Hampshire Archaeology

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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 (and a housing estate) – Balksbury plateau enclosure

When the much-needed Andover bypass swept around the southern reaches of the town in the late 1960s it sliced through the southwest corner of the 18 ha (45 acre) plateau enclosure of Balksbury.  From that moment on, the earthwork’s days  were numbered.  Housing developments eventually arrived and now carpet nearly all of the interior, but at least the disappearance of the archaeology was well-documented, and six episodes of excavation are on record.

General view of the 1973 excavtions

General view of the 1973 excavtions

In 1939 the southern side of the defences was examined by Jacquetta Hawkes, while husband Christopher was busy excavating at nearby Bury Hill.  Twenty years later the northeast corner of the enclosure was looked at during house-building.  More substantial opportunities came in 1967 with the arrival of the bypass and again in 1973, when the same excavator, Geoff Wainwright, undertook one of his celebrated ‘big digs’, uncovering 10 ha of the interior.  The Central Excavation Unit investigated a further 2 ha in 1981.  Finally, between December 1995 and April 1997, another 5.5 ha of the interior was examined, additional work took place outside the enclosure, and a section of bank and ditch was looked at in detail.

Excavations in 1997

Excavations in 1997 – examining the ‘defences’

Viewed as a whole, the site produced evidence from Neolithic to Late-Roman date, although the earliest activity is represented only by stray finds, including a Beaker burial of an adolescent female.

Beaker burial

The BAlksbury Beaker burial

The Balksbury Beaker burial

Around the 8th-9th centuries BC (Late Bronze Age) large-scale clearance of woodland preceded the construction of the enclosure.  A single entrance was found to the southeast as well as three phases of bank and ditch, some involving timber strengthening.  If there was any occupation at this period, it apparently took the form of a few four and five-post structures, scattered around the periphery.  In the Early Iron Age the evidence is more substantial, with three round houses and 27 storage pits identified.  Pits also dominated in the Middle Iron Age, with 90 attributable to this phase, but there were no recognisable structures.


Iron Age pit (half sectioned) and roundhouse (post ring and porch).

Iron Age pit (half sectioned) and roundhouse (post ring and porch).

In the Late Iron Age and Early Roman periods a number of pits and gullies were dug but the type of activity they represent is elusive.  It does, however, appear to merge into the later Roman occupation which involved a substantial building with ovens (and painted wall plaster), a corn-drier, small enclosures, pits and burials.  Finds included both local and imported pottery, worked bone and stone, coins and jewellery, including 11 brooches, four bracelets, five rings and a buckle plate.  Part of a scabbard for a La Tene 1 type dagger, a rare find from a settlement site, is of Middle Iron Age date.

The 'T'-shaped corn drier from the Romano-British phase.

The ‘T’-shaped corn drier from the Romano-British phase.

In the mid-1990s, the final phase of excavation concentrated on the nature and economy of the enclosure, rather than its wider landscape setting.  The enclosure, at 18 ha, was too big to be defended effectively and its description as a ‘hillfort’ is wrong.  It probably marked out an important place in the landscape, a focal point for communal activities, which may have included feasting, exchange of goods, and the means to build social relationships.  Later activity took place in the centre of the site and the impression is of a succession of small farming settlements taking advantage of an existing, but redundant, enclosure.

Further Reading:

A1978.12  Archive held by the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Balksbury Camp, Andover, Excavations 1973 & 1981, Wainwright & Davies (1995), English Heritage Archaeological Report 4.

Excavations at Balksbury Camp, Andover 1995-97, Ellis & Rawlings (2001), Hants Studies Vol 56.

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

Geoffrey Wainwright (third from left) who led the 1967 and 1973 digs.

Geoffrey Wainwright (third from left) and some of the diggers in 1973.

Ken Smith (left) and the 1981 excavation crew.

Ken Smith (left) and the 1981 excavation crew.

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.


Buried in time – Bargates Saxon cemetery, Christchurch

Christchurch got its name because of the important Priory, built in the late 11th century. One hundred years before, a small settlement named Twynham (for the two rivers) had grown up on the site and was one of King Alfred’s fortified burhs. About 100m to the north of these defences is an area known as Bargates; here in 1977 trial excavation revealed a Bronze Age ring ditch and seven Saxon inhumations. The following year the main dig uncovered a pagan Saxon cemetery of at least 30 burials and four cremations. The grave goods indicated a date of late 6th to 7th century. Subsequent excavations in the town failed to find evidence of 5th to 9th century date, so it is not possible to suggest how the cemetery might relate to any early ecclesiastical foundation preceding the priory.

Bargates: the Bronze Age barrow ditch

Bargates: the Bronze Age barrow ditch with Saxon Graves 9, 10 and 11 in the foreground.

The Bargates site was located on fertile river gravels in an area of lowly-populated heath. Because of the acidic soil conditions bone did not survive, but teeth and ‘body stains’ could sometimes be traced. Three of these were complete outlines and seven partial. Metalwork did survive, however, and eleven of the 30 graves were most probably armed males, which is an unusually high proportion. Other graves contained knives and buckles, which do not help to determine sex. Female ornaments were rare: there were no brooches and only one bead was found on the site. The four cremations were probably of adults, one of whom was probably a young female.

Shield boss (hand protector) from ? Grave 28

Shield boss (hand protector) from ? Grave 28

The grave goods which indicated male burials were shields (usually associated only with adult males) and spears (not necessarily indicative of an adult).  Grave 5 had evidence of a shield showing that it had contained an adult male. The shield boss was cone-shaped, like others on the site.  Some of the graves contained evidence of organic material preserved in corrosion products in the form of negative casts. Corrosion-preserved wood present in Grave 5 was identified as alder, a species used for shields. An iron spearhead with a leaf-shaped blade was also found, its haft made of hazel, again identified from corrosion products. Traces of textile survived on one face of the spearhead. As spearheads were usually placed away from garments, this suggests that the weapon had been placed on woven cloth or that cloth was draped over both the weapons and the body. Grave 5 was one of the richer graves in the cemetery, and like 22 of the other graves it contained a knife.

Grave 16 - stains in the soil and a fragment of mineralised skull.

Grave 16 – stains in the soil and a fragment of mineralised skull.

From the graves with reasonably complete skeletal stains it was possible to determine several different modes of burial and the position of the grave offerings also revealed some patterns. The spearhead in Grave 5, for example, pointed south: this suggests that the head looked south. The wider context of the Saxon cemetery suggests a settled community with established burial procedures, but the location of the settlement site remains unknown.

Further reading: Excavations in Christchurch 1969-1980, Jarvis (1983) Monograph 5, Dorset Natural History & Archaeological Society.

Some of the Bargates finds are displayed in the Red House Museum.

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

Buried in time – the Later Bronze Age

Latch Farm Barrow, Christchurch 

A Bronze Age barrow later used as an urn cemetery – 1500 to 1000 BC

In 1937 Mrs C M Piggott examined a large barrow at Latch Farm ‘in the fork of the rivers’, in advance of gravel digging. The contractor was ‘extremely considerate’ and helped in many ways, but speed was of the essence and so ‘in just over three weeks, with two paid men and three voluntary helpers the barrow was excavated as fully as circumstances demanded and time allowed.’

 latch1  latch2

A newspaper article ( The Christchurch Times, 2/10/1937) describing the dig – and a Beaker from one of the early burials

The barrow survived to only 0.60m in height, but definition of the ditch allowed its full 30m (100ft) diameter to be appreciated. The primary burials, in what was probably originally a bell-barrow, were identified as a cremation in a tripartite urn and another in a small oak coffin.


The number of small pits shows the density of burials in the south-east quadrant of the barrow.

A large Late Bronze Age (Deverel-Rimbury) cemetery occupied much of the southern half of the monument, totalling about 90 cremations in all, 70 of them in pottery urns. By this time the barrow ditch was silted up and burials took place there also. Some of the burials were covered by slabs of local ironstone, possibly to mark their position. The catalogue in the published report states that the first four urns ‘are in the possession of Mr Herbert Druitt of Christchurch, who is regrettably unwilling for them to be published with the rest of the pottery’.


Deverel-Rimbury pottery is named after two sites in Dorset and its main characteristic is of large, rather unlovely, urns with simple finger-impressed, applied decoration. J B Calkin, Honorary Curator at the Red House Museum in the 1960s, spent a good deal of time classifying the vessels and describes barrel, bucket and globular forms. If the pottery does suggest anything, it is of a more egalitarian society, with a much greater percentage of people than previously being buried in a monument. The main burial rite has changed also, from inhumation – the burial of a body – to cremation.

Some of the Latch Farm pottery is on display at the Red House Museum.

Christchurch Old Collections

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


Buried in time – the Early Bronze Age

Walworth Barrows, Andover

Two Bronze Age ‘ring ditches’ or ploughed-out barrows – 2000 – 1000 BC

Aerial view before excavation

Aerial view before excavation

 Two round barrows at Walworth, Andover, were excavated in 1987 in advance of factory building. Both mounds had been flattened by ploughing and only the ditches remained. The barrows were so close that they formed an ‘8’ shape. They were built during the Early Bronze Age and continued to be used until late in the period, by which time the ditches were largely silted up.

Aerial view during excavation

Aerial view during excavation

The burials were concentrated in one of the barrows. A child aged 3-4 years was found in the area of the mound and a series of pits inside the line of the ditch contained the cremated remains of three individuals: an adult, possibly female, a child aged 6-7 years and a child of uncertain age.

walworth pix_0016   walworth pix_0030

Three more burials were made in the ditch after it had partially filled with soil. They were of an adult female in middle age, a young male aged 14-15 years and a child aged 3-4 years. Also deliberately buried in the ditch near to the human graves was an adult cow.  Both barrows yielded finds of Bronze Age pottery and worked flint flakes. One of the ditches contained fragments of a Middle Bronze Age spearhead.

The adult female of middle age, buried in a grave dug through the ditch fill into the chalk bedrock below was laid in a crouched position on her left side with her legs drawn up under her chin. Her right arm was laid across her chest and her left arm beside her head. There were no finds to indicate fastenings for clothing or a shroud, nor were there any beads or other jewellery. No pottery, bone or flint accompanied the body, although it is possible that perishable items were present and have left no trace. There is no indication of the cause of death. From the length of the long bones it is possible to estimate the woman’s height as 5’ 5”. Her arm bones are notably delicate.

She suffered from severe toothache, losing four of her molars, two shortly before she died. Two of the teeth in her upper jaw had been worn down to the roots and there were two abscesses, one on each side of her face. The second and third ribs on her right side were fused together and this may have been a congenital condition, causing stiffness on that side of her body. The skeleton of the young child buried in the ditch nearby displayed similar features, suggesting that they were related.

Walworth Barrows A1987.3

Excavations in progress

Excavations in progress

The full report on the excavations will appear in Hampshire Studies Vol 70 in 2015.

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

Heading for the Heath

To Petersfield – to be shown some of the 24 Bronze Age barrows on the Heath by Dr Stuart Needham. When the digging starts in September the museum will provide conservation advice.

Joint Project Director Dr Stuart Needham points out the best of the barrows.

Joint Project Director Dr Stuart Needham points out the best of the barrows.