Hampshire Archaeology

Home » Norman

Category Archives: Norman

Buried in time – Meon Hill – ‘eorthbyrig’ and executions.

‘One of the few drawbacks of air-photography’ state Crawford & Keiller in Wessex from the Air (1928) ‘is its failure to register colours’. They were moved to say this because the enclosure at Meon Hill, near Stockbridge,  had revealed itself as a ‘semicircle of brilliant scarlet [poppies] sharply outlined against the bright yellow of a field of oats’.

Shades of grey; aerial photograhy in 1924

Shades of grey; aerial photograhy in 1924

The plate that accompanies the entry in their book (above) emphasises the point (spot the enclosure!) but the reason they were so pleased with what they saw from above, was that they were actively searching for the lost ‘eorthbyrig’, literally ‘earth-bury’ or camp, mentioned in the bounds of Longstock in AD 982. They counted the discovery of the Meon Hill site, on 12 July, 1924, ‘as one of the most successful results of the season’s work’.

What Crawford and Keiller really saw!

What Crawford and Keiller really saw!

Eight years later the site was excavated, on behalf of the Hampshire Field Club, by Dorothy Liddell. She dug three ‘cuttings’ or trenches. Trench I sectioned the ‘V – shaped’ ditch on the northeast side of the ring, Trench II tackled the northwest sector and Trench III the southern side. All three cuttings yielded flint flakes, implements and ‘pot-boilers’: plus pottery and metal finds of Iron Age and Romano-British date. The excavators gave up counting the pot-boilers – fire-crazed lumps of flint – as there were so many!

Some of the skeletons

Graves line the ditch

Trench II revealed an earlier ditch, cut through by the ring, but the discoveries that aroused greatest interest were the result of later activity in this area. Ten skeletons were found, their graves dug into the soft soil of the enclosure ditch. Six of the males, aged between 20 and 50, had been decapitated. Burial orientation and a few associated small finds suggested a late 10th century date, and the site bears comparison with the ‘execution cemetery’ found on Stockbridge Down, just across the valley. Interestingly, one of the three complete skeletons was identified as female, while the final individual was missing both skull and upper body and may have been disturbed by animal burrowing.

A close up of some of the graves

A close up of some of the graves

A second season in 1933 resulted in the discovery of 24 pits and 29 postholes with ‘numerous other hollows and depressions’ cut into the chalk varying in depth from 1 to 7 feet (0.3 to 2.2m). The conclusion at the time was that a group of underground Iron Age dwellings had been found, whereas today we would be happy to call them storage pits.  Some of the postholes no doubt belonged to surface-level Iron Age roundhouses.

'Magnificent views' Men and horses are busy with the harvest. The dots show the line of the enclosure ditch.

‘Magnificent views’ Men and horses are busy with the harvest. The dots show the line of the enclosure ditch.

Meon Hill lies on Houghton Down, about ½ mile west of Stockbridge. The location boasts magnificent views along the Test Valley, in sight of Woolbury, Danebury and Quarley. In former times the enclosure was touched by the Stockbridge-Salisbury road, which now veers away from it, and tradition has it that a drovers’ inn once stood within. Today the site is all in cultivation.

Industrious archaeology; a truck and rails made the digging easier - equipment supplied by Mr Musselwhite of Basingstoke.

Industrious archaeology; a truck and rails made the digging easier – equipment supplied by Mr Musselwhite of Basingstoke.

Further reading:

Archive (not the skeletons) held by Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Crawford OGS & Keiller A (1928) Wessex from the Air, p107

Liddell, D (1934) Excavations at Meon Hill, Proc Hants Field Club, 12, 126-162

Liddell, D (1937) Report on the Hants Field Club’s Excavations at Meon Hill, Proc Hants Field Club, 13, 7-54

Photographic illustrations from the excavation reports.

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

 

 

Advertisements

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.

Buried in time – Romsey Abbey ‘Lady Chapels’

Historical sources indicate that the nunnery at Romsey was founded by Edward the Elder (901-924) and most likely rebuilt after Viking incursions later in the century.  The nunnery was dissolved in 1539. Excavations since 1973 have revealed evidence for phases of occupation from the mid to late Saxon period onwards.

Romsey Abbey - viewed from the north

Romsey Abbey – viewed from the north

A pair of Norman chapels, later rebuilt, was constructed at the east end of the Abbey.  The double arrangement implies a double dedication, probably to the Virgin Mary and St Ethelfleda.  Dating for the construction of the replacement ‘Lady Chapels’ is based on two pieces of evidence.  Firstly, the style of windows which are ‘Early Decorated’ or ‘Geometric’, conventionally dated to between the mid-13th and mid-14th centuries.  Secondly, the surviving floor tiles can be dated to the late 13th to early 14th centuries.

Inlaid floor tiles, still insitu.

Inlaid floor tiles, still in situ.

A well-preserved grave (‘Burial 1083’) was found in the northern chapel. It appears that it was inserted through the chapel floor which was repaired, although the original floor tiles were not replaced. It is possible that some sort of tomb or monument was originally raised over the grave.

Grave '1083'

Burial ‘1083’

The grave contained the largely complete skeleton of a man, 35-45 years old at the time of death, and about 1.71 m (5′ 7″) tall.  The skeleton appears to demonstrate the presence of a degenerative condition* involving the excessive production of bone.  Part of the spine, for example, is fused together with a bony growth resembling wax running down a candle.  The left ankle showed signs of severe strain and the leg also displayed stress, possibly due to the condition known as varicose veins.

Large gaps in the jaw indicated tooth loss during life, allowing other teeth to move out of place and lean at angles.  Three teeth had extra roots and there is evidence of an abscess.  The general state of the skeleton suggests that the man had been richly overfed and therefore may have been a person of some wealth and status.

The presence of a male burial in the ‘Lady Chapel’ may be explained as either that of a man attached to the nunnery in an official capacity as a member of the clergy or, perhaps less likely, as a minor secular officer.  Alternatively, and perhaps more likely in view of the skeletal pathology, he may have been a patron or official of high standing who was accorded a place of honour within the chapel.

Four further graves were discovered in the southern chapel.  The gender could only be identified in two cases, both male.

* Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis (DISH).

Excavations outside the Abbey in the early 1970s in front of a small, but dedicated , audience.

Excavations outside the Abbey in the early 1970s – in front of a small, but dedicated , audience.

Further reading 

Scott, Ian (1996) Romsey Abbey – Report on the Excavations 1973-1991. Hampshire Field Club & Arch Soc, Monograph 8.

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