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Buried in time – the Danes in Wessex

To Winchester City Museum, for the launch of a new book ‘Danes in Wessex’, edited by Ryan Lavelle and Simon Roffey of the University of Winchester.  The book stems from a conference held at the University back in 2011, but the editors also widened their net to include contributions from a number of specialists who were not at the original event.

dinw

As might be expected from a volume which covers a period when the power of the sword was more influential than the power of the word, a good number of the papers are about warfare. Thomas Williams looks at ‘The Place of Slaughter: Exploring the West Saxon Battlescape’, while the aptly-named Derek Gore conducts ‘A Review of Viking Attacks in Western England’.   Among other dark offerings is ‘Death on the Dorset Ridgeway: The Discovery and Excavation of an Early Medieval Mass Burial’ by Angela Boyle.   It’s not all cut and thrust, of course, and I, for one, look forward to reading about ‘Orc of Abbotsbury and Tole of Tolpuddle’, who according to Ann Williams, enjoyed ‘A place in the country’.

The fragment of carved relief in the Winchester City Museum

The fragment of carved relief in the Winchester City Museum

Another delightful offering is sure to be ‘Danish Royal Burials in Winchester: Cnut and his Family’, by Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjolbye-Biddle.  Professor Biddle was at the Museum to give his blessing to the book and enthralled his audience by describing the action taking place on a fragment of stone sculpture from Old Minster.  A prostrate, bound man grapples with a large dog-like animal, which has its muzzle pressed hard against his face.  This may well be depicting the episode of Sigmund and the Wolf, from Volsunga Saga.

Having seen nine of his brothers devoured nightly by an evil-looking she-wolf, Sigmund is saved by his twin sister Signy, who sent her servant to smear his face with honey and put some in his mouth. When the wolf licked the honey and thrust her tongue into his mouth in search of more, Sigmund bit hard. The shock made the wolf jump backwards and break his bonds, but Sigmund didn’t let go and tore out the lupine tongue, killing the beast.

Reading about the episode I was transported back a couple of weeks to the cinema – and a viewing of ‘The Revenant’.  I’m not sure a mouthful of honey would have done much to help Mr Glass in his encounter with the bear but despite the differences in time, terrain and weapons of choice, the film certainly conveyed the feeling of a rough, tough, raiding-party world.

A coin of Cnut - 1016-1035.

A coin of King Cnut – 1016-1035.  ‘CNVT REX’

The ‘Big Theme’ at several Hampshire Cultural Trust venues this year is ‘Royal Blood’, which looks at the role of royals from the Late Iron Age onwards.  A touring show (Basingstoke, Winchester, Gosport) starting in September, is complemented by offerings at the Community Museums.

Alfred the Great - guardian of Wessex and Winchester.

Alfred the Great – guardian of Wessex and Winchester.

Further reading:

Ryan Lavelle & Simon Roffey (eds), 2016, Danes in Wessex; The Scandinavian Impact on Southern England, c 800 – c 1100. Oxbow Books.

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

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

 

 

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 – the Titchfield baselard

A Deadly Weapon

A baselard is a type of long-bladed dagger with an H-shaped hilt, popular as a civilian weapon in the 14th and 15th centuries and even carried by priests. A register of 1395-1419 from Exeter recorded that only 13 of the beneficed clergy owned books although many of them possessed baselards. This is despite the fact that such weapons had been forbidden by church councils for centuries.

The Titchfield Baselard

The Titchfield Baselard

Their length – typically 300mm – meant that they could only be worn visibly, suspended from a man’s belt to provide a sense of security. A satirical song dating from the time of Henry V (early 15th century) described a man who ostentatiously carried a baselard but who probably lacked the courage to use it in self-defence:

There is no man worth a leek,

Be he sturdy, be he meek,

But he bear a baselard.

Baselards were generally owned by people of high status: from 1388 onwards, servants and labourers were forbidden to carry such arms.  In the mid-14th century the weapons were shown on tomb effigies as part of the dress of deceased knights; later they became popular with wealthy merchants, and were sometimes depicted on monumental brasses.  Although they were often carried merely for show, a baselard was the weapon wielded during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 by William Walworth, Mayor of London: he used it to strike Wat Tyler on the head before the rebel was run through with a sword.  In the 19th century the original weapon was “still preserved with peculiar veneration by the Company of Fishmongers” of which William Walworth had been a member.

The Titchfield Baselard was found while dredging the River Meon.  Typical features are its double edge and the two equal-length cross pieces which give the hilt an ‘H’ shape.  The grip has not survived; it could have been made of wood, horn or bone. There are many variants of spelling of Baselard, such as Basilard in the early 14th century; the word derives from the original place of origin of such knives, Basel in Switzerland.

The remains of Titchfield Abbey, which were transformed into a private house by Thomas Wriothesley.

The remains of Titchfield Abbey, transformed into a private house by Thomas Wriothesley.

The hundred of Titchfield lies in the Meon Valley, between Fareham and Southampton. Before the Reformation, there was an abbey at Titchfield, founded in 1222 for a colony of White Canons. Ten years later, Henry III granted the manor of Titchfield to Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester. The manor remained with the abbot until the Dissolution in 1537.  Henry VI was married to Margaret of Anjou in the abbey in 1445; in consideration of its services, he granted the abbey liberties and immunities, including the right to hold an annual fair lasting five days. In 1424 the abbot received permission to enclose a park consisting of 10 acres of pasture and 50 acres of wood.

We will never know how the Titchfield baselard came to be in the river. One could speculate that it had been disposed of there, having been used for criminal purposes; alternatively its owner got rid of it because its possession flouted clerical and secular law.

The baselard is on display at Westbury Manor Museum, Fareham.

A1989.20

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

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.

 

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.