Amy and Fay found a line of blocks of stone on the proposed alignment but they were loose and we did not have the time in the end to go deep enough to prove the theory.

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The trench to locate the earlier tepidarium east wall. Richmond interpreted it in his 1960s rebuild where the vertical ranging rod stands. His work cut away the south (top in photo) edge of the archaeology. Displaced blocks of stone on this alignment suggest that it might survive at a deeper level.

The last trench was a revisit and expansion of one excavated in 2016. This was to date three walls. Firstly, the south wall face of the North Range Corridor and Reception Hall. Secondly, the buttress which supports this wall on the south side where the wide doorway leads from the corridor into the reception hall. Thirdly, the east wall of the gallery which divides the inner and outer courtyards of the villa.

I am particularly interested in finding new evidence for the beginning and end of the villa and this trench it seems contains evidence of an earlier phase.

At the end of the 2016 season we found a square flagstone and the top of a heap of yellow mortar and rubble which contained 2nd century evidence. This year we confirmed that the coins in the darker soil, above the yellow building rubble dated to the late 3rd century. Nothing 4th century: which is unexpected because we were sure that both the buttress and the corridor wall had been built towards the end of the 4th century.

I found a cutting against the corridor wall filled with a dark grey silt which had been dug through the deep mortary building rubble. This contained two worn undateable coins. At first it seemed that this was a foundation trench for the corridor wall but it didn’t work archaeologically… The trench cut the rubble.. the rubble was heaped up against the buttress foundation …and the buttress foundation abutted the corridor wall. You see what I mean ? …It creates a time warp. You can’t build a wall before its buttress.

My present story is that it is a later trench cut perhaps to take away a flagstone, a neighbour to the one we found wedged between the buttress and the corridor wall. There may once have been a line of flagstones against the corridor wall here.

The yellow rubble layer was deep and interesting. Full of blue and red painted plaster debris and occasional sherds of pottery including a fragment of samian and the rims of two 2nd century black burnished ware jars. It had been heaped over a water tank beneath a stone spout. If this rubble is late 2nd century then the buttress and corridor wall must be earlier…

…Though of course finds in dumps of rubble can be displaced and redeposited. Cross reference everything and assume nothing.

The tank had an outlet hole that drained into a ditch. The tank and debris sat on a spread of grey limestone slates spread across to create a rough floor surface. On the last day, Stephanie and her daughter found an oyster shell, charcoal and occasional scraps of pottery and tesserae here and Carol and Nick found a deposit of animal bones under the buttress foundation.

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The rough stone floor surface continuing under the stone tank and beneath this the foundation of the East Gallery wall. The foundation for the later stone buttress for the corridor is on the right edge of the photograph.

I made one last small incision against the gallery wall and found beneath the stone slab floor and the mortar layer below it, a foundation trench filling and the base of the gallery wall.

So the sequence is clear…first the gallery, then the corridor then the buttress. We will take our samples for radiocarbon dates and Nancy will send the finds for analysis. They will help us tell a better story.. something a little closer to the truth

And so we say goodbye to our excavations at Chedworth Roman Villa. Thank you so much to all the staff, specialist experts and volunteers who have helped us since 2010. Particularly of course the property staff and volunteers at Chedworth. You are all wonderful.

And looking back…Guy, Aparna, Catherine and James…Harry, Kate, David and Mike. Fay and Carol our fine supervisors of course. The core team Peter and Amy, younger Nick and Nick the wise and Stephanie… who discovered archaeology this year and  Rob our longest volunteer (since 1986!) who in this last evening photo…conveniently stands where the statue might once have been.

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Thank you !

 

 

Day 19 – The end for now ….

The core team left to right Stephanie, Fay, Rob, Amy, Carol, Martin, Pete and Me

Well, we reached the last day and had a few last jobs to do as well as back-filling the trenches. Martin had recording, drawings and the odd extra bit of digging to do, to answer a few questions in the buttress trench. Fay and Amy had a little more digging in the bath house trench to find the wall, and the rest of us had finds and tools to pack up.

We have to record everything by scale drawing and photography, as once its dug out we cannot go back to check any details.

In the buttress trench Martin has been finding lots of painted plaster including different blues and greens. Then he found this large piece, amazing colours and design.

In the buttress trench Martin has found lots of lovely painted plaster, mainly blues, but then he found this stunning piece

A close-up of the plaster

One job we had to do was to put in a little extension to find out how big the water tank was, it turned out to be quite small, but perfectly formed. We also found the outlet hole!

The extent of the tank

 

The tank  had slipped forward, note the crack in the lower right

The outlet hole

The last trench to be filled in was the buttress trench, we protected the tank with geotextile, then left messages for future archaeologists to find, in an empty bottle of fizz we had for Amy’s 21st birthday.

For future archaeologists to find

Nearly there

Also on the last day we had another birthday to celebrate – Pete’s. So it was a double celebration and a big cake provided by lovely Sue, who had been doing all the finds washing for us, thank you Sue.

When you only have a grubby wooden knife a trowel has to do

As we put back the last turf we had our last visitor, a frog that had managed to survive the back filling and the heat!

Our last visitor

As they say ‘that’s all folks’ for daily up dates from the dig, but Martin will do a summing up of the dig and we will post updates of the finds when we have their stories back from the specialists. So keep checking in.

All that’s left to say is a massive thank you to all our volunteers who came to dig with us and especially those who helped with the mammoth back filling task. We hope you all enjoyed your experience. Thank you to all our blog followers, and its been lovely to meet many of you on-site, your kind words helped to keep us going through the hottest parts of the day.

Until next time………

 

Day Three – Willing helpers

Today we were joined by Adele and Jenny, to carry on uncovering the reception room mosaic, still hopeful that it would keep going ………. more later

Martin, Carol and Jenny removing the parched turf

We were also joined by a team from our head office, Heelis in Swindon, who were having a team day volunteering at the property. Sadly we did not have enough room for them to have a go at excavating so they offered to help with other jobs we had. The main one was to remove the bark chippings on top of the back filled area we had excavated in 2014, ready to uncover next week.

Team A making a start

Some of the team helped finish clearing away todays tarmac 🙂

Tarmac team

A happy team

Half of the top team!

Thank you all the Heelis team, you made a big difference and it is very much appreciated.

Now back to the mosaics and the news is………. no they have run out in one section! We have found a cement edging put down probably in the later part of the 20th century, but we don’t have full records of what exactly was done in some areas. It looks like it is repair work where the path had worn away above the mosaic. But the good news is we have started to get it appearing again, so as the saying goes tomorrow is another day.

Next to the wall it has disappeared and Jenny in the foreground is down onto the base layer that the tesserae was laid onto

View of the reception mosaic looking south

 

 

Day Two – Tesseraetastic!

Thankfully the day started cooler than yesterday and everyone had renewed energy to face more tarmac removal and turf cutting.

Fay and Amy being very careful when taking the turf off as the mosaics are not deeply buried and the roots from the grass enclose the tesserae and loosen them

In the reception room, Carol had cleaned of an area we had previously excavated and as she peeled back the geotextile we had put down there appeared a message from the past! Our past and recent past at that! A bag with things in from 2016. When we back fill a site we usually leave behind something to show we have been there, anything from 1 pence coin from the current year, broken pens, messages on plastic labels and even once a pair of old digging boots and the broken site teapot! It is to let future archaeologist know that someone has been there before them, a kind of ritual – there I have said that word 🙂 – closing of the site.

The message from the recent past

Stephanie and Lorna join us to clean back the reception room, the boarder of red and white stripes was in good condition and was carrying on intact. This was a hopeful sign that we may find more intact mosaic further into the room, where the full scheme of original patterns were mostly unknown. Small glimpses of what it maybe had been seen in previous small test holes to check the mosaics condition but there were gaps.

Stephanie and Lorna revealing the red and white boarder

Today was a very good day especially for Martin and I as we managed to get time to have a dig ourselves, which meant that Martin had the honour along with Pete, Carol, Stephanie and Lorna, of finding the new designs that had not seen the light of day since the Victorians covered it up after the excavation in the 1860s. A small section of guilloche  pattern and flower petal shape along with a pattern we already knew would be there, a shape we call an ‘egg timer’ due to the two triangle sections.

Lorna, Martin, Stephanie, Pete and Carol tacking off the soil above the more detailed patterns in the reception room

The guilloche design at the top of the photo and a diamond shape next to it then the flower petal below next to the ‘egg timer’ at the bottom of the picture

Meanwhile in the corridor Fay, Rob and Amy have been working away uncovering the checker board pattern which has just changed to a much more complicated design.

Fay Rob and Amy have done a brilliant job in the corridor and have exposed the checker board pattern and are now finding a different design in the next section.

Tomorrow we will start again removing more tarmac and turf first thing then its down on our knees to see what other designs we can find

 

 

 

 

Day One – Chedworth revisited

The sun beat down on the backs of the diggers, the Horse Flies bit, the insect repellant stung, joints creaked, but all was ok as we have mosaics! The first day of the dig and the mosaics are appearing from under the tarmac and turf.

The corridor and the reception room beyond

Some of the mosaic was covered by geotextile, as it had been excavated before, so we only needed to remove the soil on top and peel back the geotextile. At the threshold of the corridor we found the first section to uncover.

The geotextile with the impression of the tesserae that lay underneath

The reveal!

The side of the reception room, that abuts the threshold stones of the doorway to the corridor, has mosaic that is in good condition and the tesserae are large as it is the border of the room. Tesserae usually get smaller as the pattern gets more complicated in the centre of a room.

We had some tarmac to remove and found that like in other parts of the site where we lifted tarmac, it came in two layers. The older biscuit like, more stony tarmac is probably from the mid 20th century and the black, tar rich tarmac is from the 1980s.

The two types of tarmac the earlier one on the right

Tired, but happy we had managed to get started on such a hot day, we left the site ready for the new cohort of volunteers joining us tomorrow.

Mosaic on each side of the doorway between the corridor and reception room

CW 1: Chipping Campden – Stanton (Snowshill)

We had walked all day…beginning at 8am on the wrong side of the M4. Kate told us 5pm was the deadline to complete the walk. She needed the train to London.

Now, weaving through the smart, city-busy shoppers and tourists, our goal seemed unlikely to achieve. Then, the Royal Crescent and Circus were behind us. We headed for the Pump Room and Baths …it might be possible. As we approached the Abbey Tower the mechanism was whirring. ‘Come on Kate!’ I touched the stone as it struck one, Emma at two. Kate pulled a face.. paused… and touched on the stroke of 5.

Walking the Cotswold Way has been an ambition for some years now. Long distance walks have been a hobby since the 80s. The beginning was the Pennine Way ..which is raw, bleak and wonderful….but the peat bogs, the peat bogs.

The Cotswold Way is extraordinary in a different way and very beautiful, particularly in May, so, as a significant birthday approached, I persuaded my daughters to accompany me and took the train to Honeybourne.

The route of the CW is a like a string that ties a series of National Trust properties together.. many have not previously featured in this blog and therefore our journey will be an excuse to unfurl them for you.

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Chipping Campden Market Hall

Chipping Campden is the beginning of the walk: One of those essential Cotswold towns. The end marker stone for the walk is at its centre beside the Market Hall (cared for by National Trust) built by Sir Baptist Hicks for the town’s merchants in 1627 . The other NT property is further along the street beside the parish church. The Coneygree was once a rabbit warren but is overlain by the earthwork remains of 17th century designed garden features, part of Sir Baptist Hicks new Campden House (now a ruin) completed c.1610.

However, during the English Civil War, after a short life,  the property was occupied and fortified by Royalist forces and then abandoned… and left as a burnt out shell to prevent its re-use by the enemy.

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The Coneygree next to the site of Campden House.

Usually a walk will interweave with fellow travellers and sure enough on the first morning, the arrival at the start stone coincided with a family from Iowa. We took group photos for each other to mark the beginnings of our treks.

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The Start Stone

A hot day, we climbed out of the town and soon realised that carrying our packs all the way to the end was quite deviant. There were sherpa services that could do all that for us these days and our fellow walkers travelled much lighter. The father and son from Iowa cruised past us as we stopped in a field for a break.

Then, at the top of the rise, was NT’s Dovers Hill which, of course, as we should all know, is where the Olympics Games were revived in 1612 or Olimpicks as Robert Dover named them. Back then, among other events, they included shin kicking and dancing. Closed in the 1850s, because of Victorian sensibilities it seems, they restarted again in the 1950s and in between these dates, in 1893, the modern international games began. We were just a few days too early for this year’s games though the flyers had been in the windows at Chipping Campden.

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Our feet walked over the undulations of ridge and furrow, now grazed by sheep, evidence that some of this land had been part of the common arable fields of the town in the medieval period.

Soon we were crossing newly ploughed land and, out of habit, my eyes were drawn to the ground. A flash of grey-black, foreign to the Cotswold stone,  and I reached down and handed Emma a flint. Nearest chalk is that of our Wiltshire homeland, upwards of 50 miles away. It had been brought here for a reason and sure enough the flint had been worked to create a tool. It fitted snugly between our thumbs and forefingers. Probably lost or discarded over 3000 years ago.

The girls laughed that a vlog  should be created of the walk to include a look-book and top tips of the day. It was not to be…but if there was a top tip for that day it would be…don’t put sun-screen on your forehead. Why? Because it mingles with the perspiration and irritates the eyes (an unexpected consequence of the long slogs uphill).

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NT Sheepscombe near Broadway Tower cowslips, buttercups and hawthorn blossom.

The NT land approaching Broadway Tower was a delight. A yellow wonder of cow-slips and buttercups and all the hawthorns far into the distance were snow-white with flowers. Emma went up the tower for the William Morris room because of her  interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement (he believed that even a worker’s desk should be made to be inspiring work of art). We had tea and descended into Broadway itself.

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Broadway Tower

This is a Waitrose plus-plus location, and tired walkers seemed out of place amongst the Scandinavian spa treatment, antiques and restaurant establishments. Amongst all this, we squatted under a tree for shade with our expensive deli lunch and then headed back out into the wild.

The Cotswold Way is a National Trail and well marked …but alternative routes can be problematic.. as we found when we took the Snowshill diversion. We tangled with a crossroads of paths at an unfriendly farm where signage was limited and confusing. We followed false trails and scratched our heads for a while.

Afternoon, and we had lost our first sparkle.

When we found the right route…in places the path was overgrown and difficult to follow ….but we eventually turned up at the ticket office. Kind people looked after our bags in the office but warned us that last entry to Snowshill Manor was 4.20.

Kate advised that there was enough time for a cream tea. We found a table under a parasol and drank gallons of water and tea. Emma favoured strawberry but we had a strong belief in blackcurrant jam.. and isn’t it extraordinary how finely everything tastes when you truly need it.

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Snowshill Manor, 15th century underlying stucture but note change of window architectural fashion c.1700 from mullioned to sash.

Charles Wade, during WWI, said that if he survived he would buy Snowshill and he did, so subsequently created and housed his great collection there. The NT now cares for this 15th century manor house full of so many fascinating and curious objects including oriental cabinets, suits of armour and musical instruments.

We met Jenny outside. She is one of the National Trust archaeologists with another job, House Manager for Snowshill. She has just completed the Historic Landscape and Archaeological Survey for Snowshill and Littleworth Wood. Her research has put the manor house and gardens in context using historic maps, earthwork remains and air photographic evidence.

It was getting late..we had tarried and still had miles to go before Stanton …which lay over the ridge. Up through Littleworth with its disused limestone quarries, using an ancient trackway terraced into the hillslope. Sadly, the bluebells were almost gone but the white flowered wild garlic filled the wood with its strong scent.

And then the walk down towards an idyllic, quiet Cotswold stone village. Time to contemplate whether the sore feet would make it all the way to Bath and whether some practice before starting out would have been a good idea.

Our hostess sat outside in the garden with a chilled glass of wine. ‘Oh, you’re carrying your packs, I wondered why they hadn’t turned up’.

Our companions from Iowa had arrived long before us.

 

 

Space ….

The morning was sunny and frosty, the Black Redstart on his winter migration had appeared in the garden and as I drove to work, large flocks of Woodpigeon flew up from the fields with small groups of winter thrushes, as a Red Kite slowly glided across the valley.
I was on my way to continue setting up my new work space at Dinton, ten minutes further towards Salisbury from the office. I have new tables, heaters and shelving to unpack The boxes of finds needing cleaning, sorting, marking, recording and packing were already there waiting to be opened. I met Rosemary and we headed into the big space with mugs of tea and a mallet! There was shelving to put together as well as the boxes and equipment to sort out.

Lets get it sorted ready to clean the Roman painted plaster

We were getting on great, the heaters seemed to warm the space efficiently, the shelving was going together well with the help of the mallet, when bang my archaeologists back decided it was time to make itself known! Rosemary carried on and finished the shelving, then we had to abandon the day. I always think that an archaeologist just starting out would be a great long term study for a medical student to monitor the wear and tear on the joints!

Mushroom boxes, the ideal finds washing drying racks

So, dear readers, you will have to wait a little longer to see if we find any different designs on the Chedworth roman painted plaster.