Time Vault Town House, Corfe

Back in the 80s and 90s, soon after the Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle Estates were first given to the National Trust, many discoveries were made as its ancient buildings were repaired.

One day in 1990, sitting at my desk at the Kingston Lacy Estate Office, the phone rang. ‘Could you come to Corfe Castle please’ we’ve found a vault. The builders working at the Town House had disturbed a flagstone in the entrance passage and it had fallen into a hole.

330 Nov90 010 The picture was taken in 1990 from the Outer Gatehouse, Corfe Castle. Dorset in front of the church in the centre of the photo is the Town House. The door below the large window leads to the entrance passage.

When I arrived, the builders were clustered around the small hole in the floor and had let a ladder down. They shone a torch into the space and the beam reflected from a stone lined cellar. Its floor had a jagged uneven surface and the beam glittered off reflective surfaces.

I climbed down and they passed me my camera and drawing board.

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They lowered down a light bulb to illuminate a space with a vaulted roof 2.5m deep about 1.5m wide by 3m long. I stood on the bottom rung of the step and looked at a floor covered in pottery and glass bottles.

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We recorded them where they had been left and then asked Jo the pottery specialist to date them. Verwood earthenwares, blue and white fine glazed Chinese imitation wares all dating from the late 18th century. They had been hidden in the dark for over 200 years.

 

 

Day twelve – end of the section line

 

 Clive and his digger arrive on site

Clive and his digger arrive on site

The final day, nose to the grind stone, no tea break and a late lunch.

Martin cracked on with the last of the drawing and recording, Carol and Millie finished digging the eastern end. I attacked the possible second kiln/oven and finished revealing the opening of the first one. Rob and Fay went for the natural bedrock in their trenches, with help from Clive and his digger 🙂

Looking west along the trench Carol working in the eastern end and Martin recording the section
Looking west along the trench Carol working in the eastern end and Martin recording the section

 

Martin recording the extra information uncovered in the eastern end of the trench

Martin recording the extra information uncovered in the eastern end of the trench

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Due to the efforts of all the diggers Clive only needed to do one scoop to hit the bottom of the burnt mound material, the thin buried soil it was sat on and he top of the natural bedrock. The layer under the mound was very pale grey and silty. We took a sample of this to look for pollen and to look at the soil make up, one of many samples taken through the mound.

The small scoop taken out by the digger after Fay had cleaned it up, so we could see the layers better

The small scoop taken out by the digger after Fay had cleaned it up, so we could see the layers better

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The kiln/oven finally gave up its form, the charcoal spread out of the opening. The second kiln/oven had a layer of burnt clay but no charcoal under that layer, just a brown soil, but one side of the opening was very clear to see. Both had an opening facing the same way, west-south-west.

The kilns/ovens side by side

The kilns/ovens side by side

The charcoal was very well preserved as I found earlier. It’s amazing that the structure of the wood is locked by burning and we will be able to see what species it was thousands of years later.

Well preserved charcoal

Well preserved charcoal

Then the sad moment came for Clive to start filling in the trench, and time for us to eat a sandwich, re-hydrate and have some Women’s Institute lemon drizzle cake provided by Fay. Yummy!

Clive starts the back filling

Clive starts the back filling

We had one last task to do, with Clive happy to help we just dug out the area next to the kiln/oven to see if we had another one to the inland side, alas we didn’t but it was worth a look as we would always have wondered.

The last few scrapes

The last few scrapes

With one last look at the cliff edge that had been our ‘office’ for two weeks we headed down to pack up the tools and then for a well earned cuppa.

Martin and Rob reflecting on the last two weeks

Martin and Rob reflecting on the last two weeks

We will post updates about all the samples we took and the radiocarbon dates as we get them back from the specialists. The pottery and flints need washing before we send them for identification and dating. So keep watching the blog.

NEWS – The next dig will be Chedworth Roman Villa, from 18th August, see you there 🙂

Day eleven – it always happens…..

Sorry for the delay in updates. It seems to be the law in archaeology that features appear at the last moment, and time moves so quickly on the last few days!

We had lots of visitors today, the school came back to do some post excavation finds washing and colleagues from our team came to visit and to help. Stephen, one of our curators, was soon mattocking and Mike our gardens advisor was chief bucket emptier along with our line manager Wendy.

 Our team from the National Trust came to visit and help on site

Our team from the National Trust came to visit and help on site, Stephen wielding the mattock

Due to the time constraints it was time to reduce the trench size again and target the areas we needed answers from. The eastern end of the mound was not behaving so we need to find where it ended and if the stoney area was related to the mound or something else altogether.

Millie and Carol were giving the mission to sort out the eastern end

Millie and Carol were giving the mission to sort out the eastern end

Meanwhile down at the western end of the trench Rob was finding a ditch cutting through the end of the mound!

The ditch appearing with the black mound materiel on the right and left edge of the picture

The ditch appearing with the black mound material on the right edge of the smaller trench

 

Martin recording the ditch with help from Rob who dug it

Martin recording the ditch with help from Rob who dug it

The mound keeps going down, but has now got small patches of clay within it; hopefully not far to go now until we find the bottom of it.

The black mound

The black mound

This was the day the kiln/hearth/oven would reveal it’s flue/opening, or was it! As I worked to remove more of the red burnt clay (possibly the collapsed walls of the feature) I found the edge of a piece of pottery. It looked like it may be sat under a lump of clay that may have been one side of the opening of the kiln/hearth/oven.

 The edge of a  large sherd of pottery

The edge of a large sherd of pottery

As I dug it got bigger, and bigger.

The pottery got bigger!

The pottery got bigger!

Then it was time to remove the clay that seemed to be filling it.

The clay lump removed

The pottery fully exposed

Sadly it was cracked and small roots had grown through the cracks. As each piece came out we realized it was a base of a pot.

A lovely base

A lovely base

Phew! What a day. We stayed late to get as much done as we could, Martin had been recording and drawing the sections, while we all concentrated on our own small areas of the site. We left for a well-earned end of dig pizza, and a refreshing brew, hoping that in the last day we could manage to finish before Clive back-filled the site, and the porta- cabin disappeared!

Day six – Magic Millie

Pottery in the hearth/kiln

Pottery in the hearth/kiln

A busy open day and less diggers on site, and the rain held off. Millie and Mike carried on in the eastern end of the trench, hoping to find the burnt material, while Martin did the same at the western end.   

Millie and Mike excavating down to the mound

Millie and Mike excavating down to the mound

Either side of the hearth/kiln features are taken down a few levels

Either side of the hearth/kiln features are taken down a few levels

Just before morning break Millie hit gold! Well, not real gold but as good to us, it was the top of the burnt mound, we have been looking for all week! we seem to have just got the back edge of it but time will tell.

Magic Millie cleaning down onto the mound layer

Magic Millie cleaning down onto the burnt mound layer

Here is a brilliant picture of the decorated pottery found yesterday, taken by Nick who visited the site and who kindly sent us the shot.

The decorated pottery

The decorated pottery

 

Day Five – WOW!

The flutter of anticipation has been released into the blue sky 🙂 we have had a brilliant day, the site is blooming, struck flint and pottery coming out thick and fast! But the real star is the round yellow feature filled with deep orange with hints of black, more on this later 🙂 The picture below shows it just appearing as Martin mattocks gently the hard surface.

The feature can be seen as a red and dark brown black area next to the side of the trench

The feature can be seen as a red and dark brown black area next to the side of the trench

The pottery that is being dug up at the moment looks more like Iron Age pottery than Bronze Age. It seems a bit different to the pottery we are used to finding in Dorset and may have more in common with pottery from Devon and Cornwall. At the site we excavated just over the hill, at Dog House, we found Bronze Age pottery from near Bodmin, in Cornwall. One piece that came from the feature described earlier, was an exciting surprise, showing a deep incised decoration of hatched lines (see picture below)

The small piece of decorated pottery. We hope we will find more

The small piece of decorated pottery, hopefully we will find more

Now back to the feature, it was very dry and did not look very impressive, so it was down to the garden center to get a water spray and Tommy went off to the rangers office to get some water. It was well worth the journey through the holiday traffic, as the spray soon highlighted what could be a hearth or kiln of some kind!  It was definitely a Wow moment 🙂 The yellow is the sides or wall with orange clay in the middle and a charcoal layer just appearing lower down.

The outer yellow of the 'wall' of the hearth/kiln/fire pit

The outer yellow of the ‘wall’ of the hearth/kiln/fire pit

The feature is right in the middle of the trench

The feature is right in the middle of the trench

We said goodbye today to Ray, our barrower supreme. Thanks for staying to help, you were a valuable member of the team, especially as I am out of action due to a  dodgy shoulder.

Ray 'Mr Barrow' Lewis take a bow :-)

Ray ‘Mr Barrow’ Lewis take a bow 🙂

 

 

 

Day Three – spades, mattocks and dust

 

Martin and Fay mattocking

Martin and Fay mattocking

We have finally straightened our sections (the sides of the trench) and have troweled down to the top of the layer that looks burnt and seems to have more pottery in it. Tomorrow is the start of the exciting phase of the dig, a little flutter of anticipation builds……

Recording the level and position of the worked flint and pottery

Recording the level and position of the worked flint and pottery

We have had lots of wildlife visitors on site, beetles, small bees, butterflies, biting horse flies and this very small moth, hiding from the wind.

Small moth

Small moth

We had a lovely surprise this afternoon 🙂

Thank you for the afternoon tea provided by the Anchor Inn at the bottom of the hill

Thank you for the afternoon tea provided by the Anchor Inn at the bottom of the hill

Day two – someone turn the fan off!

A clear day and a good view of Golden Cap

A clear day and a good view of Golden Cap

Still windy on the hill, so the goggles were handed out, as we had the site to tidy up and to remove  the loose soil left in the trench  by the mechanical digger. Sections (the sides of the trench) were cut back and straightened, and the layers numbered. We were joined to-day by Alex and Tasha two sixth formers from Warminster and Antony who originally found the site.

Tasha, Alex, Carol and Antony working on straightening the section

Tasha, Alex, Carol and Antony working on straightening the section

More objects have been found including some 18th century pottery, that maybe came  from a jug of drink brought out to workers in the fields,  deeper down we came across some prehistoric pottery and some classic struck flint.

Prehistoric pottery

Prehistoric pottery

Struck flint

Struck flint

Alex cleaning the section

Alex cleaning the section