Medieval Pennies, Lytes Cary

National Trust South Somerset has some great buildings and most have featured in this blog over the years.. but, for some reason, Lytes Cary has been forgotten.

Quite surprising really because it is a wonderful place.

The manor house is a fine combination of local blue-grey lias stone and Ham stone which was used for its door and window openings.. a slightly less local golden brown stone

Lytes Cary Manor House made of grey blue lias stone with golden Ham stone dressings. The building on the right is the 14th century chapel. The late medieval hall on the left was extended with the bay window added in the early 16th century.

The oldest part is the 14th century chapel. The adjoining 15th century hall has an open oak roof with wind braces decorated with intricate carving. The manor house was refurbished in the 16th century and has the appearance of a Tudor house, added to and then converted to a large farmhouse in the 18th century.

The pasture land to the west is covered with earthworks which represent enclosures and building platforms, the remains of the deserted medieval settlements of Tuckers and Cooks Cary.

Air photograph of Lytes Cary manor house and surrounding fields. The field, centre left was made into a park by the Jenner family. This is a scheduled monument because it contains the earthworks of a deserted medieval village.. remains of Tuckers and Cooks Cary. The buried stone walls of boundaries and buildings can be seen as light rectilinear parch marks in this photo

Cary is the name of the river and Lyte is the name of the family who held the property from the medieval period.

The house became neglected, and by 1907, when Sir Walter Jenner purchased it, the medieval hall had been turned into a cider store. Sir Walter’s brother Leonard had already purchased Avebury Manor in Wiltshire and both renovated their properties and made them into family homes. Lytes Cary was given to the National Trust in 1948.

Both houses include distinctive Edwardian architecture as the brothers shared ideas as they renovated their homes. At Lytes Cary, there is an Edwardian water tower in the grounds, built in the shape of a medieval dovecote, a copy of the dovecote at Avebury.

This year, Mark, the NT Area Ranger, contacted me to say that he would like to make some wildlife ponds to improve wetland habitat for Great Crested Newts. Two at Montacute, one at Tintinhull and two at Lytes Cary.

I checked the proposed sites against our archaeological records. None of the ponds would cut through anything we knew about.

However, this was an opportunity to look beneath the soil in an area rich in history so I asked for an archaeological watching brief to record anything that was unearthed.

Pete agreed to visit and record any archaeology at each pond ..but also, on this occasion, the excavations were checked using a metal detector and Josh volunteered to do this.

The archaeologist found nothing significant but Josh found a pink rusted Rolls Royce at Tintinhull Pond…. which, may once have belonged to Lady Penelope, famously driven by her chauffer Parker.

The finds from the Tintinhull pond site. The pink matchbox car may be Lady Penelope’s car from the 1960s TV show ‘Thunderbirds’. Old penny of George V and a cu-alloy trumpet-shaped object

The other ponds had finds of old nails and buttons, also a George V penny..

But ..within the spoil excavated from one of the Lytes Cary’s ponds… came a 1/2d of Henry III, then two pennies of Edward I and then a penny of Henry III. Josh sent me his GPS plots of each of these finds which showed that they all lay within a hundred metres of each other.

How unusual.

In the 10 years we excavated at Corfe Castle, we only found a couple of medieval coins. It appeared that the pond excavation had disturbed evidence of a scattered late 13th to early 14th century hoard.

Had someone, 700 years ago, walked down to the river from the now deserted settlement of Tucker’s Cary and… for some reason, buried these coins? Perhaps modern ploughing had disturbed only the upper part of this deposit.

The situation justified the issuing of a rare archaeological research licence to include geophysical survey and metal detecting.

The research design was written and agreed and a few weeks later we assembled in a courtyard beside some modern farm buildings near Lytes Cary Manor House.

A cloudy but warm late March day with buds beginning to explode from the hedgerows; the fields harrowed and the crop beginning to sprout. Mark, Josh and I took a footpath down to the new ponds near the river.

Keith came to help lay out the the grids and we set up the earth resistance meter. Metal detector and geophysics working together. Josh walked up and down the survey grid and began to get signals. The resistivity reading numbers fluctuating up and down suggesting buried walls ….perhaps.

Resistivity Meter at Lytes Cary

Each find was given a number and plotted to create a distribution map. A blob of lead, an iron nail, a brass button… a tangled strip of bronze, another nail… the day wore on.

Nobody disturbed us in our flat Somerset field, the overcast day gave us a sense of being set apart .. for a time, part of some other world .. we plodded up and down. The finds became less as we moved away from the pond into the centre of the field.

Our next row of grids took us back to the pond. Josh got another reading… a lead musket ball. A strong signal turned out to be a plough share another turned out to be a horseshoe…

A strip of high resistivity signals suggested something solid under foot and every now and then we saw large stones, sparsely scattered across the field. No carved or shaped stones… nothing vaguely medieval.

Then Josh found a coin.

It was a William III shilling. We plotted, labelled and bagged it.

I told the story of the lead forging mould I had found in the loft at Lodge Farm, Kingston Lacy. Someone had been knocking out fake shillings there in the 1680s. This Lytes Cary coin was a real one though….but made long after the 13th century.

Josh showed us where he had found the coins around the newly excavated ponds. He gave the area another scan and got another signal in his earphones.

He came across a tiny scrap of metal.

It was a Henry III 1/4d.

The medieval coins found when the pond was dug at Lytes Cary

Back then, a farthing and a halfpenny were really made by cutting a whole penny in half or into quarters. The back of each coin had a long cross on it and you simply cut it up along the cross lines.

Though we searched carefully…. that was the only medieval find of the day.

We wandered back to the car… satisfied that we had done our best. Perhaps Josh’s finds were just a few coins in a leather purse mislaid one day c.1300.

Later in the week, I downloaded the geophysical survey data. A clear pattern of light and dark on the plot but they were erratic bands. No regular, sharp rectilinear arrangement. No evidence for a long forgotten demolished medieval building. Just a nice geological plan showing outcrops of blue lias stone.

The resistivity plot the grids are 20m squares and the dark lines are high resistivity areas probably geological bands of stone.

Oh well… you win some … you lose some.

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 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 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.