Roman stamped tiles from Gloucester – a rediscovery

Dr Peter Warry FSA is an expert on Roman ceramic building material, and has just published an article on the use of stamped Roman tiles in Gloucestershire. Among other things, in his new article Peter posits that Hucclecote villa, situated to the east of Gloucester, played an important role as a sort of recycling depot for tile.

Peter’s work on the tile was supported in no small way by CA’s Hazel O’Neill, Post-Excavation Supervisor, who managed a team of volunteers as part of the Gloucester Museum Store Project. This successful initiative consolidated a number of unorganised excavation archives and finds assemblages held by Gloucester museum, dating back to the 1980s, ordering the material and bringing the archives in line with modern curation standards.

Dr Peter Warry, recording a stamped tile in the museum store
Dr Peter Warry, recording a stamped tile in the museum store
A stamped Roman tile from Gloucester, found in the museum store
A stamped Roman tile from Gloucester, found in the museum store

The work of Hazel and her team enabled previously unreported Roman tiles (and other finds) within these excavation archives to be catalogued and reported on for the first time. One box of stamped tile had been missing for several years, having been searched for unsuccessfully by several people previously. It was finally rediscovered lurking in a store by a member of Hazel’s team.

The missing box, from a site at Commercial Road, carried a different site name on the front (the right name was on the back, which couldn’t be seen), was not in the museum’s catalogue and was known only from a 1988 report by Tim Darvill. However, this box contained around 100 stamped tiles – roughly a quarter of the entire corpus of Gloucester civic stamped tiles. Dr Warry was so happy about the rediscovery that he kissed the box!

Peter’s work on the material is published as Warry, P. 2017. ‘Production, Distribution, Use and Curation: A Study of Stamped Tile from Gloucestershire’, Britannia 48, 77-115

An abstract can be viewed online.

CA volunteer, Valentina Perrone, recording a stamped tile
CA volunteer, Valentina Perrone, recording a stamped tile

The London 1665 – An Explosion at Sea

The warship London sank in the Thames Estuary on 7th March 1665 while preparing for the second Anglo-Dutch war,  which had been declared by Charles II only three days earlier.

One of the cannons recovered from the London Wreck
One of the cannons recovered from the London

The ship was en route from Chatham to Hope, awaiting the arrival of the Admiral, Sir John Lawson, when it was torn apart by an internal explosion attributed to the mass detonation of the gunpowder in the magazine. Samuel Pepys, the noted diarist and at the time a naval administrator, recorded the loss in his diary entry dated 8th March 1665.

‘This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of ‘The London’, in which Sir J. Lawson’s men were all bringing her from Chatham to the Hope, and thence he was to go to sea in her; but a little a ‘this side the buoy of the Nower, she suddenly blew up. About 24 [men] and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned: the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance. She lies sunk, with her round-house above water. Sir J. Lawson hath a great loss in this of so many good chosen men, and many relations among them. I went to the ‘Change, where the news taken very much to heart’. 

The site was re-discovered in 1962 and was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 in 2008.  Cotswold Archaeology has worked on the site since 2014.

The sudden loss of the ship and crew (and others on board) means that the archaeological remains have the potential to answer many research questions about life on a seventeenth century ship. In four seasons of excavation CA, working alongside the licensee Steve Ellis and his team, has recovered a whole host of exceptionally well-preserved artefacts.

Detailed studies of five of the bronze guns recovered from the site have revealed that three were fully loaded and had tampions (stoppers placed in the muzzle when not in use) in place, one was partially loaded, and one was empty. This suggests that the master gunner was preparing the ship for battle at the time of its loss.

The large number of used clay pipes recovered from the site may hint at the cause of the explosion of the ship, heavily laden as it was with gunpowder…

A wooden powder box
A wooden powder box
Clay tobacco pipes – was one of these responsible for the explosion?
Clay tobacco pipes – was one of these responsible for the explosion?
Bandoliers were leather straps hung from the shoulder across the body, from which wooden powder boxes were hung
Bandoliers were leather straps hung from the shoulder across the body, from which wooden powder boxes were hung

Gunns Mill, Forest of Dean

Over the past few years, Cotswold Archaeology has been carrying out drawn and photographic recording at Gunns Mill in the Forest of Dean, which include the remains of the oldest surviving blast furnace in the country. The site, a Scheduled Monument and a Grade II* Listed building, is on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register but has been rescued from the threat of extreme dereliction by the Forest of Dean Building Preservation Trust, who are undertaking a programme of conservation and restoration work to restore this unique building.

Gunns mill before erection of scaffolding

The mill was originally built as a blast furnace as early as 1683, and very probably before. In 1740 the furnace was converted into a paper mill, and was then used as a farm building from the 1880s. Despite this, many features of the original blast furnace survive largely intact, including the charging house and blowing chamber. The mill represents a very visible reminder of the importance of the Forest of Dean in the early development of ironworking, both nationally and worldwide. Read more about our work at Gunns Mill.

Just published – Medieval and post-medieval occupation at Glebe House, Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury

We’ve just published a summary account of an excavation we undertook in 2015 at Glebe House, Shrewsbury. The site is located to the east of Shrewsbury town centre and the River Severn, approximately 50m north of Abbey Foregate, which lies immediately to the north of the remains of the medieval Shrewsbury Abbey.

Glebe House view of the siteThe excavation was carried out at the request of Morris Property Limited, ahead of residential development, and identified elements of Shrewsbury’s early development dating back to the 11th century AD. Residual Early Medieval pottery hinted at even earlier activity, although the only archaeological features recognised dated from after the Norman Conquest.

The earliest features identified, which dated from the 11th to 13th centuries, were quarry pits for the extraction of coarse sand and gravel aggregates, along with a trackway, perhaps used to transport the quarried material.  This material may have been used in the development of medieval Shrewsbury.

Evidence for later medieval activity included a well, cess pits and general waste pits, suggesting that the area was on the periphery of domestic settlement during the 13th to 15th centuries. Some features, including ditches and postholes, may have formed elements of property boundaries, perhaps for burgage plots, fronting Horsefair, located to the south.

Features relating to the post-medieval period predominantly related to ephemeral timber structures, mostly defined by postholes, although it was difficult to define their nature or extent. However, documentary evidence indicates the industrial nature of the Foregate suburb of the town in the post-medieval period, with metal and leather-working recorded from the 16th century. One of the most distinctive features from the earlier post-medieval period was a barrel base (see below), found within a clay-lined pit. This was probably associated with the leather industry, with a deposit of lime probably having been used in the preparation of animal hides as part of the tanning process. It is possible that other contemporary ephemeral features and building remains were also associated with industrial activity on the site.

Base of a barrel in a pit, containing a lime mixture probably used during leather tanning base of a barrel in a pit, containing a lime mixture probably used during leather tanning - section

Later features included late 18th century pits, probably from the time when late medieval/early post-medieval structures had been demolished and prior to the 19th-century urban expansion of the town. From the 19th century onwards the site was occupied by a semi-detached residential building, which had been demolished prior to the establishment of the car park which occupied the site prior to the archaeological investigations.

Finds from the site included medieval to early modern cooking pots, pitchers and jugs, floor tile fragments, iron nails, a possible container for storing needles, clay tobacco pipe fragments and fragments of wine/spirits bottle glass.

Examples of pottery found on site

The summary account is published in the Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol. 92, 2017. Our full report on the excavation is available to download from our Reports Online webpage.

The Joy of X (rays)

Unprepossessing lumps of rusty iron are very common finds from excavations. As part of the post-excavation process we x-ray these objects to see behind the corrosion.  Usually the x-rays reveal a nail or a fragmentary scrap item, and while all objects have the potential to add to our understanding of a site, individually these objects are not usually very compelling.  Just occasionally, however, x-rays reveal something far more interesting.

Very rusty object before conservationX-ray reveals a Roman dagger attachment

For instance, this very corroded D-shaped object was found on an excavation just outside Gloucester. The x-ray showed it to be an object of complex form, with areas of what appeared to be white-metal plating (tin or silver). A bit of research revealed it to be an attachment from a Roman legionary’s dagger or pugio, probably dating to the 1st-century AD.  Surviving examples of military daggers of this period indicate that these were often beautifully-made ‘status’ items, highly decorated with silver inlay. A find such as this may be of considerable value in helping interpret a site. But only if it is x-rayed!

Ed McSloy

Reconstruction drawing of a Roman legionary’s pugio, based on an example from Velsen, Netherlands, showing the iron attachment from Gloucester in context’
Reconstruction drawing of a Roman legionary’s pugio, based on an example from Velsen, Netherlands, showing the iron attachment from Gloucester in context

Remodelling of Crumlin Road Courthouse, Belfast

Cotswold Archaeology assists with the remodelling of Crumlin Road Courthouse, Belfast, into a high-quality Signature Living hotel.

The term to be ‘sent down’ has several connotations, but in Belfast it literally described what happened when a defendant was sentenced by a judge in the Crumlin Road courthouse, as they were taken beneath Courtroom No. 1, through a long brick-lined tunnel, to emerge inside Crumlin Road jail and begin their sentence. Built in 1850 to a neo-classical design, Crumlin Road courthouse witnessed some of the largest trials in UK history and was an iconic landmark during The Troubles, where, in 1983 alone, 22 IRA suspects were jailed for a total of 4000 years. A number of ‘supergrass’ trials were also held in the courthouse during the early 1980s.

Surveying Crumlin Road Courthouse

Now ruinous, the courthouse closed in 1998 and has suffered from vandalism, several fires and general neglect. Several previous attempts to restore and re-use the former courthouse failed to develop, but Signature Living, based in Liverpool, have evolved a viable high-quality hotel scheme that has been welcomed in Stormont, the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Crumlin Road Courthouse 3D model

Crumlin Road Courthouse ceiling


Cotswold Archaeology’s Historic Building Consultants and Geomatics Team are working closely with Signature Living to record the building during this exciting development. Courtroom No. 1 is to be reconstructed and we are providing expert advice on the courthouse’s historic fabric to aid in the remodelling. We are delighted to work with and support Signature Living in this significant and impressive re-use of one of Belfast’s most iconic buildings in this ongoing project.

Garry Campion