Chedworth and Sir Ian’s lost archive

Long ago, fresh out of school, I was told by Bill my mentor, that archaeology is an unrepeatable experiment.. you destroy what you uncover and you must record it properly. An excavation is never over until its published. This is the heavy weight of responsibility for all who go out and dig holes through ancient sites.

September 2000, a Roman wall footing from Badbury temple. Finally written up and sent for publication yesterday.

September 2000, a Roman wall footing from Badbury temple. Finally written up and sent for publication yesterday.

So.. part of my guilt trip is almost over as yesterday I sent the written report for Badbury Temple (dug in 2000!!!!) to Paul for publication. Nancy has sent out and gathered the specialist reports, Maggie has assembled her finds illustrations, I’ve got a drawing to finish this afternoon and then it’s done.

But…what if something happens?

Uncovering  and recording Sir Ian Richmond's excavations of 1958 and 1963 of the early North Range baths, Chedworth.

Uncovering and recording Sir Ian Richmond’s excavations of 1958 and 1963 of the early North Range baths, Chedworth.

We dug at Chedworth Roman Villa this summer and essentially were confirming something that was dug back in 1958 but never published. Chedworth’s a bit like that, lots of digs but little has been written up. From 1957-1965 Sir Ian Richmond investigated and re-interpreted Chedworth but he died in 1965 and his knowledge was lost to us.

Where were his excavation notes and drawings? They should be at Oxford University because he was a professor there but this trail seemed to have been followed in the past. I was told that the Bodleian Library only had a few notes.

In preparation for the dig this year, I reread the 1979 guide book.. because it has the best description of the North Range baths. In the introduction was a thank you to the archivist at Oxford for his help. I wrote to Roger, the author, and he told me to contact the Sackler Library.. so I did.

The nice lady on the end of the phone said that I should e-mail Graham. “I suppose you don’t have anything relating to Chedworth and Sir Ian….”

The Bodleian Library, Oxford.

The Bodleian Library, Oxford.

“Certainly, a stuffed box file with drawings and notebooks.. when would you like to visit?”

So on Monday I travelled into one of the world’s heartlands of learning..parked and took a double-decker into the ‘city of dreaming spires’. First to the vast Neo-classical Clarendon Building, where I handed in my form and was issued with a pass card. I had to read aloud a declaration saying that I would not light a fire or take a naked flame into the library… I agreed.

Then down Broad Street, past the Ashmolean and the Institute of Archaeology and round the corner to the Sackler. I pushed open the heavy double doors into the circular vestibule watched over by a porter (bit Harry Potter). Graham met me and swiped my card to give me access to the library. He led me to a desk containing a box file and various brown envelopes. Each one contained wonderful things (quite a personal sense of wonderful). Graham left me for a while and came back with notebooks and rolls of drawings..

Clarendon House, Oxford which issues access cards for the library.

Clarendon House, Oxford which issues access cards for the library.

Part of Sir Ian Richmond's archive within the Sackler Library his and Eve Rutter's notes in guide bookss from 1924, 1955 and 1963, notebooks, correspondence and drawings.

Part of Sir Ian Richmond’s archive within the Sackler Library his and Eve Rutter’s notes in guide bookss from 1924, 1955 and 1963, notebooks, correspondence and drawings.

Just a few hours to make a record of Sir Ian’s archive. This was what I had been hoping for. Here were his thoughts written in the notebooks, comments written in draft guides, and correspondence and manuscripts for articles and reports. The drawings showed plans and sections of his excavations. Very little photography though and there should be other drawings. I must make another trip in the Spring, not only for Chedworth but also to look at his excavation records for the Iron Age hillfort at Hod Hill in Dorset.

The last letter from Chedworth's custodian Norman Irvine to Sir Ian Richmond to update him on recent excavation work in the North Range (Sackler Library, Oxford University)

The last letter from Chedworth’s custodian Norman Irvine to Sir Ian Richmond to update him on recent excavation work in the North Range (Sackler Library, Oxford University)

This felt like a great discovery and Sir Ian’s records will certainly be a guiding light during our future work at Chedworth.

An interesting site

This week, I pulled together the drawings, finds reports and photos and began to write up a site which should have been published ages ago.

The ramparts and ditches of Badbury Rings hillfort are on the left. Along the bottom  of the picture above the car park is the line of the Roman road to Dorchester. Bottom left, just above the road and to the right of Badbury is the roughly circular parch mark of an enclosure (about 60m in diameter) and within it the square block of parched ground where the buried masonry of makes the grass die back in dry weather.

The ramparts and ditches of Badbury Rings hillfort are on the left. Along the bottom of the picture above the car park is the line of the Roman road to Dorchester. Bottom left, just above the road and to the right of Badbury is the roughly circular parch mark of an enclosure (about 60m in diameter) and within it the square block of parched ground where buried masonry makes the grass die back in dry weather.

The moles found it first. Heaving up bits of Purbeck limestone beside Badbury Rings. The stone shouldn’t be there. Purbeck is over 15 miles away.

Looking at it on the ground, the contours of something interesting can be seen. A 60m diameter bank surrounding a mound measuring about 15m across. It was suggested that it was a special kind of Bronze Age burial mound, which was reasonable given the number of barrows around Badbury.

In 1975, after a particularly dry summer, Brian visited, took photos and drew a sketch plan of what he saw. He sent it to the archaeological survey offices of Ordnance Survey, where it rested in their archive for 20 years.

Brian's photo taken during a very dry summer in 1975 when he thought he had discovered the temple.

Brian’s photo taken during a very dry summer in 1975 when he thought he had discovered the temple.

I found the plan during a documentary search, when the National Trust’s (which had been given Badbury and the Kingston Lacy Estate in 1982) managing agent asked me to write a survey report for the archaeology of Kingston Lacy. Brian had written at the top of his sketch. ‘A possible Roman Temple at Badbury Rings’

We went back to the mole hills. They were full of evidence, lumps of mortar, fragments of pottery, oyster shells and bone. All sorts of stuff and we would often find holes across the site where unknown things had been dug out of the ground and taken away.

We resolved to prove whether Brian’s temple theory was true, and protect it. English Heritage gave us permission to evaluate.

Geoff did our geophysics which showed an octagonal walled enclosure surrounding a 15m square building with another rectangular building against the inner edge of the octagon. So we laid out our long narrrow trench from this edge building to the centre.

It was mostly foul weather. We had decided to camp to stop finds being taken at night and it poured with rain as we cut the turf. Reoccupying an anciently occupied space and revealing it.. communing with the remains of past lives night and day, is a curiously poetic and emotive thing. At night, the wind rattled the guy ropes and the storm at the end of the dig almost brought our photographic tower down.

Base camp, Badbury,  the scaffold tower decorated for Helen's birthday.

Base camp, Badbury, the scaffold tower decorated for Helen’s birthday.

Day by day the temple building emerged. We cooked tea beside the trench and at night identified finds, by gas lamp, sitting on folding chairs around the folding table. One evening we walked around the Rings and the white ghost of a barn owl flitted across our path.

Most of it was gone, taken for building stone about 1500 years ago. It had been a sacred place for at least 500 years before that. In the Iron Age, when Badbury was still occupied, people had worshiped their gods here. They left offerings. After the Roman Conquest, when they had moved down to the Stour at Shapwick, their children and children’s children often returned to this sacred place, leaving more votive gifts, right up to the 5th century.

The stone from the temple wall had been robbed out leaving only a skim of mortar at the bottom of the foundation trench.  The building material salvagers have left the chalk floor of the 4th century temple and the flint and tile cobbled floor below it which had 2nd century pottery embedded in it.

The stone from the temple wall had been robbed out leaving only a skim of mortar at the bottom of the foundation trench. The building material salvagers have left the chalk floor of the 4th century temple and the flint and tile cobbled floor below it which had 2nd century coins embedded in it.

Who knows why this place was special. The barrows show that it was already significant in the Early Bronze Age, over 4000 years ago.

We found fragments of horse so perhaps a god linked to hunting or riding was honoured.. but this is a bit far fetched because we also found many tiny coloured beads and fragments of small pottery vessels (for incense?) neither very horse related.

The temple had once been nicely decorated, there were fragments of painted plaster.

There would have been a central square tower building with a covered walkway around it. The temple was originally roofed with clay tiles, later with Purbeck slates. This ‘cella’ building was surrounded by a gravel courtyard which ran up to the the octagonal temple precinct wall.. And we found the flint footings of the little building at the edge. Perhaps a Priest’s House or a store room.

The view of our trench after excavation from the scaffold tower. The temple building directly below looking toward the temple precinct wall in the distance.

The view of our trench after excavation from the scaffold tower. The temple building directly below looking toward the temple precinct wall in the distance.

The dig revealed pottery hidden beneath the soil. It would be bad conservation practice to dig everything up, it’s best to save things for the future, and also we did not have the time or the resources.. so we put a protective cover of chain link fencing over it. The grass has grown through it and buried it now.