A WW1 Silver Medal from Besford, Worcestershire

This silver ‘British War Medal’ was found in July 2020 by one of our archaeologists while they were monitoring groundworks associated with an extension to a 17th century Grade II listed building in Besford, Worcestershire. The medal was found with a range of other objects, including broken pottery, animal bones, an iron sickle and a metal tin-opener.

The medal dates from 1918–1920 and is one of over 6.5 million such medals awarded to British Army soldiers who had served overseas in a theatre of war between 1914 and 1918. It is the second example of this type found by our archaeologists in the last five years –  the first was found in Tidworth, Wiltshire, and was featured on our website previously.

WW1 silver medal

The medal survives in reasonably good condition together with its ribbon clasp, but unsurprisingly the ribbon itself is missing. The design of the medal’s reverse, by William McMillan, is loaded with patriotic and religious symbolism. It shows the naked Saint George on horseback, trampling a Prussian eagle shield and skull and cross-bones – the latter a reference both to victory in the war and over death. In the background are ocean waves, perhaps a reference to British sea power and to acknowledge the role of the navy, and behind St George is the risen sun of Victory.

Given the numbers awarded, it is perhaps not surprising that such medals are entering the archaeological record. They represent an unusually direct and personal link to our recent past, recording not only an event of great historical and social significance, but also the name of an individual participant. An inscription to the edge of ‘our’ medal records the name and other details of the recipient: ‘7,1365 PTE G H. WRAGG. L’POOL R.’.  Being a very recent find, only limited research has been possible so far, but we have been able to determine the full name of this individual as George Harrold Wragg, a private of the King’s Liverpool Regiment (Service no. 71365). This information appears on medal record cards preserved at Kew, which also records that Private Wragg served in the Army Labour Corps (Service no.  47223).

medal edge view

At this stage not much more is known of the individual named. There is no obvious familial connection to the immediate area; the surname Wragg does not appear in the 1911 census for the Besford parish and no references to the name can be found in post-war records relating to this location. The name Wragg appears to have its origins in the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire area and is still common in the cities of Sheffield, Mansfield and Nottingham. Several George H Wraggs of appropriate age to see military service in WW1 are recorded in the 1911 census records from the Sheffield area. Many more listed only as George Wragg appear in the 1911 census records, including multiple persons from Birmingham. Is it possible that our George Wragg, perhaps originally from the Birmingham area, lived for a brief time in the Besford area in the post-war years? It is of course possible that there is no direct connection to its findspot and the medal was at some stage sold or given away.

The only surviving record of private Wragg’s military service is his medal card, although most other records were destroyed as the result of bombing in WW2. Private Wragg’s medal card indicates that he was not in receipt of the 1914-15 star, which suggests that his war service began in 1916 at the earliest. He may have been too young to enlist before this date or was possibly a married man, and as such not subject to conscription until after June 1916.  Conscripted men were not given the choice of which regiment or unit they joined, so Private Wragg’s service in the Liverpool Regiment need not indicate a connection with that city. The King’s Liverpool Regiment numbered 49 Battalions (of approximately 1000 men) in WW1. They took part in some of the bloodiest fighting, including at the Somme, Passchendaele and Cambrai, suffering around 15,000 casualties.

Service in the Labour Corps might suggest Private Wragg was himself wounded. This unit was formed in 1917 from those rated below the A1 fitness required for the frontline infantry and included many of the returned wounded. By the end of the war the Labour Corps numbered approximately 400,000 men, equivalent to around 10% of the army.  The corps provided logistical support for the fighting troops – unloading and distributing supplies/ammunition, trench (and grave) digging and labour for road/rail building.  Service in the Labour Corps was regarded at the time as secondary, with those who died being commemorated under their original regiment and, as here, with service left unrecorded on the British War Medal.

What now?

It is hoped that additional research will help identify Private Wragg and uncover details about his later life. If a descendant can be traced it may be possible to have the medal returned to Private Wragg’s family. If you have information about the Wragg family, particularly those with a Birmingham/Worcestershire connection, and think they may be able to provide further information about Private George Harrold Wragg, we would be very happy to hear from you!

Ed McSloy

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Gunpowder mill from Old Mill, Surrey

Between February and August 2020, Cotswold Archaeology undertook an archaeological watching brief and excavation on an 18th–19th gunpowder mill located at Old Mill, Old Malden Lane, Worcester Park, Surrey, on behalf of Taylor Wimpey.

Powder Mill A
Powder Mill A

The gunpowder mill opened in the early 18th century and operated until the mid 19th century, when an explosion forced its closure. It was subsequently repurposed as a Victorian corn mill. The location of the mill beside the Hogsmill River was chosen due to the strength of the river’s flow, with the Hogsmill River being famous for the corn, paper, and gunpowder mills constructed along its length.

Maps that show the locations of the gunpowder mill’s individual buildings and canals correlate with our findings at the site, as do drawings of the mill buildings and machinery, which were produced in 1771 by John Smeaton, the ‘Father of English Civil Engineering’.

To date, we have found two groups of structures at the site: the mill’s buildings themselves, and a complex system of mill ponds, culverts, leats, and outflows, all designed to harness the power of the river to drive the machinery necessary for the production of gunpowder.

The westerly structure appears to have been heavily damaged in the 1854 explosion at the mill, while the eastern structure is substantially more intact. The latter includes blast walls, evidence of scars left by the water wheel that drove the machinery, and some of the machinery itself. There is also evidence for the modification of the mill to allow for the grinding of corn.

One of the millstones
One of the millstones

Some of the small finds discovered at the site include a hobnail shoe, which appears to have incorporated copper rather than iron hobnails in order to reduce the risk of sparks – a clear danger in a gunpowder mill.

Nigel Randall, Archaeological Officer with Surrey County Council’s Historic Environment Planning Team, said: “The work undertaken to date has been exemplary and the features revealed are certainly of regional and possibly national importance. We are ensuring that all the structures and features revealed are being carefully recorded.”

David Buchanan, Technical Manager at Taylor Wimpey South Thames, said: “Uncovering the mills and learning about the history behind them has been extraordinary and incredibly insightful. As the excavation is part of a planning condition, we have been working with Cotswold Archaeology, Surrey County Council and Barkemp Construction to ensure the structures are safely excavated. We have also taken all necessary precautions to secure the safety of our employees, appointed consultants and subcontractors.”

The following report appeared in The Sussex Advertiser of 21 August 1849.

Malden

This quiet village was thrown into a state of consternation, truly terrifying, about twelve o’clock on Tuesday night last, occasioned by the explosion of a gunpowder mill, in the vicinity of Worcester Park, leading into the Ewell Road, the property of Mr Frederick Taylor. The mill at the time was in full work, containing a great quantity of powder. Fortunately, the only individual who was employed had left a few minutes before the explosion or the consequences to him would, no doubt, have been fatal. The noise was heard for some miles off. All the woodwork, of which the mill was composed, was blown to atoms and scattered all round the place into the road. Happily, it occurred at night, or in all probability human life would have been sacrificed.

Ray Kennedy

Powder Mill B
Powder Mill B
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The London Wreck: update on the conservation

Cotswold Archaeology has been working with Historic England on the artefacts recovered from the Protected Wreck Site of the London,  a seventeenth century warship, in the Thames Estuary.  That work has been progressing well, and Historic England has recently posted an update on the conservation and new studies of some of the  artefacts with some wonderful new photographs. The results of the research programme are now coming together as a book and for those who want to know more about this fascinating site we will let you know when it is available. You can read more about the research on the Historic England’s website.

A pair of dividers; © Copyright Historic England, James O. Davies
A pair of dividers; © Copyright Historic England, James O. Davies
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Great Linford Manor Park investigations: video update

In 2019 Cotswold Archaeology worked with the Parks Trust to carry out an archaeological investigation and community project at Great Linford Manor Park, Milton Keynes, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  The Park surrounds Great Linford Manor, a late 17th century house with 18th century formal gardens that replaced an earlier, medieval, manor house. Over two separate weeks in April and July our archaeologists, Parks Trust staff and local volunteers worked to reveal elements of the history of the park and the results have been used to inform a second, larger, Lottery bid called the Reveal, Revive and Restore Project that aims to improve the park as a visitor destination, including revealing, restoring and recreating aspects of the 18th century formal grounds.

Linford Manor Park excavations

The project team investigated the park Ha-ha, a type of sunken fence that was commonly used in landscaped gardens and parks in the eighteenth century to give the viewer the illusion of an unbroken, continuous landscape while providing a boundary that prevented grazing livestock in the park from getting into the formal gardens and eating all the flowers and plants! Constructing a Ha-ha involved digging a deep, dry ditch, the inner side of which would be faced up to the level of the surrounding ground with either a dry-stone or brick wall and the volunteers and archaeologists worked together to reveal a well-preserved dry stone retaining wall, surviving to a height of just over 1 metre. They were also able to establish the shape and appearance of the accompanying ditch. Immediately in front of the manor house, team members also investigated the likely foundation pit of an ornamental sundial, the approximate location of which had been identified from historic photographs dating to the 1960s. The project also led to the unexpected discovery of medieval remains, of 12th to 14th century date, including at least one probable building.

Linford Manor Park excavations

There was a particular emphasis on public engagement and community involvement throughout the project with over 80 volunteers participating in the April dig, alongside Cotswold Archaeology staff. A public Open Day with guided site tours also allowed greater engagement with a variety of visitors to the park. Direct on-site engagement was supplemented by social media campaigns throughout both stages of fieldwork, showcasing progress and raising awareness for the project. A short segment filmed for the local ITV evening news, broadcast at the start of the project, also successfully raised awareness among the local residents. In addition, the Parks Trust produced a time-lapse video documenting the progress of the excavation around the Doric Seat, a 18th century garden feature, that also revealed the walls of an earlier, probably medieval building underneath the Doric Seat – this is still available on YouTube.

As part of the 2020 Festival of Archaeology, it was hoped to hold a series of guided tours around the park, focusing on the results of the 2019 investigation. However, due to the current situation it hasn’t been possible to do this. Instead we have worked with the Parks Trust on a short film (below) that revisits the 2019 investigations. We hope you enjoy it.

Anna Moosbauer

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Two thousand years of farming in the Severn Vale

Middle Bronze Age to Roman remains at Cleevelands, Bishop’s Cleeve

Bishop’s Cleeve, a popular village near Cheltenham, has expanded rapidly since the 1990s, providing opportunities for archaeologists to investigate the underlying remains. It occupies low-lying ground within the Severn Vale, with the Cotswold uplands nearby. Although much of the vale lies above clays, Bishop’s Cleeve sits on well-drained sandy gravels, and this probably attracted the Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and later people whose traces have been recorded during previous investigations. When Persimmon South Midlands decided to develop land north-west of Bishop’s Cleeve for housing, Cotswold Archaeology were called in to investigate the archaeology.

The site, looking east towards Bishop’s Cleeve, with the Cotswold hills in the distance
The site, looking east towards Bishop’s Cleeve, with the Cotswold hills in the distance

The earliest remains were a few flint tools spanning the long duration (10,000–3000BC) of the Mesolithic to Early Neolithic and dropped by hunter-gatherers visiting the valley floor.

Log ladder
Log ladder

Longer term settlement was established during the Middle Bronze Age (1500–1100BC), by which time the site occupied an established agricultural landscape, with grazing, arable fields, hedgerows and woodland patches. Within the site, a single roundhouse and ancillary building were built. Some 85m away, a small cemetery contained the cremated remains of seven individuals, perhaps the former inhabitants of this family sized farm which would have been one of many within this well managed landscape. Several large pits were found 200m from the roundhouse, within what was then damp ground alongside woodland or a hedgerow. These deep pits had been lined with wood, but their functions are uncertain: they are unlikely to have been waterholes or quarries, and one possibility is that they were shafts used for ritual purposes, such as communing with underworld deities.

scutching knife
Scutching knife

One of the pits contained the remains of a log ladder, hewn from a single piece of oak, as well as a tankard-sized vessel made from stitched bark, and a wooden implement used for processing plant fibres. The ladder had been used to access the pit floor, but the bark vessel, wooden implement and other items (antlers, a gold strip, a flint arrowhead, pottery and animal bone) were probably cast into the pits as offerings.

Middle Bronze Age pit with log ladder in situ
Middle Bronze Age pit with log ladder in situ

 

The site was re-occupied during the Early to Middle Iron Age (700–100BC) when several roundhouses were built across what continued to be an agricultural landscape. Enclosures on drier sandy gravels in the southern part of the site were probably for penning cattle and sheep/goats that were grazed on open clay land alongside the Dean Brook. Several grain storage pits suggest that this farmstead also had an arable element.

This pattern of enclosures on the drier sands/gravels and open grazing to the north persisted beyond the Roman invasion. Isotope analysis of sheep and cattle bones from the site indicates that most of the farm’s animals were reared there; the exception may have been brought in from the Cotswold uplands, although whether this points to transhumance or the importation of breeding stock is unknown. A smithy within the farm had been used to repair and recycle tools and jewellery.

Arable production intensified from the 2nd/3rd centuries AD. An unusually high number of millstones suggests proximity to a watermill, whilst the remains of portable clay ovens reflect the provision of hot food to agricultural labourers during harvesting or sowing. Harvested crops would have been winnowed in the fields then dried within ovens to prevent spoilage when stored. One such oven contained charred cereals from a subsequent stage of processing, where the grains taken from storage are heated to harden them to facilitate milling.

The implications are that during the later Roman period, grain was milled at a central mill and labourers worked the fields; this suggests intensification and centralisation, perhaps indicating that the farm had become part of a villa estate. Indeed, Roman roof and flue tiles from the site do suggest proximity to a Romanised building. As part of the wider economy, the farm could have supplied nearby Glevum (Gloucester), accessible within a day’s travel.

A small number of these farmers were buried within the site. They were robust, having lived long enough to display diseases associated with ageing and to show signs of their farm labouring. They had adopted elements of Roman culture, seen for example in their choice of pottery for food storage, preparation and serving, and in their use of brooches to fasten clothing. They also retained Iron Age traditions, burying a neonate and cow in ditches, burying some adults in crouched positions and enjoying an Iron Age-style diet rich in meat, dairy and emmer wheat. They probably viewed themselves primarily as farmers, rather than ‘Roman’, although no doubt they interacted in different ways with different people depending on context. The range and quality of the finds is typical for a farmstead of this period, and these farmers’ wealth would have been invested largely in their livestock and crops. They were able to trade for jewellery, pottery and, presumably, perishables, but were frugal, recycling and repairing when possible, whilst depositing material within pits and ditches as propitiatory acts to ensure future productivity.

What effect the development of a villa nearby would have had on their lives and attitudes is unknown but there are hints that during the mid/later Roman period they were integrated into a villa estate, the owner of which may have had more Romanised aspirations. Burials from these centuries were placed in the extended body position typical of Romano-British traditions and the impression is that engagement with a Romanised market economy went hand in hand with greater acceptance of Roman cultural expressions. 

Early post-Roman remains were sparse, but settlements of this date can be difficult to detect and are under-represented in the archaeological record. The latest dated cremation grave at Cleevelands dates to the 5th/6th centuries AD, whilst Anglo-Saxon organic-tempered pottery from a pit dates to the 5th–8th centuries.

A full report can be downloaded from the Reports Online page of this website https://reports.cotswoldarchaeology.co.uk/ (report 18495).

Author: Jon Hart

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A Roman site at Llanwern, South Wales

Between September 2019 and January 2020, Cotswold Archaeology undertook an excavation at Llanwern in South Wales on behalf of RPS Planning and Development and Redrow, on a site occupying the east face of a hill overlooking the Gwent Levels.

The investigations revealed a complex including several stone-founded Roman buildings, terraced into the hillside. These included two stone-built circular buildings, a rectangular structure and an apsidal structure, with evidence for activity between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD. At least three other buildings were represented by partial ring-ditches, one containing a kiln or oven. Environmental samples taken from the oven may allow its function to be determined.

The rectangular structure, which measured 17m long and 7m wide, appears to have been the main building at the site. It had been subject to at least three phases of modification over time. The western side of the building had been cut into the terrace, with made ground to the east used to provide a level construction surface for the structure’s eastern extent. Two areas of mosaic flooring were identified, possibly representing a room and an associated corridor, which had potentially been separated by a wooden partition wall. The mosaics have been dated on stylistic grounds to the 4th century AD.

The main rectangular building, facing east
The main rectangular building, facing east
Remnants of mosaic from one of the rooms of the building
Remnants of mosaic from one of the rooms of the building

The function of the rectangular building is currently uncertain, although a complex series of stone-lined culverts drained water from a group of springheads at the west of the site down to the east, indicating that water-management played an important role in the use of the site. Many finds were recovered, including large quantities of Roman pottery, animal bone, ceramic building material (including tile), brooches and coins. The presence of unusual plate brooches amongst the assemblage raise questions as to whether the complex may have had a religious focus. One of the tile fragments bears the stamp of the Roman military unit Legio II Augusta, which was stationed at nearby Caerleon, suggesting a possible connection between the sites.

To the immediate north of the rectangular building, an impressive and well-constructed east-west aligned metalled trackway was formed from large unworked limestone blocks; the trackway measured at least 50m long and 4.8m wide, with its size and method of construction suggestive of a high volume of traffic.

 

The well-constructed trackway
The well-constructed trackway

At the west end of the site, an apsidal structure was terraced into the hillside; the internal area of the structure contained natural stone that had been exposed to create an area of hard standing, with a surface constructed on top, presumably for extra consolidation. The function of the structure is currently uncertain; interpretative possibilities being considered include a nymphaeum, a church, a shrine or possibly even a theatre, which utilised the slope as a spectator area.

The apsidal structure and adjacent rectangular building
The apsidal structure and adjacent rectangular building

This structure abutted a heavily truncated rectangular building, which contained a cremation burial and an inhumation burial. The latter burial had been placed in a prone (face-down) position. These burials raise the possibility that this building formed part of a mausoleum.

Other features identified at the site include an area of metalworking, water tanks and features interpreted as possible quarry pits.

It is hoped that analysis during the post-excavation stage will allow questions about some of the unusual aspects of the site to be answered.

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