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Buried in time – a castle, and many a diagnosis

Just over the county boundary into Wiltshire is the small town of Ludgershall, important in recent history, along with the Tidworths, as an army base.  It also had a significant military aspect in the medieval period, when an extensive castle existed there – most of which is now lost to view.  Excavations led by Peter Addyman in the later 1960s revealed many features of this important site.

Ludgershall Castle was a medieval royal castle, but fell into ruin in the mid-16th century; the only building which survives above ground is a tower, dating from the late 12th or early 13th century.  Built of flint and mortar, it was probably originally of three storeys, a type of structure called a ‘keep’ or ‘great tower’ comprising a secure lower chamber for storage and a fine chamber on each of the upper floors.  It is situated within the more northerly of two conjoined enclosures composed of double banks and ditches.

The site of the castle, which is looked after by English Heritage, is just to the north of Ludgershall.  Roughly equidistant from Salisbury, Newbury and Winchester, it lies on an old Marlborough-Winchester road near the eastern edge of Salisbury Plain.  No prehistoric material was found during the excavations, but a Celtic field system occupied land to the north and west of the town.  An earthwork survey carried out in 1998 suggested that the southern enclosure had possibly been a prehistoric enclosure or hillfort before forming the bailey or outer court of the medieval castle, but the absence of finds of this period argues against this.


16 July, 2000; the launch of the Ludgershall Castle excavation report.

The castle was excavated by Peter Addyman and the University of Southampton over a nine-year period, starting in 1964.  The ruined tower was found to form part of an extensive series of buildings maintained and enlarged over 300 years, starting in the early 12th century when, as documentary records show, the castle was in the hands of Henry I (1100-1135).  To give some impression of the complexity of the 12th century buildings, which preceded the ‘great-tower’ in the northern enclosure, some of the earlier foundations were left exposed after completion of the excavation.

A long series of building projects took place under Henry III (1216-1272) during whose reign the castle served as a country retreat, hunting lodge, estate headquarters and even a prison for offenders against the ‘forest laws’.  In 1244 a major change was ordered following one of over twenty documented visits by the king: a new great hall replaced an older one ‘with four full height windows and at the end a pantry and buttery; and also 2 kitchens, 1 for the king and 1 for his household; the door of the king’s wardrobe is to be removed; the king’s and queen’s chambers to be wainscoted’.  Twenty-nine fragments of masonry found during the excavation allowed the reconstruction of the unusual windows with their high-quality carved detail.  Much window glass, both plain and painted, was found in association with the great hall.  It is evidence of a high level of domestic comfort and artistic quality.


The excavation report, showing one of the excellent reconstruction drawings

Medieval domestic glazing of the period, such as was found at Ludgershall, is rarely recovered in England.  Potash glass is unstable because of its wood ash content; it normally disintegrates soon after removal from soil, but the excavators managed to keep many of the Ludgershall fragments intact, at least until they could be examined and recorded in the excellent report published in 2000.



Uroscopy flask from excavations in Winchester – 250mm tall.

The garderobe pits and other medieval contexts of the site produced 13th and 14th century glass vessels, including one of the finest and most complete 14th century goblets with a flanged bowl found in Britain. In addition, a large number of uroscopy vessels were found, including one which was almost complete.  Such bag-shaped flasks with thick convex bases were used for the examination of urine and diagnosis of illnesses.  In the medieval period and beyond, it was thought that the four humours (blood, choler, melancholy and phlegm) were balanced in a healthy person; an imbalance brought with it illness, and comparison of the patient’s urine to a well-established colour chart, as well as testing its smell and taste (!) would determine which of the humours was out of step.
Further Reading:
Ludgershall Castle: Excavations by Peter Addyman 1964-1972 (2000), Peter Ellis (ed.), Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, Monograph Series 2.
History of Ludgershall Castle and Cross. Online: <http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/ludgershall-castle-and-cross/history/&gt;.
Ludgershall. A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 15, Amesbury Hundred, Branch and Dole Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1995. Online: <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol15/pp119-135#s&gt;.

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


Buried in time – Portchester Castle’s Roman remains

After looking at the walls of Winchester, Barry Cunliffe turned his attention to the much more upstanding (and precise) defences of Portchester Castle, a site in the guardianship of English Heritage. This Roman fort of the ‘Saxon Shore’, enclosed 3.6 ha, and subsequently had a Norman castle built in one corner and a church and cemetery established in another.

A full set! Roman, Saxon and Medieval (2) volumes describing the work at Portchester.

Almost a full set! Roman, Saxon and Medieval (2) volumes describing the work at Portchester.

Cunliffe’s investigations involved a programme of excavations, from 1961 to 1972 (the decade of work costing a dizzying £9,950). They resulted in an impressive series of reports, published by the Society of Antiquaries. These describe the use of the site from the Roman period (plus a dusting of prehistoric flintwork) right up to the early 19th century.

View from the Norman keep showing some of the Roman bastions.

View from the Norman keep showing some of the Roman bastions.

As the north-west quarter of the site is occupied by the Norman castle, the north-east quarter by a cricket pitch, and the south-east corner by the priory and graveyard, the south-west area was chosen for large-scale excavation.  This work showed how fugitive the Roman levels are, having been variously ploughed over or built on throughout history, so that buildings of the Roman period are represented only by the impressions made by their basal timbers.


The enclosing defensive walls, with their forward projecting bastions and opposed gates, appear to have survived well, but have actually seen considerable change.  The gates have been blocked or modified, and although the distinctive pitched flints and tile courses on the outer surfaces are wonderful reminders of Roman work, the Norman masons took large quantities of flint from inside the ‘shell’ and remodelled its contours when they were constructing the castle.

Pitched flints and tile courses - and centuries of patchwork

Pitched flints and tile courses – and centuries of patchwork

The key questions surrounding Roman Portchester are – when was it built – and who occupied it?  Barry Cunliffe’s conclusion was that the fort was established by Carausius around the year 285, in his role as naval commander charged with clearing the Channel of pirates.  It was abandoned soon afterwards, when the initial work was done, and may not have figured much in the Britannic Empire, the brief imperial careers of Carausius and Allectus (286-296).  It may have come back into use under the new central government, when the community included both women and children.

Flints, mortar and tile - a worm's-eye-view.

Flints, mortar and tile – a worm’s-eye-view.

Further changes took place in the mid-4th century and occupation appears to have continued on into the 5th without a major break. Just who made up the population, with increasing evidence of a Germanic element to the finds, and whether or not Portchester is the Portus Adurni of the Notitia Dignitatum, are questions that remain unanswered.

More recent work has involved geophysical surveys, which have added considerably to the subterranean picture, and these are incorporated in the excellent (and sometimes delightfully quirky) exhibition at the site.

Spider man at the Water Gate? No, just DA being DAft.

Spider man at the Water Gate? No, just DA being DAft.


Cunliffe, B (1975) Excavations at Portchester Castle, Vol 1: Roman, Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Vol XXXII.

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


Buried in time – a Bronze Age cremation cemetery at Kalis Corner, Kimpton

Fifty years ago, in 1966, an excavation began at Kalis Corner, Kimpton, which proved to be of national importance.  The discovery owed much to the landowner, William Flambert, whose life-long interest in archaeology enabled him to identify the significance of part of a field in which the plough repeatedly snagged on compacted flints.  He invited the Andover Archaeological Society (AAS) to investigate.  The society had been set up in 1964 in response to the increasing destruction of sites as a result of the redevelopment of Andover as an ‘overspill’ town.

Max Dacre

Max Dacre lifting a fragmented cremation urn


In 1966 the AAS was directed by Max Dacre, who was originally given one month to complete investigations at Kalis Corner, before the autumn ploughing began.  Work took place at weekends using volunteers and it soon became clear that the site warranted more attention.  Deadlines were gradually extended until work was finally completed in 1970.  The careful scientific excavation earned the AAS recognition from the wider archaeological community and the results were published in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, in 1981. 

The site became an oasis, stranded by ploughing and harvesting.

The site became an archaeological oasis, stranded by ploughing and harvesting.

At Kalis Corner the AAS discovered a Bronze Age cremation cemetery that was in continuous use for 1500 years.  In addition it was preceded by late Neolithic activity. The site is located only ten miles east of the Wessex Neolithic henge monuments of Woodhenge and Durrington Walls and to the south is the Harrow Way, an important prehistoric track-way linking Wessex and Kent. Nearby is the Kimpton barrow cemetery and it has been suggested that the two sites were part of a wider mortuary landscape during the Bronze Age (Stoodley 2013).

The grid

The ‘grid method’ was used to excavate the flint platform. Sheets of polythene cover the fragile pottery.

As already mentioned, the earliest activity on the site was Neolithic, centred on three large sarsen stones that may have occurred there naturally. Funerary activity began on the site in the early Bronze Age (2000 – 1500BC) when a number of cremations were placed in deep holes. This was followed by the erection of a circle of small sarsen stones within a flint platform, together with a pyre area where the cremations would have taken place, and the deposition of 22 urns covered by flint cairns (only six of which contained cremated remains).


Volunteers at work on the flint platform

It was in the Middle to Late Bronze Age (1500 – 600BC) that most activity occurred. A large platform of flints accumulated into which cremation burials were inserted. This platform was extended four times and different types and phases of burial were identified. For example Stoodley suggests that the presence or absence of flint cairns over burials through this period may reflect changing ‘fashions’ in burial practice. Five distinct clusters of burials could represent family groups, whilst the range of different ages and sexes represented and the scarcity of associated artefacts suggests an egalitarian community without a marked social hierarchy.


Richard Warmington (left) whose detailed drawings (example below) made it possible to interpret the site.


What is remarkable is the apparently continuous use of this site for such a long time: the use and reuse of pyre sites, the incineration and bone pulverisation techniques and the techniques of platform construction, were all consistent over the long time scale.

The archive and finds from Kalis Corner are in the care of the British Museum (museum no. 1988, 0505).  One ‘outlier’ pot of the same period is in on display in the Andover Museum.


Dacre, M and Ellison, A (1981) A Bronze Age Urn Cemetery at Kimpton, Hampshire, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 47, 147-203

Stoodley, N (2013) The Archaeology of Andover The excavations of Andover Archaeological Society 1964-1989

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


Happy crew – it’s tea break – Peggy Dacre with the pot.


More Civil War


To launch Civil War in Wessex with a bit more aplomb (the early detonation last Friday was accidental – how easy it is to start a fight!) we’ve searched the archives and found unique footage of the ‘Battle of Andover’, 1644…or perhaps more correctly the 360th anniversary of the said battle, in October, 2004.


Up to the hilt…the 17th century sword from the River Anton, Andover

In the original incident, more a skirmish than a battle, Royalist forces, including King Charles, were advancing from the Salisbury direction and put Sir William Waller’s troops to flight.  The key action, in a lane leading to Andover, may have been near the river bridge and a sword found in the gravelly mud of the River Anton probably comes from this engagement.  The King spent the night in the ‘White Hart’ inn.

For the ‘re-enactment’ on Andover recreation ground no horses were allowed, as they would have cut up the turf, but a march-past of doughty drummers and pike men preceded a few booms from a field gun brought up from Taunton.

‘Don’t put your fingers in your ears’ says the gun-captain, but someone already has and can’t hear him! The first firing drew a great response and spontaneous applause and was followed by four or five more until the last one, when a double-charge was loaded. My favourite comment was from a friend, Tony Raper, who was at home eating his Sunday dinner, half a mile away. ‘That last blast’ he said ‘ nearly shook the windows out of their frames’.  Tony, you should have been where we were!

It was a brilliant event – and similar shows take place at Basing House during the season, although window rattling isn’t a regular feature. We really do appreciate the efforts of the Sealed Knot and English Civil War Society to mark this classic period of our past.

Civil War in Wessex, Alan Turton (2015), 32pp. Wessex Books, £6.99

ISBN 978-1-903035-46-7


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

Hampshire Cultural Trust


Buried in time – the English Civil War

The latest offering from Wessex Books is Alan Turton’s Civil War in Wessex. Alan was until recently manager of Basing House, site of one of the most lengthy – and bloody – sieges of ‘this war without an enemy’ and his knowledge of the conflict is without compare.  He provides a compelling narrative of the 1640s and 50s, as the balance of power swung back and forth between the Royalist and Parliamentarian forces.

We learn that, in August 1642, before war was actually declared, Portsmouth was wrenched from Royalist hands, the Governor of Southsea Castle, Captain Challenor, being found drunk at his post!  Meanwhile armies, already numbered in the thousands, were squaring up to one another around Sherborne and Yeovil.

1643 saw Bath and Devizes in the spotlight, and evidence of the Parliamentary assault is still visible at the latter today. As the year wore on the action veered towards Hampshire. Newbury fell to the Royalists, William Waller attacked Basing House, and in December a violent action was fought at Alton, where Colonel Bolles fell fighting in St Lawrence’s Church and the Parliamentarians prevailed.

The following year saw the Battle of Cheriton, where Waller emerged victorious. This says Alan Turton ‘proved to be one of the main turning points of the war’. It also saw the combatants digging in at Basing House, where a formal siege was established and pursued through countless hardships, until Oliver Cromwell brought it to an end in October, 1645.

And so the story continues, with the surrender of the last Royalist army in March, 1646, the attempts of King Charles to evade capture in Hampshire, while looking for a ship and, after his stay at Carisbrooke, his three week imprisonment at Hurst Castle ‘the worst castle in England’. Then came his move to Windsor, his trial and subsequent execution.

The book is well illustrated, with excellent photographs of key locations and line drawings of the main protagonists, many by the author. If you want a concise, informative, colourful introduction to this turbulent period of our regional history, then this is the book for you.

Buried in time – an Early Romano-British cemetery at Alton

A small Early Romano-British cremation cemetery was excavated at 87 High Street, Alton in 1860 and again in 1980. The first excavation uncovered a richly furnished cremation burial and most of the finds ended up in the Curtis Museum in the town. In 1980, before the construction of the Inner Ring Road, further exploration took place and eight more graves were excavated. All of the graves contained a large assemblage of pots as grave goods and several contained other items as well. The pottery suggests a date in the 1st century AD.

Digging in progress: 1980

Excavation in progress: 1980


The richest burial, known as Grave 2, was a shallow pit first discovered in 1860 and only completely excavated in 1980. The earlier excavation found 18 pottery vessels, two glass vessels, 19 glass gaming pieces and a gold signet ring. Metal corners were noted surrounding the gaming pieces and the presence of the ring suggested that these were originally contained within a wooden casket, along with the cremated remains of the deceased.

Some of the 19 glass counters

Some of the 19 glass gaming pieces

Grave 2: the bindings of the gaming board found in 1980

Grave 2: the bindings of the gaming board found in 1980

The two glass vessels

The two glass vessels

The 1980 excavation added a further 13 pottery vessels to the contents of this grave, as well as four copper alloy corner plates and a drop handle (which probably represent the remains of a gaming board). In addition there were two spoons, a fragment of an iron knife blade and a glass bead. The cremated bone is from an adult of indeterminate sex, although the signet ring and gaming pieces suggest he was male.

Cast of the signet ring gem stone.

Cast of the signet ring gem stone.

The stone inset in the gold signet-ring was engraved with four symbols representing Roman deities. At the time of the burial, Roman law dictated that gold rings could only be used by people of high rank, indicating that the deceased was of high status, possibly a native aristocrat. A signet-ring was generally passed to the heir at the time of death as proof of succession and it is unusual for one to be found in a grave. The most likely explanation for the inclusion of the ring is that the deceased was young, or without heirs.

Alton Grave 5 - horse's head to the left.

Alton Grave 5 – horse’s head to the left.

Another of the Alton graves, known as Grave 5, was in a deep pit with two distinct deposits. The upper layers contained 13 broken pottery vessels, a scatter of animal bone and cremated human bone. The lower deposit had been carefully covered with earth and levelled before this upper material was added. The lower deposit itself contained 40 pottery vessels, two brooches, two finger rings of copper alloy and iron, a copper alloy cosmetic set (tweezers, nail-cleaner, ear scoop), copper alloy fragments of a casket (including studs, lock plate and drop handle), an iron knife and eight nail fixings from a wooden box. The grave also contained an inverted horse skull. Cremated bones from an adult of indeterminate sex were contained in a pot with a lid placed in the grave early in the sequence of filling. The grave goods suggest that this may be a female burial. The broken pottery in the upper fill of the grave may represent the disposal of things used to prepare a funerary feast after the remainder of the grave had been filled.


Further reading

Millett M (1986) Early Roman Cemetery at Alton, Hants Field Club Vol 42, pp 43-87

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

Buried in time – a Romano-British carved stone head from Boldre

Many carved stone heads have been found in Britain, mostly in the north and west of the country.  A great number of them originate from the religious practices of the native (Iron Age) people living in Britain both before and during the Roman occupation of the first four centuries AD.  They are essentially cult objects.  Hampshire has little natural stone (other than flint and chalk) but a fine example of a head comes from the parish of Boldre in the New Forest.  It is made of Bembridge limestone, which is found nearby on the Isle of Wight and also on the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset.

Full frontal - menacing eyebrows and bulbous eyes, but a damaged nose and chin

Full frontal – menacing eyebrows and bulbous eyes, but a damaged nose and chin

The head was discovered in a disused gravel pit, then being used as a rubbish dump, by a boy who was staying in a cottage in Portmore, Boldre, and he took it back to the village.  In the 1960s it came to the attention of Sidney Jackson, an archaeologist from Yorkshire, who was keen on cataloguing as many stone heads as he could.  At that time, it was resting on a makeshift base beside the gate of a cottage. Permission was granted for the stone to be taken to Southampton for examination and recording and, following a number of adventures including a long spell up north, it is now in the care of the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Things become clearer in this side view.

Things become clearer in this side view.

The head is of a ram-horned man.  The eyebrows extend across the head in an unbroken line – a typically Celtic feature.  The eyes are bulbous and the moustaches sweep upwards.  These features give the face a ferocious appearance.  Unfortunately, the lower part of the face is damaged, so we cannot be sure of the full expression of the mouth.  Ram’s horns are a symbol of virility and strength and are associated with the cult of a horned god, known throughout the Celtic world.  This suggests a warlike, even if pastoral, attitude for the people who made the object.  The human head was thought to have evil-averting powers (apotropaic), and the fierce expression would have added to its protective potency.

Detail of ram's horn and right ear.

Detail of ram’s horn and right ear.

The closest parallel to the Boldre head is one found in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, possibly connected with a nearby pagan sanctuary.  Boldre is close to the presumed boundary between two Iron Age tribes – the Atrebates (to the east) and Durotriges (to the west); and the head may have played a role in defining the limits of their territories or been associated with a native shrine or temple.

A 2010.83

Further reading:

Pagan Celtic Britain, Anne Ross (1967)

Celtic and other stone heads, Sidney Jackson (1973)

Proc Hants Field Club 26, 57-60 Anne Ross (1969) A Romano-British Cult Object from Boldre.


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