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.

Smashing news about the Chedworth Villa roman glass

The glass when first found

At last we can tell the story of what the specialists found out about the little piece of glass Pete found in 2017 at Chedworth Villa. You may already know its story as it hit the press and social media yesterday, 22nd July.

Not long after excavation I had taken it to Professor Jenny Price, a roman glass expert. She was very intrigued by it and thought she had seen something resembling it in the past, but from the Middle East. Features of the glass indicated that the technique used to make it was also unusual, differing from that used to make glass with similar decoration. The glass had a distinctive profile showing that it came from a long bottle with an oval shape and a sharp taper at the end. So away it went with her, so she could study it and consult many experts around the world.

The glass fragment showing loops of yellow and white

Eighteen months later Jenny was able to report back to us that it probably came from an area around the Black Sea. She had found a reference to another similar glass flask that had been excavated from a burial in Chersonesus in Crimea. It turned out to be part of a fish-shaped flask with the fish’s open mouth forming the aperture of the vessel, and probably held perfume or an unguent of some kind. 

It was the first piece of this kind of glass ever to be found in Britain, a very rare find.

Jenny also found a very similar fish-shaped flask that had been restored from many pieces, at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. By comparing the two examples, she concluded the Chedworth piece came from near the ‘tail’ of the fish bottle

An archaeological drawing of the place were the piece of glass fits on the fish flask

Sadly, Jenny passed away a few months ago. Earlier, Pete, who found the glass, had a chance to go and see her and talk about the fish. He said he could see she was enchanted by it, and we are so pleased she had a chance to solve this puzzle and knew how excited we all were by it. It is a very special find.

To have found that it is the only one of its type so far discovered in Roman Britain adds to our knowledge of the importance of Chedworth Roman Villa.

That such an exotic thing was brought from so far away seems to underline that the occupants were in touch with the furthest regions of the Roman Empire and wanted to show off that influence and connections.

Illustration of what it may have looked like by archaeological illustrator Maggie Foottit

This little gem of glass and the illustrations can now be seen on display at Chedworth Villa in Gloucestershire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The only other example of such a fish-shaped Roman bottle comes from a 2nd-century burial in Crimea. 

The technique used to make the Chedworth bottle was unusual, with decoration laid on top of the blue-green surface to create ‘scales’ in loops of white and yellow. It was more common to incorporate different colours into the body of the vessel itself.  

at the University of York who was helping with a dig to understand more about the north wing of the villa. 

Peter said: “When it appeared, the first wipe of the surface showed the colour and it quickly became apparent it was something special. Excavating anything at Chedworth and knowing that you are the first person to gaze upon it for at least 1,800 years is a feeling that never tires, the memory of recovering this piece of glass certainly will not. 

“Recovering such a unique find is incredibly humbling, it will no doubt prove a talking point for years to come. I am delighted that it will be displayed at the villa, enabling visitors and future generations to marvel at its beauty.”

Nancy Grace concluded: “This find shows there is still more for Chedworth to tell us about Roman life in this corner of Gloucestershire.” 

The fragment is going on display at the villa as part of the Festival of Archaeology (until 28 July) and will remain on display throughout summer.

 

Day 19 – The end for now ….

The core team left to right Stephanie, Fay, Rob, Amy, Carol, Martin, Pete and Me

Well, we reached the last day and had a few last jobs to do as well as back-filling the trenches. Martin had recording, drawings and the odd extra bit of digging to do, to answer a few questions in the buttress trench. Fay and Amy had a little more digging in the bath house trench to find the wall, and the rest of us had finds and tools to pack up.

We have to record everything by scale drawing and photography, as once its dug out we cannot go back to check any details.

In the buttress trench Martin has been finding lots of painted plaster including different blues and greens. Then he found this large piece, amazing colours and design.

In the buttress trench Martin has found lots of lovely painted plaster, mainly blues, but then he found this stunning piece

A close-up of the plaster

One job we had to do was to put in a little extension to find out how big the water tank was, it turned out to be quite small, but perfectly formed. We also found the outlet hole!

The extent of the tank

 

The tank  had slipped forward, note the crack in the lower right

The outlet hole

The last trench to be filled in was the buttress trench, we protected the tank with geotextile, then left messages for future archaeologists to find, in an empty bottle of fizz we had for Amy’s 21st birthday.

For future archaeologists to find

Nearly there

Also on the last day we had another birthday to celebrate – Pete’s. So it was a double celebration and a big cake provided by lovely Sue, who had been doing all the finds washing for us, thank you Sue.

When you only have a grubby wooden knife a trowel has to do

As we put back the last turf we had our last visitor, a frog that had managed to survive the back filling and the heat!

Our last visitor

As they say ‘that’s all folks’ for daily up dates from the dig, but Martin will do a summing up of the dig and we will post updates of the finds when we have their stories back from the specialists. So keep checking in.

All that’s left to say is a massive thank you to all our volunteers who came to dig with us and especially those who helped with the mammoth back filling task. We hope you all enjoyed your experience. Thank you to all our blog followers, and its been lovely to meet many of you on-site, your kind words helped to keep us going through the hottest parts of the day.

Until next time………

 

Day Thirteen – Feathered friends

The end is near and we still have a bit of excavation to do, luckily the mosaics are cropping up again just when we thought  they had ended.

Amy uncovering the new section of mosaic

We finally removed the last of Sir Ian Richmond’s representation of the earlier villa walls, his pink concrete! Behind this was the real roman wall and a line of mosaic still in place balanced on the edge.

The burnt, earlier villa wall with a line of tesserae still in place

Max, Steve, and  Stephanie carried on the big clean up in the relenting heat. Jill and Amy each had an area of mosaic to uncover and Fay was banished to a small trench up next to the bathhouse. Guy and William took on the challenge to keep going down through the roman rubble layer in the buttress trench near the museum, where they found lots of painted wall plaster and some intriguing stonework (more about it tomorrow)

Steve and Max cleaning the corridor mosaic

 

William and Guy in the buttress trench

Now to our feathered friends, during this dry spell we have been providing a small buffet for the birds, here are our clever friends who have taken advantage of the insects and worms we have disturbed. The star is Bob the Pheasant 🙂

Lovely pair of Pied wagtails foraging on the spoil heap

The scruffy Robin is very brave finding food right next to us as we dig

Bob with Amy at lunch time, sharing a biscuit

A portrait of Bob

 

Day 12 – Rogues gallery

Here as promised are the ‘small finds’ we have found over the last few days 🙂

 

A coin, worn but enough remains for a coin expert to identify

The reverse of the coin with a bit more detail.

Another coin, very clear, you can read the lettering. Probably IMP TETRICUS PF AVG, so probably Tetricus I rather than Tetricus II, who ruled the separatist Gallic empire from AD271-274 Thanks Pete for the identification

The reverse of the Tetricus coin

And the next coin, very worn on the obverse,

The reverse has a little bit of detail, hopefully enough for an identification

The last of the coins and this one is worn and probably beyond identification

Not a coin but a lovely piece of roman glass, part of the rim of a bowl maybe.

Last but not least is a hob nail, from a roman shoe, it was found between tow loose tesserae in the corridor mosaic. Avery fine example of its type!

 

Day Eleven – Hasten, Hasten fetch a basin

Quick, quick the cats been sick, hasten, hasten fetch a basin, too late, too late the carpets in an awful state

The  old rhyme my Mum used to say when I was a child in Yorkshire, was brought to mind by a find today. After the find of the carved stone we checked every large stone we had found in the roman rubble layer, but found no more. Then we turned to the stone still in the layer and yet to be dug up, there was a large curved one which when we got to it also looked to have a hollow section. It looked quite crudely  carved, and was badly fractured. We finally managed to remove it and found it was a kind of stone basin.

The carved stone next to Carol still in situ

The stone ‘basin’

Today we started on the big clean up, David and Eirian came to help us today, and did a fantastic job, cleaning the mosaics and the bottoms of the walls. They checked areas that still needed a little bit more soil removing, and sponged the mosaics. Thank you both, great work.

David next to his lovely shining mosaic, the colours really sing

We also had a visit from our  line manager, and team – curators, registrar, collections and most important our lovely business support. They set too as part of the big clean up and each did a section. More great work 🙂

Our Team

Our Team

our team

Tomorrow I will update you all on the rest of the special finds we have so far, so come back to find out about the small things 🙂

Day Seven – Old friends

Fay, Carol and Amy returned refreshed after a day off, to be greeted by a no go area as we had a drone flying over the site to record the mosaics and parch marks, pale areas in the grass due to the drought conditions were the grass is over a hard surface, like a wall or compacted area like a path way, the site looked fantastic on the monitor, we await the results.

Here’s a picture from the top of the wall, not as detailed as the drone 🙂

guilloche Knots and swastika blocks

We have only done the first clean back to reveal the mosaics, we still need to go back over them cleaning again and then wet sponge them, the colours and patterns will then stand out.

Today we were joined by a volunteer and friend Jen and Allan a colleague of many years. Also we had a visit from another friend Stefan and his Dad, and as he had done finds washing last time we met, we found a good bit for him to have a go at digging. Stefan in 2016 pot washing and two years later digging, great job Stefan.

Pictured above another great tile and pot washer was Stefan who hopefully will be back to do more

Stefan excavating mosaic with expert guidance from Amy and Jen

Over on the other side of the trench a cry from Carol turns all heads, she had found her first roman coin, a very small and worn one but there is a figure on the reverse so the coin experts will be able to tell us a date.

Carol and her coin