Industrial beauty

The forge

The forge

I started my digging life on an industrial site near Barnsley in Yorkshire, and my relatives worked in the mills and mines of West Yorkshire, so I have a soft spot for industrial sites from the past.

A while ago I visited one of our small industrial gems in Devon. I had some leather drive-belts to drop off for them to use from a large collection we acquired in order to get the  right sizes for some for our grist (corn and grain) mills.

leather drive belts of all sizes waiting for new homes

Leather drive-belts of all sizes waiting for new homes

The property was Finch Foundry near Okehampton, the last working water-powered forge in England. There are three water wheels powering hammers, shears and blade sharpening stones. This set up lead to the foundry becoming one of the South West’s most successful edge tool factories which, at its peak, produced around 400 edge tools a day, of many designs and types.

One of the waterwheels can be seen through the opening in the wall on the left

One of the waterwheels can be seen through the opening in the wall on the left

When you visit you are met by the smells and the noises of the machines, a taste of what it may have been like to work in this forge. But it is only part of the noise that would have been made, as not all the hammers, shears and grinders are in use during your visit!

Some of the workers and owners of the forge

Some of the workers and the owner of the forge

One of the water powered hammers

The water-powered hammers on the right and large shears on the left

There is also a carpenters’ shed at the forge. As the business grew Finch Bros expanded into providing carts, gates and even coffins. At the property you can see the  large variety of edge tools made at the foundry, along with a display of tools used by the wheelwrights and carpenters and learn about the Finch family. I recommend calling in if you have a spare hour, its not far from the A30, and there is a lovely garden and of course there is tea and cake 🙂

I hope this short video will give a flavour of the site, with all its squeaks, quacks, whooshes and clacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

T. E Lawrence – rescue archaeologist

 

Clouds Hill near Wool, Dorset

Clouds Hill near Wool, Dorset

A few weeks ago I got chance to research and visit Clouds Hill, retreat of Thomas  Edward Lawrence, better known to us all as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’

As part of a week-long event to commemorate the death of Lawrence in a motorbike accident in 1935,  we were invited to provide an archaeology display. I knew he had worked in Syria but was not sure how he had developed this interest in archaeology.

Lawrence was born in Tremadoc in Wales in 1888 and by the age of four he was able to read and by six he was learning Latin.The family ended up in Oxford, were his interest in monuments and medieval history developed. At the age of 15, Lawrence and his school friend Cyril Beeson bicycled around Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, visiting many parish churches. They were interested in the buildings and the  monuments and made rubbings of the monumental brasses they found. The Ashmolean Museum have some of these rubbings and there are two in Clouds Hill.

Lawrence  and Cyril  Beeson became ‘rescue’ archaeologists when they started  monitoring building sites in Oxford, undertaking small excavations, recording chance finds and  then taking their finds to the Ashmolean Museum.The Ashmolean’s Annual Report for 1906 said the two teenage boys “by incessant watchfulness secured everything of antiquarian value which has been found”.  Lawrence and Beeson toured France by bicycle, in 1906/07 collecting photographs, drawings, and measurements of medieval castles, Lawrence then won a scholarship to Oxford University to study History.  After
gaining his degree in 1910 Lawrence joined an expedition led by D. G.
Howgarth, from the Ashmolean Museum, to Carchemish – Northern
Syria.

He also worked with Leonard Woolley, and in a letter to his brother said he would contact him about the site his brother was excavating, in the letter he tells his brother ‘Don’t give up at once  if you don’t find anything. Digging is an excellent exercise ‘

A bevy of Brough bikes

A bevy of Brough bikes

As part of the event a bevy of Brough bikes arrived, these are the motorbikes that Lawrence loved. He had a Brough superior, like the one pictured, sadly he was killed in 1935 whilst riding his beloved Brough.

A Brough Superior motorbike

A Brough Superior motorbike

Object of the month – free gift inside

As keeper of the objects we discover on our excavations I probably keep more than I should! But I see stories and links to past lives in everything and  if more recent objects can help take people back in time and start the journey to prehistory then they are as valuable as a Roman statue with an inscription!

I was sorting my boxes of odd and miscellaneous finds and came across this collection of childhood related plastic objects. Some I can remember and still have in my own tin box of things I have saved from childhood!

Plastic toys

Plastic toys

A few of the objects are probably free gifts from cereal packets and some are pocket-money toys. There was always a fear in my home of one of  us choking on a free gift in our cereal, but they were usually too big to be a hazard. If the box said free gift on the outside it was a race to get to it first (the hope was there were two inside) as the youngest I had to wait until the others were too old for free gifts!

A mysterious cereal packet gift

A mysterious cereal packet gift

Part one of the magic

Part one of the magic

The finished magic!

The finished magic!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not sure if there are these kinds of free gifts in cereal anymore, the little plastic toys and games have been taken over by chocolate eggs wrapped in orange and white and fast food chains. The main difference now is they will found in their millions, so archaeologists who save everything, like me, will have to find bigger boxes!

Object of the Month – calling all gardeners

Another mystery object for you all, this time from the gardens at Dyrham. When working on another job at the property the gardeners asked if I could look at some of the things they had found when digging over the flower beds. In one box there were many of these long glass tubes.

One of the glass philes

One of the glass tubes filled with soil

They had been dug up from under a bush, and it looked like they had been put down in a pile next to the bush and forgotten about. They then had been buried over the years as fallen leaves turned to leaf mould and then, with the help of the worms, into soil.

They are roughly 26cm long and about 1cm wide, but each is slightly different in length, and width at the top and bottom. Most had broken ends, so it was not clear if they where meant to be closed or open, but we found one was intact. This had a hole at the end, so we can assume they all had.

A surviving end of the phile with rounded edges to the hole

A surviving end of the tube with rounded edges to the hole

The top has a flared rim, with rounded edges. As for age of the tubes we are not sure but they look like they are early 20th century.

Top of phile with flared rim

Top of the tube  with flared rim

I have asked our garden advisor if he has ever come across anything like them and what they may have been used for. He checked all his references and came across a reference to a ‘slender glass tube’ that was used for testing the water retention qualities of soil. You need to insert a porous bung into the bottom of the tube and then fill with soil; it is then inserted into the soil. Similar things can be seen in scientific equipment catalogues. Another idea is that they may have been used to feed plants directly to the root, or to water them. So, over to you all as I am sure you maybe able to solve this mystery, either with a new idea or to confirm our ideas 🙂

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……?

 

 

Deep Time in Ebbor Gorge

I do this each year and usually alone. I took Simon the wildlife adviser once.. and at this stage.. perhaps it falls more within his department.

The Somerset Levels looking towards Glastonbury Tor from the Mendips above Ebbor Gorge

The Somerset Levels looking towards Glastonbury Tor from the Mendips above Ebbor Gorge

I drive up onto the Mendips, turn left at Priddy, follow a narrow twisting lane and park. The views out though the gateway are immense. The sweep of the Somerset Levels, with Glastonbury Tor and Burrow Mump projecting from the flat lands.

Burrington Coombe and Cheddar have roads running through them but Ebbor Gorge is only accessible by narrow footpaths. From the grassy car park you cross a stone style and plunge into woodland. As you descend the steps, you start to feel that the modern world has been lost. Who knows what ancient creature might emerge from the dense vegetation. It feels like a remote place and the bottom of the gorge is warm, still and humid. Then there is the steep ascent up the other side, pausing for breath from time to time, keeping an eye open for the slight hidden path created for the dig between the trees, along the gorge edge.

The woodland path into Ebbor Gorge.

The woodland path into Ebbor Gorge.

There it is. I weave up and down and start to hear faint voices. Turn a corner and the cave is there. Much activity and a welcome from Danielle who has been expecting me.

Many of the Ebbor Caves were discovered by Victorian and Edwardian explorers and dug away. There are displays of some of their finds at nearby Wookey Hole. They were big on enthusiasm but their techniques were not great.. so to find an unexcavated cave is exciting and rare.

The Gulley Cave in 2005 before excavation.

The Gulley Cave in 2005 before excavation.

Ebbor is a Natural England reserve leased from the National Trust. Bob Corns, the NE ranger showed me the potential of Gulley Cave in 2005 and Danielle and her team from Royal Holloway College, London have been investigating the site since 2006. They are top experts in the Palaeolithic and each year descend a little further into the remote past. They tell me that this is an extremely important site. 40% of the cave deposits have been preserved for the future and have been kept in place by scaffolding.

The finds consist of animal bones, beautifully preserved because of the lime-rich conditions of the soil. Danielle tells me about the extreme cold following the last glaciation. We would have to go to the Russian Steppes to find such conditions today and the animal bones in the cave reflect this. Lemming, arctic fox, wild cat, an extinct type of wild pony, reindeer and hundreds of tiny animal bones. These are the remains of voles and other small rodents probably brought to the cave as pellets from hunting birds like owls. They have provided a range of radiocarbon dates from 10,000-13,500 years ago. The changing types of rodent reflect the fluctuations in temperature during the Holocene.

The limestone soil preserves bones extremely well. Danielle holds a wildcat jaw and the massive bone in the background is the femur an extinct species of giant cattle (aurochs)

The limestone soil preserves bones extremely well. Danielle holds a wildcat jaw and the massive bone in the background is the femur of an extinct species of giant cattle (aurochs)

The hope is for evidence of human occupation but no tools have been found. The larger meat bones have been discovered welded to the back of the cave with a hardened lime solution, which seeped from the cave wall over time.
The massive bones, representing the haunch of an giant extinct type of cattle (aurochs) were found there. Not something that would be tip-toeing around the gorge and probably too large to be brought there by wolves. Another long bone showed burning and had been fractured to extract marrow.

These are the clues at the moment that a family hunted and brought meat joints hear, roasted them on a fire and had meals in Gulley Cave, perhaps cleaning up the bones by placing them at the back of the cave. The south facing view from the cave mouth across the gorge would make it a good secure, sheltered home.

The cave has filled up over many thousands of years. Beneath a thin crust of lime which has dripped and accumulated from the cave roof is a breccia deposit of soil and stone deposited during post-glacial cold tundra conditions 11-14,000 years ago,.

The cave has filled up over many thousands of years. Beneath a thin crust of lime which has dripped and accumulated from the cave roof is a breccia deposit of soil and stone deposited during post-glacial cold tundra conditions 11-14,000 years ago,.

This year, Danielle told me, the finds have been few. The excavation has entered the last ice age. 15,000-25,000 BC was a very cold time and people probably didn’t live in Britain then. The soil has changed to frost fractured fragments of rock. Below this, about 30,000 year ago, might be found remains of woolley rhino, mammoths and perhaps earlier remains of Neanderthal man.

The story continues. I think that I will be visiting this cave each summer in years to come. This is rare evidence for deep time and Gulley Cave is yielding a fabulous stratigraphy.

Gulley Cave this year. Below the tundra soils is a deep deposit of frost fractures stone. These accumulated during the last glaciation which was too cold for people to live in Britiain it is thought.  Depth of this glacial period of cave filling is unknown but scaffolding has been inserted to hold back the reference section as the cave gets deeper. The next soil layer and warmer period will indicate deposits about 30,000 years old.

Gulley Cave this year. Below the tundra soils is a deep deposit of frost fractures stone. These accumulated during the last glaciation which was too cold for people to live in Britiain it is thought. Depth of this glacial period of cave filling is unknown but scaffolding has been inserted to hold back the reference section as the cave gets deeper. The next soil layer and warmer period will indicate deposits about 30,000 years old.

Object of the month – A lovely little fellow..

As we near another dig at Chedworth Villa, I thought I would make an object from there our object of the month 🙂

This little stone altar is one of a few found at the Villa and from sites nearby.

The figure on the alter holding a spear and sheild.

The figure on the altar holding a spear and shield

We like his spiky hair!

This little figure as a faint inscription at the top which seems to suggest he is Lenus Mars.  Simon Esmonde Cleary in his recently published History Press book on “Chedworth – life in a Roman villa” says that ‘Lenus was a native god from the Moselle valley in Germany where he seems to have had healing properties; his assimilation with the Roman god Mars suggests he also had warlike qualities – this identification with Roman gods is often the only way to know the name and character (or aspect of the character) of indigenous gods and goddesses.’

We are not sure why he was being worshipped at Chedworth and if he is who we think he is! Maybe a digital scan of the stone work may reveal more, wonder if we can persuade one of the Birmingham students, who’ll be digging with us, to do a little project on our altars?  Lots of tea and cake may work 🙂 off to the kitchen we go, watch this space 🙂