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Buried in time – the medieval chapel of Rishton.

Until the Local Government Reorganisation of 1974, Christchurch was in Hampshire, and the Hampshire Cultural Trust still looks after the Red House Museum and much of the archaeological material from the locality. One of the most enigmatic sites in the area is St Catherine’s Hill, just outside the town, which is peppered with sand and gravel quarries, reservoirs and an array of historic monuments, including the ‘lost’ chapel of a ‘lost’ village.

The Francis Grose plan of 1777

The Francis Grose plan of the late 18th century.

On 20 November, 1777 a letter from Francis Grose was read to the Society of Antiquaries in London. In it he described an ‘ancient fortification’ on St Catherine’s Hill, which overlooks the Avon and Stour valleys to the north of Christchurch. The ‘camp’ was 55 yards (50m)square, bounded on three sides by a double earthen rampart 8’ (2.4m)high, with a 20’ (6m) wide ditch between them. On the fourth, southern side stood a single rampart. Grose noted three entrances and further earthworks to the north. He drew his findings on a plan, emphasising that it was ‘not taken with any instrument’ but was ‘accurately placed’.

The 1871 map, showing the enclosures and a scatter of smaller monuments.

The 1871 map, showing the enclosures and a scatter of smaller monuments.

A more detailed survey of the enclosure appears on the 1871 OS map, which shows numerous other earthworks on the hill, including ‘tumuli’ (Bronze Age burial mounds), ‘watchtowers’ and a ‘fort’ to the north of the camp. It also places the site of St Catherine’s chapel within the square enclosure.

The enclosure was not investigated archaeologically on any scale until 1964, when Michael Ridley directed the Bournemouth Archaeological Association over several seasons, hoping to find proof that it was a particular type of Roman fort – a signal station.  In an interim report on the excavations, published in the Christchurch Times on 22 September 1967, Ridley described the various ‘ravages of the site’ that had taken place previously.  During the late 19th century the hill was used as a practice ground by the Horse Artillery, and an appropriate military button was found during the excavation.  In 1914, the hill was again used as a training ground and a Mills Bomb exploded on the site. The excavators found the remains of this device.  Also in 1914, and again in 1921, the Bournemouth Natural Science Society dug some exploratory trenches across the enclosure.  All of these factors combined to make the 1960’s excavations ‘most difficult’.

Excavations in progress on the rampart and ditch.

Excavations in progress on the rampart and ditch.

They were made more difficult still by vandals, who constantly disrupted the excavations by breaking down fencing, pulling out marker pegs and digging holes in the carefully laid out grid system.  The most serious incident was the destruction of the wooden site hut which was burnt to the ground, along with the society’s equipment valued at £75.  Considering that the budget for the entire excavation was a ‘paltry’ £15, this was a severe blow.  Nevertheless, the volunteers from Bournemouth Archaeological Association, local WEA classes and local schools persevered.

Ridley’s excavations examined both the interior of the camp and the surrounding banks, but found very little Roman material.

The piece of limestone rooftile with a fishy shape on it.

The piece of limestone rooftile with a fishy shape on it.

Medieval finds were more common, including a variety of building stone, ceramic roof tiles and slates, a few glazed floor tiles, fragments of window glass, painted wall plaster, and pieces of pottery.  A few animal bones and oyster shells were also found.  The most celebrated find was a drawing or graffito on limestone of a fish.

Ridley suggested that a succession of chapels stood inside the enclosure (the camp), but that the final demolition was so thorough that no foundations or plan of the building could be recovered.   The best evidence for its existence comes from documentary references of 1302, 1306 and 1331, which place it on ‘Richedon’ or Rishton Hill (apparently named after a local village).  The earliest dedication appears to have been to St Leonard, but later documents attribute it to St Katherine.   The dissolution of Christchurch Priory took place on 28 November, 1539 and Ridley suggests that St Catherine’s chapel was destroyed around the same time.

The Friends of St Catherine's Hill hold a History Day every other year. At the recent event a WWI 'tank' was among the attractions, emphasising the many military activities that have taken place on the hill.

The Friends of St Catherine’s Hill hold a History Day on the summit every other year. At the recent event a WWI ‘tank’ was among the attractions, reflecting the many military activities that have taken place on the hill.

Further reading

Ref: Archaeologia Vol V 1779 pp 237-240

The fish graffito is on display in the Red House Museum, Christchurch.

CRH1971.52        The archive is held by the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

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

 

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Buried in time – the Deserted Medieval Village of Hatch

During the winter of 1984/5, trial excavations on the site of an Iron Age enclosure at Brighton Hill South, Basingstoke, revealed an unexpected find – the foundations of a medieval church and part of an associated settlement. Further investigations and study of the pottery finds eventually identified three phases of occupation, ranging from the mid 11th to the late 15th century.

Bird's-eye-view of the excavation.  The location of the church is circled.

Bird’s-eye-view of the excavation. The location of the church is circled.

The church, of simple nave and chancel form, was built of flint and mortar and stood at the centre of a large graveyard. It was a two-phase structure, the second phase involving the enlargement of the chancel. The date of construction is not certain (partly because the preservation scheme agreed with the developers meant that no in situ walls or floors were removed). It may be pre-Norman Conquest (1066) in origin, but is perhaps more likely to be an early Norman structure.

Pewter chalice and paten from the 'priest's grave'

Pewter chalice and paten from the ‘priest’s grave’

Iron buckle from the 'priest's grave'.

Iron buckle from the ‘priest’s grave’.

There were nine graves within the church building, two of which were cut through by the eastern and western walls. Five of the graves were excavated, producing six burials. One of them (Grave 0369) was of a mature adult male accompanied by a pewter chalice and paten and an iron buckle, and this was presumably the grave of a priest. Another, earlier grave, of an immature male, was accompanied by two silver farthings of Edward I (minted 1280-1300). Two of the burials from inside the church were of infants, one of whom had been buried in a coffin. IMG_0001

The churchyard enclosure was found to contain at least 258 graves of which 37 were excavated, revealing at least 46 burials. There were a number of double burials, several graves had been re-used and inter-cutting was common. More than half the burials were of children. This is a high ratio, but the infant mortality rate would have been high in the medieval period (100 per 1000 live births) compared with current UK figures, where the rate is just four.

Not all the graves were deeply cut and some skeletons had suffered plough damage.

Not all the graves were deeply cut and some skeletons had suffered plough damage.

General view of excavated graves

General view of excavated graves

The village buildings were of timber construction and the later examples made greater use of sophisticated framing techniques, in contrast to the more substantial foundations of the earlier phase.

One of the infant burials

One of the child burials

Documentary evidence shows that this was the ancient manor and church of Hatch, probably quite a high status settlement in the 12th and 13th centuries, when high-class imports such as pottery from Saintonge were being used. By the time of Edward III (1327-77) however, 300 acres in the parish were recorded as ‘untilled and unsown’ and by 1380 it was exonerated from paying tithes and merged with Cliddesden. The name survived – in Hatch Warren Farm – and was later adopted for the development, but the location was lost, until Basingstoke expanded in this direction and the archaeologists got to work.

IMG_0004 IMG_0008 IMG_0011 IMG_0012 IMG_0014 IMG_0015 IMG_0016 IMG_0017

Further reading: Fasham & Keevill (1995), Brighton Hill South (Hatch Warren) Wessex Archaeology Report No. 7.

A1987.13

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.