Weyhill, Andover – an Anglo-Norman execution cemetery

In 2016 Cotswold Archaeology excavated a site prior to the construction of a new Aldi store, at Weyhill Road, on the western fringes of Andover, in Hampshire. While there was some evidence for late Iron Age and Roman activity at the site, the most significant discovery was a Saxon and medieval cemetery containing the graves of 124 people. The disarticulated bones of around 35 other individuals indicated that the cemetery was used for some time and that there had been disturbance to some of the graves, suggesting that they had not been carefully marked.

Archaeologists excavating human remains

The skeletal remains were carefully analysed by CA osteoarchaeologist, Sharon Clough, and the group was found to be very unusual indeed. Where sex could be determined, almost all of the individuals were adult males (only three confirmed females were present), and young adults aged between around 18 to 25 years were most common; no young children were identified. This is not what would be expected of a ‘typical’ cemetery, representative of a normal population. It is, however, consistent with the profile of an execution cemetery. Such an interpretation is supported by the location of the site close to the modern parish boundary, which may represent an earlier Saxon land boundary.

Archaeologist excavate human remains on Weyhill siteFurther evidence for the nature of the site came from the injuries sustained by some of the individuals, which strongly suggested that they had been executed; several had neck vertebrae with cut marks, or had the skull placed separately within the grave; three of the graves contained double burials, indicating that they’d been buried together; one man had had his hands cut off at the wrist and placed underneath his body; two individuals had fractured second cervical vertebrae, suggesting death by hanging. These characteristics are consistent with other sites interpreted as Late Saxon judicial punishment cemeteries.

Of particular interest, the initial results from a programme of radiocarbon dating suggest that the cemetery was in use for an unusually long period of time, from the mid-Saxon period through to the medieval period. The longevity of the burial ground is further indicated by a number of intercutting graves and disturbed bones. Most of the individuals were buried between the 8th and 12th centuries AD, although one of the double burials appears to have been as late as the 13th or 14th century. The site therefore has the potential to make a significant contribution towards our understanding of the administration of justice during the Saxon and medieval periods.

Saxon coinVery few artefacts were recovered from the cemetery, with finds from graves restricted to a small number of animal bones, worked bone artefacts and objects of iron, mainly buckles. A single silver coin of Aethelred I (Aelthelred the Unready), dating from AD 979-985, was found in the left hand of one skeleton. This person had been buried lying face down.

The nature of this site is immensely sombre and we will never know the personal stories of the individuals who met their unfortunate fates somewhere nearby, and were ultimately buried here. Were some of these people victims of sad miscarriages of justice? Perhaps some were executed for what might be considered today to be trivial misdemeanours. Ongoing analysis will hopefully refine our understanding of the dating of the cemetery and the osteobiographies of the individuals, allowing more of their stories to be told.

We are grateful to Aldi Stores Ltd, who funded the archaeological work at the site and the subsequent analysis and reporting, and to David Hopkins (County Archaeologist) and Hampshire Historic Environment Team, who provided advice and monitored the excavation.

Fully excavated graves

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