A look at classic digs in the county, both large and small; Excavations on a mid-twelfth century siege castle at Bentley, Hampshire in 1979-80.
When J P Williams-Freeman was enjoying his great perambulation of the county of Hampshire over a century ago, he headed for Crondall to search out the remains of two Norman strongholds. The first was ‘Powderham Castle’, evident as a round knoll about 30 m across, located in a copse and difficult to examine as it was ‘covered by wood and…the very thickest brambles in Hampshire’. The other, on the same ridge, was in Barley Pound Copse, and was again difficult to investigate owing to the density of the undergrowth. Nevertheless, he considered it one of the best examples in the county of a ring and bailey fortress, commanding a view of the whole country to the north. The roughly circular shell keep enclosed 9 acres and was strewn with large flints and squared building stones, but ‘there was no trace of a well’.
Unbeknown to Williams-Freeman a third contemporary earthwork was lurking in the vicinity, this time obscured by plough damage and weathering rather than an overabundance of plant life. ‘Bentley Castle’, as it was named by its excavators in 1979-80, was first recognised in 1956. Its existence made sense of a passage in the Gesta Stephani, which relates how, in 1147, one of the companions of Brian fitz Count, Constable of Wallingford Castle, ‘a man very crafty and cunning in all deeds of evil’ seized the Bishop of Winchester’s castle of Lidelea. This was in the middle of the long civil war between Stephen and Matilda and caused the bishop, Henry de Blois, to besiege his own stronghold by throwing up two castles in front of it. Barley Pound now seems secure as Lidelea, with Bentley and Powderham as the two siege camps.
The excavations, directed by Paul Stamper, sought to confirm the date and nature of the ‘Bentley Castle’ siege camp and showed it to be ‘a motte surrounded by a substantial ditch, and an apparently undefended bailey’; there were no traces of timber buildings or other structures. Of the 4.7 kg of pottery found, 4.6 kg were residual Roman sherds, from the dark earth sealed by the mound! A significant Roman site lies beneath and nearby.
The excavators arguably had most success with their documentary researches. The ’companion’ of Brian fitz Count, who surrendered Barley Pound to King and Bishop, may have been one Roger Foliot, as there are letters to Henry de Blois and Geoffrey, Prior of Winchester, pleading for clemency on his behalf. As the offence is not spelt out, the association remains unproven, but he was clearly a naughty knight belonging to Brian fitz Count, who may well have been involved in the Barley Pound episode.
Archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust as A1983.8
WIlliams-Freeman J P, 1915, Field Archaeology as Illustrated by Hampshire.
Stamper, P, 1984, Excavations on a mid-twelfth century siege castle at Bentley, Hampshire, Proc Hants Field Club Archaeol Soc 40, 81-9.
Series by Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone
Kempshott Park is located to the south west of Basingstoke in an area of former chalk downland rich in prehistoric burial mounds or ‘barrows’. These have been largely ploughed flat and none of them closely investigated although, in 1888, the remains of twenty burial urns were discovered near the border with neighbouring Dummer. These urns, found in an inverted position with traces of burnt or calcined bone, provided evidence that the area was used for burial through to the later Bronze Age.
In 1928 the Kempshott estate was sold to Basingstoke Golf Course and in 1965 the M3 cut through the parkland. This part of the motorway route wasn’t as thoroughly investigated as the next section to Winchester (in the 1970s) when many sites were dug.
In 2000, skeletal remains were discovered during the development of the Beggarwood housing estate, now occupying around half of the former parkland to the north west of the M3. Excavation revealed a human burial placed in a crouched position, accompanied by a complete Wessex/Middle Rhine Beaker, a relatively early style in the Beaker ceramic tradition. The vessel has a slender, sinuous profile and is decorated simply with six horizontal bands of impressed comb. The radiocarbon date for the human bone calibrated to 2210-2020 BC (about 4,100 years ago). Anatomical features of the partial skeleton indicate that the individual was male and aged 45+.
In the following year a quantity of human bone, beaker fragments and a copper awl were recovered about 100m away from the first burial. Steve Teague, the author of the report in the Hampshire Field Club Proceedings (see below) presumed that the two graves were originally associated with ring-ditches forming part of long-ploughed-out barrows which have left no trace, not even in aerial records of the past. The vessel associated with the second burial shares similarities with that of the first, probably reflecting that the same community made them. Only 30% of the second skeleton remained but the gracile nature of the bones is a female characteristic, as is the presence of an awl, or metal needle, as the only grave good besides the beaker.
An awl is a pointed tool used for marking surfaces or piercing small holes. The Kempshott Park awl is just over 6 cm long and made from slightly impure copper. As such, it could only have been used on soft material like textiles, soft leather or thin slivers of wood. The impurity pattern indicates an Irish origin for the metal and a date between 2500 and 2100 BC, a period when copper was being displaced by bronze. This is in accordance with the radiocarbon date for the second skeleton (2350-2130 BC).
A2001.50 Archive deposited with the Hampshire Cultural Trust
Andrews, S. 1906, Dummer, Proc Hants Field Club and Archaeol Soc, 5, pp. 53-62.
Teague, S. 2012, The Chance Discovery of Two Beaker Burials at Kempshott Park, Basingstoke, Proc Hants Field Club and Archaeol Soc, 67(ii), pp. 219-228.
Series by Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone
An occasional series looking at Hampshire digs large and small; Whitsbury Castle Ditches.
Whitsbury Castle Ditches is an Iron Age hillfort three miles north east of Fordingbridge, with massive multivallate ramparts enclosing 6 ha (15 acres). Its defences are much obscured by trees, however, and the main entrance has fallen prey to a manor house and set of stables. The other gaps through the perimeter are not original. Williams-Freeman, a century ago, and the Royal Commission, in the 1980s, noted ditches running to the north, east and south, which in turn link up with field systems and are Bronze Age in date.
In 1960 an extension to the riding stables enabled Philip Rahtz to mount a rescue excavation and an area of 1000 sq ft (93 sq m) was opened. He identified eight phases of activity, which expands to nine if the use of the hill as a junction point for the three Bronze Age boundary ditches is included. Two of the periods relate to the Iron Age and the excavator was fortunate enough to encompass a ‘D-shaped’ Middle Iron Age hut within his trench. Although Roman and post-Roman phases were postulated at the site, it is worth noting that of the 656 pieces of pottery found, only 19 were Roman and 18 (all from the same vessel) post-Roman. The latter were, however, associated with a pit, leading to consideration, at least, of Saxon re-use.
The Iron Age hut, of an unusual half-circular form, had evidence for a timber wall, possibly made from planks, a rammed chalk floor and a burnt clay hearth. Various postholes encouraged thoughts of internal structures such as a loom, and a possible loom weight and fragment of ‘weaving comb’ strengthened this hypothesis. Whatever the true nature of this ‘workshop hut’ the excavation demonstrated the quality of evidence at this strongly-defended and strategically-placed fort dated, and culturally aligned, by finely made and elegantly decorated pottery of Yarnbury-Highfield type.
The Royal Commission noted that the interior of the fort had been ploughed (visible on air photographs taken in 1954) but was laid as pasture in the 1980s. They describe the defences in considerable detail but their main concern was the relationship of the fort to the three linear ditches that approach it. Attempts to be definitive were frustrated by the mixed clayey soil, which deterred geophysical results, degradation associated with trackways, and the implacable grassy and now slightly corrugated nature of the interior.
Williams-Freeman, who walked up to Whitsbury, enjoying a ‘steady three-mile climb’ from Fordingbridge, took in his customary sweeping view. He remarked on Ashmore to the west, Salisbury Cathedral spire to the north and the New Forest to the south, but he bemoaned the fact that the ramparts were so densely wooded that they could only be examined where the undergrowth was cut. There is still very limited access to this hillfort, it can only be skirted round, and the time of year is critical. I recall David Johnston leading a Field Club visit there in the 1980s. He had made his reconnaissance in the winter; in late spring it was thick with nettles. ‘Follow me!’ was the cry as he disappeared into a great patch of stingers. Very few of us did.
Ellison A & Rahtz P, 1987, Excavations at Whitsbury Castle Ditches, Hampshire, 1960, Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc Proc Vol 43, 63-82
RCHAM(E), 1990, The Archaeology of Bokerley Dyke
Williams-Freeman, J P, 1915, Field Archaeology as Illustrated by Hampshire.
Archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust as A1985.6
Series by Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone
R F M Wiltshire (1901-81) was a Hampshire farmer and sweet-pea grower (the ‘Wiltshire Ripple’ variety is named after him) who owned Holbury Manor Farm near Fawley at the south eastern edge of the New Forest from 1951 to 1971. Holbury Manor dates from the 12th century and the manor lands include a system of fish ponds (scheduled as an Ancient Monument) which supplied carp to Beaulieu Abbey, a mysterious medieval site with a moat, and a length of the Roman road from Lepe.
Between 1956 and 1959, Mr Wiltshire carried out field walks and four excavations. He took his efforts seriously and regarded them as something of a community duty undertaken, in the absence of financial support from the Ministry of Works, at his own expense. He involved professionals from Southampton and Salisbury Museums, including Alan Aberg and John Wacher, and additional advice was provided by O G S Crawford.
For many years his finds were kept in a ‘museum barn’ on the site but, in 1971, when he left Holbury, they were donated to the Hampshire County Museum Service. As with many early collections, written records are limited. Some finds can be associated with the four excavation sites and three ‘masonry’ sites are shown on a sketch map which accompanied the collection, but many others are simply identified as ‘Holbury Manor’.
Nevertheless the collection, which spans the prehistoric, Roman, medieval and post-medieval periods, represents an archaeological record that would otherwise have been lost as the land, which had seen sporadic housing development since 1928, is now mostly built over.
In the collection are some four hundred worked flints, consisting mainly of scrapers, cores and flakes. There are a few arrowheads and axes, most notable of which is a Mesolithic tranchet axe. The Roman finds of tile, worked stone and pottery hint at a substantial settlement somewhere near by. Among the medieval and Tudor finds are distinctive pieces of pottery and tile, including a decorated floor tile that may have been made for Beaulieu Abbey.
In 1971 it was agreed that there was nothing exceptional in the finds and there was little more that could be done besides monitoring the area. In 1993 Wessex Archaeology kept a watching brief near the moated site and in 2003 Southern Archaeological Services did likewise, with only post-medieval finds. In 2007, however, the area fell within the University of Southampton’s ‘Dark Water Valley’ survey project and in 2008, a watching brief by Archaeology South East took place at Holbury Infant School. This led to the discovery of Roman features – principally three large pits and two possible hearths – partly enclosed within two ditches (Collings, 2014).
Pottery (dated mostly to AD 275-350), ceramic building material and fragments of quern were recovered. The pottery, of which about 10% was from fine wares, indicates the sort of domestic use usually associated with a villa site, but an analysis of building fabrics suggested that many of the bricks and tegulae, were re-used.
The items representing domestic activity have no clear buildings associated with them, however, the features revealed in the 1950’s excavations shown on Wiltshire’s map are close to and parallel with the Roman road from Lepe to Applemore Hill, studied in some detail by Clarke (2003). This allows the suggestion that an industrial site grew up here alongside a route which originated as a Conquest-period military road.
Wiltshire Collection held by Hampshire Cultural Trust as HMCMS 1971.452 etc
Burdekin, R (2011) The Wiltshire Collection at the Hampshire County Museum, Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc Newsletter, 56 p 31-33
Clarke, A (2003) The Roman Road on the Eastern Fringe of the New Forest Proc Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc 58 pp.33 et seq.
Collings, M (2014) Roman settlement evidence at the former Holbury Infant School, Proc Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc 69 p 114-130.
Series by: Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.’
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.