Stourhead? Where’s Stourton Castle?

In south Wiltshire, on the border with Dorset and Somerset was built a great and ancient house. It lay at the centre of a large estate and was known as Stourton Castle..

but there is a problem…

We don’t know where it is

We have a picture.

An enhanced drawing based on John Aubrey's original sketch.

An enhanced drawing based on John Aubrey’s original sketch.

Drawn from a 1670 sketch by the antiquarian John Aubrey.

The place was massive and must have looked a bit like Lacock Abbey

Lacock Abbey in north Wiltshire. Stourton Castle was arranged around two courtyards like this and would have been of similar scale and outward appearance.

Lacock Abbey in north Wiltshire. Stourton Castle was arranged around two courtyards like this and would have been of similar scale and outward appearance.

but it’s gone.. apparently without trace.

The story of the removal of Stourton Castle and the creation of Stourhead House has a touch of Poldark about it.

The Stourtons (old money Poldark) and the Hoares (new money Warleggan)

The Stourton family had taken their name from the village of Stourton (the farm by the River Stour), a place recorded in Domesday and at least Saxon in origin. The Stourtons claimed that their line went back to a mighty Saxon lord… Botulph.. and William Camden, writing in 1607, saw a ‘monstrous bone’ displayed in Stourton Castle… a leg of their legendary ancestor.

The surviving records trace the family back to the 12th century but the Stourtons only emerge as lords of the manor in the 13th century documents. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the family did very well and built up cash reserves via good marriages and military service in France.

Their manor house blossomed and flourished. Aubrey’s picture shows that it was built around two large courtyards and had a tall tower and shows parapets with military style battlements.

Things fell apart for the Stourtons in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the early 16th century, William Lord Stourton was working for Henry VIII in France and left the care of his estate to his trusted steward William Hartgill…he also looked after Lord Stourton’s ¬†wife Elizabeth.

When Lord Stourton died in 1548, his hot-tempered son Charles inherited the Estate. He rode with a band of henchmen to Kilmington near Stourton and found his mother living at Hartgill’s house. A feud grew up between the men and eventually, in 1557, Lord Stourton kidnapped William and his son John, murdered them and buried their bodies in a cellar within the Castle.

As a catholic, with Queen Mary on the throne, Charles believed that he would get away with the murders. However, William Hartgill had friends and they made sure that the Castle was searched, the bodies found and Lord Stourton arrested. He was convicted and executed in Salisbury. His wife was forced to pay for her husband’s property which had been forfeited to the Crown following his trial. She was also separated from her eldest son John, who was only a child at the time.

The family backed the wrong side in the Civil War. In September 1644, Parliamentarian forces set fire to one of the gates, captured the house, ransacked it and made it untenable.The eldest son John was killed at the battle for Bristol and when the Royalist cause was finally lost, the estates were confiscated and heavy fines were imposed.

The family fortunes continued to decline and by 1686 the impoverished Stourton family had mortgaged their ancestral home and by 1704 it was for sale.

Enter the Hoare family who had made a fortune through banking. In 1720, they purchased the whole estate, demolished the castle and built a new flashy Palladian villa… quite the latest thing. They changed the name to Stourhead. The house at the source of the River Stour.

The Hoare family made sure the transformation was carried out quickly. They paid for a survey of their new property in 1722 and the Estate Map shows the new house completed… Stourton Castle was gone.

The 1722 map shows the new Stourhead House with its garden intruding slightly onto the courtyard of the stables and outbuildings below and to the right. Was this a retained part of the old house?

The 1722 map shows the new Stourhead House with its garden intruding slightly into the top left hand corner of the stable courtyard. The courtyard is below and right of the house. With a large gateway facing south. Was this the outer courtyard of the old house?

Finding the site has been difficult, the normal techniques have proved to be inconclusive and the quest for the Castle has become a great archaeological challenge.

It seemed simple at first. The 1880s 25 inch OS map marks a cross about 100m east of Stourhead House with the legend ‘site of Stourton Castle’ So we geophysed it and the results were very disappointing. Since then, year by year, we have surveyed around the house but nothing has been revealed.

When Meg did her student placement for the National Trust, I asked her to find the Castle and her MA dissertation tracked down the documentary references and descriptions of its chambers and halls and its chapel, which included a decorated tiled floor inlaid with the initials WS for William Stourton. Documents in the record offices of Cornwall, Wiltshire, Somerset and nearby Longleat House were examined. These built up the background: the estate, the farmland, the deer park and hunting lodge, the warren and the warrener’s lodge… bits about the repair of the great house and its approximate location… but nothing to pin it down.

We looked at the fabric of the stone-lined cellars of Stourhead House. Had they built the new house on the old?

The cellars of Stourhead House. Some reused stone but nothing to indicate that these were once the cellars of Stourton Castle.

The cellars of Stourhead House. Some reused stone but nothing to indicate that these were once the cellars of Stourton Castle.

We examined the stableyard to the south. This includes in its walls great chunks of reused? stone and a 16th century? doorway. Was this the remodeled outer courtyard of the Castle?. We dug a trench on its north side, hoping to find medieval walls leading to the inner courtyard.. just 18th century pottery above deep soil.

Our fieldwork in Stourhead Park. Earth resistance meter against the railings and our trench beside the stables courtyard to the left. The Hoare family's 1720s mansion Stourhead House can be seen top right. The site of old Stourton Castle lies somewhere to the right of this picture.

Our fieldwork in Stourhead Park. Earth resistance meter against the railings and our trench beside the stables courtyard to the left. The Hoare family’s 1720s mansion Stourhead House can be seen top right. The site of old Stourton Castle lies somewhere to the right of this picture.

So where is it hiding? A LiDAR laser survey of the parkland ground surface might help or more sensitive geophysics… perhaps ground probing radar. Everything seems to point near the cross marked by Ordnance Survey. A line of pre-Stourhead House chestnut trees are aligned north towards this point where there is a mound in the park. From the east, an old drove-way passes through Drove Lodge and runs as an earthwork into the park.

Our site is most likely to exist where these two alignments meet. Surely the backfilled cellars and extensive robbed out walls lie there or thereabouts.

We’ll keep looking.

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…¬†presumably 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.

The Rose Garden at Lacock Abbey

7th May 1832
Monday
My Dear Henry
The Urn is up in my garden! Oh! how pretty! Persian lilacs in blow! Horse chesnuts coming in flower!

Long ago, if the day was dragging, we’d engage in conversation over afternoon tea, a nonsense exchange featuring National Trust places with all the wrong facts (yes I know.. we are far older, more sensible and open plan now). It ended with the words.. “of course that’s where photography was invented”. According to the rules that was never Lacock.

Last October, Sue showed me the Rose Garden. It is a 12.5m diameter circular iron trellis work punctuated by four arched entrances to north, south, east and west, and in between – four curving rose beds. To the north is an alcove seat set in a wall under a gothic arch. When sitting here you can see through the north arch of the Rose Garden and appreciate the classic stone Urn on its pedestal.. which forms its centre piece.

The Rose Garden looking east in October.

The Rose Garden looking east in October.

That was Lady Elizabeth’s alcove Sue said and this is her Rose Garden. Lady Elizabeth Fox-Strangeways was the mother of William Henry Fox Talbot (the inventor of photography). The garden was becoming tired. Sue needed to repair the trellis work and replace the soil in the rose beds.

I looked at the metal edging on concrete and she said: “This Rose Garden was only put up in 1992, the old one, so I’ve been told was taken down in the 1960s but they kept the trellis and stored it in a barn. I don’t think it’s in the right place though. We keep tripping up over bits of metal when we cut the grass.”

We agreed to meet again when the turf was up and the trellis down and that was last Tuesday.

The early 19th century was a massive time of discovery. Researchers did not limit themselves to particular subjects.. they grazed across the broad sweep of science and art. They were often clever wealthy land owners with money and time on their hands and sharp inquiring minds. NT SW has Andrew Crosse at Fyne Court (West Somerset) who engaged in electrical experiments. The locals thought he was acting as God and bringing things to life through harnessing lightning via wires draped in trees around his mansion. Mary Shelley heard him lecture in London.
William Bankes travelled in Egypt brought back the Philae obelisk to Kingston Lacy (Dorset) and helped decipher the hieroglyphs.

In 1832, W.Henry Fox Talbot married his wife Constance and took her to Lake Como in Italy. His frustration at not being able to draw the beauty of the scene led him to experiment and find a way to capture an image. The first photos anywhere. Science to enable art.

I returned to the Rose Garden last week. The metal spikes sticking out of the ground were clear. Sue, Reg and the garden volunteers cleared off the topsoil and they found that each fixing was set in lead within a chunk of dressed stone. The stones were all different shapes and sizes and were probably reused pieces of Henry’s home.. medieval Lacock Abbey.

Sue was right though, it was in the wrong place.. in 1992 it had been built 5m west of its old location. The view from the alcove should not be blocked by the Rose Garden.

There were six stones to each of the four entrances and two intermediary stones to carry the trellis between them. The outer ring was to carry swags of trailing roses. The inner stones carried the arched trellises for each of the entrances. The view to the west between the stone settings framed the spire of Lacock’s medieval St Cyriac’s church.

The view east towards the church through the 1832 east Rose Garden entrance. The site of the old urn pedestal lies in the centre of the photo in front of the 1992 urn.

The view east towards the church through the 1832 east Rose Garden entrance. The site of the old urn pedestal lies in the centre of the photo in front of the 1992 urn.

We measured to the centre and dug down. There was the plinth for Lady Elizabeth’s Urn. Her son Henry (he preferred his second name) took a picture of it for her in ..1840. Sue had relocated the scene of one of the earliest photographs anywhere.

W.H. Fox Talbot's photograph of the Rose Garden taken in June 1840. One of a group of photographs he sent to the Italian botanist Antoino Bertoloni. He wrote back to say that this was the image he liked the best.

W.H. Fox Talbot’s photograph of the Rose Garden taken in June 1840. One of a group of photographs he sent to the Italian botanist Antoino Bertoloni. He wrote back to say that this was the image he liked the best.

Reg brought the garden ladder and I photographed it again.

The Rose Garden from the garden ladder. The turf cut from the 1992 garden but the stones from the 1830s garden and central pedestal 5m left of it.

The Rose Garden from the garden ladder. The turf cut from the 1992 garden but the stones from the 1830s garden and central pedestal 5m left of it.

Bodies in Trenches 2013

A good time to review some of the discoveries of the past year. Much of what we have written here is to do with work that National Trust archaeologists have carried out themselves. However, resources dictate that I usually need to a ask archaeological contractors to carry out recording work.

A typical watching brief situation. This time for a new water pipe at Ebworth, Gloucestershire dug in September this year.

A typical watching brief situation. This time for a new water pipe at Ebworth, Gloucestershire dug in September this year.

Here are some of the discoveries from repairs, developments and service trenches that needed excavating this year. At some places, a trench can be dug where there is a near certainty that archaeology will be affected…even when the location has been chosen to avoid it. At others, we do not have enough information to know what will be discovered. Geophysics can help… but often it is difficult to know what lies beneath the ground.

Montacute, Somerset built c.1600. There are lost garden features and earlier settlement evidence here. Particularly an ornate gatehouse which is supposed to lie between the pavilion buildings shown on this picture.

Montacute, Somerset built c.1600. There are lost garden features and earlier settlement evidence here. Particularly an ornate gatehouse which is supposed to lie between the pavilion buildings shown on this picture.

In January, trenching for a new drainage system and fibre-optic cable line around the house at Montacute, Somerset was watched by Mike and Peter of Terrain Archaeology but nothing much came up there despite the the archaeological potential of the place. Beyond history there is only archaeology to help us understand. A similar trench at Tyntesfield recorded by Jim of Talits (The Answer Lies In The Soil) found the footings of the original entrance lodge for the mansion complete with its fireplace and flagstone floor. Sam of Absolute Archaeology watched a cable trench for the new IT system in Kingston Lacy Park and this revealed a concentration of flint tools evidence for a Neolithic and Bronze Age occupation site here over 4000 years ago.

Bottle Knap cottage, Long  Bredy, Dorset. A new service trench came across 2 burials recorded by Peter and Mike of Terrain Archaeology.

Bottle Knap cottage, Long Bredy, Dorset. A new service trench came across 2 burials recorded by Peter and Mike of Terrain Archaeology.

In May, bodies were found. Bottleknap Cottage in Long Bredy, west Dorset is the only piece of National Trust land in the Bride Valley. Peter and Mike were asked to watch while a new drain and soakaway were dug there. At about a metre deep, the digger bucket brought up bones beneath a pile of rubble. Remains of two human skeletons had been discovered in a completely unexpected place… several hundred metres from the parish church. Probably pre-Christian but there was no previous evidence for an ancient settlement site here.. so we will have to wait for the radiocarbon date to find out how old they are.

The parish church at Long Bredy. The Bottleknap burials were found a few hundred metres from the church yard. The hollow-way to the right leads up to the chalk downland where the South Dorset Ridgeway Bronze Age round barrow cemetery can be found. Perhaps the Bottleknap bodies are pre-Christian like those beneath the burial mounds.

The parish church at Long Bredy. The Bottleknap burials were found a few hundred metres from the church yard. The hollow-way to the right leads up to the chalk downland where the South Dorset Ridgeway Bronze Age round barrow cemetery can be found. Perhaps the Bottleknap bodies are pre-Christian like those beneath the burial mounds.

In the summer… and now into their stride, Mike and Peter watched a drainage trench at Thomas Hardy’s house at Max Gate. Although late Victorian, Max Gate sits on a large Middle Neolithic enclosure.. it dates to about 3000 BC (like the earthwork around Stonehenge). Hardy found Iron Age and Roman burials here when his house and garden were created, so a new excavation was bound to hit something ..wherever it was located. The trench was dug carefully.. by hand but sure enough it uncovered the top of a Roman burial. The skeleton was covered and the pipe placed above it and whoever it was.. was left it in peace.

Thomas Hardy's House at Max Gate, Dorchester is built on a Middle Neolithic enclosure like the one surrounding Stonehenge, the stone in the foreground comes from the site. Thomas Hardy found Iron Age and Roman burials here and Peter and Mike found another this year.

Thomas Hardy’s House at Max Gate, Dorchester is built on a Middle Neolithic enclosure like the one surrounding Stonehenge, the stone in the foreground comes from the site. Thomas Hardy found Iron Age and Roman burials here and Peter and Mike found another this year.

Bob of Forum Heritage has been recording historic buildings for us.. the paper mill at Silverton, Killerton Estate in Devon and the Almshouses in Sherborne village, Gloucestershire. He is currently making a record of Hyde Farm in Dorset while it is being refurbished. The walls have subsided over the last 200 years. The reason being that they are sinking into the pits and foundation trenches of an Iron Age settlement.

Jon of AC Archaeology did some archaeological recording while the Knightshayes cricket pavilion, Devon was being built. We thought that settlement remains from the nearby Roman fort might be found but the evidence was limited to the footings for a guardhouse used by the Americans during WWII.

These are all small important fragments, pieces from jigsaws of the past. Trenches are windows. Archaeological layers can only be broken up once. An experienced eye is needed, someone to write the story of what they see.

I wonder what 2014 will bring. On Monday I go to Lacock to discuss the route of a new sewage pipe for the Abbey.The new trench will have to negotiate a lot of buried archaeology.. as we found out when the old one was repaired in 96.

A new sewage treatment plant was needed at Lacock, Wiltshire. The site of the medieval monastic infirmary lies in this area and so AC Archaeology excavated it in 1996. Further work is needed this year.

A new sewage treatment plant was needed at Lacock, Wiltshire. The site of the medieval monastic infirmary lies in this area and so AC Archaeology excavated it in 1996. Further work is needed this year.

Upon Cley Hill 2

Just a quick post today.

Early morning on Cley Hill  with my resistivity meter for scale. Not much use for anything else at the moment.

Early morning on Cley Hill with my resistivity meter for scale. Not much use for anything else at the moment.

I went back to Cley Hill on Wednesday. Balmy warm in September but chillier now. Ben gave me a lift along the track to the stile but then we loaded up with equipment and slogged up the steep hill. Pausing for breath we saw the melting first frost of the season create a mist rising from the fields.

Geophysics is always a race against time. How many grids can we do in a day. First lay out the 20m grids. Dave stretched his 100m tapes across the hill top. He can move fast with his double magnetometer and covers about 40 grids in a day. The resistivity meter is slower and 10 grids is pretty good for it.

I put it all together and placed the probes in the ground. Walked the first row and every reading was completely different. It was bust. The cable had broken somewhere. I cut a bit off and reconnected it. No good.

Paul tamping down the chalk around the OS Trig Station. It attracts a lot of erosion.

Paul tamping down the chalk around the OS Trig Station. It attracts a lot of erosion.

Ben and the other Wiltshire National Trust Rangers began bringing up the chalk in the powered wheelbarrows. The place is popular. When the ground is worn down by many feet it needs a repair to prevent buried archaeological deposits from being worn away.

Ben's erosion repair on the side of the Bronze Age burial mound. In the distance more chalk repair material being brought up the hill with tracked motorised wheelbarrow.

Ben’s erosion repair on the side of the Bronze Age burial mound. In the distance more chalk repair material being brought up the hill with tracked motorised wheelbarrow.

Dave did well. He finished the area we had planned and the results show buried pits and hut platforms from the Iron Age hill top settlement as well as the ditches of the burial mounds there. We have more to do and we’ll go back in the Spring once the resistivity meter’s fixed and it warms up again.

Dave near the end of his survey with the double magnetometer  (thank you Bournemouth University) as the sun starts to cast long shadows.

Dave near the end of his survey with the double magnetometer (thank you Bournemouth University) as the sun starts to cast long shadows.


A beautiful sunny day but the wind, the wind….

View from an ex-bridge at Lacock

On Thursday, I arrived early at Lacock. I needed to check something out before the meeting. I opened the gate and walked down the drive to the Abbey. It was quiet. The lull before opening. Bright sunlight in a clear blue sky.

The view of Lacock Abbey from the bridge site. William Sharrington's early 16th century tower on the left, built while  converting the medieval nunnery into his fashionable new home. The tower occupies the east end of the demolished abbey church.

The view of Lacock Abbey from the bridge site. William Sharrington’s early 16th century tower on the left, built while converting the medieval nunnery into his fashionable new home. The tower occupies the east end of the demolished abbey church.

Good to pick out the stonework on the south side. The light and shadow revealed the various phases of building and redesign of Lacock Abbey from its creation in 1232 until William Fox Talbot’s early 19th century gothic bay windows. I stood on the lawn, where the monastic church used to be and looked up. Yes, that’s the window, the subject of his first pioneering photograph (Lacock, the birthplace of photography).

The south side of Lacock looking across the lawn where the Abbey church used to stand until 1538. The site became a Tudor garden. The smaller Neo-gothic bay/oriel window to the left was William Fox-Talbot's first photographic subject.

The south side of Lacock looking across the lawn where the Abbey church used to stand until 1538. The site became a Tudor garden. The smaller Neo-gothic bay/oriel window to the left was William Fox-Talbot’s first photographic subject.

I said hello to the gardener and jumped over the terrace wall, crossing the meadow to the river. Was there really much of the bridge left?. I’d seen it on an 18th-century landscape sketch of the Abbey.. and that bridge had looked rather flimsy. I pushed aside the nettles and peered through the trees. There it was… and the stone bridge abutment foundations were massive. The river was low so I could see a pile of collapsed stone crossing the width of the Avon.

The view across the river to the bridge abutment on the east side. The river is cutting into the edge of the bank upending trees and cutting away the bridge remains.

The view across the river to the bridge abutment on the east side. The river is cutting into the edge of the bank upending trees and cutting away the bridge remains.

The banks were too steep. The grips on my shoes weren’t good enough. I went back to the Manor Barn for the conservation meeting. Graham the GM agreed to find money to record the bridge remains before the river took it away. I would ask Jane and Tony to create scale drawings, photograph the stonework and report on the evidence.

In the afternoon I went back, this time with my boots on so that I could climb down to the river edge. The stonework looked medieval. The river had cut into the east side of the bridge abutment revealing layers of bridge construction.

The

The Avon river level is low at the moment so the stonework is visible. The substantial stone footings of the Abbey bridge abutment hidden by the woodland edge.

When was it built?

The road bridge, a few hundred metres to the south, had been on the site for hundreds of years. 250 years ago, even when the old main road was moved to enlarge Lacock park, the new road still used the old bridge.

The medieval bridge that still carries the road traffic to Devizes. The route of the road across Lacock park was shifted in the late 18th century but the position of the bridge remained the same.

The medieval bridge that still carries the road traffic to Devizes. The route of the road across Lacock park was shifted in the late 18th century but the position of the bridge remained the same.

Is the ruined bridge earlier than this one? Was it there before the Abbey or was it built for the Augustinian nuns to cross the river? Perhaps it was built for William Sharrington when he acquired the buildings after the monasteries were closed and sold by Henry VIII. The first map of the park was drawn for John Ivory Talbot in 1714 and the bridge was certainly there then.

A map made for John Ivory Talbot shows that the bridge across the Avon was already in place in 1714. It is probably much older.

A map made for John Ivory Talbot shows that the bridge across the Avon was already in place in 1714. It is probably much older.

Let’s hope Jane and Tony can work it out before the river washes away more of the structure. Of course, rivers like the sea are a non-negotiable force. Archaeological preservation by record is usually the only solution.

Upon Cley Hill

Kim demands a walk after tea. ‘We should go to Cley Hill, there’s time before dark’. Kate and Emma were up for it and we piled into the car, crossed the by-pass and pulled into the empty NT car-park beside the Longleat Estate.

Cley Hill from Warminster  with its distinctive round barrow on the summit.

Cley Hill from Warminster with its distinctive round barrow on the summit.

The days are disappearing fast as we slip into autumn.

We stood by the car and immediately realised that our decision had been good. The drama of the evening was upon us and we, it seemed, would be its audience. The atmosphere was still, barely a breeze and warm for late September. We quickened our pace along the path, Kim running ahead, passing a lone loaded apple tree. Across the stile and up the steep hill across the stepped medieval strip lynchets.

 Cley Hill leading to Little Cley Hill top centre of the photo. The 19th century chalk quarry in the foreground cuts through the ditch and rampart of the Iron Age hillfort and a linear boundary bank which runs over a Bronze Age burial mound hidden by gorse (now cleared). Beyond is the large burial mound with a dimple on the top. The remains of the excavation by Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington in the early 19th century. To the right are medieval arable terraces known as lynchets.

Cley Hill leading to Little Cley Hill top centre of the photo. The 19th century chalk quarry in the foreground cuts through the ditch and rampart of the Iron Age hillfort and a linear boundary bank which runs over a Bronze Age burial mound hidden by gorse (now cleared). Beyond is the large burial mound with a dimple on the top. The remains of the excavation by Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington in the early 19th century. To the right are medieval arable terraces known as lynchets.

We looked back..WOW! A truly bonfire sky. Deep purples over the Warminster houses, shading up to reds, oranges and pink blues.

It kept changing as we looked and to the right a ragged kite tail.. a flight of birds aiming for the hill. Others emerged from the dusk. The atmosphere was such that they seemed to just materialise as we looked, and flight after flight headed for the sun.

We almost missed it. On the summit, we stopped on the small burial mound and saw it sinking fast, a bright yellow-red flash into the hills beyond Frome. We crossed to the large barrow and sat on its west side to enjoy the autumn sunset spectacular. A triumph of light, shadow and mist. Silhouetted slope-lines capped by hedges and trees fading out to the horizon.

Our balcony seat was a 4000 year old burial mound within a 2000 year old hillfort. Cley Hill, the landscape icon of Warminster… the icon of all the residents of this strategic place through history and prehistory. Generations have left their mark on this chalk outlier, guarding the western entrance into the Wylye Valley.

When the Iron Age coins are plotted across this landscape, it seems that Cley lies on a tribal border. The Dubunnic nation dominated the Greensand landscape to the west and north but the Durotriges held the high chalklands to the east. The escarpment edge was a natural rampart guarded by the hillforts of Bratton, Battlesbury and Scratchbury. Cley Hill perhaps acted as a Durotrigan totem and borderland marker. Even today it lies close to the Somerset/Wiltshire boundary.

View of Cley Hill from Battlesbury hillfort looking west across Warminster at the entrance of the Wylye Valley. The valley forms the southern edge of Salisbury Plain and runs east as far as the confluence of rivers at Salisbury. The valley was an important  routeway.

View of Cley Hill from Battlesbury hillfort looking west across Warminster at the entrance of the Wylye Valley. The valley forms the southern edge of Salisbury and runs east as far as the confluence of rivers at Salisbury. The valley was an important routeway.

2000 years before, an important local leader chose the hill top as his monument. His burial mound has dominated the skyline ever since. It was too prominent to be ignored. 200 years ago, local antiquarians Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington dug a hole through the top. Their excavation is still a dimple on the summit. They found little. Unknown grave robbers had beaten them to it long before.

Cley Hill was given to the National Trust by the Longleat Estate and Ben the ranger looks after it helped by volunteers. The balance of nature and archaeological conservation requires careful management. A good grazing regime, scrub control and recently the patching of erosion scars with chalk.

Erosion to the west side of the large bowl barrow

Erosion to the west side of the large bowl barrow

Little is known about the buried archaeology on Cley Hill so it was very worrying when metal detector holes began to appear. We have no idea what has been taken. This week, I wrote to English Heritage to obtain a section 42 licence for the scheduled monument. This will allow us to carry out Cley’s first geophysical survey. I wonder what evidence of past lives is hidden by the turf.

A distinctive cut piece of turf where a metal object has been detected and removed from the ground. What was found ? it is lost from its context now.

A distinctive cut piece of turf where a metal object has been detected and removed from the ground. What was found ? it is lost from its context now.

We were certainly not the first to enjoy the beauty of a September sunset from the burial mound. Many hundreds of thousands of people had been there before us.. but on this particular evening ..we held vigil and stood watch for Warminster for a while.

Sunset behind Cley Hill

Sunset behind Cley Hill

We walked back in deep dusk, picking our way through the long abandoned chalk quarry on the south side of the hill, back across the lynchets to the path, Kim running ahead and wagging his tail in delight.