Storm Archaeology

I had an urgent phone call at Tisbury the other day.

Looking west. Where the river meets the sea at Seatown. Golden Cap in the background.

A few years ago, Humphrey had found the fragments of a granite rotary quern (for grinding grain into flour) washing out of the cliff. He had picked this up below the Seatown Iron Age site we excavated in 2015.

https://archaeologynationaltrustsw.wordpress.com/2015/07/20/burnt-mound-the-story-so-far/

Now he had spotted something else.

A recent storm had scoured the gravel from the river mouth at Seatown.. a hamlet flanked by parts of the National Trust’s Golden Cap Estate in Dorset. The sea had exposed what he thought was the site of an ancient fire…charcoal surrounded by hazelnut shells.

Another storm threatened over the weekend and he thought that the site might be covered again or washed away. I agreed to drive down on the Friday afternoon and have a look.

At Chideock, I took the narrow road down to the beach. The car park was scattered with seaweed and huge rolling breakers smashed against the beach. I opened the boot and put on water-proofs and boots and filled my backpack with sample bags, trowel, notebook and camera. The river had swelled with months of rain and I followed it a few metres towards the sea.

The grey clay exposure at Seatown Beach with black fragments of preserved wood jutting out of it

I then saw what Humphrey had spotted. Black worn timbers jutting out of a grey sticky clay. The sort of clay that excludes all oxygen and enables wood to survive for 1000s of years. The waves were pounding the gravel beach but the tide was far enough out to enable me to crouch down and look at the exposure.

There were footprints and dog paw marks across it… as it was everyone’s riverside route to the shoreline. I quickly cleaned the site up. The area visible was only about 5m long and 2m wide. it seemed to continue under the beach gravel…although it could not be seen, the site was probably much more extensive.

A close up of the clay with a black fragment of wood sticking out top right and around this little black blobs which are the hazelnut shells.

There was a jagged tree stump half a metre in diameter jutting out of the clay and nearby part of a fallen tree trunk of similar size. Around them were many hazelnut shells. I collected a wood fragment and some of the shells and looked for anything that might date the site. This clay was deep down at the river level with the sand and clay lias cliffs rising up on either side. The land had been cut sheer by the wave action that wears away this soft geology year.by year. One of many National Trust coastal sites effected by coastal erosion. I thought of Brownsea in Poole Harbour and Gunwalloe and Godrevy in Cornwall where new archaeology is revealed each winter.

But at Seatown….was this archaeology at all?.or a buried Jurassic forest many millions of years old… but would the hazelnuts survive for so long? I drove away with my samples, drawings and photos ready for some background research.

The next storm blew a field maple over in front of Kingston Lacy House in south-east Dorset. Back in 1990, a storm blew a tree over close to the mansion and revealed the site of the 12th-15th century Kingston medieval manor. https://archaeologynationaltrustsw.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/merry-christmas-kingston-lacy-1371/ .

The field maple on the north side of Kingston Lacy House tearing up remains of the demolished medieval manor house where kings once held banquets for their important guests.

I asked Dave and Gill to have a look and they reported large lumps of stone and mortar exposed in the roots. On closer inspection they saw a medieval clay roof tile and an oyster shell. A leftover from a banquet held in the house …perhaps for John of Gaunt or his son Henry IV.

Close up of the tree roots which have disturbed mortar and building rubble from the old manor house.

A few days later, Mark (National Trust Ranger), drove me out to High Wood. This lies on a hill east of Badbury Rings on the Kingston Lacy Estate. A huge beech tree, over 250 years old, had crashed to the ground.

The fallen beech tree in High Wood

As we drove across the fields, we talked again about the High Wood skeleton revealed by an earlier uprooted beech tree… that fell in the great storm of 1987.

https://archaeologynationaltrustsw.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/meeting-in-high-wood/

The rain pelted down as we wrapped our coats around us, got out of the car and walked a few yards into the wood. I was awed by this huge fallen tree. We stood under the wide root plate. No bones this time..just a lot of roots mixed with earth and chalk ripped from the ground…but near the centre, something different, the dark soil gave way to burnt orange-red clay that formed a circular area about 1-2m across. I knelt down and picked over the fallen debris. Chunks of light grey flint crackled with many fine lines. These flints had been heated in a fire. This appeared to be a hearth of some kind.

We were getting wet and had other places to see… but Dave and Gill investigated a few days later and recovered struck flakes of flint.

High Wood has been there at least since the 14th century and lies at the heart of the medieval Kingston Lacy deer park. This land has not been ploughed for many hundreds of years so a hearth might survive from the prehistoric period. I’m looking forward to seeing the finds and reading Dave’s report….

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.

The Stourhead LiDAR

Whatever next?

When Archaeology takes advantage of new techniques, whole new landscapes of information emerge.

One of the most exciting developments in recent years has been Light Detection and Ranging or LiDAR for short. Using a drone or an aircraft, pulsed light signals are sent using a laser. When linked to a scanner and a global position system (GPS), It can create an ultra-fine 3D record of the ground surface over wide areas.

The boundary of the National Trust’s Stourhead Estate in South Wiltshire. Whitesheet Hill is on the edge top right. Stourhead Park and mansion, garden, lake and Stourton village are lower centre. Park Hill Camp hillfort lies in woodland centre left.

In large surveys, millions of light points are plotted and tied to existing mapping with the GPS. Each point has its unique XYZ position… latitude, longitude and height above the datum level.

The total Stourhead survey area tilted slightly to show the contours covering roughly the same area as the map above. Whitesheet Hill on the right The hillfort faintly visible on the lower right hand edge. To the left, two valleys separate a ridge which has Park Hill Camp hillfort near the middle.

The Environment Agency has been using this technology for years and have made their data freely available. A quick visual link can be seen here https://houseprices.io/lab/lidar/map. This survey data was collected mainly to predict levels of flooding and consequently it tends to be concentrated along valleys and coasts. It has given good results but the detail tends to be at 1.0m resolution or in the better areas 0.5m. The best quality is 0.25m density of coverage.

There are still large gaps in the land area currently covered by LiDAR and therefore the National Trust is commissioning its own surveys at 0.25m.

In the South West, there are new surveys for the Bristol and North Somerset properties, the Bath and Dyrham properties and most recently the data has arrived for the Stourhead Estate in South Wiltshire. Bluesky collects the data and it is analysed by ArcHeritage who provide the baseline digital imagery in various forms as well as the core GPS files.Their report picks up many new sites which have now been uploaded onto the NT Historic Buildings Sites and Monuments Record. This is not the end: new archaeological sites can still be discovered by further manipulation of the data combined with other information sources.

The LiDAR data can be uploaded into the digital mapping system and then it can be overlaid as a layer on digitised historic maps, onto geophysical surveys and onto aerial photographs. It is so easy these days to zoom in an out of maps and also to fade one layer of information and then see another in direct relation to it.

Detail of Whitesheet Hill causewayed enclosure. Four round barrows can be seen along its bottom edge all with little dimples in the top where the owner of Stourhead Estate, Richard Colt Hoare, excavated them in he early 19th century. One at the lower left hand edge of the plot was cut by a chalk quarry in the 19th century. Close examination of the plot shows phases of trackways and faint embankments.

A great ability of LiDAR is to fell forests and woods (virtually) to see the ground surface beneath. Something impossible with air photography.

Imagine the light pulses from the aircraft like rain falling on the ground. Some will bounce off the tree tops (the first returns) but many will hit the ground below the tree canopy (the second returns). There are systems to filter out the first returns so that only the ground can be seen. It is why I always ask for surveys to be done in the winter when the leaves have fallen from the trees and the ground surface can be most clearly surveyed.

Park Hill Camp from the air surrounded by conifer plantations. In the last 10 years the National Trust has gradually removed the trees from the scheduled monument. The LiDAR defines the earthworks in a better way than can be seen by aerial photography when trees interrupt the view (see below)

Stourhead’s Park Hill Camp Iron Age hillfort has been covered in trees for many years making it difficult to see. Over a number of years, gradually, the National Trust has been clearing the woodland and bringing it back to grass. The LiDAR survey has enabled the ramparts and ditches to be clearly seen as well as showing its strategic position on the ridge top unimpeded by the conifer plantations that surround it.

The ramparts and ditches of Park Hill Camp Iron Age hillfort revealed by the LiDAR survey.

Another great thing: the LiDAR light point cloud is three dimensional and this enables a digital terrain model to be created. This can be viewed on its own or it is possible to drape aerial photographs and/or historic maps across it…as though the map or photograph has become a gigantic cloth thrown over the contours of the landscape. There is now the ability to screen- fly through the Stourhead landscape switching on or off other layers of information while weaving up the valleys or skimming over the hillfort ramparts.

Stourhead Lake (bottom) and the position of Park Hill Camp Iron Age hillfort clearly revealed on the ridge top between two valleys. This area is planted with trees and this vantage point of the fortification would not normally be appreciated.

During a bright winter day, low sunlight will traverse the landscape bringing different shadows in sharp relief and revealing new details. LiDAR analysis can introduce its own light source and the survey plot can be re-generated.. with the light source at any angle and direction. This shows up very faint archaeological earthworks when the light source is beamed from a particular direction.

The LiDAR survey shows the quality of surviving archaeology and reveals where conservation should be concentrated across the Stourhead Estate.

This image looks down to the arable land from the hillfort and causewayed enclosure on Whitesheet Hill. On the lower land, the earthworks have been almost levelled by modern ploughing but old quarries can be seen clustered, where stone outcrops on a low hill, and faint traces of prehistoric ‘celtic fields’ can be seen.

The Stourhead farmland, ploughed for many 100s of years, has lost much of its archaeology but the survey still shows traces of medieval and prehistoric agriculture and traces of buried enclosures suggesting settlement remains below the ploughsoil….(though much worn down buried pits and ditches will survive).

However, there is fine earthwork survival in Stouhead Park and on Whitesheet HIll.

The prehistoric earthworks on Whitesheet Hill show up very clearly: the Iron Age hillfort to the south, the Neolithic Causewayed enclosure in the middle and the other enclosure (also probably Neolithic) to the north and in between Late Bronze Age cross ridge dykes, Early Bronze Age round barrows and medieval pillow mounds all crossed by banks, trackways and quarries of various periods.

Whitesheet Hill: LiDAR shows the ramparts and ditches of the Iron Age hillfort (c.300BC) at the bottom. The three rectangles are modern reservoirs just east of the National Trust boundary. A cross-ridge dyke (c.1000 BC) divides the narrow downland ridge separating the hillfort from the Neolithic causewayed enclosure (c.3600BC) which has a Bronze Age round barrow (c.2000BC) built over its southern edge and across its north side runs the old cattle drove road from the the west towards Salisbury and then on to London. Further along the down to the north (the upper edge of the plot), is another faint enclosure (c.3000 BC) of similar size to the causewayed enclosure (this site has been ploughed in the 20th century but can be seen clearly on the LiDAR).

The parkland is a very precious survival. The ridge and furrow of medieval open field furlongs was fossilised when the park for the mansion house was created. This must have happened before 1722 which is the date of our earliest map of the park.

The 1722 Stourhead Estate map (Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office). The newly built Stourhead House is centre right. The north-east corner of the park is Spencers Mead. The strip fields and curving enclosure ditch shown on the LiDAR lie within this field and Slade Mead below. Buildings in red between these fields were demolished in the late 18th century, the building sites lie where there are earthworks shown on the LiDAR image below.

Near the Stourhead House and near the landscaped garden obelisk are two turbulent areas of earthworks, outside the areas of agriculture and therefore places already occupied ….before the open fields were created it seems.

One of these, east of the House, is likely to be the site of the medieval Stourton Castle..demolished when the present mansion was created in the early 18th century. The other area near the obelisk is a mystery… the LiDAR raises many new archaeological questions…. wonderful.

Next year the Cotswolds and Hidcote NT properties will have LiDAR We await the results with anticipation…what new Roman sites lies beneath Chedworth woods……

The site of the present Stourhead House is lower centre. The buildings show as triangles. Top right is the NE corner of the present park where a large oval enclosure (prehistoric?) underlies the regular furlong blocks of strip fields divided by trackways (this is just grass not visible on the ground). Centre right and NE of Stourhead House is an area of earthworks likely to be the site of the medieval Stourton Castle. At the left edge of the picture is another grouping of mixed earthworks, perhaps an early settlement to the right of the mound with the 18th century obelisk monument on it.

Sewage and the Infirmary at Lacock Abbey

Sorry to have to mention this but there has long been a problem with sewage at Lacock Abbey.

Looking north. Lacock's 2008 south park and monastic church resistivity survey in action . Meg and Tony are standing on the church site which became a Tudor garden beneath Fox Talbot's ornate 19th century windows.These windows were built into the monastic church cloister wall. The T junction of paths in the photo can be seen as blue bands on the resistivity plot (next image). The narrower path leads through a door beneath the smaller window into the cloisters.

Looking north. Lacock’s 2008 south park and monastic church resistivity survey in action . Meg and Tony are standing on the church site which became a Tudor garden beneath Fox Talbot’s ornate 19th century windows.These windows were built into the monastic church cloister wall. The T junction of paths in the photo can be seen as blue bands on the resistivity plot (next image). The narrower path leads through a door beneath the smaller window into the cloisters.

We thought it had been sorted out in 1995 (and there was good archaeological recording then) but the River Avon often floods in winter and at such times the system isn’t up to the job. When the Abbey was built in the 13th century…. it was a lovely setting beside the river but to be honest it’s too low lying. The people who built the village on the higher ground knew that. When Ella Countess of Salisbury came to build her nunnery, the locals may have shaken their heads…good meadow land but don’t you know it’s on a flood plain!

Our resistivity plot is full of detail. Top is north and the blue upper edge of the image is the Abbey with other unsurveyable paths and walls as parallel bands of blue. To orientate you to the last photo, the doorway to the left of Meg leading to the cloisters is the narrow vertical blue line top centre. Below this across the broader blue path is a circular feature,once a 17th century cut at its lower edge by the early 18th century garden wall, a very thin blue line with the Tudor garden paths and boundary wall, now under parkland grass visible further down the plot. The old London Road is the wide feature running from right to left across the bottom of the plot. The sewage pipe route ran along right edge of the plot and curved to run along the bottom edge. It was routed to avoid the detail of the Tudor garden and run along the road but found a Tudor culvert and clipped the corner of the garden wall beside the London Road.

Our resistivity plot is full of detail. Top is north and the blue upper edge of the image is the Abbey with other unsurveyable paths and walls as parallel bands of blue. To orientate you to the last photo, the doorway to the left of Meg leading to the cloisters is the narrow vertical blue line top centre. Below this across the broader blue path is a circular feature,once a 17th century fountain cut at its lower edge by the early 18th century garden wall, shown as a very thin blue line with the Tudor garden paths and boundary wall, now under parkland grass visible further down the plot. The old London Road is the wide feature running from right to left across the bottom of the plot. The sewage pipe route ran along the bottom edge skirting the parkland tree(which is the small blue hole in the lower left of the plot) and then curved round to the right to run along the edge of the plot . The trench was routed to avoid the detail of the Tudor garden.

One of the wonderful things about Lacock is that so much of the medieval structure survives. William Sharrington, who got the Abbey after the 1530s Dissolution, didn’t need the great monastic church so he knocked it down but he kept the cloisters and incorporated much of the dining room, dormitory, chapter house etc. in his new grand home.

The start of the pipeline on the east side of the Abbey where the old sewage works were. A medieval carved stone marking the point were the infirmary wall and drain were found.

The start of the pipeline on the east side of the Abbey where the old sewage works were. A medieval carved stone marking the point were the infirmary wall and drain were found.

The infirmary’s gone though. There’s just a passage from the cloisters into the east park with its name on. This was where the sick and the elderly nuns were cared for somewhere near the site of the modern sewage works.

So, in linking the Abbey sewage plant on its east side, to the village on the west, the new trench had to cross the park and follow the east and south sides of the Abbey. This was a minefield of archaeology ..and one does ones best to avoid cutting through it.. but the trench was bound to hit something.

We knew about the infirmary on the east and William Sharrington’s Tudor garden on the south. Both areas had been surveyed using geophysics and using this and all other available evidence Nathan plotted the route. Closer to the Abbey to avoid the Infirmary and swinging further south to skirt the garden.

It was bound to hit something, Lacock’s archaeologists Jane and Tony watched the work as it progressed and halted the excavation when necessary to record everything that came to light.

Lacock from the south west the trench skirting the parkland tree, the corner of the Tudor garden was just clipped by the trench before the pipeline continued round to the east skirting the 18th century bastion wall which separates Abbey and Park.

Lacock from the south west the trench skirting the parkland tree, the corner of the Tudor garden was just clipped by the trench before the pipeline continued round to the east skirting the 18th century bastion wall which separates Abbey and Park.

I visited before backfilling. Holes in the ground…if they can’t be avoided, are great opportunities to see and touch the story of a place and Lacock’s story is a fine one. A morning walk along the trench from the village and then to the south. Quiet along the line of the old London Road and then cutting behind a parkland tree the trench curved towards the east and clipped the very edge of the SE corner of outer Tudor garden courtyard. Nicely built, it gave reality to the ornate plan we had revealed by resisitivity in 2008. Just beyond this, the digger had clipped the lid of a deep 16th century culvert heading south from the Abbey. I turned the corner marked by the stone wall of the early 18th century garden bastion and followed the trench along the east side.

The corner of the Tudor garden exposed on the south side of the Abbey a couple of weeks ago.

The corner of the Tudor garden exposed on the south side of the Abbey a couple of weeks ago.

There were Jane and Tony in the distance, most of the trench had exposed debris… waste picked over and discarded, that Sharrington had spread out across the park and garden during his great alteration from a religious institution to a grand country home.

Tony showed me the infirmary wall, a wide, fine ashlar stone structure. Here there was much medieval pottery, oyster shells and bones from meals that had once been eaten by the monastic community. One metal object was decorated with curving lines inlaid with silver, perhaps a pendant but Jane is looking for comparisons.

A copper alloy decorated 'pendant' found close to the Abbey Infirmary.

A copper alloy decorated ‘pendant’ found close to the Abbey Infirmary.

Beside the wall, there was another stone structure. To lay the pipe, the top stones had to be moved but there was enough space to send a camera down. It was a beautifully made drain…┬ápresumably nobody had glimpsed its interior for 700 years.

Photo along the the 13th century monastic drain revealed beside the infirmary. The last person to see this was probably the medieval builder.

Photo along the the 13th century monastic drain revealed beside the infirmary. The last person to see this was probably the medieval builder.

I went on to the Lacock meeting. I was late.. looking down holes Martin they said. Take the opportunity, I encouraged them, it’s a great hole.

Merry Christmas Kingston Lacy 1371

Where was the must go to Christmas party for all England back in 1371?

Rather surprisingly, Kingston Lacy in Dorset. Seems unlikely but true.

The present house was only built in 1660. The remains of medieval Kingston Lacy lie across the top of the picture as a series of earthworks below the 17th-18th century drives, paths and garden buildings.  The line of the Roman road from Badbury to Hamworthy crosses the park from the top left corner to the upper left side of the photo and prehistoric flint, Roman and medieval have been found across the park. The old tree that revealed the manor house fell half way between the 1660s mansion and the top left corner of the picture.

The present house was only built in 1660. The remains of medieval Kingston Lacy lie across the top of the picture as a series of earthworks below the 17th-18th century drives, paths and garden buildings. The line of the Roman road from Badbury to Hamworthy crosses the park from the top left corner to the upper left side of the photo and prehistoric flint, Roman and medieval have been found across the park. The old tree that revealed the manor house fell half way between the 1660s mansion and the top left corner of the picture.

John had just returned from France and had brought back his new wife to his London Savoy Palace. But where to spend Christmas? So many places to choose from, he was a king’s son after all and by his first marriage had got loads of property. As Duke of Lancaster he owned castles and manors all over the country. Now, with Constance, his new Spanish princess, he could call himself King of Castile.

He would throw a party and invite everyone who was anyone so that he could show her off. His dad Edward III of course, his sister-in-law the Princess of Acquitaine, various influential barons and his brothers. Not forgetting his ‘Household’ several hundred strong consisting of knights and retainers, esquires, grooms and valets.

Using all the documents we could piece together a reconstruction drawing which shows the 'Inner Court' with the main manor house, chapel and other principal buildings and also the 'Outer Bailey' which contained the working buildings of the manor including the great stable, granary, barns and cattle shed.

Using all the documents we could piece together a reconstruction drawing which shows the ‘Inner Court’ with the main manor house, chapel and other principal buildings and also the ‘Outer Bailey’ which contained the working buildings of the manor including the great stable, granary, barns and cattle shed..

The steward of sleepy KL probably had a bit of a shock when he received his master John of Gaunt’s letter, informing him of his decision. The manorial complex geared up into frenetic activity, preparing rooms and cleaning stables and outhouses. John sent other letters out, making sure that the food was in.
“We command that you take six deer and six dozen rabbits and bring them to our manor of Kingston before Christmas Eve, also the following Sunday and the Tuesday after that. Make sure they’re prize beasts and carried to us in good condition!”
He also sent his staff out to get the presents for the big day. He bought the King a pair of silver slippers, his senior advisor got a gold brooch, his Spanish knights were given silver caskets and his esquires 40s.

One of the 14th and 15th century account rolls that were discovered in Kingston Lacy house which describe repairs to the old royal manor.

One of the 14th and 15th century account rolls that were discovered in Kingston Lacy house which describe repairs to the old royal manor.

So, long ago, Kingston Lacy was the Christmas resort of kings and princes. Kingston is a Saxon name because the land belonged to the King up to the 12th century. By the 13th century it belonged to the Earls of Lincoln, the Lacy family. Henry de Lacy was such a powerful baron that he gave his name to the place. He tended to spend Christmas here too. Its been known as Kingston Lacy ever since.

In 1485, after the Wars of the Roses, it was given to Henry VII’s mother but she didn’t want it, so it was demolished. A new house was built at KL after the English Civil War but the site of the old house was forgotten.

Wouldn’t it be great to find it. Such a place. Where so many powerful people gathered and discussed the fashions and politics of the day. Some of the old parchment account rolls had survived and these listed the wages of named workmen who repaired the great manorial complex. By putting together the historical clues we could create a reconstruction of the buildings.

The earthwork survey I carried out in the park showed the medieval house and outbuildings underlying the post 1660s designed landscape features.

The earthwork survey I carried out in the park showed the medieval house and outbuildings underlying the post 1660s designed landscape features.

There was a storm in the park and a tree fell over. Medieval building remains were found in its roots. I walked up and down in the area north of the present mansion and measured all the humps and bumps. Then Geoffrey agreed to use our resistivity meter to see what lay beneath the grass.

Beneath the rubble was the remains of a 1m wide stone wall and an earth and charcoal floor covered in collapsed wall plaster, some fragments with graffiti scratched onto it.

Beneath the rubble was the remains of a 1m wide stone wall and an earth and charcoal floor covered in collapsed wall plaster, some fragments with graffiti scratched onto it.

It revealed the manor house twice the size of the current mansion and a range of other buildings. We needed to check so we dug a small trench 6m long and 2m wide. Beneath the turf was just a mass of yellow mortar bits. Deeper and there was the odd stone and then a wall began to emerge made of the local sandstone and over a metre wide. Suddenly at 0.8m the rubble robbing debris stopped and a band of black earth contained medieval pottery and food debris. This with fragments of glazed floor tiles alternating greenish yellow and purple brown.

Detail of the medieval floor strewn with animal bone, oyster shells and fragments of baked clay floor tiles glazed yellow-green or a purple brown. Top right you can see the thumb imprint of a tiler pressed into the back of the tile before firing to enable it to be keyed into the mortar bedding when the tiled floor was created.

Detail of the medieval floor strewn with animal bone, oyster shells and fragments of baked clay floor tiles glazed yellow-green or a purple brown. Top right you can see the thumb imprint of a tiler pressed into the back of the tile before firing to enable it to be keyed into the mortar bedding when the tiled floor was created.


Perhaps, invites to John’s Christmas party once walked across this tiled floor when it was beautiful and new.

Horton Court..NT’s oldest house ?

We had a ‘Top Trumps’ situation recently. The NT North East archaeologist received an early 13th century tree-ring date back from a roof timber in one of the medieval buildings ‘up north’. Was this the oldest occupied building owned by the National Trust? Good try… no it’s Horton Court.

Horton's old hall. The north and south doorways forming a cross passage from the manor courtyard to the church date to the 1160s and are very similar to a doorway in Avebury church. The old hall may once have been the church as the present church has nothing as old as this.

Horton’s old hall. The north and south doorways, forming a cross passage from the manor courtyard to the church, date to the 1160s and are very similar to a doorway in Avebury church. The old hall may once have been the church as the present church has nothing as old as this.

Horton’s an obscure place. In the old Wessex NT Region it was the furthest north I went. Up through Dorset and Wiltshire, beyond Bath and across the M4, driving along the Cotswold escarpment towards Stroud. Then a tiny sign directed me down a few miles of narrow wiggly road to the edge of the Severn flood plain .. and there, eventually, beside a stream issuing from the hillslope.. was Horton Court.

Horton Court beside the parish church on a spring line at the foot of the Cotswold escarpment. An ancient settlement location, the Iron Age Horton Camp hillfort lies on the ridge top behind the camera location. The Tudor loggia can be seen on the left with the terraces of the Tudor garden stepping down to the stream and the line of medieval fishponds beside the house.

Horton Court beside the parish church on a spring line at the foot of the Cotswold escarpment. An ancient settlement location, the Iron Age Horton Camp hillfort lies on the ridge top behind the camera location. The Tudor loggia can be seen on the left with the terraces of the Tudor garden stepping down to the stream and the line of medieval fishponds beside the house.

The first time I went there I met a volunteer who opened the old hall a couple of afternoons a week. She was reading a book. ‘Do many people come here’ I asked. ‘Not many, perhaps 4 or 5 visitors a week in the summer’. I looked at the round headed decorated stone arch. I felt like a visitor from the ‘new world’ commenting on something impossibly old. ‘I guess that’s a copy’ (well, so much medieval architecture was copied in the 19th century). ‘No, it’s dated to c.1160, one of a pair forming a cross-passage leading to the church.’.. That’s the top trump.. oldest occupied building in NT ownership.

This is a very old place, located at the spring-line. Horton Camp Iron Age hillfort looks down on it from the hill top but this is where people would have lived in times of peace. People are proud if their places are first mentioned in Domesday Book (1086) but Horton was given to Pershore Abbey by King Edgar in 972. Tucked away in this idyllic location are the earthworks of the village, the enclosure bank that surrounded the medieval deer park, the lynchets from open fields, a string of medieval fishponds and the rectangular earthworks built to keep rabbits. A nice archaeological grouping.

One of the medieval pillow mounds in the fields beside Horton Court constructed in the medieval period to keep rabbits. Horton had its own warren, deer park and chain of fish ponds to enable the lord to have fresh meat and fish whenever he needed it.

One of the medieval pillow mounds in the fields beside Horton Court constructed in the medieval period to keep rabbits. Horton had its own warren, deer park and chain of fish ponds to enable the lord to have fresh meat and fish whenever he needed it.

It was given to the National Trust by Miss Hilda Wills as a memorial to her nephew who died in the Second World War and from 1949 it was let on a long lease. The tenants gave up the lease in 2007 and there was a chance to understand the place and look for resources to repair and open it up to visitors.

We asked historic building specialists Jane and Tony to survey the many structural clues hidden in the house and delve into its history to find out how important it was and what the conservation needs of the place were. Their conservation management plan was excellent and highlighted its significance.

So many generations had lived there and there were some remarkable stories. However, Horton’s particular significance is its role in international history. (really?) It is true. Horton can make that claim. From 1125, the Bellafagos, a Norman family granted Horton by William I, gave Horton and its land to Old Sarum cathedral (replaced by Salisbury in the 13th century). For 427 years it was a prebendary manor, providing an income for bishops or important members of cathedral staff.

This doorway c.1521 contains very early renaissance carvings. Nothing much like this in the rest of England. It indicates William Knight's education in Italy and his close interest  in architectural developments there.

This doorway c.1521 contains very early renaissance carvings. Nothing much like this in the rest of England. It indicates William Knight’s education in Italy and his close interest in architectural developments there.

In 1517, it was granted to William Knight who had been educated in Ferrara. He rebuilt Horton in the renaissance style using cutting edge architecture copied from his travels in Italy. He even created a garden for his new courtyard house and included a Italian-style loggia within it. Tree ring analysis of the house and loggia roofs gave precise dates from sap wood placing their construction between 1517-21. The loggia is a unique building with a group of four stone roundels built into its back wall, each representing a figure from Roman history. Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Nero and Atila. A curious group chosen for a reason that has been lost to us.

The roof above the loggia. This was tree-ring dated along with the roof timbers in the main house to the period 1517-21.

The roof above the loggia. This was tree-ring dated along with the roof timbers in the main house to the period 1517-21.

Because of his diplomatic experience and knowledge of Italy, Henry VIII chose William to be his diplomat to negotiate with the Pope. He wanted the Pope to grant him a divorce that would enable him to marry Anne Boleyn. William went to Rome but the Pope refused his request so Henry married Anne anyway. He brought her to this part of South Gloucestershire and stayed in the local houses as he toured the south showing his new bride to the local clergy, gentry and nobility. Horton, newly rebuilt to the latest style, the home of his chief negotiator William Knight, should have been one of the stopping points of the tour.

William’s failed diplomacy led to the formation of the Church of England and the great religious turmoils of the 16th and 17th centuries.

What do William’s roundels mean ? Do they represent figures who challenged Rome and did her harm or are they people who ultimately failed in their objective? Was his heart for or against the King’s split with Rome..?

Inside William Knight's Loggia are four roundels depicting Hannibal of Carthage who crossed the alps in 216 BC and attacked Rome. Julius Caesar who in 49 BC started a Civil War that ended the Roman Republic. The Emperor Nero who is said to have ordered the burning of Rome in AD 64 and Atila the Hun who invaded Italy in AD 452. Why were these 4 figures chosen ?  Is there some secret code here? They were set up around the time that Henry VIII split from the Church of Rome and the Church of England was created. This enabled him to marry Anne Boleyn.

Inside William Knight’s Loggia are four roundels depicting Hannibal of Carthage who crossed the alps in 216 BC and attacked Rome. Julius Caesar who in 49 BC started a Civil War that ended the Roman Republic. The Emperor Nero who is said to have ordered the burning of Rome in AD 64 and Atila the Hun who invaded Italy in AD 452. Why were these 4 figures chosen ? Is there some secret code here? They were set up around the time that Henry VIII split from the Church of Rome and the Church of England was created. This enabled him to marry Anne Boleyn.

Whatever, this place is a joy to visit.