Hampshire Archaeology

Hampshire excavations # 5

An occasional series covering Hampshire digs large and small; the Greyhound and Albany Hotel sites, 1989 and 1997.


Part of the zoomorphic roof finial (see below). The nose is 70mm across.

Fordingbridge lies just to the west of the New Forest, about 4 km to the south-east of Rockbourne Roman villa. It sits on the west bank of the Hampshire Avon, the river being spanned by a seven-arched stone bridge dating from the 14th or 15th centuries. Fordingbridge functioned as a market centre at least from the 13th century and was the head of a Deanery including Ringwood and Christchurch. Archaeological excavations in the area just to the north of the bridge have revealed a sequence of 13th and 14th century buildings with interesting decorative features, as well as a 17th to 18th century tannery.


Flint wall footings of the earlier (Phase 2) occupation

Hearths and Fires

The first archaeological work, by the Avon Valley Archaeological Society under the direction of Anthony Light, took place in 1989. This followed the demolition of the Greyhound and Albany hotels. The core of the Greyhound had been known to date from the second half of the 17th century. Excavation revealed that this area had been occupied by a small medieval cottage to which a hearth of reddened clay had been added in the 15th century. In the following century the cottage was rebuilt and given an inglenook fireplace. An additional room with a hearth of overlapping peg tile was then added, using the old hearth as a foundation. The house was destroyed by fire, probably in the late 16th century. The Greyhound Inn was built a little before 1663 – a fairly worn Charles I farthing (c.1640) was found in a footing trench – but the building was destroyed in 1672 during a fire which affected much of the town. It was reconstructed two years later, using some of the original foundations. A half-cellar, employing natural springs to cool the stored barrels of beer, was utilised into the second half of the 20th century.


Wessex Archaeology work begins: Phil Harding in attendance.

In 1997 Wessex Archaeology undertook further excavations, with Phil Harding directing the work. One of the three trenches included the footprint of the Albany Hotel, premises which had been rebuilt as tenements in 1879 and documented as the Albany Temperance Hotel in 1881. Excavation revealed an earlier rectangular building of the 13th or 14th centuries with flint foundations. The gable end faced Bridge Street and the substantial structure extended back at least two bays. The archaeological report of 2003 suggests that the unusual siting allowed the owners to collect tolls from traffic using the bridge. These owners were probably of some social standing as the overlying demolition layer contained a fine assemblage of ceramic building material. This included fragments of at least three louvres. The absence of sooting on their interior indicates that they were used for ventilation, rather than the escape of smoke. They all have some green glaze and the fabric suggests that they were produced by the kilns at Laverstock near Salisbury.


The cow reunited with its ear- a leg and other fragments were also found.

Other roof furniture included coxcomb ridge tiles. These are also of Laverstock-type, as was a very interesting find – a ‘zoomorphic finial’ fragment. This relatively realistic representation of a cow’s head would have been attached to a ridge tile. It has applied ears and horns (one missing). Other fragments include a leg and possible tail.


The view from the bridge shows the proximity of the River Avon


One of the ‘barrel pits’ (right)

It has been suggested that the cow finial may have had symbolic value, linking with the later tanning activity. The ‘Albany Hotel’ trench revealed features associated with tanning activity dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. A stone-lined trough with a brick floor contained lime and clay deposits, one of which yielded an 18th century pottery sherd. In addition, four barrel pits were probably used for the immersion of hides in tanning solutions. The animal bone evidence suggests that both cattle hides and sheep skins were processed at the site.

Further reading

A1989.30 & A1997.37 Archives deposited with the Hampshire Cultural Trust

Hampshire County Council 1997, ‘Fordingbridge Archaeological Assessment Document’ in Hampshire Extensive Urban Studies. Online:< http://documents.hants.gov.uk/archaeology/28414FordingbridgeExtensiveUrbanSurvey.pdf>

Harding, P. and Light, A. 2003, Excavations in Fordingbridge, 1989 and 1997: The former Albany and Greyhound Hotel site, Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, Vol 58, pp. 130-176. Online: < http://www.hantsfieldclub.org.uk/publications/hampshirestudies/digital/2000s/vol58/Harding.pdf>

Light, A. 1990 ‘Fordingbridge – Greyhound Hotel’ in Hughes, M.F. [Ed] Archaeology in Hampshire 1989, Hampshire County Council., pp.25-30.

Series by:         Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.

Hampshire excavations #4

An occasional series covering Hampshire digs large and small; Foxcotte, a Deserted Medieval Village (1979-81).

According the Domesday survey of 1086, the estate of Foxcotte was held as two manors: one of them was the now deserted settlement of Foxcotte, possibly then comprising about twelve families. Lying to the northwest of Andover, its south end was bounded by the Portway Roman road and it was crossed both by the River Anton and the Harroway, an ancient trackway.


Foxcotte: concentrated effort!

Excavations took place from 1979-81 as part of the Test Valley Archaeological Committee Medieval Project, and evidence was also recovered of activity in the Mesolithic, Bronze Age, Roman, and Saxon periods. The earliest buildings found belonged to the 13th to 14th centuries with expansion taking place into the late medieval period. Although the growth of the hamlet slowed in the succeeding centuries, the desertion of the settlement occurred well after medieval times.  A series of wills from the 16th century give information about the property and achievements of independent villagers: at this time the estate included at least 13 households. A beautifully drawn estate map of 1614 shows a village with chapel, manor house and other dwellings. By the 1841 census only seven households, including the Manor House, remained: five of these were headed by a labourer.


The structures of the earliest medieval phase were timber-built.  A series of stakeholes, for instance, were interpreted as a long, centre-aisled building. This had been partitioned, perhaps for the purposes of stabling animals or storing agricultural produce and tools. The pottery from this area was heavily eroded suggesting that the land had been ploughed after the building had been abandoned. Excavation revealed structural evidence of only one other building of the 13th to 14th century but fragments of sandstone roof tile suggest that a substantial, high-status building existed nearby.


The southern structure unearthed in ‘Area G’.

The remains of a building (above) dating to the late medieval period (15th – 16th centuries) indicate the existence of a fairly wealthy household up until the end of this period. Flint wall footings rested on the chalk, reaching a maximum of 0.5m above the floor. It is probable that they supported a timber frame with wattle and daub infill. At the centre of the building was a room which was probably open to the rafters. This contained a hearth constructed of pitched roof tiles, later given a hearth-back of malmstone (Upper Greensand) blocks. In another room an oven had been constructed from mortared roof-tile fragments. A nearby building containing an oven and cisterns was probably used as a bake-house or brew-house.


Detail of the pitched tile and stone hearth at the centre of the building

The 1614 map was drawn up for the benefit of Sir Edward Barrett (Lord of the Manor). Some of his land was held in tenure by such as ‘widow Joanna Hellier’. Her holding was of over 53 acres with a house which was included in the excavation area. In the mid-17th century the house was demolished and the site was later occupied by a granary. A sickle-blade was found in the demolition debris of the house.


Two of the rumbler bells or ‘crotals’; the maker’s mark ‘W’ can be seen on the left hand bell.

The excavation did not include any areas occupied in the 18th – 19th centuries, but a number of interesting metal finds of that period were recovered. These include three complete copper alloy rumbler bells or ‘crotals’, each decorated on the lower surface and containing an iron ‘pea’ which created a jingling noise. One of the bells, marked ‘W’ was probably made at the Well’s family foundry in Aldbourne, between the 17th and 19th centuries. These bells were worn by cows, sheep or horses. A smaller, incomplete one may have been for a pet or used for personal decoration.


A view northwards from the excavation area just includes ‘Foxcotte tower’. This is the surviving part of the redundant 19th century church which replaced a medieval chapel.

Further reading

A1984.40  Archive deposited with the Hampshire Cultural Trust

Russel, A.D. 1985, Foxcotte: The Archaeology and History of a Hampshire Hamlet, Proc Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc, Vol 41, pp. 149-224. Online: < http://www.hantsfieldclub.org.uk/publications/hampshirestudies/digital/1980s/vol41/Russel.pdf>

Series by: Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone







A Fareham flint

Westbury Manor Museum at Fareham has just closed its doors for three or four months to allow a redisplay project to take place.  The past few weeks have seen the Curators of Art, Archaeology, Hampshire History and Natural Sciences – and the Conservation team – retrieve many items from the displays. Now that the site is secure, dismantling of some of the cases can take place.


Flint handaxe: cortex lower left corner – natural fossil hole dead centre.

165mm in length; weight 750 gm

One of the objects removed from the archaeology ‘time line’ display was this ovate handaxe from the Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic). Its Hampshire Cultural Trust number is A1992.25/3 and it belongs with another two axes, a cleaver and a knife, all made of flint. There are no real details of where they were found, but they are from the Fareham area.  In this the axe is in good company, as many of these distinctive tools, dating from anything up to 500,000 years ago, have come from Hampshire’s coastal fringe.

The handaxes – and a few other tool types – are generally discovered ‘re-deposited’ in gravel terraces and many have an orange or brown patina, the result of the iron staining produced in that environment. What makes this particular tool stand out is the large natural fossil hole at the centre of the axe.  The person who made it must have chosen the flint nodule deliberately and decided to make the hole a feature of the finished article.

Those who study the Palaeolithic, and the activities of the ‘first humans’, marvel at the longevity of the handaxe as a tool-type, and wonder what they were actually used for! They are generally accepted as the Old Stone Age equivalent of the Swiss Army knife. They fit the hand easily, often – as in this case – having some cortex or smooth flint surface to protect the palm.  They have a sharp or chisel end and a cutting long edge. But there is a also a theory that they conveyed social signals, and that the best axe-makers would make the best mates!


What can you do with a holed flint? Well, you can make it shine!

If this was the case then the manufacturer of this axe has produced something strikingly original, by incorporating the fossil hole.  Who knows what sort of reception his (or her) creative talents received!

Modern flint knappers – after years of practice, can produce a handaxe in 15 to 20 minutes.

Further reading: Chris Stringer (2006) Homo Britannicus; The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain.

Series by: Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

Hampshire excavations # 3

An occasional series covering Hampshire archaeological digs, large and small.

A ‘Banjo’ Enclosure in Micheldever Wood, 1973 – 1979.

‘Banjo’ enclosures are identified by their shape – a more or less circular enclosure, with outer bank, and parallel ditches leading away from a single entrance.  The name was bestowed by B T Perry, when he was studying different forms of Wessex earthworks in the 1960s.  He selected Bramdean, east of Winchester, as a typical example and excavated there in 1965 & 66, in the 1970s and in the 1980s.  By this time the initial recognition of the type-site, i.e. the ‘banjo’ (O==) had been replaced by the realisation that they often formed part of a larger complex or ‘syndrome’.


Micheldever Wood, an aerial view: the ditch sections of the ‘banjo’ enclosure can be seen curving round in the middle of the clearing – outer ditches (the ‘syndrome’) show as faint lines in the corn field.

Perry’s 1960’s excavations were comparatively limited and ten years later the opportunity arose to investigate another example, although under quite different and difficult circumstances.  The route of the M3 motorway, from Basingstoke to Twyford Down, sliced through Micheldever Wood and, although archaeological surveys had taken place, the Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees formed an impenetrable mass across the area concerned.  It was not until a huge geological test-pit was dug that the enclosure ditch and Iron Age pottery came to light.  Further survey work showed that an extensive occupation site lay under the line of the proposed motorway.

The main excavation, led by Peter Fasham, took place from August 1975 to March 1976, with follow ups in mid-winter 1977-78 and 1979. Because of other commitments to M3 archaeological work, post-excavation analysis took a while – and publication was in 1987.

Pit diggers – and the photographer’s vantage point.

The main period of occupation at the Micheldever ‘banjo’ took place in the last two centuries BC (Iron Age).  The evidence suggests that the enclosure was surrounded at that time by both arable and pasture fields, as well as woodland.  Within the settlement were at least 14 pits, many of which could have been used for grain storage, and the animal bones recovered showed that cattle, sheep and pigs were present.  Pig bones occurred more often in the ditch than those of sheep, and this appears to have been a deliberate, chosen method of disposal.


Animal bones were often present in the lower ditch fills in what appeared to be a deliberate placement.

Eighteen human burials were found, eleven of which were of infants.  They included a double grave of ‘unique closeness’ – presumably twins.  One of the adults was of Romano-British date. He had been buried in hobnailed boots.  His skeleton had extensive indications of arthritis, particularly in his shoulders and back, with a healed fracture to a leg (tibia) which had developed osteitis.  His skull displayed evidence of severe infections in both jaw and sinuses and, to cap it all, his scalp as well.  It must have been a hard life.

Other finds from the Iron Age use of the site included pottery and briquetage (salt trays), clay loomweights and spindle whorls and a number of metal objects, including socketed sickles.

Following the excavation at Micheldever Wood, archaeologists were prepared to accept ‘banjos’ as settlements but, in 1993, Barry Cunliffe excavated such a site at Nettlebank Copse, near Danebury.  Far from clarifying  the use of these enigmatic enclosures, his work showed that an ‘open’ settlement of pre 300 BC was surrounded by the ‘banjo’ ditch around the time of its abandonment.


The ‘banjo’ enclosure at Nettlebank Copse – investigated as part of the Danebury Environs project.

The site may then have lain mainly dormant, apart from the quarrying of chalk, until the 1st century BC, when it was used for specialised purposes such as feasting, but not occupation.

The other feature of ‘banjos’ is that with the increase in aerial reconnaissance, particularly the use of Lidar, the number of known examples continues to grow. Twenty four were listed for Hampshire in the 1960s, whereas the number on the county AHBR is now 124!

Every picture tells a story!

Further reading:

Cunliffe B & Poole C (2000) Nettlebank Copse, Wherwell, 1993, English Heritage & OUCA Monog 49, Vol 2 part 5.

Fasham, P (1987) A Banjo Enclosure at Micheldever Wood, Hampshire, Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc, Monog 5.

Perry, B Excavations at Bramdean, Hampshire 1983 & 1984, with some further discussions of the Banjo syndrome. Proc Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc 42, 35-42

Archive held as A1978.15 (R 27)  by the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Series by:       Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone















Hampshire excavations # 2

An occasional series covering Hampshire archaeological digs, large and small.

Grateley South, 1910, 1916, 1998, 1999

‘Grateley South’ is one kilometre south east of the hillfort of Quarley Hill, and around six kilometres north west of Danebury Hillfort.

In 1895 Dr. J.P. Williams-Freeman, a Weyhill country doctor trained as a military surveyor, became a member of the Hampshire Field Club; he was a fine amateur field archaeologist and in the sixth volume of the society’s proceedings he published a short note concerning a supposed Roman villa at Grateley.  Evidence, in the form of an 8 ft. by 4 ft. tessellated pavement, had been observed during the removal of the flint wall foundations to provide material for road mending. The foundations were recorded by Williams-Freeman, who used them as the basis of a scale plan of part of the villa. This discovery brought the total number of Romano-British buildings known within a six-mile radius of Andover up to ten, a concentration well covered in the Victoria County History, and on Williams-Freeman’s own map, which was to follow soon after.


Detail of Williams-Freeman’s map, published in 1915. Grately (sic) takes its place with the other Roman sites clustered around the East Anton crossroads.

During the summer of 1915 a further piece of pavement was discovered at the site. According to Williams-Freeman’s subsequent report, this was ‘carefully exposed under the direction of Mr. E. Rawlence, agent to the Marquis of Winchester, the present owner’. (Rawlence was a surveyor from Salisbury who, six years later, excavated the building at Houghton Down.) The small excavation at Grateley revealed a substantially complete mosaic floor in a square room at the centre of Williams-Freeman’s plan. A fine painting of the floor was made by Heywood Sumner and reproduced as a frontispiece of the Field Club’s journal. No hypocaust was revealed, although Williams-Freeman had heard that a ‘cellar’ (possibly a hypocaust) had been found a few years earlier.


The mosaic pavement; drawn in October 1915 by Heywood Sumner.

Following Rawlence’s excavation the floor was carefully covered over. Sixty years later high-quality aerial photographs revealed that the building was part of a villa complex which had developed from an earlier Iron Age settlement with ditched enclosures. This made the site an attractive prospect for study as part of the Danebury Environs Roman Programme, led by Professor Barry Cunliffe. Its size and complexity meant that only a sample excavation was possible during two seasons in 1998 and 1999; the work focusing on the villa buildings.


A general view of Barry Cunliffe’s excavations – two rectangular buildings containing corn driers are linked by a substantial fence.

The work revealed that there were two Roman phases, the earlier one (c. AD 50-300) including evidence of timber structures in the form of post alignments, a gravelled road, a well and a large corn-drying oven.   The later phase (c.AD 300-400) comprised at least four masonry buildings. One of these was the villa house, previously reported by Williams-Freeman. Corridors ran along the back and front of this ‘strip house’.  Cunliffe’s excavation included a trial trench across the building, but no surviving mosaics were found.


Corn driers in close up. The two square drying floors were served by one furnace. Toasting, for storage – and malting, resulting in grain suitable for brewing were the intention.

Four large corn-drying ovens were unearthed, however, and found to be in an exceptional state of preservation. They dated from the third and fourth centuries and the three earliest were all double ovens. They were similar in plan, with two ovens set side-by-side and served from a single stoking chamber.  The evidence suggested that the right-hand chamber had been more intensively fired than the left.  Analysis of the crop remains from the cooler flues produced remains of sprouted wheat, showing that they were used for parching malted grain. The right-hand chamber, run at a higher temperature, could have been used to dry the crop prior to storage. The later, single oven had continued in use until destroyed by fire, preserving its last load beneath the collapsed burnt roof of the building. The load included mainly spelt wheat, with other grains as contaminants.


The final, ill-fated firing. The building went up in flames and the roof came down with a crash – sealing layers of grain. Here the archaeologists carefully sample the unexpected treasure!

A single burial, of a male aged 35-40 year, was found at the site, dumped into a pit too small to contain a prone body. The casual nature of the deposit differs from the usual inhumation practices of the time and it was suggested that the unfortunate individual had been held responsible for starting the calamitous fire, and made to suffer in consequence!

The environmental evidence from the corn-drying ovens provided significant information about the agrarian economy, an objective very different from those of the excavators of the Edwardian era, who originally uncovered the mosaic.

Further reading

The Victoria County History of Hampshire , Vol 1 (1900) p 265ff.

A1998.45, A1999.40  Archives deposited with the Hampshire Cultural Trust

Cunliffe, B. 2000. The Danebury Environs Programme, Volume 1, Introduction.

Cunliffe, B. and Poole, C. 2008. Grateley South, Grateley, Hants 1998 and 1999, The Danebury Environs Roman Programme.

Series by Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

There’s still…a chance to escape

royal-blood-3the hurly-burly of Christmas preparations.  Take a look at Royal Blood; births, battles and beheadings in the Winchester Discovery  Centre.  It’s there until 8 January, so you could even make it a post-prandial exercise, although it’s closed on Public Holidays.


Mary Tudor dreams of what might have been; the Tichborne spoons tell of her half-sister’s long and successful reign

But that still leaves plenty of time to appreciate the ‘Winchester Treasure’ a hoard of gold jewellery buried around 2000 years ago, possibly as an offering to the gods, the wonderful Tichborne spoons – silver-gilt masterpieces of the metalworkers’ art, and the remarkable ‘Chace’ tapestry, designed by Heywood Sumner and produced by William Morris.


A left and a right leg of different individuals, bound together I death at the Oliver’s Battery execution cemetery. Other burials were also present.

On the other hand, so to speak, there are the unfortunates’ legs from Oliver’s Battery – the remains of several pairs, two of them still held in the iron fetters that accompanied them to the gallows, a unique find in early medieval England.  There are about thirty ‘execution cemeteries’ known in the country, they were often set up outside a town to remind people of the ‘wages of sin’.  We’ll never know what they did to deserve such a fate – but it’s clear that they, and many others, had no chance to escape.

The excavation at Oliver’s Battery was limited to a foundation trench for a new building.  The site had already produced some finds in the 1930s and there must be others still there, under the ground.  The report, by Dr Andy Russel, appears in Hampshire Studies Volume 71 (Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society) just recently published. 

Hampshire Cultural Trust

Series by Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.

Photos by Dot Smith.




Cats in the attic



So Historic England have put out a call for people to look for ‘witches’ marks’ in their attics – carvings and marks on beams that would repel evil spirits and malevolent forces. We have in our collections two cats (or the vestiges of two cats) one probably and the other certainly, placed in the attic for that same purpose.


Riverside Cottage, Corhampton

The first (HCMS 1969.150) was found in Riverside Cottage, Corhampton, in the 1960s. This is the more dubious as it hadn’t been ‘arranged’ in a particular way (as far as I can tell).  According to Ralph Merrifield’s 1987 classic ‘The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic’ cats deliberately placed in the attic were set up in ‘hunting mode’, often with a rat, mouse or bird in their jaws. This poor desiccated puss doesn’t look very fierce, it must be said.


A house in Chawton

The other one (HCMS 1969.270) is a classic example.  It has been stuffed with straw and is in a very lively (well, you know what I mean) pose.  There’s no record of a rat, mouse or bird being in the vicinity, but the earlier owners of the house in Chawton, where  it was found were definitely hoping it would keep vermin or evil influences at bay.

Merrifield quotes an article by Miss M Wood (‘Dried Cats’, Man, November 1951) where twenty-two examples are listed, and suggests that the practice may have originated from the sacrificial use of animals during the building process. It developed, however, as an antidote to witches, particularly in the 17th century. Witches were supposed to work their evil by familiar spirits, such as rats or mice, and a sentinel cat would be the perfect (so to speak) guard.


Beneath a beach hut.

There was another desiccated (and salt cured) cat in the collections – striking quite the most scary pose – but the place of discovery, beneath a beach hut at Christchurch, suggests something less than a deliberate concealment.

Hampshire Cultural Trust

Series by: Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.

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