Cerne 10: The Luxury Portacabin

You join us at lunch time on the last day. We are spaced round the table of out diesel driven portacabin. Nancy’s birthday flowers decorate the centre.

Our diesel driven portacabin with evidence of a heater clearly showing in the interior… and it worked!

In a couple of hours we will lose it..so we are taking advantage of the facilities Did I mention the kettle. microwave and heater? The metal shutters are pulled back for a view of the fields.

There is a furious debate taking place. How is it that the toilet light comes on when the generator is off? One of those questions that will haunt us…

Like, who built the Cerne Abbas Giant and who does he represent?

He looks very good for the Roman god Hercules with a nobbly club raised above his head and an outstretched arm which could easily have once had a lion skin draped over it.

Rodney Castledon in 1989-89 and A.J, Clarke in 1979 both carried out geophysical surveys below the arm and found a shape that could be the silted up ditches which might be interpreted as a folded cloak or skin.

Then the Trendle… the square earthwork at the top of the hill above the Giant’s head (we need to geophys it).

That would be the right size and position for a temenos enclosure surrounding a square Romano-Celtic temple. We excavated one at Badbury Rings and this had a typical square sacred building or cella surrounded by a covered lean-to walkway or ambulatory. The position of the Trendle in the landscape reminds me of the temple at the National Trust’s Brean Down in Somerset.. placed high on the hill to command views across the landscape.

The Trendle is just visible as a rectangle above the Giant’s head on the crest of the down.

Nearby, are the earthworks of the Giant Hill Iron Age settlement…so a local population to tend and worship at the temple. They lay out an image of the cult figure on the steep slope below… for all to see.

It would be a typical situation…that a local celtic god would adopt the nearest appropriate classical god. There is the temple of Sulis (Celtic) Minerva (Roman) at Bath and here it may be Cernunnos/Hercules. Stone carvings of severed heads have been found in Dorset and a representation of Cernunnos would have him clutching a severed head…..apparently.

Up on the Giant…below the outstretched arm… there is an irregular head-sized mound and the geophysical survey revealed features …it was argued… that could be attributed to a head.

It is in just the right position for the Giant to hold below his hand.

Brian phoned me, he’s the historian who is kindly going over all the documentation he can find which might throw light on who made him and why.

‘Had I heard of the ‘Choice of Hercules’? ….No I hadn’t.

It’s the ancient story of Hercules at the crossroads. Does he choose pleasure or virtue?

The Choice of Hercules
The Choice of Hercules by Paulo Matteis 1662-1728. Note that he is depicted with a club and lion skin. Virtue is speaking to him. There are similar paintings by Annibale Caracci, Sabastiano Ricci and Nicholas Poussin (that one is in the Natonal Trust’s Stourhead collection}.

It was a favourite topic for artists of the 17th and 18th centuries. The problem with this idea is that our Giant at Cerne is on his own. He should have a woman on either side of him to help him decide. He may well have decided already.

Brian said that he could have found us the inspirational owner who commissioned the Giant. He was known as The Great Freke. The third son of John Freke of Cerne Abbey, Thomas Freke became a politician with an independent point of view. He eventually became Sheriff of Dorset and inherited a large estate. He was the owner in 1694 when the 3s repair of the Giant was entered in the churchwardens accounts.

We just need the document that proves it….so many aspects and possibilities surrounding the Giant

Time to say goodbye to our luxury portacabin and climb the hill to the Giant one last time.

Ben the cameraman consoles us.

He has walked along the river to the village and brought back chocolate brownies.

Are the shops still open? Apparently they are.

We are going to meet the scientists.

Hidcote: The Far North

Hoarfrost in 2010 along the trees which line the field containing the medieval building earthworks.

Recently, things have been happening in the far north – so- as the last hours of the decade fade away it is time to visit a place this blog hasn’t been to before.

Hidcote is the very last bit of Gloucestershire.

Looking across the border into Worcestershire at the north end of the Hidcote Estate. The rainbow crosses Meon Hill in the centre of the photo which is the local Iron Age hillfort.

Immediately across the National Trust’s Hidcote boundary lies Worcestershire and the Midlands.

It is still just within the Cotswolds but it is further north than Chipping Campden where the Cotswold Way begins (See CW1-CW8). Anyway, it takes 2.5 hours to drive there from southern Wiltshire so I usually need a good excuse to go.

The National Trust acquired Hidcote from Major Lawrence Johnston in 1948. By this time, Johnston had created a nationally significant Arts and Crafts inspired garden. He purchased Hidcote Bartrim in October 1907 and gradually created a series of extraordinary garden rooms…though there was a necessary gardening gap 1914-18.

It is the garden that visitors come to see but this is a landscape full of archaeology and in the last few weeks new things have been discovered.

Meg researched the Estate, walking the surrounding fields and plumbing the depths of the archives to complete the National Trust Historic Landscape and Archaeological Survey for the property in 2014. The sites she identified can be found by searching National Trust Heritage Records Online.

The long winter shadows ripple across the undulations of the common field farming system. This was one large arable field with villagers working scattered strips (the ridges) with their neighbours. I guess there were chats.. when they rested… as we do today.. down the allotment, over the garden fence. How did you cope with that late frost…too much rain… not enough…what happened to the summer this year?

The survey demonstrated that Hidcote has the very best classic medieval ridge and furrow in the whole of NT South West (granted these earthworks are more of a Midland thing).

Meg found that Hidcote was a settlement recorded in William I’s Domesday survey of 1086 so it had been occupied at least since the Saxon period (there is a Saxon charter which mentions Hidcote dated AD 716! …but its authenticity is disputed).

However, there are two Hidcotes. Hidcote Bartrim is the NT bit with Hidcote Boyce a kilometre down the valley to the south. In history they are often confused.

The stone buildings are likely to occupy ancient sites and a group of earthworks in a neighbouring field are probably medieval house foundations. This suggests that the village was once much larger and has declined in importance over time.

The Hill Barn at Hidcote

Fieldwalking in the 1990s, found many bits of debris including Roman pottery and this was collected and plotted onto maps.

This year Judith will write the Hidcote Conservation Managment Plan.She will weigh the entire property in the conservation balance and filter out its significances (in consultation of course).

Chris the General Manager asked what additional archaeological work could be commissioned to support the CMP.

LiDAR, Geophysical Survey and Building Analysis were suggested and this was agreed.

Soon we were walking across the large arable field south of the village with Professor Dyer where he talked through the results of the fieldwalking he had carried out 20 years earlier. He pointed out a couple of areas where there were particular concentrations of finds. Some pottery was prehistoric but most of the sherds were Romano British dating from the 1st to 4th centuries. He also found the rare Post-Roman grass-tempered wares near the stream in the centre of the field.

Later, we walked around the village with Ian the building specialist: the farmhouse; the cottages; the ranges of outbuildings. We examined the clues in the building fabric and discussed similarities and differences in style. The shells of the buildings may be several hundred years old but they have been modified over time. The village is now rather picturesque..like a film set, designed for something essentially English… adapted in an arts and crafts style..probably during Johnston’s time but possibly in the late 19th century.

We wandered down an alley and turned a corner and Ian spotted a complete single light window carved out of a block of stone and reused in a wall. Roman? he wondered….seemed unlikely.

People had suggested that the scatter of chipped and broken pottery in the field could be the result of kitchen waste….gathered somewhere else… then mixed with manure and scattered. Could there really be a villa or farmstead lurking beneath the ploughsoil? Perhaps our newly commissioned fieldwork will detect something there.

So… the LiDAR has been flown and the report will arrive in the next couple of months. The building analysis is about to start ….but… the geophysical survey is complete.

The field with the earthwork house platforms and the arable field to the south have been covered using magnetometry. Earth resistance takes longer and is more expensive to survey and therefore this was concentrated where archaeology showed up on the magnetometry or as undulations in the ground.

Martin, the geophysicist contacted me after the magnetometry survey. ‘The field is full of archaeology’ he said. The plot shows a tangled web of geophysical anomalies. There are all sorts of phases of activity going on.. and as one might expect…it is concentrated where Professor Dyer’s fieldwalking highlighted areas of Roman building debris and pottery.

Part of the survey plot of Hidcote carried out by Tigergeo. Earlier mainly Roman? enclosures and building remains have been cut across by the later medieval strip fields ‘ridge and furrow’ these linear ploughing strips are arranged in parallel blocks or ‘furlongs’ mainly crossing the image from top to bottom but the furlong strips top right run from left to right. For scale this magnetometry survey
plot is 250m wide

So Hidcote…in the far north, beyond the Cotswold Way, you are far more than a beautiful garden. Already elderly at the time of the Domesday Survey, you have revealed yourself to be a long favoured place to live….. soaked in archaeological deep time.

We await the LiDAR.