Views From Hardy’s Monument

Last week I looked out and back from Hardy Monument consideration of someone pivotal… now gone.


The view south from the Hardy Monument to Weymouth and the Isle of Portland

Hardy’s is high up. The highest point of the vast Bronze Age cemetery of the South Dorset Ridgeway.

Looking distantly down onto a field… now, with dogs gathering sheep… but then, where my caravan was.

A September Sunday afternoon. After the excavation…. ordering the artefacts.

I was leftover. The vibrant dig community gone. A row of bleached grass rectangles. Just the finds supervisor’s tent against the Loscombe Copse.. two fields away.. and the HQ caravan, a little out of sight, beside the barrow …and the lone tree.

HQ was full ..of vegetarian beans, pulses and CND posters ‘do not walk gently…..’ With the blackberries and hazelnuts.. enough to keep me for a while.

From my window, rural Dorset, and just the tinny sound of Terry Wogan leaking from a battered transistor. All that it could manage.

On the table, a plastic bag containing one of the cremations from the barrow.

Each had a gift for the dead. One had a bronze dagger, another a stone archer’s wrist guard. But what of this one? The director had asked me to separate the bone from the charcoal.

That was my job.. on an isolated peaceful Sunday afternoon.

Soon, my survey contract would begin… me and my bicycle, visiting, measuring, researching every Ridgeway barrow… but the winter-let flat and marriage were still 2 weeks away.

So… place the contents carefully on the table and gradually separate the black from the grey-white while listening to the hits of 82.

As the hours passed…the necklace emerged.

The National Trust archaeologists have been to Sutton Hoo. Angus showed us the new visitor access route. How to evoke the wonder of the place from a few low mounds.. ringed with modern distractions? To reveal the very roots of the English…in a nice way.


The NT Archaeologists on the site of the Sutton Hoo ship burial

What a story ! Local skilled archaeologist Basil Brown asked to excavate a mound…. on the utter brink of WWII. Britain’s Tutankhamun, emerging as the tempest clouds of war gathered. A sand long boat. The decayed planks carefully revealed as a beautiful and curving ridged mould, spaced with clinker nails. That long last peaceful summer…it never rained.

Amazing gifts for a king, gathered in Suffolk from across the known world. The find so great that Brown is edged out by the posh academics from the BM. A poignant photo in the cafe as he respectfully watches the experts at work.

We gather in the wood above the riverside. We imagine the 7th century long boat dragged to its final resting place. Was this Raedwald, Bretwalda, king of the Anglo-Saxon kings? His people gathered around him and the gifts and treasure bestowed in honour of his greatness. Memories and stories. The holy men guided the congregation from life to death and a life beyond his passing.

I stand at the stone tower and look back to the caravan… and beside me a large Bronze Age barrow. The highest of the 600 or so scattered along the ridge between Dorchester and Weymouth…from Abbotsbury to Poxwell.


The plundered burial mound beside the Hardy Monument.

Presumably, the tomb of one the greatest Dorset barrow men but truncated and burrowed into long ago. Its contents taken without record. like so many of the barrows at Sutton Hoo… except Mr Brown’s wonderful discovery…

and mine in 1982…the amber and shale.. hidden but then emerging from the charcoal. Lozenges and cones, with holes drilled for the long rotted thread.

As the sun passed to late afternoon, his mini-van bumps across the field to meet me. I wait to show him.

Years before, the newly graduated Weymouth students had followed him to the shores of Poole Harbour and spent the summer easing a Roman pottery workers’ settlement from the stubble. We got food poisoning…the motorbike got a flat. His back gave out… but we tenderly carried him on the finds table to the trench edge. A battle stretcher but with cheesecloth and loons.

On a road to Emmaus, at his requiem mass, we gathered to honour him and remembered.

Look around you.

‘There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend’

Giving memories a voice

We can write down our memories for future generations to read, but we can also hear the past through sound recordings and videos.

Today Alex is visiting from The Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network (CITiZAN, an organization set up in response to dynamic threats to our island coastal heritage. It is a community archaeology project and actively promotes site recording and long-term monitoring programmes led by volunteers.

Alex will be soon leading a walk at Studland on the Dorset coast, looking at the WWII sites, and as well as research for the tour she hopes to play snippets from our sound archive of local people talking about what it was like, what they saw and stories of life in Studland during WWII.

Studland played an important part in WWII as a testing area for amphibius tanks and  fougasse (burning sea). In April 1944 Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George VI and General Dwight D. Eisenhower (Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and in charge of the military operation) met at Fort Henry on Redend Point at Studland to watch the combined power of the Allied Forces preparing for D-Day.

Alex l listening to the taped memories and working on her tour notes

Alex listening to the taped memories and working on her tour notes


The copies of the small sound archive we hold at the office are all still on original cassette tapes. For younger readers there is a picture below of what one is!

A cassette tape

A cassette tape



Alex has had to come and use our old technology to be able to then record a digitized copy for use in the field. We will need to digitize our archive so the recordings are more accessible. Luckily we have a cassette transcribing machine and a cassette player. The transcriber has extra controls so you can slow the tape down, change the tone and various backspace and counter options. It even has a foot pedal control!

Transcribing machine –  a special purpose machine which is used for voice recording processing, so the recording can be  written in hard copy form.

The Transcribing machine

The Transcribing machine



One day these machines will become part of the archaeological archives. At the moment they are thankfully still available and needed to play the memories from the past.

Finds in the flowerbed

In the Trust we have many large wonderful gardens, but we also have many small gardens attached to our offices, tea-rooms, shops, holiday cottages and some tenanted properties. These gardens are cared for by a group of volunteers who do a fantastic job tending them all year round.

A few weeks ago I had a call from the group who work in Purbeck, they had collected lots of pottery, ironwork and clay pipes while digging in the gardens they look after. They hoped I would be able have a look at them and help them to record what they had found, date them and add the information to the archive.

A box of goodies to search through

A box of goodies to search through

They had done a great job keeping every site separated from the next, so we could relate the finds to the properties they came from and where in the garden they were found. The pottery was a mixture of china and local earthenware, and were mainly 18th and 19th  century in date. Though there were some sherds that were probably  medieval and a few from the early 17th century. The pottery can tell us a lot about the social standing of the people who lived in the attached properties. The quality of the china, and the types of vessels can point to the inhabitants position in society and whether they had  good or bad fortunes! Clues to changes in society were  found in the collection from one of the gardens were the  property  had been a private family home, a poor house with 12 families and a pub!

As we went through the boxes and bags it became clear that some of the sherds fitted together. We soon found we  had  a lovely small ginger jar probably from the first half of the 19th century. Yay! time to get the glue out and also to look out for the missing bits when next digging the weeds!

Small 19th century ginger jar

Small 19th century ginger jar

Amongst all the pottery, clay pipes and ironwork there appeared a piece of flint. Oooo excitement grew as the soil was brush off and the light hit the tell tales signs that  mans hand had been involved in shaping this stone. Probably Bronze age, and  a multi purpose tool, reduced in usefulness after being snapped in two.

A prehistoric flint/chert tool found in the flowerbed at the Purbeck office

A broken prehistoric flint/chert tool found in the flowerbed at the Purbeck office

So when weeding that flowerbed collect all those bits and pieces, give them a wash, find a friendly archaeologist, offer them tea and cake and you never know what new tales will emerge about your own little plot of history.

Gill and Jill two of the flowerbed diggers with some of their finds

Gill and Jill two of the flowerbed diggers with some of their finds

Meshing the Bell Barrows at Godlingston

It was a good day on Wednesday. Two Bell Barrows and a Bowl Barrow on Godlingston Heath got meshed. I have known them a long time and they have not looked their best but they shone on Wednesday. They are now in the conservation condition that these nationally significant Bronze Age burial mounds deserve.

Crossing the border and driving down through the Dorset countryside to Purbeck, I felt elated. Good Bell Barrows are rare things and those that are known have often been damaged by ploughing.

3 bell barrows and a bowl barrow built over 4,000 years ago overlooking Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island

3 bell barrows and a bowl barrow built over 4,000 years ago overlooking Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island

The Godlingston barrows lie in a beautiful position, on a slope overlooking Poole Harbour. The heather and gorse landscape looks 21st century BC, little intrudes from the 21st century AD (if you ignore the golf course and ice cream van in the lay-by).

They are Bell Barrows because they have an outer quarry ditch, a raised level platform (berm) within and a large mound at the centre. In plan they were thought to look like an old fashioned bell, hence the name. They are usually larger than ordinary burial mounds and concentrated in Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire (a Wessex thing).

Each barrow was a burial place for one or more significant people. At the centre of the mound lies the grave of someone, accompanied by special objects, perhaps a bow and a sheath of arrows, a bronze dagger, pottery vessels and perhaps a necklace or mace of office.

The Trust inherited a tenancy which prevented access for many years. During that time the land was left to become overgrown with gorse and bracken and rabbits using the mounds to dig burrows.

A view from the central barrow back towards the north bell barrow. A smaller bowl barrow was later built across its ditch.

A view from the central barrow back towards the north bell barrow. A smaller bowl barrow was later built across its ditch.

The Bronze Age people and their culture are long gone. Their barrows are all the information we have about them. Anything we are likely to know about these ancient British people lie locked in their monuments. Science gives us new ways of finding out every year and digging up a site can only take place once. Once it is dug it is gone so if it happens it must be done archaeologically, recording the clues in each layer of soil as we dig deeper.

Rabbits are not good archaeologists and so it is better for them to dig their homes somewhere else.

Resistivity meter in the foreground and magnetometer in the background

Resistivity meter in the foreground and magnetometer in the background

Now Godlingston is back in hand and managed under a higher level stewardship agreement. We used to surround sites with rabbit proof fences to keep them out but we now mesh vulnerable sites with wire. This armour plates them and quickly becomes hidden under grass and heather. We carry out geophysical surveys of the whole site first as once the mesh is in place such surveys cannot take place.

English Heritage and Natural England agreed the method of the work and provided funding and Paul the Ranger arranged for the Trevor the contractor and his team to do the meshing. He had a great brush cutter that gave the barrows a hair cut and then the mesh was laid and pinned in place.

The barrows were given a hair cut with this handy machine to prepare the surface for meshing

The barrows were given a hair cut with this handy machine to prepare the surface for meshing

They now look very impressive. There is one mound which has been very badly dug into and this will need careful archaeological excavation and reprofiling next June before it can be meshed.

One of our Tank Traps has fallen

This week, I went to see a line of concrete blocks across a small valley leading up from Studland beach in SE Dorset. They have been cleared of scrub and are now on clear display to visitors.


They were set in place in 1940 to prevent German tanks progressing inland if there was an invasion here. Studland was seen as very vulnerable and there are gun emplacements, machine gun posts and other structures built amongst the Studland sand dunes. English Heritage has just listed them Grade II. The older things get the rarer and more valuable they become. The recent wet weather has caused one of the tank traps (‘shark’s teeth’) to fall as the valley sands and clays slump and slide. The war-time builders rushing to erect a defence against imminent attack would not expect their efforts to be valued as a historic monument 73 years later.