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Buried in time – Woolbury’s fort and fields

Woolbury hillfort viewed from the northeast - the 1989 excavation in the foreground

Woolbury hillfort viewed from the northeast – the 1989 excavation in the foreground; Stockbridge Down with its Ancient Fields, middle left.

Above Stockbridge, on the eastern side of the Test Valley, stands a two-mile long irregular ridge; an Iron Age hillfort – Woolbury – occupies the summit, its single rampart and ditch enclosing 7.5 ha.  The wider area had seen some small-scale excavation, notably of a Late Saxon execution cemetery in the 1930s, but in 1989, Professor Barry Cunliffe examined the hillfort and its defences, as part of the Danebury Environs Programme.

Crawford & Keiller's vertical air photograph (taken 1924)

Crawford & Keiller’s vertical air photograph (taken 1924)

Crawford & Keiller's interpretation

Crawford & Keiller’s interpretation

The ridge had been sporadically used during the second millennium BC when at least 15 Bronze Age barrows were constructed.  In addition, an extensive system of linear earthworks was created, probably before or during the early centuries of the first millennium BC.  These features were revealed in a dramatic air photograph published by O G S Crawford and Alexander Keiller nearly ninety years ago.  They include a regularly laid out field system on gently sloping land to the south-east of the ridge; this is separated by a linear boundary from an area of unploughed pasture, which is where the barrow cemetery survived.

Worm's-eye-view at Woolbury. The hill is capped with clay-with-flints, a more difficult subsoil to work with than the Danebury chalk.

Worm’s-eye-view at Woolbury. The hill is capped with clay-with-flints, a more difficult subsoil to work with than the Danebury chalk. At least there’s not a cloud in the sky – well, almost.

Subsequent surveys and excavation have demonstrated that the linear boundary bank running along the shoulder of the ridge was of two phases; the first pre-dated the hillfort ditch and the second diverged from the original to skirt it.  Barry Cunliffe stated that his overall impression was that a major phase of land allotment occurred in the Middle to Late Bronze Age, extending from Woolbury to Stockbridge Down.

One of the main aims of the Environs Programme was to improve the understanding of the settlement and economy of the communities inhabiting the chalkland landscape of the Danebury region in the first millennium BC.  The evidence that an earlier field system continued in use after the hillfort was built meant that Woolbury was a good candidate for the study of an agrarian regime juxtaposed with unploughed pasture.  A trench was dug across the hillfort ditch to test its relationship to other features (a linear slot and quarry) which were found to pre-date it.  Pottery evidence suggests that the ditch had been originally dug in the Early to Mid Iron Age before being abandoned.  Silt accumulated during the Late Iron Age, and the remaining hollow filled gradually during the Romano-British period.  The ramparts appeared to have been ‘dump-constructed’, lacking vertical timbers and internal supports.

A Woolbury ditch being cross-sectioned.

A Woolbury ditch cross-sectioned.

Although 2 per cent of the area within the defences was excavated, no postholes or other evidence of structures of certain Iron Age date were found.  The only evidence for Iron Age activity within the defences was from the contents of six pits, only one of which produced Early Iron Age pottery.  The single identifiable entrance through the ramparts had retained a very simple form and the implication is that the fort was not intensively occupied and its defences were not developed.  Its function appears to have been entirely different from that of Danebury which served as a centre for activity and influence.

Barry Cunliffe describing the latest findings to members of the Danebury Trust.

Professor Barry Cunliffe describing the Woolbury findings to members of the Danebury Trust.

Barry Cunliffe has suggested that hillforts such as Woolbury, Quarley, Figsbury, and the early fort at Bury Hill, saw little occupational use and acted as the boundary markers for a core territory with Danebury as its focus.

Archive: A1989.25    held by the Hampshire Cultural Trust

References:

Barry Cunliffe, 2000, Introduction, Volume 1 of The Danebury Environs Programme, the Prehistory of a Wessex Landscape.

Barry Cunliffe and Cynthia Poole, 2000, Woolbury and Stockbridge Down, Stockbridge, Hants, 1989, Volume 2 Part 1 of The Danebury Environs Programme, the Prehistory of a Wessex Landscape.

OGS Crawford and Alexander Keiller, 1928, Wessex From The Air.

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

Buried in time – a fulling mill at Beaulieu Abbey

A bird's-eye-view; the estate road separates the 'annexe' from the 'barn'

A bird’s-eye-view during the dig; the estate road separates the ‘annexe’ from the ‘barn’

In the late 1980s the ruins of a building to the north of the original Beaulieu Abbey Church were investigated and excavated by the Hampshire Museums Service; there had been some previous work at the site in the early 1970s. The building, dated by pottery evidence to the 14th and 15th centuries, was known locally as ‘the Wine Press’, presumably because of its proximity to an early 18th century vineyard. However, the nature of the subterranean features and water-logged conditions of the site rule out any connection with wine-making.

Getting to grips with the 'wet end' while Ken Barton discusses progress with Lord Montagu

Getting to grips with the ‘annexe’ while Ken Barton discusses progress with Lord Montagu

The L-shaped complex comprised an east-west orientated barn-like structure and a north-south wing (called the ‘Annexe’ in the report). The survival of the complex after the Dissolution of the Cistercian Abbey, in 1535, may be due to its subsequent use as barn.

The 'wet end' of the annexe; culverts, tanks and channels.
The ‘wet end’ of the annexe; culverts, tanks and channels.

Though much of the masonry was robbed in the 18th century, partial walls of roughly dressed limestone remained. The excavation revealed interesting features such as a 5m square ‘tank’ in the NE corner of the Annexe, containing an arched and capped drain and six rectangular vats. The report calls this area the ‘Wet End’ of the Annexe. A linear mound running north from the building has been interpreted as an aqueduct – the height of the bank being such that water obtained in this way could have driven an overshot wheel.

'After you' excavating the silts from the culvert - the things we do for archaeology

‘After you’ excavating the silts from the culvert – the things we do for archaeology!

Cistercian monks were required to meet all their needs through their own labours and those of lay-brothers, and estate management included industrial processes in addition to agricultural ones. A Beaulieu Account Book of 1269-70 records that there had been a limekiln and brewery as well as a large piggery and vegetable-growing areas.

The arched exit for the culvert

The arched exit to the culvert

The Abbey’s main revenue, however, was derived from wool: its wool exports were so considerable that a large Wool-House (now the Dancing Man Brewery) was built in Southampton in the late 14th century. The processing of cloth also took place at the Abbey – the 13th century Account Book records that there was an early fulling mill where the finishing of woollen cloth would have been carried out.

IMG_0002

In later years the Wine Press building may have housed such processing functions. These involved the dampening and stretching of cloth, and water power may have driven falling stocks which beat the cloth mechanically in order to scour and felt it. Formerly, this process would have been done by beating with the hands or feet, or by hand-wielded clubs. Weaving and drying could have been carried out in the large barn-like structure which, incidentally, had been shortened by 10m during its working lifetime.

The limestone sconce - or candle holder.
The limestone sconce – or candle holder.

Among the finds was a limestone sconce, found in the Wet End of the Annexe. This was a bracketed candle-holder, and would originally have been attached to a wall.

A last day 'party' - I think we were just sad that the dig was at at end! or possibly exhausted.

A last day ‘party’ – I think they were just sad that the dig was at at end! or possibly exhausted.

A1989.27

Further reading

Proc Hants Field Club and Arch Soc, 52 (1997), K.J. Barton, R.B. Burns and David Allen, Archaeological Excavations at the ‘Wine Press’, Beaulieu Abbey, 1987-1989, pp. 107-149.

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