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 Florence. 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 Florentine-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.