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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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