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.

It’s all in the name..

Close up detail of plaster work around the top of the ceiling above the marble staircase

Once again I headed for Kingston Lacy with a mission to check under the floorboards in the house. A condition survey was being carried out by Clivedon Conservation on the plaster ceiling above the marble staircase.

Douglas and Tina (National Trust paintings conservator) surveying the painted plaster ceiling

It was while looking under the floor in the third Tented Room above the ceiling that Douglas from Clivedon Conservation spotted some writing on one of the joists of the superstructure, but he had not had time follow it up further.

“James” written in pencil on the wooden joist

So as well as looking between the joists for objects lost down the cracks between the boards or hidden on purpose, I had a look at the faces of the joists to see if I could find more writing. It was difficult to get the right lighting and angle to make out the words, especially as not all the boards had been lifted. But with the help of torches and various settings on my camera I could make out one full name, a part name and a date!

The surname “Game” to go with the first name James

The complete name was James Game, followed by the name Isaac and something illegible, presumably a surname, and then the date November 25th 1837. William John Bankes commissioned Charles Barry in 1835 to remodel Kingston Hall. This work was completed circa 1841, so the 1837 date fits with work being carried out in the house.

November 25th 1837

With access to the 1840 census I thought I would look up James Game to see if I could find him in the area or on the estate. It was exciting to find someone of this name living at Hillbutts, a small group of dwellings beside the boundary of the parkland around Kingston Lacy house. But best of all, his occupation was listed as a joiner!

I think the second name of Isaac starts with an N? All ideas and suggestions welcome, then we’ll see if we can find Isaac on the census as well!

I think the surname of Isaac starts with an N, or perhaps M

The name Isaac written in pencil

 

Hearth & Home 545 Kingston Lacy

Buildings archaeology tends to be less straightforward than dirt archaeology. Standing structures in 3D are not sealed beneath the ground. You have to work out whether the thing you are uncovering is an original piece of the building, in its right place, or part of an older building moved and recycled from somewhere else.

Fireplaces are good evidence. Usually the massive inglenook fireplace has been infilled by a nest of smaller and smaller fireplaces as fashions, usage and the technology of heating changed. These days it’s all the rage to open up and expose the original large fireplace again and this unseals evidence of the everyday lives of the families who lived there centuries before.

The centre of a building is the hearth. It’s where the warmth is. Where the meals are cooked. The 4500 year old Neolithic houses recently found at Durrington on the Stonehenge Estate had hearths at their centres.

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The dark circle in the middle of the white rectangle is the hearth in the centre of the 4500 year old house excavated at Durrington Walls in 2007

The ordinary medieval cottages at Kingston Lacy would have had open hearths with the smoke seeping out through the thatch, but by the 16th century some would have had two closely set roof trusses to catch the smoke and direct it out through a vent ( a smoke bay). By the early 17th century, when brick was becoming more common in Dorset, cottages were getting fireplaces.

People worked out various ways to use the heat from the fire to get various jobs done. When an inglenook is opened up there is usually more than a fireplace. There may be hooks to hang meat or other things on… A small alcove perhaps for keeping salt dry, perhaps the remains of a mechanism for turning a spit and very often a bread oven and if you’re lucky its iron door, complete with catch still in place.

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  • An oven built into a fireplace on the Killerton Estate, Devon. The detached iron door has been left in the oven

I had tea with an old couple in their cottage at Corfe Castle about 25 years ago. They still had their bread oven and told me how their parents burnt the gorse on Corfe Common to make ‘blackstock’ this was harvested by the tenants of the Corfe Castle Estate to burn in the bread ovens. When the oven  was hot enough the ash was raked out and the bread could be baked.

Last week I went to 545 Abbot Street on the Kingston Lacy Estate. This was one of the last cottages on the Estate to be repaired up to modern standards. It has been a long process to find the money to repair all the hundreds of cottages across the Bankes Estates.

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545 Abbot Street before work started. The brick infill was probably originally wattle and daub traces of this survive inside.

It is an early 17th century timber framed building, originally infilled with wattle and daub but this was largely replaced with bricks  in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the centre of the building  is a large brick structure containing a massive infilled fireplace. When I first went there in 2014 there was a 20th century range built into the blocking.

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The infilled inglenook fireplace at 545 with the range inserted.

When I revisited, the original fireplace had been exposed. Not one but two brick bread ovens side by side but on the left another opening with a circular void continuing up to the first floor. At this level, the blocked entrance to the chamber could be seen cutting through the original wattle and daub screen infilling the roof truss there.

I’d only seen one other of these features at Kingston Lacy: a cottage at Tadden where the void turned out to by a curing chamber. This was a good way to preserve bacon by smoking it next to the fire. The meat was cut up into joints and hung on a rack from the first floor placed on a tray which would allow the smoke to circulate evenly. There are recipes for the smoke, burning ash or oak was usually favoured and perhaps a few juniper berries mixed with sawdust to improve the flavour.

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The surviving wattle and daub infill on the first floor  of 545 above the inglenook. Cut into the collar are two inserted posts for a door into the curing chamber which was later blocked.

But was it a curing chamber? It might have been for drying corn either for milling into flour or for seed corn for the next crop. Another possibility  is that it was used as  a kiln for drying barley as part of the malting process to create beer. All these processes have been found in fireplaces across the West Country. Tony is making the archaeological record as the building is repaired and he will hopefully find the evidence that will give us the answer.

So the family living here in the 17th and 18th centuries were small-scale farmers and these tenants would have grown cereals in the open fields and kept livestock in the paddocks around the cottage. It is described as ‘house garden yards and orchard’ on the estate map of 1774 but at that time the land belonged to Sir William Hanham. The Bankes family bought it a few years later. The small farms were uneconomic and during the 18th-19th centuries they were absorbed into larger farms and the multipurpose fireplaces gradually went out of use..

I hope the new National Trust tenants enjoy their new home. They probably won’t be smoking bacon though.

 

 

 

 

 

Steep climb to the wow!

It’s easy to take for granted the archaeology in the landscapes we work in, those special sites we can visit when ever we need to replenish our souls. All the archaeologists in the National Trust are spread across all the different places and landscapes in the Trusts holdings, each with a range of sites and wow’s.

Hambledon Hill

Hambledon Hill

We try to all meet up a few times a year to discuss common issues and share new discoveries and ways of working. The last gathering was down in Dorset here in the south-west, and we managed to do a whole day in the field, working on site management issues. The ‘fields’ we choose were  the adjacent hill forts of Hambledon and Hod. Two of the 7 and a half  hill forts we look after in Dorset. The climb up and down and up and down again was helped by a stop mid way for tea and biscuits provided by the Rangers who manage the sites and had joined us for the day.

A welcome break thanks to our wonderful rangers

A welcome break thanks to our wonderful rangers

As we reached the top of Hod Hill we got our first glimpse of the size of the ramparts and scale of the area inside them. Hod Hill even has room for a Roman fort in one corner!

Standing on top of one of the ramparts at Hod Hill

Standing on top of one of the ramparts at Hod Hill

Group exercise  on Hod Hill

Group exercise on Hod Hill

With colleagues from areas of the country that don’t have many hill forts or any at all,  commenting on how lucky we were in Dorset to have such magnificent monuments in our landscapes, I saw these sites with fresh eyes.

Stood on Hambledon Hill with Hod Hill in the background across the valley

Stood on Hambledon Hill with Hod Hill in the background across the valley

On the next sunny winters day do it, make the climb to the wow. Once on top of these hill forts you feel like a giant and you can touch the sky.

The snaking lines of ramparts, a giant sculpture from the Iron Age

The snaking lines of ramparts, a giant sculpture from the Iron Age

From sea to land

A winter view of Godolphin House

A winter view of Godolphin House

The out building next to the house

The out building next to the house

It’s amazing what is contained within all the estate and farm buildings the Trust looks after. Often while working on something else you notice other things of interest or the odd and quirky! While working at Godolphin cataloging  archaeological objects found on the estate, we went into one of the out buildings, were some worked stone and architectural pieces of wood are stored.

The upper room of the out building next to the main house was dark and full of portable  objects from small pieces of tile to large lumps of wood. But it was the only fixed object in the room that caught my eye.

Side view of the strange branch and machine

Side view of the strange branch and machine

It is a lovely wooden branch, chosen for the natural curve it had. This was fixed to the ceiling at one end  and the wooden floorboards at the other, and attached to it is a metal machine of some kind. There is a hopper at the top, an arm for a handle and a hole underneath.

The arm for the handle and the hopper at the top

The arm for the handle and the hopper at the top

What could it have been used for?   I needed to ask  Mal (the property development manager) whose family had worked on the estate for generation’s, he is a font of knowledge and sure enough he told us it was an oyster shell crusher!   Oyster shells and other shells were used for many things in the past, to add to clay to help stop pots exploding in the kiln, to add to mortar or help with leveling wall courses, or to help fertilize the land. Oysters have many other interesting facts attached to them especially in an archaeological context, but more of that another time possibly  from a  guest blogger 🙂

closer view of the machine

closer view of the machine

Toothbush at the ready

As with every dig there is always a lot to do once the site has been excavated and finally back filled. It all comes under the heading of post-excavation and not just pot washing 🙂 One big job is to clean all the finds and maybe make more discoveries under the dirt.

Washed finds from Tyntesfield Conservatory

Washed finds from Tyntesfield Conservatory

So it was off to Tyntesfield with washing up bowls, toothbrushes, and seed trays (and chocolate biscuits) to meet some hardy volunteers willing to do pot washing out side in October!

Vic and Liz brave the chill wind

Vic and Liz brave the chill wind

Vic and Liz had worked on the  Conservatory excavation – see this blog Tyntesfield Conservatory day 1 – and were interested to see the next stage and to help process what they had dug up.

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There were many small pieces of polychrome  tile that made up the mosaic  floor, when cleaned we could see that  they all had makers marks on the bottom so we were sure they were all Minton Hollins & Co, they match ones in the house.

Not all finds need washing, the metal work is usually gently dry brushed and then packed into air tight polyethylene boxes with silica gel and a humidity indicating strip as it has to be kept dry. This way we can create a micro climate for the metal work to slow down any corrosion.

A cast iron flower waiting to be repacked

A cast iron flower waiting to be repacked

Charlie using a goat hair brush to clean the soil of the lion

Charlie using a goat hair brush to clean the soil of the lion, the dg site can be seen behind him

As it was half term for the schools we had lots of interested visitors and one young lad Charlie, joined us for a short time to help clean the soil off the lion 🙂 he was very interested in conservation and collections , a future NT conservator or curator!

A clean lion

A clean lion

I left Vic and Liz with more boxes of finds to wash, hopefully they can find a lovely warm place to do the rest 🙂 Great job guys, I will send more biscuits 🙂

Ship ahoy!

Being an owner of large parts of the coast, the National Trust ends up with some unusual responsibilities. Flotsam, jetsam and lagan land on our beaches and rocky shores, which is good and bad depending what it is!

In the seas off Studland Bay are many ship wrecks, some known about but others only appear when dredging work on the channel into Poole Harbour is needed or a trawler snags something with its nets. Or large timbers wash up on the beach!

A large transom washed up on Studland Beach

A large transom washed up on Studland Beach

I have had to add another string to my archaeological bow – marine archaeology and I don’t even know how to swim!

Over the last 12 years or so various timbers have appeared on the beach at Studland in Dorset after the winter storms.

A tractor was needed to move this very large timber from the beach

A tractor was needed to move this very large timber from the beach

The very large piece pictured above had to be cut in two to transport to a holding tank, as it had to be kept wet. Water-logged wood has to be kept wet until the water that fills the cells of the wood can replaced by another substance, like polyethylene glycol (PEG) or a sugar solution. If left to dry the cells of the wood would collapse and shrink and all the details would be lost.

A large cattle trough had to be used to store the ship timbers as nothing else was big enough

A large cattle trough had to be used to store the ship timbers as nothing else was big enough

We have to report our timbers to the Receiver of Wreck just in case the owner is found and they want it back. So far no owner has been traced, so they all now belong to us, which is no surprise as most are over a hundred years old and we do not know which wreck they come from!

That was until the Swash Channel wreck http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-23761128 was found eroding out of the edge of the main channel into Poole Harbour http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swash_Channel_Wreck

Dave Parham from Bournemouth University, who have taken on the recording and care of the wreck came over to look at our timbers to see if any had come from the Swash ship. The construction and condition (appearance) of some timbers were very similar to the timbers recovered from the wreck still on the sea bed. Dave had some dendrochronology (tree ring) dates so we needed to get a date for our pieces if we could find a large enough piece, with 50 plus rings. The large timber pictured above looked like a good candidate for tree ring dating, so we cut a slice to send off. It had sap wood (the wood just under the bark) and the heart wood (the centre) so should give an accurate date, we held our breath and waited for the result.

The small mount of sap wood can be seen on the extreme left with the heart wood on the right

The small mount of sap wood can be seen on the extreme left with the heart wood on the top right

Back came the data showing the tree was felled between 1619 and 1639, based on a 162-year tree ring sequence, the one from the wreck was dated to 1628. The other pointer to it being from the Swash ship was the country the wood came from, the Swash ship is thought to be an armed merchantman possibly of Dutch origin and our piece looks like it comes from the German-Dutch border!

Yesterday Dave Parham and the University team, along with some of our property staff and volunteers removed the timbers from the cattle trough into a van for a journey to join the rest of the  wreck  so far recovered, ready for detailed recording and preservation. As they are large and water-logged they were very heavy and it took six of us to move each large piece!

Dave delving for wood in the cold water

Dave delving for wood in the cold water

A long piece of planking

A long piece of planking

Vicki happy hat the tail gate on her landrover has survived the heavy timbers

Vicki, NT Ranger very  happy that the tail gate on her truck has survived the heavy timbers, just have to survive the transfer into the University van!

After caring for these large wet lumps of timber I feel quite sad to see them go, but we would never have had the money and resources to study and preserve them for display etc so they are definitely going to the right place with the right team.

Tom and Dave and the timbers safely stored for the journey

Tom and Dave contemplating the work waiting at the other end of the journey!