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Hampshire excavations # 2

An occasional series covering Hampshire archaeological digs, large and small.

Grateley South, 1910, 1916, 1998, 1999

‘Grateley South’ is one kilometre south east of the hillfort of Quarley Hill, and around six kilometres north west of Danebury Hillfort.

In 1895 Dr. J.P. Williams-Freeman, a Weyhill country doctor trained as a military surveyor, became a member of the Hampshire Field Club; he was a fine amateur field archaeologist and in the sixth volume of the society’s proceedings he published a short note concerning a supposed Roman villa at Grateley.  Evidence, in the form of an 8 ft. by 4 ft. tessellated pavement, had been observed during the removal of the flint wall foundations to provide material for road mending. The foundations were recorded by Williams-Freeman, who used them as the basis of a scale plan of part of the villa. This discovery brought the total number of Romano-British buildings known within a six-mile radius of Andover up to ten, a concentration well covered in the Victoria County History, and on Williams-Freeman’s own map, which was to follow soon after.


Detail of Williams-Freeman’s map, published in 1915. Grately (sic) takes its place with the other Roman sites clustered around the East Anton crossroads.

During the summer of 1915 a further piece of pavement was discovered at the site. According to Williams-Freeman’s subsequent report, this was ‘carefully exposed under the direction of Mr. E. Rawlence, agent to the Marquis of Winchester, the present owner’. (Rawlence was a surveyor from Salisbury who, six years later, excavated the building at Houghton Down.) The small excavation at Grateley revealed a substantially complete mosaic floor in a square room at the centre of Williams-Freeman’s plan. A fine painting of the floor was made by Heywood Sumner and reproduced as a frontispiece of the Field Club’s journal. No hypocaust was revealed, although Williams-Freeman had heard that a ‘cellar’ (possibly a hypocaust) had been found a few years earlier.


The mosaic pavement; drawn in October 1915 by Heywood Sumner.

Following Rawlence’s excavation the floor was carefully covered over. Sixty years later high-quality aerial photographs revealed that the building was part of a villa complex which had developed from an earlier Iron Age settlement with ditched enclosures. This made the site an attractive prospect for study as part of the Danebury Environs Roman Programme, led by Professor Barry Cunliffe. Its size and complexity meant that only a sample excavation was possible during two seasons in 1998 and 1999; the work focusing on the villa buildings.


A general view of Barry Cunliffe’s excavations – two rectangular buildings containing corn driers are linked by a substantial fence.

The work revealed that there were two Roman phases, the earlier one (c. AD 50-300) including evidence of timber structures in the form of post alignments, a gravelled road, a well and a large corn-drying oven.   The later phase (c.AD 300-400) comprised at least four masonry buildings. One of these was the villa house, previously reported by Williams-Freeman. Corridors ran along the back and front of this ‘strip house’.  Cunliffe’s excavation included a trial trench across the building, but no surviving mosaics were found.


Corn driers in close up. The two square drying floors were served by one furnace. Toasting, for storage – and malting, resulting in grain suitable for brewing were the intention.

Four large corn-drying ovens were unearthed, however, and found to be in an exceptional state of preservation. They dated from the third and fourth centuries and the three earliest were all double ovens. They were similar in plan, with two ovens set side-by-side and served from a single stoking chamber.  The evidence suggested that the right-hand chamber had been more intensively fired than the left.  Analysis of the crop remains from the cooler flues produced remains of sprouted wheat, showing that they were used for parching malted grain. The right-hand chamber, run at a higher temperature, could have been used to dry the crop prior to storage. The later, single oven had continued in use until destroyed by fire, preserving its last load beneath the collapsed burnt roof of the building. The load included mainly spelt wheat, with other grains as contaminants.


The final, ill-fated firing. The building went up in flames and the roof came down with a crash – sealing layers of grain. Here the archaeologists carefully sample the unexpected treasure!

A single burial, of a male aged 35-40 year, was found at the site, dumped into a pit too small to contain a prone body. The casual nature of the deposit differs from the usual inhumation practices of the time and it was suggested that the unfortunate individual had been held responsible for starting the calamitous fire, and made to suffer in consequence!

The environmental evidence from the corn-drying ovens provided significant information about the agrarian economy, an objective very different from those of the excavators of the Edwardian era, who originally uncovered the mosaic.

Further reading

The Victoria County History of Hampshire , Vol 1 (1900) p 265ff.

A1998.45, A1999.40  Archives deposited with the Hampshire Cultural Trust

Cunliffe, B. 2000. The Danebury Environs Programme, Volume 1, Introduction.

Cunliffe, B. and Poole, C. 2008. Grateley South, Grateley, Hants 1998 and 1999, The Danebury Environs Roman Programme.

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


Hampshire excavations # 1

An occasional series covering Hampshire archaeological digs, large and small

Houghton Down, Stockbridge; 1922, 1994, 1997.

Was this both a Roman villa and an Iron Age farm? A dig in 1922 by E A Rawlence, a Salisbury surveyor, found a substantial Roman aisled building containing a bath house. The excavated baths were covered by a shed until the 1930s. Rubbish accumulated, including a dead pig and barbed wire, and the hollows were eventually filled in. Later, aerial photographs showed circular buildings, storage pits, and fenced and ditched fields in the immediate vicinity.

Excavations by Professor Barry Cunliffe and his team in 1994 and 1997 for the Danebury Environs Project showed that, yes, it had been occupied, not quite continuously, between 700 BC and the 4th century AD. Generations of farmers extended the fields, pastures and ditches, dug wells, buried their dead, and built furnaces for metal-working and corn-drying ovens. The main activity took place in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, when there may have been more than one family in residence. By about the year 200, the main buildings were in masonry rather than timber, and included the aisled hall and a narrow building, also used for living and eating in. The farm had expanded from a modest to a prosperous state.

The aisled building, 27.2m long by 13.6m wide, had been carefully constructed and was a substantial structure that would have been visible for miles around. It had a chalk floor, full-height flint walls on greensand corner foundations, a central nave and light from a timbered clerestory. The roof, supported on 14 stone and timber piers, was made of hexagonal Purbeck stone tiles. In the south wall (and probably also in the north) there was a large door opening – over 2m wide.


The bath suite at the western end of the aisled building; the abandoned ‘cold plunge’ is at the top of the picture, the replacement to the right.

By the late 3rd century the building had been subdivided by timber partitions. It had a large oven inside. It was evidently now the main working area of a moderately prosperous farm. It also had a large bath suite retrofitted into the northwest corner. A cold plunge pool was started outside the building, but abandoned after only a day’s work! Making a breach in the gable end wall had caused serious structural damage, and so the design was hastily changed and the plunge pool moved to the north side instead of the west – but still outside the main rooms!

A new strip building then enlarged the farm’s living accommodation. Beer was brewed from surplus corn. But there was still little in the way of fine, non-local pottery or decorative ornaments. By the end of its life, in the middle of the 4th century, the building housed a smithy and piles of building material for recycling.


Infant burial F295, discovered inside the aisled hall

The dig unearthed 13 burials. Two were Roman cremations, two were adults buried close together in the old western enclosure ditch, and nine were infants, buried, here as elsewhere in Roman Britain, under the floors of the Roman buildings.

Houghton Down archives A1994.35 & A1997.55 are in the care of Hampshire Cultural Trust

Further Reading:

The Danebury Environs Programme: The Prehistory of a Wessex Landscape, Vol 2 Part 6: Houghton Down, Stockbridge, Hants, 1994, by Barry Cunliffe and Cynthia Poole. English Heritage and OUCA Mono 49, 2000.

And Vol 2 Part 1: Houghton Down, Longstock, Hants,1997, Mono 71, 2008.

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


Digging deeper

The Hampshire Historic Environment Record (HER) is a fantastic tool. Under its alternative title of the Archaeology and Historic Buildings Record (AHBR) it can be accessed and interrogated on-line in all manner of ways. If you want to know whether your village, town or parish hides items of archaeological or historical interest it’s the place to start, and it can lead you on a trail towards obscure reports (we call them ‘grey literature’) as well as published evidence.

Using the database it’s easy to get hooked on searching for your favourite type of site – Roman villas, for instance (104 results) – and then while away an evening, sifting through the various leads, which might head you towards some splendid find displayed in a museum, or alternatively into a ditch terminal. As more and more illustrative material becomes digitally available and linked-in, the historic environment will be more and more at our fingertips and our appreciation of what has gone before will be much enhanced.

One large step along this route has been taken by the staff of the Hampshire County Council Historic Environment Section, with the release of the Atlas of Hampshire’s Archaeology. Using the 50,000 records at their disposal, David Hopkins (County Archaeologist) and Alan Whitney (Historic Data Manager) have produced a set of forty maps which span the periods from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) which began around 10,000 years ago, to the end of the Roman occupation (about 1600 years ago). The excellent base maps employ either topography (15 altitude bands) or landscape type (derived from a palette of 25 pastel shades) and this, together with the river systems, allows the current character of the country to be easily read.

Landscape studies: the enigmatically-named 'Soldier's Ring' is represented by the hedgeline and diagonal boundary; Bokerley Dyke is on the horizon.

Landscape studies: the enigmatically-named ‘Soldier’s Ring’, a Romano-British enclosure, is represented by the hedgeline and foreground diagonal boundary; Bokerley Dyke is on the near horizon.

When it comes to putting things on the map, there are at least forty different symbols employed, but these range from just three for our Middle Stone Age ancestors, to eleven on one of the Roman maps. This inevitably leads to a bit of congestion, especially when the symbol for a single find is essentially larger than an industrial estate, but care has been taken to make everything fit sympathetically.

A genuine sense of distribution can be obtained for all periods – and an appreciation of the physical relationship of communities with soil types and river systems. It highlights the enigma of the Neolithic in Hampshire – long barrows, yes, but why on earth no causewayed enclosures, cursus monuments or henges? It also shows how, by the following Bronze Age – to judge from the spread of round barrows – there were no ‘no go’ areas. In the Iron Age – a period blessed with 14 maps – grain and wool processing are among particular activities that can be teased out and ‘banjo enclosures’ also have their part to play; on the Roman maps, the layout of the road system brings communications well and truly to the fore.

The 'banjo enclosure' at Nettlebank Copse - investigated as part of the Danebury Environs project.

The Iron Age ‘banjo enclosure’ at Nettlebank Copse – investigated as part of the Danebury Environs project.

Roman roads are an interesting subject, and have a number of people committed to their study. The current maps don’t include the routes through the New Forest surveyed by Arthur Clarke (2003), the last Archaeology Officer of the Ordnance Survey, which would enhance the western approaches. Other features that don’t fare well (in the Bronze Age) are the so-called ‘ranch boundaries’, sometimes termed ‘Wessex linears’, which are represented by a static symbol when their role, interpreted by some as the first tangible manifestation of territories (Cunliffe, 1993), would be better shown by a true representation.

The maps are accompanied by short essays summarising the character of each period, particularly with regard to the landscape. Indeed, the word ‘landscape’ wins out in any word count and is perhaps a little repetitive, especially when it is contrasting the  ‘farmed’ with the ‘wild’. True, the landscape is the canvas holding the scene together, but with such vivid and varied pictures being painted by the human activity, it could perhaps be allowed to slip into the background a little. Alternatively, simpler maps showing the advance of the ‘farmed’ at the expense of the ‘wild’ would make the point – but would take a lot more preparation!

George Willis and friends picking the fields around Basingstoke clean of worked flints - in the 1920s.

George Willis and friends in the 1920s – picking the fields around Basingstoke clean of worked flints.

The maps throw up a number of issues not explored in the text, issues that tend to dog distribution maps. The concentration of finds in certain areas will be the result of individual fieldwork (George Willis et al around Basingstoke, for example, or Malcolm Lyne (2012) in Binsted and environs) and the growth of certain towns (Basingstoke, Andover etc) will have provided many more opportunities for discovery than other locations. Aerial cover will also be uneven, although in time the increasing use of LIDAR will bring greater equality. As a result there will inevitably be some bias on display, but the maps do a brilliant job in presenting the current state of knowledge and providing food for thought.

And in so doing, they are the perfect spur and complement to further research. The national ‘Atlas of Hillforts’ , for example, is nearing completion and it will be interesting to see how much variety is proposed in the survey for the forty or so ‘hillforts’ on the Hampshire map. Also, the Roman layout is forever being reconsidered – including roads that deviate for unknown reasons – whither Vindomis? etc ; and the monumental ‘desert’ that is the Neolithic remains as intriguing as ever.

So do make use of the maps – and having taken in the broad sweep of thousands of years of human history, consult the Historic Environment Record, and dig a little deeper.

Dave Allen, Curator of Hampshire Archaeology, Hampshire Cultural Trust


Clarke, A (2003) The Roman road on the eastern fringe of the New Forest, Hampshire Studies, Vol 58, 33-58

Cunliffe, B W  (1993), Wessex to A D 1000. p129 ff

Lyne, M (2012), Archaeological Research in Binsted, Kingsley and Alice Holt Forest, BAR British Series 574

Buried in time – by Roman lamplight

On the shortest day of the year it seems appropriate to think of sources of light. We have the ability to turn night into day but it wasn’t so for our early ancestors. For the Romans, artificial light came in the form of oil-lamps or candles, or occasionally lanterns. In Britain oil-lamps were rare, because of the expense of shipping in olive oil from Gaul, Spain or Africa. It’s therefore good to be able to report that a complete example, found at the Dunkirt Barn Roman villa site, had a narrow escape. Peter Stone takes up the story.

The lucky lamp

The lucky lamp – the raised bump at the back is probably the vestige of a handle and the smaller bumps at the sides, echoes of decoration.

Some years ago I was working as a volunteer on Barry Cunliffe’s excavation at Dunkirt Barn. Along with two or three others I found myself assigned to an area close to the site of the winged corridor villa, where we were instructed to trowel off what appeared to be infill from the 19th century excavations. Wearying of this task my near neighbour decided to take a mattock into his hands and vigorously attack his area. At about the third or fourth stroke an object suddenly flew into the air and landed several metres away. On investigation it proved to be a complete Roman lamp. The down-stroke of the mattock must have been just a few centimetres from completely destroying it but it survived intact and is one of the best finds from the site.

The Dunkirt Barn Roman villa - a general view of the excavations

The Dunkirt Barn Roman villa – a general view of the excavations

The lamp would have been made in the second century AD or later, and is a copy of a ‘factory lamp’ (firmalampe), so called because the originals were mass-produced, bearing a stamp identifying a particular manufacturer. This lamp has no such mark on its base and although many were made in Gaul and the German provinces, some were made in Britain, notably the Verulamium area. Such lamps would have been fuelled by olive oil imported from the Mediterranean.

Not every excavated find has such a fortuitous life [confesses Peter]. I went on to volunteer for Dave Allen at Basing House and was delighted to find a complete clay tobacco pipe. A few years later, however, I was working in the Chilcomb stores when, during a sorting task, the same pipe came to light. Overwhelmed at being reunited with it I raised my hand to take it from a fellow worker only to knock it from her hand with the result that it is no longer a complete pipe. Sic transit gloria mundi.

(We stuck it back together – Dave).

Further reading: Cunliffe & Poole (2008) The Danebury Environs Roman Programme, Vol 2, Part 7, Dunkirt Barn.

A2005.50, archive held by the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

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

Buried in time – the Rockbourne Roman Villa hoard

The hoard today

The hoard today

The excavations at Rockbourne (1940s to 1970s) unearthed more than 700 coins scattered across the site, but ‘jackpot day’ came on Saturday, August 26th, 1967 when a hoard, of 7,714 bronze and silver-bronze antoninianii and three silver denarii, was found buried in a two-handled storage jar.  The coins mostly belonged to the period 250 to 290, but issues of Diocletian and Maximianus suggested a deposition date of around 305.

Quite a find! A press photo showing the site of the discovery.

Quite a find! A Press photo showing the site of the discovery.

The hoard caused great excitement at the time and the news even made some national papers, presumably resulting in a late-season rush of visitors to the villa.  After the coins had been counted they were carried off to the village shop to be weighed (collectively!).  As the scales were not up to the job, someone produced a set of bathroom scales and they provided a reading of 56lbs (25.4 kg).

Another picture for the papers!

Another picture for the papers!

A T Morley Hewitt, discoverer of the villa and owner of the site at the time, then set about having the coins cleaned and identified.  When it was clear there were numerous duplicates – 2,439 issues of Tetricus I, for example, and 1,474 of Victorinus – he rewarded each of his regular diggers with a small packet of coins at the annual dinner later in the year.

Out on display...with the total number and the dating yet to be finalised.

Out on display…with the total number and the dating yet to be finalised.

This dispersal of the hoard continued in other ways, as the decision was made to sell some of the duplicates in order to raise funds for the continuing excavation.  There was also some dispute about whether the ‘finder’ should have a significant share of the hoard.  At the end of the day (or more precisely in 1979, when Hampshire County Council acquired the site and finds) only 986 coins were present, and only half of these ended up in the site archive.  These 493 coins, along with the New Forest jar in which they were concealed, are part of the museum displays.

Three imperial close-ups, including Carausius, bottom right.

Three imperial close-ups, including Carausius, bottom right.

Debate continues about whether such hoards represent the hiding away of wealth, particularly in troubled times, or a religious offering to the gods.  The discovery of the huge ‘Frome hoard’ in 2010 (52,503 coins in a very large pot) supports the votive offering theory.  The excavator of the Frome find reported distinctive ‘organic matter’ around the pot, suggesting that this was packing to protect it.  Morley Hewitt also mentions an organic component to the Rockbourne find, but it’s not clear in what quantity.

In 1894, a hoard of 4,020 coins, of similar date, was found on the site of Roman farm buildings at Whipps Hill, less than a mile from Rockbourne.

Further reading:

Rockbourne Roman Villa; A Guide  £5 plus p&p, available from Hampshire Cultural Trust.

A1979.6   Archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust.

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

Buried in time (and corrosion) – the Monk Sherborne buckle

Monk Sherborne, a village north west of Basingstoke, lies in an area rich in archaeological finds. In 1996, chalk quarrying revealed the remains of a Roman winged-corridor house and this was excavated (a ‘rescue’ dig) by Steve Teague of Winchester Museum Service.

Cleaning the surface revealed wall-lines and pits...

Cleaning the surface revealed wall-lines and pits…

Birds-eye-view of the Roman building - with the unemployed stokehole in the foreground.

Birds-eye-view of the Roman building – with the unemployed stokehole in the foreground.

Details emerged of a building with chalk foundations, extensively damaged by plough action. The north wing had been modified by the addition of a channelled hypocaust, but there was no sign of scorching or burning and the system may not have seen any use. Dating evidence suggested that the building belonged to the second half of the 3rd century.

The corn-drier - a great bit of excavation.

The corn-drier – a great bit of excavation.

A corn-drier, associated with an aisled building about 30m away, had at least seen some action. Clear signs of scorching and burning and a significant basal layer of charcoal showed that the structure had been put to work.  The dating evidence indicated that the feature went out of use in the later 4th century.

The most remarkable finds from the site had nothing to do with the Roman occupation however. In the top layers of a large Roman pit were an intricately decorated, iron, silver wire-inlaid belt buckle and a square belt fitting, both dating to the 7th century, but not from a matching-set.

Buckle and plate - but not a matching set.

Buckle and plate – but not a matching set.

Buckles of this type are rare in Britain, and mostly restricted to Kent, but the likely place of manufacture, for both buckle and plate, was on the Continent, in Francia. The zoomorphic interlace and beaked snake design is known from Continental buckles, gravestones and even coffins. Interpretations of its significance range from the purely decorative to providing protection from evil.

The buckle as found

The buckle as found

Protection for the Monk Sherborne pieces came in a surprising way – from the layer of iron corrosion which coated both objects. X-rays revealed the remarkable secrets lurking beneath and the painstaking work of Bob Holmes, Museum Conservator, brought the full detail to light.

What lies beneath! The magic of the X-ray.

What lies beneath! The magic of the X-ray.

The Monk Sherborne site did provide something of a context for these finds. Traces of a third building, of tentative Saxon date, yielded evidence of metalworking in the form of heavily burnt flints and slag. We can only be thankful that these two pieces of ‘scrap’, if that is what they were, didn’t find their way into the smith’s furnace.

monksherborne4    monksherborne bckles

The Monk Sherborne buckle can be seen in the Willis Museum, Basingstoke.

The Monk Sherborne buckle, in all its glory.

The Monk Sherborne buckle, in all its glory.

Further reading

Teague (2005) Manor Farm, Monk Sherborne, Archaeological Investigations in 1996, Proc Hants Field Club, 60, 64-135

A1996.47   archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust

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

Buried in time – a Romano-British bathhouse at Braishfield

Some 45 years ago a dense scatter of Roman objects was found after ploughing at a previously undisturbed site to the north of Pucknall Farm, Braishfield. The discoveries led to three seasons of excavation, from 1975 onwards. A flint masonry bathhouse was revealed, dated to the late 3rd or very early 4th century AD. It had apparently been demolished within 50 years of its construction. Research in the adjacent area showed that it was part of a major villa complex.

Spy in the sky - an aerial view showing the rural location.

Spy in the sky – an aerial view showing the rural location.

The excavation identified a number of occupation phases beginning about 50 BC to 100 AD and represented by two loam-filled pits containing burnt flint. The proximity of a contemporary corn dryer suggests early-Roman agricultural activity, although no further settlement evidence was found in this area.

General view of the excavation - the scorching resulting from the underfloor heating is very evident.

General view of the excavation – the scorching resulting from the underfloor heating is very evident.

Another general view of work in progress

Another general view of work in progress

The second phase consisted of a simple square bathhouse of five rooms, two of which were served by a hypocaust under-floor heating.

Later, two further heated rooms and a small wing containing an ornate pool were added; the stokehole area was enclosed. The building was probably re-plastered and painted in this period and furnished with apses and opus signinum floors. Two of the seven rooms were laid out in similar fashion to those found at Sparsholt Roman villa, while a third seems to have been used as a smithy. The exact date of what turned out to be a thorough demolition is unknown.

The small, but ornate, plunge pool.

The small, but ornate, plunge pool, with drain in the foreground.

Finds were sparse and included two copper alloy brooches and a quantity of iron artefacts, including nails, which were possibly part of door fittings, or boot cleats. A small number of pottery finds were early 2nd century, among them being a piece of samian ware, while a much larger quantity was identified as being late 3rd, or early 4th century, and included examples of Oxford, New Forest and possibly Alice Holt wares.

Tiles with 'signatures' or tally marks.

Tiles with ‘signatures’ or tally marks.

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Of the building itself, the fragments of painted plaster were insufficient to reveal an overall pattern and the ceramic building material was of the standard variety,   although there were some intriguing ‘signatures’ and other marks.


Animal bone evidence provided the typical mix to be expected from a Roman rural site and the identifiable fragments were mostly of cattle and sheep or goat

Further reading:

Rogers & Walker, 1984, A Detached Bathouse at Braishfield, Hants Field Club Proceedings Vol 41, p 69-80

A1984.18 Archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust

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