The parish of Yateley in north Hampshire, is renowned for its natural resource of gravel. However, what is less well known is the prehistoric past hidden beneath the surface.
Fig 1 – Gravel extraction at Yateley CEMEX site
On May 23rd 1917, Mr John Pakenham Stilwell of Yateley wrote to the curator at Winchester Museum to find out if they would accept a “British funeral urn and bones” which he dug up in one of his fields whilst gardening. He described the urn as being of “very early date” and not having been “turned on a wheel.” (Stilwell 1917a)
He continued in a following letter on 30th May 1917 to explain that he was planting fruit trees on arable land known as Round Close when he came across the urn and its contents. They were discovered about 18 to 24 inches (600mm) from the surface where the soil was “a sandy gravel geologically described as Bagshot Sand.”
He concluded by saying “there was nothing of the kind found near the urn burial and no barrow nearer than that on Yateley Common on the Minley border of the parish, a mile away.” (Stilwell 1917b)
Fig 2 – Remains of Bronze Age bucket urn found at Round Close 1917 by J P Stilwell
The cinerary urn, resembling “a large Stilton cheese in shape and appearance.” (Stilwell UD, 8) was examined by archaeologist Stuart Piggott, who gave the dimensions of the base as eight and a quarter inches with just six inches of the sides remaining. The top of the urn was missing and he put this down to it being buried upright and subsequently damaged by ploughing (Piggott 1928, 71)
Fig 3 – Close up of label on cinerary urn presented by J P Stilwell 1917.
Stilwell came to live in Yateley in 1871. A successful banker, he had an interest in heritage and conservation, becoming a member of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society. (HFC 1904, ix). His then wife, Georgina Stevens, had inherited the large house called Hillfield and the family became one of the most prominent in Yateley during the late 19th and early 20th century.
Unfortunately, Hillfield House burnt down and was completely rebuilt, becoming known as Yateley Place. (Conservation Studio 2011, 3.2). That house too, no longer exists, being demolished in 1973 to make way for a housing estate. (Kerslake 1995, 5) The only remains visible of the original site is Skaters pond, formerly Hillfield pond, which lies on the east side of Cricket Hill. The pond used to be in the garden of Hillfield House.(Conservation Studio 2011, 3:2) and can be clearly seen as the Fish Pond in Fig 4 below:
Fig 4 -Map 1932 showing Yateley Place (formerly Hillfield) and Round Close with the site of the Bronze Age cinerary urn find of 1917. The gravel pit adjacent is marked to show where Bronze Age pottery was found in 1927 by Mr J P Stilwell.
John Stilwell continued to find more Bronze Age cremation pottery on his land. In 1927 a gravel pit, owned by him, to the west of Hillfield House yielded several pieces, the best preserved being a small vessel, probably for food, which was originally described as a small vase. Whilst it was common in the Middle Bronze Age for simple cremations to have no grave goods save the pot containing the ashes, we know on occasion a small Food Vessel might be present, which seems to be the case here (Spoilheap, 2017) Groups of cremations were placed in small cemeteries close to settlements. (Parker-Pearson 1999, 90) So we know there would have been a Bronze Age community living nearby.
The original museum exhibition label describing the finds is shown below.
Fig 5 – Winchester Museum label from 1928 for Bronze Age finds from Yateley
Fig 6 – Small Bronze Age pottery vessel found at Yateley gravel pit in 1927. Small pieces of flint grits can clearly be seen on the outside.
Fig 7 – Side view of the Bronze Age pottery vessel shown in Fig 6
There are also a number of sherds from a Bronze Age Collared Cinerary Urn which clearly shows its cord pattern. Stuart Piggott identified it as coarse gritted ware, brick red to black in colour with a probable diameter of 15 inches. (Piggott 1928, 71) Collared Urns are unique to the British Isles and not found anywhere on the Continent (Parker-Pearson 1999, 82) They were used for domestic as well as funerary purposes but it is still not fully known why the collar design originated. One idea is that it may have made it easier to secure an organic covering over the top whilst affixing it underneath the base. (Longworth 1984, 6)
Fig 8– Pieces of a Collared Cinerary Urn found at Yateley gravel pit 1927
Fig 9 -An example of a complete Bronze Age Collared Urn with similar pattern found at Wilsford in Wiltshire
The 1920s saw a number of other cremation finds at Yateley gravel pits. The Romano-British/Late Iron Age vessels shown below were found at a gravel pit owned by Mr J Patterson in Darby Green just east of Yateley. They became part of an exhibition at Reading Museum in 1928, along with Bronze Age cremation finds from the Moor Place gravel pit in Yateley.
Fig 10– Romano-British/Late Iron Age pottery vessels found at a gravel pit Darby Green in the 1920s ((c) Berkshire Archaeology Society)
Vessel 1 was found about two feet from the surface in 1928. It appears to have contained the cremated remains of an adult. Item 2 is a completely intact cinerary urn made of thin ware which would have contained the remains of a child. Items 3 and 4 are the partial remains of tazza form, tazza being the Italian for a shallow bowl on a mount. Item 5 is part of a cup of brownish-red ware with item 6 likely to be the lid of a cinerary urn. (Piggott 1928, 72-73)
The Ash-hole Field at Moulsham
Fig 11 – Map of Yateley (1932) showing Moor Place Farm in Moulsham along with the gravel pit
The most prolific quantity of cremation finds were made at the gravel pit at Moor Place Farm, Moulsham. Locally known as the Ash-hole field and subsequently the Urnfield, it all started on 22nd February 1926 when workmen opening up a new hole in the gravel pit came across three Bronze Age cinerary urns. Unfortunately, they were broken into pieces by their picks and thrown back into the gravel heap. A long piece of wood was also discovered which crumbled upon contact with the air. (Stilwell 1926, 83)) Mr English, who owned the pit, saw the urn sherds and took them to Reading Museum for identification. They were classifed as being of the Bronze Age from 1000-500BC.
Mr English kept three of the fragments; two were of ordinary grey earthenware, but the third was of a brown colour with a smoother surface with traces of indentation about two inches below the lip which formed a rough ornamentation. (Stilwell 1926, 83)
Examined in 1928 by archaeologist Stuart Piggott, the brown colour earthenware was described as more reddish. He interpreted this find as a late Bronze Age bucket urn. However, he acknowledged that it was also very like an early Iron Age Hallstatt type where bronze was still in use during a cross over period before iron became widespread. Piggott dated it to 700-600BC (Piggott 1928, 69)
N.B. These types of bucket urns are currently thought to be Middle Bronze Age and are now dated at 1700BC-1150BC. So, they could be more than 450 years older than first thought.
Fig 12 -The Urnfield site as seen from the end of Coombe Road. Looking towards the former site of Moor Place farm and the gravel pit.
The same workmen also came across a ‘domed underground cavity’ about four feet high, approached by three tunnels from different directions. There was a tree trunk on the floor. This may have been a burial place or dwelling. The workmen kept their spades and picks in the cavity! – then it was destroyed in order to extract gravel. (Stilwell 1926, 83)
Discoveries continued to be made by workmen digging at the pit. In December 1927 an artificial pit with burnt ashes was found. Unfortunately, the workmen dug right through it. They also found two pieces of the upper part of an urn and a few plain sherds (Piggott 1928, 70). In 1928, the base of very large cinerary urn was found, made of coarse pottery, and nearly 12 inches in diameter. Other pieces may have been there too, but were probably discarded or broken up by workmen. (Piggott 1928, 70)
From 1928 to 1936 a further 30 Late Bronze Age bucket urns were discovered during gravel extraction on this site and the opposite side of the road. There is also evidence for a settlement in the area with loom weights and Roman pottery being found(HCC 1996, 6)
The Urnfield Excavation
Local residents and councillors for many years have fought against housing development on this piece of land. However, in October 2017, following a successful planning application by Bellway Homes to build 150 dwellings, Cotswold Archaeology began an archaeological evaluation of the land.
With so many prehistoric finds having been made in the past, it was expected that this dig could prove to be very fruitful. Forty-one trenches were dug, each 30m long and 1.8m wide. However, the former gravel pit was not part of the excavation.
The outcome was very disappointing with only one sherd of probable prehistoric pottery found and a few pieces of discarded burnt flint. It is interesting to note that “The majority of the archaeological evidence from the evaluation consisted of ditches, pits and postholes from which no dating evidence was recovered. Where dating evidence was recovered it dated to the medieval period.” (25)
Conservation Studio, 2011. Cricket Hill Conservation area character appraisal and management proposal available online at https://www.hart.gov.uk/sites/default/files/2_Businesses/Planning_for_businesses/Conservation_and_listed_buildings/Cricket%20Hill.pdf
HCC, 1996. An Archaeological assessment of Land at Yateley Hampshire Hampshire County Council Countryside Planning and Management publication held at Historic Environment Record
HFC, 1904. Hampshire Field Club Members list available online at http://www.hantsfieldclub.org.uk/publications/hampshirestudies/digital/1900s/Vol_5/Prelims&other_pt1.pdf: 1-14
Kennedy, R 2017. Land off Moulsham Lane, Yateley, Archaeological Evaluation, Cotswold Archaeology report available online at www.yateleysociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Archaeological-WIS.pdf accessed 5/1/2018
Kerslake, V. 1995. Stilwelliana, The Yateley Society Newsletter, June, No 59: 5-6
Longworth, I. 1984. Collared Urns: Of the Bronze Age in Great Britain and Ireland (Gulbenkian Archaeological Series), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Parker-Pearson, M.1999. The Earlier Bronze Age in The Archaeology of Britain: An Introduction from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Industrial Revolution (eds.) John Hunter and Ian Ralston, London: Routledge
Piggott, S. 1928. Bronze Age and late Celtic burials from Yateley Hants. Berks, Bucks and Oxon Archaeol Journ 32: 69-73 available online from Archaeology Data Service at http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-787-1/dissemination/pdf/BAJ032_PDFs/BAJ032_A10_piggott.pdf
Spoilheap Archaeology. 2017. Introduction to burial archaeology, Spoilheap archaeology http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/burial.htm accessed 5/12/2018
Stilwell, G H. UD The History of Yateley, C T Hunt Ltd: Crowthorne
Stilwell, G H. 1926. Find of Ancient Pottery at Yateley in Hants Field Club Proceedings (ed.) Volume 10 Southampton: Gilbert and Son
Stilwell, J.P. 1917a Letter 23/5/17 to Winchester Museum held in Hampshire Cultural Trust Winchester City Collections archive at Chilcomb House Winchester. Accession No. WINCM.ARCH 33.00.1-5 and 33.00.2
Stilwell, J.P. 1917b Letter 30/5/17 to Sir Thomas Holt at the Guildhall Winchester held in Hampshire Cultural Trust Winchester City Collections archive at Chilcomb House Winchester. Accession No. WINCM.ARCH 33.00.1-5 and 33.00.2
Fig 1 – Yateley gravel works (CEMEX site) Diane Sambrook reproduced under creative commons licence available on line at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yateley_gravel_works.jpg accessed 5/1/2018
Fig 2 – Remains of bronze age bucket urn found at Round Close 1917 by J P Stilwell photo copyright L Munday- Hampshire Cultural Trust Accession No. WINCM: ARCH 33:00:2
Fig 3 – Close up of label on bronze age bucket urn photo copyright Linda Munday – Hampshire Cultural Trust Accession No.WINCM:ARCH 33:00:2
Fig 4 – Ordnance survey six- inch Berkshire XLIX.NE (includes: Hawley; Sandhurst; Yateley.) Revised: 1930 Published: 1932 online http://maps.nls.uk/view/97793608 accessed 31/12/2017
Fig 5 – Winchester Museum label from 1928 for bronze age finds from Yateley photo copyright Linda Munday – held in Winchester collections archive at Hampshire Cultural Trust, Chilcomb House, Winchester Accession No. WINCM: ARCH 33.00.1
Fig 6 – Small bronze age pottery vessel found at Yateley gravel pit in 1927. Photo copyright Linda Munday Hampshire Cultural Trust accession no. WINCM: ARCH 33.00.1. 1-5
Fig 7 – Side view of the bronze age pottery vessel shown in fig 6. Photo copyright Linda Munday Hampshire Cultural Trust accession no. WINCM: ARCH 33.00.1. 1-5
Fig 8– Pieces of a collared cinerary urn found at Yateley gravel pit 1927 photo copyright Linda Munday Hampshire Cultural Trust accession no. WINCM: ARCH 33.00.1. 1-5
Fig 9 -An example of a complete bronze age collared urn with similar pattern found at Wilsford in Wiltshire picture http://greywolf.druidry.co.uk/2015/03/bronze-age-clay-drums/ accessed 5/1/2018
Fig 10– Romano-British/Late iron age Pottery vessels found at a gravel pit Darby Green in the 1920’s (Copyright Berkshire Archaeology Society) accessed via Piggott, S. 1928. Bronze age and late Celtic burials from Yateley Hants. Berkshire, Bucks and Oxon Archaeological Journal No.32: 69-73 available online from Archaeology Data Service at http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-787-1/dissemination/pdf/BAJ032_PDFs/BAJ032_A10_piggott.pdf
Fig 11 – Berkshire XLV1.SE(includes Crowthorne; Finchampstead; Sandhurst; Wokingham without; Yateley.) Revised:1930 Published 1933. OS Six—inch England and Wales http://maps.nls.uk/view/97793404 accessed online 8/1/2018
Fig 12 -The Urnfield site as seen from the end of Coombe Road. Looking towards the former site of Moor Place farm and the gravel pit courtesy of google maps.