Open the door

The north side of Kingston Lacy House. Designed by Roger Pratt for Ralph Bankes in the 1660s. Revamped for Henry Bankes by Brettingham in the late 18th century and then done over again by Charles Barry for William John Bankes in the early 19th century.

The north side of Kingston Lacy House. Designed by Roger Pratt for Ralph Bankes in the 1660s. Revamped for Henry Bankes by Brettingham in the late 18th century and then done over again by Charles Barry for William John Bankes in the early 19th century.

We often get called in to check everyday repair work inside our great mansions, electric cabling, loose flagstones or finding where water is getting into the building. This kind of watching brief (monitor and record) gives us a chance to look beneath floorboards and behind paneling, it provides an opportunity to see how the buildings were put together and more importantly any changes done through time.

At Kingston Lacy wiring and ceiling checks are being done in some of the rooms with just a few floorboards being lifted. Having found scraps of  original wallpapers and notes left by previous workmen during work like this in the past we were called in to record anything we could see.

Floorboards lifted in the Saloon at Kingston Lacy

Floorboards lifted in the Saloon at Kingston Lacy

In the saloon we found that a lot of the material between the joists had been removed in the past with just a few wood shavings and the odd nail left behind. The most interesting areas were accessible via the doorway, with just enough room to dangle my camera into the void and between the joists. I set it to do 10 shots on the self timer setting and hoped for the best. This technique is a good way to see down and along voids, it had produced good results in the past at Chedworth roman villa when checking for hypocausts and wall alignments.

View along the hypocaust at Chedworth Villa in room 5b

View along the hypocaust at Chedworth Villa in room 5b

We were not disappointed an odd metal concertina like heating system, a large vaulted void, Pratt bricks from the original mansion, (now encased in stone) and an intriguing door mechanism.

The metal heating system on the left

The metal heating system on the left

A vaulted ceiling of a room below the Saloon at Kingston Lacy, the plaster can be seen oozing between the lathes

A vaulted ceiling of a room below the Saloon at Kingston Lacy, the plaster can be seen oozing between the lathes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two metal bars part of a cleaver mechanism

Two metal bars part of a cleaver mechanism

The Saloon is entered and connected to other rooms  by double doors, the lifting of the floor boards revealed how they opened exactly together, even when just pushing gently on only one door. This would help servants when carrying trays open the doors without putting the tray down or needing someone to help them, also when entering or exiting the room with swishing skirts ladies could move effortlessly through the doorways.

It works by using what look like bicycle chains and smooth cogs, a simple but effective mechanism.

The chain and smooth cog, with a metal rod up into the door

The chain and smooth cog, with a metal rod up into the door

There are more planned surveys to be done at Kingston Lacy in other rooms, I wonder what awaits to be found under the next floorboard………….

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down Among the Tin Mines, Levant and Botallack

Back in June, Jim (Devon and Cornwall NT Archaeologist) took me to Levant. In August, I spent a week at St Just, the local tin mining capital, a little south-west from Botallack and Levant along the West Cornwall coast.

Botallack mine a little south-west along the coast towards St Just from Levant mine.

Botallack mine a little south-west along the coast towards St Just from Levant mine.

Approaching the town, the landscape is studded with ruined towers and engine houses. On the skyline, two particular buildings stand out from St Just. On the left is the parish church tower and on the right is a much larger stone warehouse like building. Some great storehouse for tin ore perhaps.. no it’s the Wesleyan Chapel.

Tin mining here dates back to the Bronze Age but what you see when walking the beautiful rocky coastline are warning signs for deep shafts, piles of overgrown rock and debris and engine houses, lots of 19th century engine houses. Advances in steam engine technology were pioneered here. The mining remains have World Heritage Site status.. but how did it work and who was involved? Why would you need so many chimneys?

An array of engine house chimneys. Taking steam engine exhaust from machines with various purposes. To drain or ventilate the mine, to bring ore to the surface or transport miners to and from the mine shafts, to crush the ore into powder or to heat the furnaces to remove the arsenic from the powdered ore.

An array of engine house chimneys. Taking steam engine exhaust from machines with various purposes. To drain or ventilate the mine, to bring ore to the surface or transport miners to and from the mine shafts, to crush the ore into powder or to heat the furnaces to remove the arsenic from the powdered ore.

At Levant, we looked out to sea and Jim said that the best tin and copper ore veins went out under the ocean and that’s where the mine shafts lead, hundreds of metres out below the Atlantic. Sometimes the mines strayed too close to the sea bed in search of ore, the roof weeped water and was patched with wood and cement. In 1893, the Rev Horsefield described how the sea was an audible presence in the miners’ lives “and so near the surface of the bed of the sea that the rolling of the boulders to and fro and the roaring of the waves are distinctly heard by them”

The mine shafts continue for over a mile out under the sea bed. An 1840 beam engine still operates in the engine house here at Levant.

The mine shafts continue for over a mile out under the sea bed. An 1840 beam engine still operates in the engine house here at Levant.

That’s why so many engine houses are perched above the cliffs. Engines to ventilate the mines, to pump out the water that seeped into the workings, to bring up the ore …and at Levant they had a man-engine that took the miners down to the workings. They’d change in the dry-room, walk down the tunnel, take a lump of clay from their alcove above the shaft and then fix a lighted candle with the clay to the helmet. Not an easy place to work.. it was hot in the bowels of the earth..sometimes they just wore boots and helmets.

The dry room, a large area laced with hot pipes where the miners would wash and change into dry clothes after a days work

The dry room, a large area laced with hot pipes where the miners would wash and change into dry clothes after a days work

I found Rev Horsefield’s book in the cottage I stayed in at St Just and he, a rector from Manchester, compared the Cornish miners with the coal miners of Lancashire. In contrast to many of the miners he’d known, he said that the Cornish miners were full of faith in God. They worshiped in the great Weslyan church of St Just and other chapels along the coast (the Botallack Sunday School building is huge) and they sang hymns on their way to work. ‘They sang in the mines’ said Jim. “Have you ever been down a Cornish mine”. “No I said”.. “The acoustics are wonderful”.

A more polite building to one side of the mine workings. The Botallack 'count house' short for accounts house or counting house. It was a more polite building where the management and administration of the mine took place. It was where the 'adventurers' or investors/shareholdes in the mine would meet.

A more polite building to one side of the mine workings. The Botallack ‘count house’ short for accounts house or counting house. It was a more polite building where the management and administration of the mine took place. It was where the ‘adventurers’ or investors/shareholdes in the mine would meet.

The Reverend goes through the whole process: the compressed air drill at the mine face, the transport of the ore to the summit. Gangs of men broke the rock into smaller pieces and it was taken to a crushing machine to smash into powder. The powder was taken by water into a furnace where intense heat burnt off the arsenic from the ore which was deposited on the walls as a white powder. This was scraped from the walls from time to time and sold as the first product. From the calciner the remaining ore was conveyed by water to a series of soup-plate like features or buddles where the heavy tin gradually settled out and was collected.. the second product. Beyond this, the remaining material, with the lighter copper, was carried by water to a tank filled with old iron. The copper collected on the iron and was scraped off for a third product. So not just tin mines… it begins to make sense of all the ruins, the pits and the towers..

The tunnel from the drying room to the 'man-engine that took the miners down to the work faces. On the right are rows of alcoves to hold clay and candles and other items needed for the mine or left behind by the miners for their return. This was the last walk from the surface for 31 men on 20th October 1919. A short time later the man-engine collapsed.

The tunnel from the drying room to the ‘man-engine that took the miners down to the work faces. On the right are rows of alcoves to hold clay and candles and other items needed for the mine or left behind by the miners for their return. This was the last walk from the surface for 31 men on 20th October 1919. A short time later the man-engine collapsed.

In 1919, less than a year after many miners returned from the horrors of the Great War trenches, the man-engine broke and the shaft bringing men up after a day’s work collapsed killing 31 of them.

These were dangerous places, abandoned shafts filled with water and were forgotten, sometimes new mine-shafts broke into them by mistake. This would release a tide of water which could drown the miners before they reached the ladders to escape. The Rev wrote of the 1893 Wheel Owles disaster near Botallack “As the torrent rushed into Wheal Owles it pushed the air before it, creating a great wind which blew out all the lights, plunging the terrified miners into absolute darkness. Those working on the upper levels narrowly escaped with their lives. Nineteen men and a boy were never seen again.Their remains are still entombed in the flooded workings.”
A meeting of 1000 miners took place at St Just demanding that the mine owners recover the bodies.. but it would cost £3000 and the mine was in financial difficulties.

Most of the Cornish tin workings closed in the later 19th century and the miners emigrated to find new opportunities in places like Canada and Australia. There are still many communities containing the descendants of exiled Cornish miners. A few years ago, we bumped into this global history at Greymouth on the west coast of South Island, New Zealand. A remote place, far from Cornwall, where tin miners had made a fresh life for themselves to quarry new veins of ore from under the sub-tropical bush.

Ding Dong, Levant and Wheal Jessie
Standing like bad broken teeth
in the jaw-bone of the Cornish land.

Are these the giants of the legends?

Singing in the man engine
Light song in the darkness and seeping damp
Songs of joy and youth in the open bath house

‘Old Hundred’chanting in the mist
and fog of the March dawn.
‘All people that on earth do dwell
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice’
Stump, stump of the engine’s heart beating.

Songs of glory and of joy,
Rushing up,up on the waves of heat,
From the rumbling intestines
of Earth’s great stomach (Scott Tutthill, ‘Song for Past Cornish Miners’)

Tin miners at Cook's Kitchen Mine 1893 during a lunch break 'croust'. Their light is produced by candles fixed to their helmets with lumps of damp clay. Miners would take advantage of the fine acoustics and sing hymns down the mines

Tin miners at Cook’s Kitchen Mine 1893 during a lunch break ‘croust’. Their light is produced by candles fixed to their helmets with lumps of damp clay. Miners would take advantage of the fine acoustics and sing hymns down the mines

Walking to Maryland…Brownsea

You can’t be late for meetings on Brownsea.

Brownsea the largest island in the middle of Poole Harbour, Dorset. I took this photo from a light aircraft in 96.

Brownsea the largest island in the middle of Poole Harbour, Dorset. I took this photo from a light aircraft in 96.

There may be a queue through Shaftesbury or perhaps roadworks at Wimborne but even if the drive through Dorset is smooth, Poole will trip you up. It’s a busy place.. and by the time your car is skirting the harbour to Sandbanks, the clock is ticking perilously close to sailing time.

Then there are all the builders’ vans carrying out the latest refits to the Sandbanks mansions. Getting a car space can be problematic..so as you run for the ferry you know you’ve missed it. Nothing more defeating than standing on the jetty with the wind in your face watching it disappear towards Brownsea Castle.. after a long tense journey.

The castle and quayside cottages, (most old coastguards accommodation). This is the east end where most people live these days. We're heading west to where most people used to live.

The castle and quayside cottages, (most old coastguards accommodation). This is the east end where most people live these days. We’re heading west to where most people used to live.

If you get there though..it’s another world. The Castle looms towards you as you approach by boat and underneath it all there is a 1540s Tudor fort. Since the 18th century, it has been owned by wealthy men who bent the building and island to their will..This is a mini-kingdom, once with all the trimmings, many now decayed and hidden in the woods.

Brownsea Church built in the 1850s as part of Colonel Waugh's great development of the island.

Brownsea Church built in the 1850s as part of Colonel Waugh’s great development of the island.

The residents live mainly in the east. Once past the castle and the old coastguard cottages you are crossing the green, the Victorian church on the right and the model farm buildings on the left. The oldest visible building remains lie within the farm buildings. If you know where to look, the stones of a medieval chapel and the thin bricks of a fort governor’s house can be found. Medieval bodies lie beneath the farm cottages.

Brownsea's 1850s model farm built over older structures within this range are remains of the medieval chapel and a 17th century castle governor's house.

Brownsea’s 1850s model farm built over older structures within this range are remains of the medieval chapel and a 17th century castle governor’s house.

If you made the 8.30 staff boat, then once past the farm buildings the Island is yours. A scene from Bambi with red squirrels and deer mixing with the peacocks and seagulls. They cross your path as you progress west.

The first stop is the beach to view what the sea has done to the brick kilns. Each winter the storms cut a new trench into the south shore cliff and take away another chunk of industrial archaeology. We cleaned and excavated a section along the cliffs here in 2005 drawing and photographing what we saw. Each year Gill and Alan monitor the cliffs and record new exposures.

Along the south shore are remains of industry washing from the cliff. This is the 18th-19th century Barnes brick  kiln used in the 18th-19th century but further west are 16th-17th century copperas works and brick kilns.

Along the south shore are remains of industry washing from the cliff. This is the 18th-19th century Barnes brick kiln used in the 18th-19th century but further west are 16th-17th century copperas works and brick kilns.

Brownsea’s industry has been episodic. Rich men wanting to get richer, investing money for a while and then abandoning the place when things didn’t work out. The evidence for their efforts lies in the cliff face. There has been brick and tile making here at least from the early 17th century. The cliff is striped with bright red, orange and black debris soils and heaps of burnt clay and brick and kiln waste spew onto the beach. There are pits with thin hand-made bricks but the most visible kilns are 18th-19th century.

The south shore is lovely and it was a great place to work but back past the Victorian dog kennels and the scout camp towards Maryland.

To the right, among the conifers, are deep hollows stamped into the ground with a ridge around their lip. Once, I saw dinosaur footprints like this in a Purbeck quarry but they were half a metre across. These are ten times the size and not caused by a massive sauropod trudging through the mud. In the 1940s, German bombers were tricked into dropping their load on the island by a ‘starfish’ mock-up of Poole, created with wires and cordite by Elstree film men.

The entrance to one of the cottages. The front  door lock lying beside the threshold.

The entrance to one of the cottages. The front door lock lying beside the threshold.

At last I arrive at the west end and start to walk among brick ruins. A crescent shaped terrace of houses was built beside the sea in the 1850s for Colonel Waugh who believed the Brownsea clays would make him rich. This was his pottery workers settlement which he named after his wife Mary. Each family had a garden out the back and there are still fruit trees and paths and edging tiles showing their plots.

Over 200 people once lived at Maryland. We have their memories and the census returns describe the families and lodgers who occupied this place. Each day the children would go to school at the east end. We uncovered the pub in 2007 and brought in cider to toast the place, re-occupying the Bentinck Arms 80 years on.

Reusing the place after 80 years.  A drink with the volunteer archaeologists at the Bentinck Arms, Maryland.

Reusing the place after 80 years. A drink with the volunteer archaeologists at the Bentinck Arms, Maryland.

It’s all very Enid Blyton and full of stories. Now a tranquil place but once full of family life and industry.

Into the West: Cornwall

Cornwall is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

A Neolithic dolmen above New Town in west Cornwall with the familiar outline of a 19th century tin mine engine house behind.

A Neolithic dolmen above New Town in west Cornwall with the familiar outline of a 19th century tin mine engine house behind.

As a soft easterner and Wessex archaeologist now united with Devon and Cornwall, it was time to travel to the uttermost west and find out something about it. This is based on two days last week looking with a stranger’s archaeological eyes on a new world.

The view from Cotehele, of the dovecote and the woodland garden that leads down to the River Tamar.

The view from Cotehele, of the dovecote and the woodland garden that leads down to the River Tamar.

When I started with the National Trust, I asked Tony, the old experienced curator, “which is your favorite property?” “Cotehele!” he said without blinking an eye and so it went on my list of places to visit.

We eventually got there, wound our way round Plymouth, crossed the Tamar and threaded our way along narrow roads. A medieval fortified manor house revamped in the Tudor period. A beautiful setting above the border river between Devon and Cornwall.

Cotehele medieval manor house. Cotehele river front lies below the steep slope of the wooded gardens to the right.

Cotehele medieval manor house. Cotehele river front lies below the steep slope of the wooded gardens to the right.

My 1977 guide book (which I dusted down.. found on the shelves of my home office Eastleigh Court… amongst others that had washed up there over the decades) summed up medieval Cotehele “in the south-west peninsula the landed classes still lived lives of semi-barbarity”. Not very PC but I guess stuff took time to get there. The Romans didn’t leave much of an impact and the Anglo-Saxons barely registered.

The place-names are different…very celtic.

Apparently there was a feud between the Cotehele Edgecombes and the Willoughby’s of Bere Ferrers across the river and his henchmen attacked Cotehele and in 1483 Richard Edgcumbe escaped his pursuers by putting a stone in his cap and throwing it in the river. Seeing the cap sinking they rode on thinking he had desperately drowned himself rather than be captured.

So Cornwall was a bit wild west but also very industrial. The mining industry here has World Heritage Site status. The craggy rocks are full of precious things. Cotehele had copper and arsenic mines and down at the water front beside the Tamar, we found mills and kilns where rock was burnt to create lime used for mortar and improve the quality of the local acid soils.

Map of Cornwall and the Godolphin Estate

Map of Cornwall and the Godolphin Estate

We headed further west to Godolphin. The family here made their money out of tin mining and the medieval house was upgraded in the 17th but there are many different phases to the house. One wing stops short as though the money ran out and the grand design was never completed. The guides in the King’s Hall told us about the house and the Godolphin family…there was so much more to be discovered. The Trust have not owned the house for long.

The various phases of Godolphin House. The Neo-classical house is unfinished,

The various phases of Godolphin House. The Neo-classical house is unfinished,

Cornwall is famous for its wild coasts so we went to Godrevy near Redruth. Here, excavations had found an Iron Age and Romano-British farmstead beneath the remains of the small medieval manor. No villas here though. The odd sherd of samian pottery but the native ’rounds’ continued into the Roman period.

Godrevy, a disused  stone-edged field boundary bank eroded by a footpath and cut away at the cliff edge.

Godrevy, a disused stone-edged field boundary bank eroded by a footpath and cut away at the cliff edge.

The field systems retain elements of their prehistoric form, small and irregular earth banks faced with stone. We found one eroded and cut by the sea cliff. This is a land of Neolithic dolmens and subterranean Iron Age fogous. I have much to learn. Even the WWII pill boxes were of igneous rock rather than my familiar brick and concrete.

Stone WWII pillbox guarding Godrevy beach.

Stone WWII pillbox guarding Godrevy beach.

I got back on the A30, drove across Bodmin and Dartmoor to reach the rolling chalklands of home.