It’s hard to believe that over the last 200 years, the vast majority of heathland in Britain has disappeared. Fortunately, in Hampshire, there has only been a 3% loss in contrast to an 80% loss from the neighbouring counties of Surrey and Dorset. (Nagle 1999, 98) One area of wonderful natural heathland in Hampshire is Yateley Common in Hart. The largest area of heathland outside of the New Forest. Its sandy soil is acidic and lies on a bed of gravelly deposits. This lends itself to a variety of colourful plant life such as heather and gorse but can also lead to waterlogging in places. (HCC 2012, 3)
Fig 1 – Sandy path through Yateley Common © Copyright Alan Hunt
Most heathlands carry traces of an ancient past and Yateley is no exception. Areas which are now heathland were populated by people from the Middle Stone Age or Mesolithic era some 8,000-10,000 years ago. (8000BC-6000BC). Then there would have been forests of trees which they would have cut down to create space to herd animals for pasture. (English Nature 2002, 8) Early farmers in the Neolithic would have continued to clear trees to allow them to grow crops. Over time this led to an impoverishment of the soil and the change in the type of plants growing there such as heather and gorse. By the Bronze age, this land became heathland, and a place for burials and the dead (White 2003, 60)
Fig 2 – Heather growing on Yateley Common © Copyright Diane Sambrook
The “most easily identifiable features of heathland” are in fact Bronze age barrows or burial mounds (Darvill, 1987 111) At present there are more than 2500 scheduled ancient monuments on heathland, the majority being standing earthworks such as Bronze Age barrows (Darvill 1987, 115) Yateley has a Mid Bronze Age barrow located close to the Gibralter Barracks and its perimeter fence on the MOD controlled southern side of the common.
Yateley Common itself is cut in two by the busy A30 road which goes from London to Lands End. The southern side is mainly controlled by the Ministry of Defence with the north owned and managed by Hampshire County Council. To the west is Blackbushe airport and to the south east the Combat Engineer School at Gibralter Barracks. (White 2004, 31)
Fig 3 – Map showing Yateley Common divided by the A30. Red markers show site of Bronze Age Barrow (tumulus) and Gibralter Barracks (Bks) located in MOD land to the south.
The Bronze Age barrow was originally excavated in 1770 by a Mr Norris of Hawley House who unearthed a coarse earthenware urn which went to Hughenden House. There is very little further information about the site other than a portion of the barrow was removed leaving it exposed when a service road for the barracks was built (White 2003, 60)
Fig 4 – Bronze Age Bowl Barrow 28 metres wide and 1.5 metres high. by Blackwater Lodge, Gibralter Barracks © Copyright Carol White
In 1998, aerial photographs of the MOD land were studied by archaeology students at Farnborough College resulting in the discovery of a “ring ditch feature with an outer small bank” just north east of the Bronze age barrow. There was also “an interesting arrangement of cross-linear features comprised of banks and ditches” of varying height depth and construction. (White 2003,61) Yateley Common was used in WW1 as a training area with trenches being dug and also in WW2 glider obstructions were built to stop enemy aircraft landing.
Having a desire to find out more, the MOD were approached and agreed to an excavation of the site by the students of Farnborough College led by archaeologist, Carol White. A small trench was dug from the outer bank of the ring ditch feature into the centre as well as test pits around the ditch. No artefacts were found during the excavation but several small pits were located (White 2003, 61)
Fig 5 – Plan showing cross linear bank and ditches on Yateley Common © Copyright Carol White
Fig 6 – Ring ditch trench excavation 1998 © Copyright Carol White
In 2001, following gorse clearance on the site, an opportunity became available to excavate two mounds from the terminals of the cross linear features. Again, students from Farnborough College of Technology with Carol White were involved in digging an east west trench through both banks. What soon became apparent was that the east bank had different phases of construction which contained gravel and topsoil. This can be clearly seen in figure 7. This has been seen on other banks within the military training area. Stems of 17th century clay pipes were also found in the area. Soil samples taken from underneath both banks and other sites on the military landscaped seemed to point to land clearance. (White 2003, 62)
Fig 7 – Excavation of mound between two terminals of bank and ditch feature showing different phases of construction. © Copyright Carol White
Carol White, continued for many seasons working on Yateley Common doing research for her PHD thesis at the University of Winchester. Teaching archaeology at Farnborough Technology College she always got her students involved in the excavations.
In 2003 test pits were dug by the students around the area where William Boismier had found worked flint and burnt mounds in the 1980’s. The excavation uncovered examples of worked flint from the Mesolithic era located 10-14 centimetres below the surface. In total about 40 pieces of worked flint (flint modified by humans) were found during the excavations. They were made up of cores, blades, microliths and debitage. (White 2004, 32)
To see a variety of Mesolithic stone tools, go to http://www.stoneagetools.co.uk/mesolithic-tools.htm.
The burnt mounds found on his fieldwalking of the heath were interpreted as “a type of Prehistoric sauna consisting of a ditch and small burnt flint mound,” (White 2012) A possible burnt mound had been seen just south of the Hospital Pond near Wyndham’s Pool. So, when the common management team were thinking to dig three drainage ponds nearby, Carol thought this would be a good opportunity to investigate.
Fig 8 – The Hospital Pond on Yateley Common where a burnt mound was recorded in the 1980’s. © Copyright Angus Kirk.
Test pits were dug and yielded a number of interesting finds. An in-situ hearth surrounded with bladelets, cores and other material were located at one site with a denticulate scraper also found which could be 40,000 years old. Two Upper Palaeolithic blades were also found dating to 12,000 years ago which really shows the extent of the prehistoric past on the heathland (White 2012) The burnt mound turned out not to be prehistoric but rather part of a trackway with wooden rafting built in the 18/19th century.
After the storm of 1987 felled a number of trees, rangers uncovered a mound at Castle Bottom nature reserve on the common. Local residents said that this mound was called The Twelve Apostles after 12 pine trees that were planted there. Carol got the opportunity to excavate this mound with students in 2012 and was able to confirm that it was indeed a small bronze age bowl barrow. (Yateley Society 2013)
These finds of Mesolithic flints across Yateley Common has influenced the way Hampshire County Council manage the heathland. The Yateley Common site manager’s report February to May 2004 states that “Carol White’s work on the heath shows that this is an ancient landscape that needs to be protected. So, in future all scraping of the heathland can only be the removal of leaf litter.” This will mean that any further Mesolithic material will not be disturbed (White, 2004,32)
Yateley has certainly had many other Bronze age finds particularly at its gravel pits. To find out more go to:
Darvill, T.1987 Ancient Monuments in the Countryside: An archaeological management review: Swindon: English Heritage Publishing
English Nature, 2002 Lowland Heathland, A Cultural and Endangered Landscape Peterborough: Belmont Press Ltd available online at http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/81012 accessed 23 1 18
HCC 2012 North East Hampshire Plantations and Heath, Hampshire County Council integrated character assessment available online at http://www3.hants.gov.uk/1b_north_east_hampshire_plantations_and_heath.pdf accessed 24 1 18
Nagle, G.1999. Britain’s Changing Environment, Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes Ltd
White C 2003. Lowland Heath, Landscape Features and Yateley Common, MOD Sanctuary Magazine: 60-62 available online at http://www.yateleysociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/comp_carolw_Lowland_heath_landscape_features_Yateley_Common_C_White_MODpubln_2003_ocr.pdf accessed 18 1 18
White C. 2004 The Mesolithic Hunters of Yateley Common Hampshire Field Club Newsletter No 42: 30-33
White C. 2012 Archaeological Excavations near Wyndham’s Pond during 2012, Yateley Common Countrypark Blog site https://yateleycommoncountrypark.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/2012-archaeological-dig-on-yateley-common/
Yateley Society, 2007. Yateley Society Newsletter June No. 86
Yateley Society Newsletter February 2013 available on line at http://yateley.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/94693958/nls110_2013Feb_newsletter-0213.pdf accessed 23 1 18
Young A. 2008 The Aggregrate landscape of Hampshire: Results of NMP Mapping available online https://content.historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/aggregate-landscape-hampshire-nmp/Hampshire_ALSF_NMP_Report_web.pdf/
Fig 1 – Sandy Track, Yateley Common http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4285915 © Copyright Alan Hunt reproduced under creative commons license as per photographic rights shown.
Fig 2 – Heather on Yateley Common © Copyright Diane Sambrook http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/646741 reproduced under creative commons license as per photographic rights shown.
Fig 3 – OS map courtesy of Digimap educational licence.
Fig 4 – Bronze Age Barrow courtesy of Carol White. © Copyright
Fig 5 – Plan of banks and ditches © Copyright Carol White
Fig 6 – Photograph of excavation of bank and ditches 1998 © Copyright Carol White
Fig 7 – Photograph of stratigraphy of bank © Copyright Carol White
Fig 8 – Hospital Pond 2012 © Copyright Angus Kirk https://www.flickr.com/photos/anguskirk/8193067858/in/photostream/ reproduced under creative commons license as per photographic rights shown.