Lodge Park Grandstand, Behind the Blocked Door

Lodge Park in Gloucestershire was where the last Lord Sherborne lived before he bequeathed his Sherborne Estate to the National Trust in 1982.

It wasn’t originally meant to be a home but a place to go with your mates. It was an ornamental grandstand built in the 1630s by the then owner John Dutton. A posh place to drink and bet on the deer selected from the adjoining park. The deer were sent down a walled corridor of land, chased by hounds across the front of this unique building. The assembly then probably got drunk and had venison for tea.

Lodge Park on the Sherborne Estate, Gloucestershire. This is John Dutton's grandstand where he and his mates could spend boozy afternoons betting on deer chased by hounds across the front of the building. About a century later the park behind the house was transformed into an avenued designed landscape by Charles Bridgeman. Our excavations were on the left (west) side of the building.

Lodge Park on the Sherborne Estate, Gloucestershire. This is John Dutton’s grandstand where he and his mates could spend boozy afternoons betting on deer chased by hounds across the front of the building. About a century later the park behind the house was transformed into an avenued designed landscape by Charles Bridgeman. Our excavations were on the left (west) side of the building.

The park is full of earthworks including the best preserved Gloucestershire long barrow and the earthworks of the strip fields of open field systems. Three parishes meet at a point just behind the Lodge and it was here in the 1720s that Charles Bridgeman chose the key outlook point for his innovative garden landscape design. A segway between earlier formal and later Capability type landscapes. Highly significant and we have his drawn plan. Was it ever completed? Did it work? Should NT redo it? Lots of discussions but that’s not the point of this blog.

We’ve discovered something new.

The stairs down to the 17th century basement kitchen infilled about 100 years ago and dug out again in the 1990s when Lodge Park was restored.

The stairs down to the 17th century basement kitchen infilled about 100 years ago and dug out again in the 1990s when Lodge Park was restored.

Back in the 1990s the NT took out the later additions and divisions within the Lodge Park Grandstand to return it to its 1630s form. The cellar had been backfilled about 100 years ago and this was dug out again to reveal the 1630s kitchens where John Dutton’s feasts were cooked. The cellar had vents put into it 20 years ago but despite this has always been damp wih mould growing off the walls and floors. Bit unpleasant.

One solution was to open the blocked door. In the 90s the discovery of the blocked door led to the suggestion that there had once been an external flight of stairs, a tradesman’s entrance where perhaps the venison and other food stuffs could be brought into the kitchen. So..find the stairs, uncover them, unblock the door, new access and extra ventilation…. damp problem solved.

November 2015 looking for the external stairway into the basement. No trace. We need a machine.

November 2015 looking for the external stairway into the basement. No trace. We need a machine.

So in November building surveyor Christina asked Jim and I to turn up with shovels and mattocks to look for the top step of the cellar stairway. On the most likely north side of the blocked door our hole just found modern service pipes. So we dug beneath flagstones on the south side nothing… the ground here seemed to be natural about 30cm down. We gave up and vowed to return with a machine.

The mysterious blocked door in the cellar. The ranging pole divisions are 0.2m and at 1.7m up you can see that the doorway and blocking has been removed and the wall rebuilt in the 19th century. Note the vent top right can be seen in the next photo outside to the left of the mini-digger.

The mysterious blocked door in the cellar. The ranging pole divisions are 0.2m and at 1.7m up you can see that the doorway and blocking has been removed and the wall rebuilt in the 19th century. Note the vent top right can be seen in the next photo outside to the left of the mini-digger.

A few weeks ago Jim brought his mini-digger. This time we aimed for the centre of the west side of the Lodge immediately above the blocked door. More reduntant drainage pipes and then clay and then… solid stone and mortar about 0.6m down. I jumped into the trench and cleaned back its gently arched top. There was a gap between the Lodge wall and the newly discovered structure. It was where the wall had been rebuilt about 100 years ago.

Mini-digger digs down to find the blocked door.

Mini-digger digs down to find the blocked door.

I took part of the filling from the gap and found that I could put my hand into a void under the structure. I was sitting on the roof of a vaulted chamber. I got a ranging pole and slid it into the gap and then swung it round into the void. It fell away. Only the front end was filled with spoil.

Solid stone and mortar roof of the vault cut by the rebuilding of the Lodge annex in the 19th century. We slid the ranging pole between the gap an waved it around in the empty space which is the hidden room or passage heading west...

Solid stone and mortar roof of the vault cut by the rebuilding of the Lodge annex in the 19th century. We slid the ranging pole between the gap and waved it around in the empty space which is the hidden room or passage heading west…

We speculated…is it a tunnel and where does it go? or is it just a hidden chamber. Jim reckoned it might lead to slaughter barn where the deer are supposed to have been dispatched before being brought to the Grandstand..

A mystery…I wonder whether we should unblock the door.

National Trust HBSMR and Windush

A WWII access track leading to a building in the trees.

A WWII access track leading to a building in the trees.

The National Trust owns many 1000s of archaeological sites. Some were purchased specifically but most were acquired by accident… in the sense that either we didn’t know they were there or perhaps the mansion house, art collection, garden, nature conservation or landscape value of the place was thought to be the pre-eminent reason for protecting it.

Every bit of land it seems has some sort of archaeology. Sometimes it’s a nationally significant site like a Neolithic causewayed enclosure or a Roman villa or sometimes its not so special like a 20th century sand pit (sincere apologies to archaeological sand pit enthusiasts).

We need to know what we’ve got as far as possible so it can be looked after appropriately.. so each piece of land should have a historic landscape and archaeological survey which unwraps the story of the people who occupied it and how they used it back down through the generations.

Every site gets a unique number.. a description.. a condition statement.. and recommendation on how it should be looked after. The information is put in our database HBSMR (Historic Buildings Sites and Monuments Record). Every building has a number… every earthwork… every buried site (that we know about), each find spot and scatter of debris found in a ploughed field… and even every sand pit.

Two air vents still attached to the collapsed roof of an RAF structure.

Two air vents still attached to the collapsed roof of an RAF structure.

We bring together all existing information and build on it over time typing it into the record and adding reports and notes on monitoring and work carried out on the site.

Three WWII blister hangers now used as farm buildings.

Three WWII blister hangers now used as farm buildings.

The information is now available on-line. Not perfect yet but it will get better. Type into Google… Heritage Gateway and search on the National Trust place you want to look at. For example, type the name Windrush and you will see.. third down below the lilac non-statutory organisations band.. National Trust HBSMR. 78 results.

View towards the rampart of Windrush Iron Age hillfort from the weathered brickwork of a WWII building.

View towards the rampart of Windrush Iron Age hillfort from the weathered brickwork of a WWII building.

Windrush is a scheduled Iron Age hillfort but it stands amongst the most extensive WWII air base the NT owns. Used as a pilot training base from 1940-45. Now a private tenanted farm full of gently decaying brick and concrete structures within woodland and pasture. There is a WWII map that describes the use of each structure.

View of the Watch Office from the pill box which once guarded RAF Windrush.

View of the Watch Office from the pill box which once guarded RAF Windrush.

The concrete identification code UR can be seen in giant letters in front of the air control Watch Office tower guarded by an octagonal pill box. It was bombed in 1940.. and one of the unarmed Avro Anson trainer planes rammed a Heinkel and brought it down. The RAF pilot Bruce Hancock is commemorated for his bravery in the local church.

Sherborne’s Romans at Woeful Lake

Dave agreed to join me but we only had a day. Two monuments at risk to investigate on the Sherborne Estate. 90 minutes there and 90 minutes back. Tim had agreed access with the farmers so we just had to get to the fields and begin.

From the Wiltshire Saxon minster settlement beside the river Were, we travelled north past Chippenham (where Alfred captured the Dane Guthrum in 878) across the M4 and up to Cirencester (Corinium Dubunnorum capital of the Roman province of Britannia Prima) then across the Gloucestershire Cotswolds passing near Chedworth Roman villa until we reached the Sherborne Estate. A large agricultural estate of several thousand acres.

The grand stable block for Sherborne House (not NT), once the centre of the Sherborne Estate.

The grand stable block for Sherborne House (not NT), once the centre of the Sherborne Estate.

We bumped down the track to Home Farm and lugged our geophysical survey equipment across the ploughed field to a faint bump. This is a scheduled monument and we needed to demonstrate that it was in fact a Bronze Age burial mound to persuade the farmer that it should be taken out of cultivation and preserved under grass.

Pegs, strings and measuring tapes. We laid out our 20m grid, assembled the resistivity meter, balanced the magnetometer and we were off, carefully avoiding each other. Dave’s magnetometer is thrown out by all the metal on the resistivity frame. Four grids each to cover the site but it was already after lunch when we packed the gear in the car and headed for Woeful Lake.

The barrow mound, a faint rise in arable. The survey enabled the burial mound to be take out of the plough.

The barrow mound, a faint rise in arable. The survey enabled the burial mound to be take out of the plough.

This was a bigger and better mound but also well worn down by years of ploughing. It was a couple of miles distant on the road down to the 17th century deer coursing grandstand of Lodge Park. Three and a half grids in.. and the res. meter stopped giving sensible readings. The cable wire had broken. Dave carried on, I packed up and then walked around the field for a bit.

I had already found one or two fragments of Roman pottery (we’d found nothing at all at Home Farm) and what was Roman pottery doing on a Bronze Age burial mound? I started to get my eye in and found fragments of worked flint which was more fitting ..but also lots more pottery, animal bone and fragments of non Cotswold stone..therefore brought in by the people that once lived here.

People had certainly lived here because as I walked across the field, with the sun beginning to set, clusters of stone revealed the outlines of buildings within the ploughsoil and within them concentrations of Roman occupation debris. I paced and plotted and made a rough map. Then we had to go. Dave finished the last grid and we headed home.

The barrow? mound at Home Farm had a square ditch around it. Interesting but unexpected

The barrow? mound at Home Farm had a square ditch around it. Interesting but unexpected

That evening, I poured the data into the computer. The Home Farm site didn’t look like a 4000 year old burial mound. It had a narrow rectangular ditch around it. However, Woeful Lake was a classic round barrow. Both my fragment of res. and Dave’s survey showed a broad circular quarry ditch defining the burial mound. In the small bit of survey we had time for, we could see that later boundary ditches and perhaps a rectangular building had been constructed around and against the mound.

The barrow at Woeful Lake does all the right things on the geophysical survey and more. A circular quarry ditch surrounds the mound. At the top of the survey, it looks as though a ditched avenue once led to the mound. The two ditches on either side converge on it but seem to respect and be diverted by the supposed avenue alignment. There is an inner ditch within the main quarry ditch and rectilinear ditches at the centre. Bottom right, the edge of a rectilinear ditched structure cuts into the barrow crossing the ditch. The black blobs across the survey are pits perhaps graves.

The barrow at Woeful Lake does all the right things on the geophysical survey and more. A circular quarry ditch surrounds the mound. At the top of the survey, it looks as though a ditched avenue once led to the mound. The two ditches on either side converge on it but seem to respect and be diverted by the supposed avenue alignment. There is inner ditch within the main quarry ditch and rectilinear ditches at the centre. Bottom right, the edge of a rectilinear ditched structure cuts into the barrow crossing the ditch. The black blobs across the survey are pits perhaps graves.

A good days work, but we had only scratched the surface. Woeful Lake Farmhouse is built at a spring line in the hollow at the upper end of a valley, if the barrow field contains Roman debris, it is likely that all the fields around the valley contain settlement remains. Had we discovered a small town?

This is the portable stone altar found in the Woeful Lake fields by Ann's team.

This is the portable stone altar found in the Woeful Lake fields by Ann’s team.

Ann from Gloucestershire Archaeological Society was willing to organise a team to find out.. and three years on, the fieldwork is progressing well. Ann has just produced her latest report. Fieldwalking and geophysics have shown that the remains extend over a large area. Carved stones, including a little portable altar, and metalwork include an ornate bronze furniture fitting. I’m quite excited at the prospect of reading the pottery report (Ann gave me a taster on the phone this week) which will give us an understanding of the length of time people lived there and where they were importing their stuff from. It will give us an idea of how wealthy some of them were.

Beyond Simon, the resistivity surveyor, is the farm set down at the head of the valley. The Roman settlement surrounds this spring line.

Beyond Simon, the resistivity surveyor, is the farm set down at the head of the valley. The Roman settlement surrounds this spring line.

We succeeded at Woeful Lake, the barrow is now out of cultivation and no longer a scheduled monument at risk and the Roman spin-off was an unexpected bonus.

Sherborne, A Puzzle Solved

This relates to the lost church of Sherborne excavation. No, we still don’t know where it was but a phone call from Tony today let me know that the identity of the strange stone structure has been solved (see ‘The Lost Church of Sherborne’).

A mix of finds from the site but the handle fragment on Tony's finger is typical of the Roman period.

A mix of finds from the site but the handle fragment on Tony’s finger is typical of the Roman period.

When we looked at the pottery from the site last week, there were one or two pieces that looked Roman mixed with everything else. When I visited, Tony’s team were about to dig the dark soil at the far end of the sunken stone structure with its strange parallel revetment walls. Over the weekend the soil was excavated and found to contain many more pieces of Roman pottery.

Another trench was dug nearby and this also full of Roman material including a fragment of painted plaster and cubes of cut brick and stone typical of a disturbed mosaic. There is likely to be a Roman farm or villa nearby.

Once the mystery structure was found to be Roman in date and was fully excavated it could be seen to be a partly robbed T shaped structure. This consisted of a wider channel with a narrower flue forming the top of the T.

The Roman corn dryer. The fire was lit near where the man is kneeling. The hot air would be drawn along the channel by the narrow flu which crosses the picture bottom left to top right. The flue stone has been partly robbed (at some time) on the right hand side of the picture.

The Roman corn dryer. The fire was lit near where the man is kneeling. The hot air would be drawn along the channel by the narrow flu which crosses the picture bottom left to top right. The flue stone has been partly robbed (at some time) on the right hand side of the picture.

When operational, the fire was lit at the bottom of the channel and hot air was drawn along it by the flue. This heated and dried newly harvested grain placed on racks above it. The dried grain would last longer so that it could be stored over winter. These sorts of corn dryers are quite common on Roman rural sites.

So the medieval church is still lost but evidence for a Roman farmstead has been found. The unexpected of archaeology keeps us guessing but makes it particularly enjoyable when a puzzle is solved.

The Lost Church of Sherborne

England’s a good place to be in the summer, especially when the sun’s out, Wimbledon’s on, and Andy Murray and Laura Robson have reached the 4th round.

However, the week is tinged with sadness. I lift my copy of Landscape Archaeology from the shelf, purchased during my first week of archaeological studies and read the forward by Michael Aston and Trevor Rowley. Both geographers, pioneering fieldwork techniques to unravel the history of the English countryside. Mick Aston’s legacy is his inspirational approach. Fathoming the time depth of ordinary villages and then sparking into flame the wonder of the past to enable millions to appreciate it.

So, writing about an ordinary village is fitting this week, particularly one that involves a community archaeology project.

On Wednesday, I visited Tony’s dig in Sherborne, Gloucestershire (not the more famous Dorset one). The Sherborne Estate was given to the National Trust in 1982. It consists of 1000s of acres of farmland, two parks and an ancient settlement site. The village was largely rebuilt for Lord Sherborne in the early 19th century, soon after he knocked down and rebuilt his mansion house. The parish church now stands beside this house but this is not the original church site.

Sherborne Church beside the Sherborne House

Sherborne Church beside the Sherborne House

In the early 16th century, when Sherborne belonged to the Abbey of Winchcombe, the original church lay within the village but the location is unknown. One of the buildings seems to have parts of the church reused in it.

The cottage at Sherborne which has a door with a Norman arch and reused medieval windows.

The cottage at Sherborne which has a door with a Norman arch and reused medieval windows.

There is a tradition that the church site lies in a pasture field next to Stone Farm and the farmer asked Tony to carry out a geophysical survey there. This showed features that looked like buried walls and he wrote a project design and asked whether he could put in some evaluation trenches. I issued a National Trust research licence and he excavated the site working with local people. Diana and Byron had studied the history of the place and had digitised the maps and documents of the area. The maps only show an empty field, no buildings were shown as far back as the 18th century when mapping began here but the church was long gone by then. Byron told me of the stories passed down concerning the location of the old church.

Tony dug two trenches on the geophysical anomalies and found prehistoric flint, a few sherds of probable Roman pottery as well as Norman and later medieval material but all mixed with 19th century finds.

Medieval pottery found in the excavation mixed with earlier and later finds.

Medieval pottery found in the excavation mixed with earlier and later finds.

The site had been throughly turned over a couple of hundred years ago but the pottery and flint showed that people had been living at Sherborne for 1000s of years.

Tony's trenches with the Stones Farm in the background.

Tony’s trenches with the Stones Farm in the background.

The excavation did not find the church. It found a curious sunken structure lined with parallel revetment walls, blocked at one end and perhaps 300-400 years old. We speculated in the sunshine.

Tony's curious archaeological feature with an area of burning at the far end. The answer may lie under the dark soil where the man is kneeling.

Tony’s curious archaeological feature with an area of burning at the far end. The answer may lie under the dark soil where the man is kneeling.

It looks very much like a side gate we excavated at Corfe Castle but an unhelpful comparison here. We thought of a lime kiln, a subterranean passage, a tanning tank. Clutching at straws really. One end was blocked by a wall and the other end awaited excavation. Some flagstones were disappearing under the excavation section. We will wait and see what lies beneath the soil.

I left the dig and walked down the road to the cottage with the Norman arch. It has a cross passage with a round headed arch over both front and back doors. A medieval lancet window above the back door and two quatrefoil windows at each gable end. A little cottage with lots of architectural bling. I looked again at the Norman arch. Whoever put it there was careful to assemble it just as it was, without breaking anything (unusual.. reassembled features often give clues to their reassembly). Perhaps the site is very close to the cottage… perhaps the cottage is the site… but the walls aren’t thick enough to be medieval.

The Norman front door to the cottage.

The Norman front door to the cottage.