Hampshire Archaeology

Buried in time – and protective sand

Titchfield Abbey Inlaid Tiles

Titchfield is located on the River Meon, just two to three km inland from the Solent shore. The church of St Peter has Saxon long and short work and may have origins as early as the late 7th century. The town had a market before Domesday and in the medieval period was at the heart of the second largest parish in Hampshire. Its status was enhanced, in 1232, by the founding of an abbey a short distance to the north. The driving force was Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, and he invited a group of canons from the Premonstratensian Abbey at Halesowen (which he also founded) to get things started.


Titchfield Abbey; the gatehouse straddles the nave of the church; domestic chimneys occupy the western end.

Three hundred years later, Henry VIII granted the abbey and estates to Thomas Wriothesley, a character who will be familiar to readers of Wolf Hall. In 1538 Wriothesley began the part demolition and conversion of the abbey to a family residence which he named Place House (a corruption of Palace House). The abbey cloister became the courtyard of the mansion, preserving paving under soil and masonry until excavation in 1923 by H M Office of Works who had recently gained guardianship of the now ruined building. Sadly most of the excavation records were lost during the Blitz in the 1940s.

After the excavation, some patches of tile in the former cloister were cemented in place. One such – found buried under steps to the post-dissolution banqueting hall – had originally been installed at the entrance to the abbey refectory. It included a fragmentary Latin inscription, in Lombardic type, freely translated as follows:

‘Before you sit down to meat at your table – first remember the poor’.

The manufacture of medieval inlaid tiles involved three processes: first a carved wooden stamp was impressed upon a moist clay blank leaving a pattern; then a clay slip was spread into the hollows; finally metallic oxide was spread on the top surface before firing. The Titchfield tiles were made using a white slip on a red ground and some examples showed traces of a yellow transparent glaze.


Two castellated towers – probably for the Arms of Castile  (GT).

A report in the Hampshire Field Club Proceedings for 1952 by P M and A R Green, lists parallels for tiles found at Titchfield, for instance from Durford Abbey in Sussex, where similar stamps were used. Durford, like Titchfield, was a Premonstratensian house of White Canons, an off-shoot of the Augustinian Black Canons. In addition, twelve of the Tichfield designs have been identified in the village church at Warblington – it is probable that these had been disposed of by Wriothesley.


Among others: upper left, lion passant sinister in a circle with stalked trefoils extending into the angles; 13th century – may be of a different clay and made elsewhere. Middle right; two lions rampant regardant addorsed within a decorated double circle, oak leaves in the corners

Detailed descriptions of many of the Titchfield tiles are included in the HFC report. The authors’ Tile No.1 (identical to tiles found at Winchester, Durford and elsewhere) includes a rondel in which is depicted a woman’s headdress with a chinstrap, a fashion prevalent from 1280 to 1340. Another rondel has two regardant addorsed birds (that is, back-to-back and looking at each other); this example is almost identical to tile stamps found at Chertsey, a highly-regarded school of tile manufacture. Another tile, showing yet more addorsed regardant birds is interesting because there is a geometric figure between the birds which has not been found elsewhere.

Titchfield Abbey is looked after by English Heritage and entry is free. The tiles are generally viewable in the summer months but covered in winter in case of frosts. Anyone keen on learning more about the locality should visit Westbury Manor Museum in Fareham – another free experience. Titchfield retains much of its character – and there is a pleasant walk down to the sea along the course of the now overgrown early 17th century canal.

6C tiles 2

The images of Titchfield were taken this year (DA) and in the 1970s, by the irrepressible Gareth Thomas.


P.M. and A.R. Green, 1952, Mediaeval Tiles at Titchfield Abbey, Hants., Afterwards Place or Palace House. Proc Hants Field Club and Archaeol Soc., Vol. XVII, 6-30.

G.W. Minns, 1898, Titchfield Abbey and Place House. Proc Hants Field Club and Archaeol Soc, III, 317-338.

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



Hampshire excavations # 8

An occasional series covering Hampshire digs large and small; the pagan Saxon cemetery at Droxford.

Continuing the theme of archaeological sites disturbed by railway construction (although I’m not sure how much the navvies took note of Neatham) we take a look at Droxford – a celebrated discovery when it first came to light around 1900.  A cutting was being dug for the Fareham to Alton railway and word spread that human bones and spearheads had been unearthed.  William Dale, Secretary of the Hampshire Field Club, went to the spot and collected a number of items.  They were soon identified as Anglo-Saxon, and Dale returned to the site and recovered a number of smaller objects. ‘Very little progress’ he reported in his paper to the Society of Antiquaries in May, 1902, ‘was made in 1900, owing to the scarcity of labour’ and when work did resume he bemoaned ‘the tenacious clayey earth, out of which it was very difficult to extract anything of any size whole…Moreover [he continued] the employment this winter of a steam navvy did not help matters and probably some few objects were lost.’


William Dale; Secretary of the Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society 1887 – 1923

Despite the difficulties, Dale has to be applauded for rescuing what he did; ‘the place is 20 miles from my home and five from any railway station’ he groaned. As well as swords, spears and shield bosses, he collected brooches, toilet implements, spindle whorls, pottery and glass vessels and a composite bucket, most of which went to the British Museum. The wise heads at the Antiquaries agreed with his observation that the cemetery showed signs of comparative poverty, although swords, of which six were found, are generally considered to indicate high rank.


Plan of the 1973 Droxford excavations (F G Aldsworth) from the report in Hants Field Club

The site was rediscovered by Fred Aldsworth in 1973, three years after the railway line had been finally abandoned. Using the few topographical clues in Dale’s account he pinned down the location and inspection of a chalk cutting revealed three graves. Enlisting the help of the Department of the Environment and Hampshire County Museums Service he was able to mount an excavation in the summer of 1974, hoping to find sufficient evidence to throw light on the nature and date of the whole cemetery.  The 41 graves he found, containing over 380 objects, surpassed all expectations.


Two of the ‘warrior graves’ found in the excavation; Grave 4 (left) containing the skeleton of a 35-40 year-old male, buried with spear, shield and knife; and Grave 18, a male of 20-25 years, with spear, shield, knife and buckle.

The excavation is a classic example of a well-run project which is brilliantly recorded and reported and involved a good number of the local community, including members of SHARG; the necessary equipment being loaned by the Test Valley Archaeological Committee.  Although the final report is short on specialist contributions ‘since the author felt that the provision of such material would unduly delay the publication’ it does have full catalogues, including the British Museum material and a few additional finds made in 1906 which went to Winchester City Museum.  It also benefits from a discussion of the late 5th and 6th century cemetery, the settlement it served and the phenomenon of the ‘heathen burial place’.

It also benefited from a visit by keen photographer Gareth Thomas, who was clearly lured there by an ‘open day’ in 1974.



The archive from the 1970s excavations is in the care of the Hampshire Cultural Trust – A1974.309


Aldsworth, F, 1979, Droxford Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, Soberton, Hampshire, Proc Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc 35, 93-182.

Dale, W, 1903, [Droxford, Hants]  Proc Soc Antiq Lond 19, 125-9.

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


Hampshire excavations # 7

An occasional series covering Hampshire digs large and small; the rescue excavation of a bath-house discovered during building works at Neatham.

Another dip into the photographic archive presented to Hampshire Cultural Trust by Gareth Thomas.

Tucked away in the stores at Chilcomb House, headquarters of the Trust, are large slabs of well-wrapped Roman wall plaster, salvaged from the site at Neatham in 1979. Work had taken place there between 1969 and 1976 and this activity drew the attention of ‘treasure hunters’ to the fringes of the area. One feature which they exposed, hard up against the Alton to Woking railway line, was a small bath-house.


Hard up against the railway line – John Clark prepares to rescue the wall plaster as a Woking bound train races by.

The bath-house was located to the rear of a line of properties fronting the Silchester to Chichester Roman road and could be dated to the third/fourth century. Its size suggested it was a private establishment. It was constructed of stone and probably belonged to a timber-built house or shop situated about 4m away. A parallel to this arrangement of small detached baths was excavated at Farnham, but is not generally known elsewhere.


As digging progressed a handy workman’s shelter was employed to protect the site – and the diggers

The area available for excavation consisted of two rooms with a combined length of 3.7m. One of them, with a step down into it, was interpreted as a cold plunge bath. The floor had originally consisted of tiles 250mm square, which had been robbed-out in antiquity, leaving only the tile impressions in the mortar of the floor. The walls were thickly plastered, in at least two phases, and the surface was pinkish red. The plaster was lifted by John Price of the Ancient Monuments Laboratory.

The bath-house was one of only two stone buildings among the 24 identified during the rescue excavations. The remainder were all of timber, and built in varying styles, although by the third century they formed a ribbon development focused on the two principal roads of the settlement.

Further reading: Excavations on the Romano-British Small Town at Neatham, Hampshire, 1969-1979, M Millett & D Graham (1986) Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc, Monograph 3.

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

Hampshire excavations # 6

An occasional series, covering Hampshire digs large and small: the Anglo-Saxon village at Chalton, 1971-76.

After some exploratory investigations in 1971, a major excavation took place on the hilltop called Church Down the following year, led by Peter Addyman, of the University of Southampton.  Tim Champion took over the reins in 1973 and saw things to a conclusion.

chalton 0004

Aerial view in 1972. Building A20, on the left hand side, is a large, long structure with opposed doors, individual large postholes and internal division. It is 12.5m x 7.5m

The work revealed the remains of a number of rectangular timber buildings.  From the ‘several thousand’ postholes excavated at least sixty-one main structures could be identified, assignable to a number of phases.  The buildings ranged in size from small square plans with a single doorway, via larger oblongs, with two doors set opposite each other in the long walls, to structures with either buttress- or verandah-posts.  An anomalous building encountered in the final year of the dig measured 24m in length and 5m in width and was made up of four unequal sections all slightly out of alignment. There were also four sunken-floored buildings of typical ‘grubenhaus‘ type, although one, at over 8.6m in length was of the ‘giant’ variety.

chalton 0005

Close up of building A20.

Until the final season finds were comparatively few, consisting of grass-tempered and sandy pottery, ironwork and an escutcheon from a hanging bowl.  The final flourish produced a wealth of artefacts, and faunal and environmental remains; loom weights, spindle-whorls and thread pickers, show that wool production was important.

A date for the settlement somewhere in the 6th and 7th centuries is appropriate and the range of finds indicates far-reaching contacts for this rural hilltop settlement.  Oysters must have been gathered or traded from the Portsmouth Harbour region and among the pottery fabrics are wheel-turned vessels from northern France. Glass and quernstones were also imported.


Period piece: The Saxon inhabitants of Chalton may have looked like this (Weorod, 2017).

Work on the final reports is still in hand and the excavation images come from two ‘Rescue’ transparencies of 1972 and from the collection of Gareth Thomas.  Gareth has been a keen visitor to sites, buildings, excavations and museums across the south for more than forty years, and has donated much of his photographic archive to the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Further reading:

Addyman, P & Leigh, D, 1973, The Anglo-Saxon village at Chalton, Med Archaeol, 17, 1-25.

Champion, T, 1977, Chalton, Current Archaeology 59, 364-71

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




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

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