Time Vault Town House, Corfe

Back in the 80s and 90s, soon after the Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle Estates were first given to the National Trust, many discoveries were made as its ancient buildings were repaired.

One day in 1990, sitting at my desk at the Kingston Lacy Estate Office, the phone rang. ‘Could you come to Corfe Castle please’ we’ve found a vault. The builders working at the Town House had disturbed a flagstone in the entrance passage and it had fallen into a hole.

330 Nov90 010 The picture was taken in 1990 from the Outer Gatehouse, Corfe Castle. Dorset in front of the church in the centre of the photo is the Town House. The door below the large window leads to the entrance passage.

When I arrived, the builders were clustered around the small hole in the floor and had let a ladder down. They shone a torch into the space and the beam reflected from a stone lined cellar. Its floor had a jagged uneven surface and the beam glittered off reflective surfaces.

I climbed down and they passed me my camera and drawing board.

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They lowered down a light bulb to illuminate a space with a vaulted roof 2.5m deep about 1.5m wide by 3m long. I stood on the bottom rung of the step and looked at a floor covered in pottery and glass bottles.

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We recorded them where they had been left and then asked Jo the pottery specialist to date them. Verwood earthenwares, blue and white fine glazed Chinese imitation wares all dating from the late 18th century. They had been hidden in the dark for over 200 years.

 

 

Object of the month – very timely

As we head towards the end of the year, the passage of time crops up in many conversations; ‘where has the year gone!’, ‘I have no time to get everything done for Christmas’, ‘time is just flying by’. We take it for granted that we can look at our watches or phones and know exactly what the time is and how long is left in the day for those vital chores.

Over many hundreds of years the way to mark time passing has become more sophisticated, from water clocks and candles to digital and perpetual clocks. Early time devices, which relied on water, fire or the sun, were on the whole not very portable, but with all technology someone is always working on making things smaller!

During the excavations at Corfe Castle in 1989 we uncovered a curious flat bronze disc with strange symbols engraved on one side.

A bronze disc with engraved decoration and roman numerels

A bronze disc with engraved decoration and roman numerals

The symbols were roman numerals, but not like a clock we would recognise, from one to twelve, but four to twelve and one to eight. There were two raised sockets, one on the upper flat edge and one on a decorated bar that ran from one side to the other one third of the way down the inner edge. What we had found was part of a pocket sundial.

A drawing of the sundial showing the decoration and sequence of roman numerals

A drawing of the sundial showing the decoration and sequence of roman numerals

There would have been a ‘gnomon’, the usually triangular shaped part that casts the shadow, between the two raised sockets, and the ring would have been set above a compass. You would need to know were north was so that the sundial could be orientated north. You would also need to know what latitude were you were as each dial would have been made for use at different latitudes.

Engraved brass pocket compass and sundial with German inscription on the reverse the last letters reading 'And. Vogh'. Folding with a shaped outer rim. Part of the NT collection from Snowshill Manor Glos.

An example of a complete engraved brass pocket compass and sundial. Part of the NT collection from Snowshill Manor, Glos.

We contacted the British Sundial Society (sundialsoc.org.uk) for help to identify our dial. They told us that “the part of the pocket dial you have appears to be the top ‘lid’ of a portable dial typical of many from the late 18th early 19th century. The bottom part of the dial would have contained a magnetic compass in order to orientate the dial so that the gnomon faced north. The spacing of the hour lines around the ring indicate that the dial was made for the latitude of about 51 degrees and this would also have been the angle of the gnomon”

The 51 degree latitude line is the one that passes through Southampton

The 51 degree latitude line is the one that passes through Southampton

Corfe Castle is where the ‘t’ in Bournemouth is on the map, just to the south of latitude 51 degrees. We need to make a gnomon and take the dial, and a compass, to Corfe Castle to see if it works, something we have never done!  I will try and remember to post about our test when we have had chance to do the experiment. It’s catching a sunny day that may hold things up!

The diameter of the dial is 460mm

The diameter of the dial is 460mm

Uvedales, Corfe Castle from Town House to Poor House

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Old stone towns have ancient houses. This is certainly true of Corfe village in Dorset. A picturesque place dominated by the craggy ruins of Corfe Castle.

Much of Corfe belonged to the Bankes family who gave it to the National Trust in 82.. including Uvedales House. As you enter East Street and cross the bridge by Boar Mill you would be forgiven for missing it. There are far more dramatic views to be enjoyed by looking up to the castle.. and Uvedales is beside a busy road and next to the disused public lavatories.

Uvedales House on East Street, Corfe Castle. The large windows have the letters IV and HV carved into the stone on either side. Henry Uvedale.

Uvedales House on East Street, Corfe Castle. The large windows have the letters IV and HV carved into the stone on either side. Henry Uvedale.

Cross the road and look on either side of the two big windows. On the first floor are the letters H on the left and V on the right and on the ground floor I and V.

Back in 1774, the historian John Hutchins described painted glass windows which once told what these letters stood for.. but the windows have long gone. They included the coat of arms of local landowners the Uvedale family and the arms of the ancient borough of Corfe. John Uvedale was mayor of Corfe in 1582 and Henry became a churchwarden.

Many people have lived in the house since then. Its walls contain diverse stories and have been altered infilled and repaired over the centuries. The building is having a 21st century conservation refurbishment at the moment and needs a buildings archaeologist to record what is revealed as it is opened up.

Buildings archaeology is a specialised skill. Clues within walls, within roof structures under floorboards and beneath the ground as new service pipes and drains are laid.

Buildings like Uvedales have been repaired and adapted over 100s of years. Here a modern fireplace in the east sitting room of the central ancient Uvedales stack is only the latest in a nest of fireplaces which, like Russian dolls, have filled up the space within the the original inglenook.It can be seen emerging from under the wallpaper.

Buildings like Uvedales have been repaired and adapted over 100s of years. Here a modern fireplace in the east sitting room of the central ancient Uvedales stack is only the latest in a nest of fireplaces which, like Russian dolls, have filled up the space within the the original inglenook.It can be seen emerging from under the wallpaper.

I met Bob there a few days ago.. to walk round the house with him and to find out what he has discovered as earlier phases of Uvedales have been revealed beneath layers of wallpaper and modern additions.

What do you trust? Is that 17th century doorway where it began or has it been shifted from somewhere else. Read the clues. It’s not like buried dirt archaeology, the evidence is not sealed but chunks of building can be moved and reused.

The oldest parts of the house lie in the central stack with large inglenook fireplaces on the east and west sides. The west side is the most interesting. Underneath the modern layers was found a fine stone fireplace, probably earlier 17th century, but this had been inserted through an earlier fireplace. The later fireplace may have been salvaged from Corfe Castle following its capture and demolition by the Parliamentarians in 1646. Dendro analysis of part of the roof dated it to the 1650s. This evidence demonstrates extensive repairs to the house following the Civil War. Much needed, the village had been badly beaten up during the two sieges of the Castle in 1643 and 1645-6.

On the west side of the stack another fireplace which has been opened up to reveal a 17th century fireplace cutting through an earlier (probably 16th century stone fireplace). Removing the wallpaper and plaster has revealed a bread oven on its left side and a blocked doorway and buried flight of steps to the first floor.

On the west side of the stack another fireplace which has been opened up to reveal a 17th century fireplace cutting through an earlier (probably 16th century stone fireplace). Removing the wallpaper and plaster has revealed a bread oven on its left side and a blocked doorway and buried flight of steps to the first floor.

In the 17th century, Uvedales House became the property of the Okeden family and by 1732 it was known as the ‘Kings Arms’. The Bankes family archive includes records of licence agreements. These list the alehouses allowed to trade in Corfe Castle. There is a detailed map of the town drawn by Archer Roberts and dated 1769. It shows the ‘Kings Arms’ and by this time it is owned by John Bankes.

The peeling of wallpaper uncovered a bread oven opening and left of this a blocked door and beyond a flight of stairs(very Enid Blyton) The steps had been covered in building rubble and as they were exposed, the wear marks of numerous feet on the timber treads could be seen. This change of stairway layout probably took place when, in 1796, Mr Bankes agreed to convert the building to a Poor House.

In that year, the overseers of Corfe’s poor agreed to take Mr Bankes’s house’and put as many poor in it as could comfortably be lodged’ the whole place was divided up into accommodation units and there are still little fireplaces inserted throughout the building and steep narrow flights of stairs.

On the second floor, the spaces beween the joists were found to be filled with sand. Insulation? sound proofing? It had been there for at least 150 years it seems because the latest coin found in the sand was 1838.

On the second floor, the spaces beween the joists were found to be filled with sand. Insulation? sound proofing? It had been there for at least 150 years it seems because the latest coin found in the sand was 1838.

Up on the 2nd floor, I met the builders repairing the joists and cleaning out the sand between them. Strange to find sand there but perhaps it was for insulation or sound proofing. Whatever.. the excavation became interesting work because coins kept turning up. It seems that over the years, various occupants had lost loose change between the cracks in the floorboards. The earliest was a florin of Charles II (1660s-80s) and the latest a penny of William IV (1838).

The coins sifted from the sand dated from late 17th to early 19th but mostly George III.

The coins sifted from the sand dated from late 17th to early 19th but mostly George III.

The 19th century census returns show Uvedales packed with labourers and men on low wages who were employed to cut clay on the heathland between Corfe and Wareham (great clay…it got shipped up to Staffordshire for Wedgewood’s potteries). By the 1850s, East Street was known as Poor Street. Quite a come down for the wealthy Tudor Uvedales’ family home.

Over the years the tenements were merged and became larger… and now the house is being rearranged again for its new 21st century occupants.

The games people play…

 

A bone domino with bronze pins to attach it to a thicker base, probably made from wood

A bone domino with bronze pins to attach it to a thicker base, probably made from wood

With football, tennis and cricket in full swing my mind turns to games. Not in terms of field games but more sedate board games and pastimes.

 Whether we are excavating trenches or looking under floorboards, we come across those lost counters, dice and cards from the games we probably all still play today. But some of the pieces may not be what we think, it is thought that they could also have been used as theater tickets, or counters for use  by accountants, and as tokens for gambling. Some of the objects like the domino above or playing cards are more obvious than the rounded stones, glass, pottery or bone objects.

Roman glass gaming counter

Roman glass gaming counter

We can be sure that this roman glass counter is for playing games, as a set of very similar counters were found on top of the remains of a board at Lullingstone roman villa, in  Kent. The pattern and colour of dots on each counter is different, but they do form two sets, the actual game is not known, but it is thought that it may have been something similar to backgammon.

Roman glass counter black with white and red marks

Roman glass counter black with white and red marks

 We only found this one the rest are probably still in the field scattered by many years of ploughing. From the same fields we found stone counters, one with decoration on the edge and thinner and finer than the other two.

The plain ones maybe counters from gambling games and the finer decorated one looks more like a board game piece.

Boards for these games can be wooden or scratched lines on stone or tiles. The wooden ones only survive in wet or very dry conditions and often only the metal corners survive in situ. 

Three stone counters or gaming pieces from the Kingston Lacy Estate
Three stone counters or gaming pieces from the Kingston Lacy Estate
clos up of decoration on the fine stone piece

close up of decoration on the fine stone piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 At Chedworth roman villa there is one architectural stone
slab with an incised chequer board, in one corner. In the collection are a couple of possible gaming pieces or counters. There may have been more but if they were very basic objects they may not have been recognized by the Victorian excavators as interesting and worth keeping.

 We sometimes find die and dice on sites, often made from bone and in various sizes, they are always worth a more detailed look. Sometimes when bone dice are x-rayed you can see inserts of lead so that the roll of the die is effected, this suggests that they were probably used for gambling and by a cheat!

At Corfe Castle we excavated a very small bone die from the outer gate house guard chamber. We have not x-rayed it as it shows clearly its quirks! 

A very small bone die from Corfe Castle outer guard chamber

A very small bone die from Corfe Castle outer guard chamber

 

A drawing of the Corfe Castle bone die showing the alterations to the dot numbers

A drawing of the Corfe Castle bone die showing the alterations to the dot numbers

When you look closely at the dots you can see that it was probably a usual die that has been altered by adding dots, the side with six dots is the only one you cannot change, and five was the largest number that all the other sides could be changed to. Was it part of a dice game were other die had changed numbers or once again was it a way to cheat. The die is very small and if used inside the guard chamber it would have been dark and may not have shown up very well especially if the owner of the die had a good sleight of hand!

 

 

Well well …..

While doing a bit of weeding  of my photographs and scans on my computer (64GB worth!) I came across a couple of wells, both very different in age and form. The first was found when excavating part of the roman settlement on the Kingston Lacy estate. We were investigating the age of the roman road that runs through the site, and the well lay under part of it. This was great for us as anything found in the well  would help date the road. The road could not be older than anything in the well as it sealed the well under it. The well was cut through the chalk and was excavated to 4m deep but went much deeper than we could excavate in the time we had. 

The well in the foreground, a recut boundary ditch in the background

The well in the foreground, a recut boundary ditch in the background

The extent of the excavations

The extent of the excavations

It contained 4th century pottery indicating that the Badbury to Dorchester road dates to the later 4th century and not the 1st century as had commonly been assumed.  There was also a lovely 3rd/4th century circle and dot copper alloy bracelet in fantastic condition, with a simple hook and eye fastening. 

The lovely copper alloy bracelet with a wonderful surface patina

The lovely copper alloy bracelet with a wonderful surface patina

The big surprise, as always, turned up on the last day of the excavation, a Neolithic stone axe! It was a bit battered on one corner and may have been picked up as a curiosity or maybe used for something but was eventually thrown away. It was over 3000 years old when it was found, and then another 1600 years old when re found.

Neolithic stone axe found down the Roman well

Neolithic stone axe found down the Roman well

The second well, sort of appeared one day. I got a call from the NT shop in
Corfe Castle to say that a hole had opened up in the small yard behind the shop, after the delivery truck had left (thankfully!) This had happened many years before so I thought I knew what had happened, but having never seen down the previous hole I was not quite sure.

By the time I arrived workmen had fenced the area and had opened up a larger area.

The hole after the builders had expaned the area.

The hole after the builders had expanded the area.

The lovely stone work and the lead pipe on the left

The lovely stone work and the lead pipe on the left

As I suspected it was a well, it was about 7m deep to the water level and beautifully built from the local Purbeck stone, and probably at least 18th century.  It still had the lead pipe in it that lead up to a hand pump. The pump still exists under a lean-to garage next to the hole! big clue 🙂 The capping that had been put in place years ago, when it opened up before, had failed, probably as delivery trucks these days are much heavier! It’s all fixed and capped and delivery trucks are not allowed to park in the yard.

So all’s well that ends well 🙂

sorry it had to be said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Object of the month – a strange sandwich bag

We have been a bit quiet lately on the blog, this has been due to an office move, after over twenty years in the same building! I now sit in our new open plan hub office looking out onto an amazing medieval tithe barn, which is getting a new thatch. Boxes need unpacking and I am still trying to open doors by pushing them instead of pulling them, but happy to be able to log on and update you on another object in our collection 🙂 Oh and there is cake and chocolates and big mugs of tea.

When excavating at Corfe Castle we found many objects and rubbish, left behind by visitors throughout the 20th century. Lollypop sticks, crisp packets, coins, empty tubes of mustard, stink bombs and messages in bottles! But the one I am featuring this month is a plastic bag with an interesting image on it.

Bra bag probably used as a sandwich bag excavated at Corfe Castle

Bra bag probably used as a sandwich bag excavated at Corfe Castle

 We think the bra bag had been used as a sandwich bag, it’s interesting to think that many years ago plastic bags were a rare commodity, greaseproof  paper was the norm when packing a picnic. We ponder how long plastic bags will survive in our land fill sites today, this has lasted a long time already and is an early form of plastic, which opens another debate….

We don’t have an exact date for this object, but one of our older lady volunteers suggested early 1950s. Unless you know more……?

 

 

Our Ralph

As our blog nears a year in existence I thought it was about time I introduced Ralph our mascot and face on our Gravatar.

The archaeological illustration of the pottery head found at Corfe Castle in 1987

The archaeological illustration of the pottery head found at Corfe Castle in 1987

This little pottery head with green glaze was found at Corfe Castle during  the outer gatehouse  excavations in 1987. He has a distinctive type of hat and maybe locally made from the white clays found around Poole Harbour. He came  from with-in the demolition rubble from the civil war destruction of the castle in 1646, but is Medieval in date  He has a  pinched-out nose and applied and stabbed pads for the eyes, on his  head he  appears to wear a ‘coronet’ – a thin band circling the top of the head, decorated with impressed dots. Within the ‘coronet’, the hair is suggested by incised or combed lines. The head seems to have been made as a separate piece with a short, tapering ‘peg’ at the base for insertion into a vessel. The most likely interpretation is that this is part of an aquamanile, a water jug, a form of vessel often fashioned in anthropomorphic or zoomorphic shapes.

Our Ralph in full colour!

Our Ralph in full colour!

We ran a competition at one of our archaeology events at the castle and asked visitors to give him a name, Ralph came out as the most popular of all the suggestions. It is a very appropriate name, as it  has links to the castle,  it was Ralph Bankes who bequeathed the Castle and the Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy estate to the National Trust in 1982 after 347 years  in the hands of his family.