Kelmscott Community Archaeology: Searching for an ancient settlement

Location of trenches for 2023 evaluation
Location of trenches for 2023 evaluation

The second season of the Kelmscott Community Archaeology Research Programme (CARP) continued with an archaeological trial trench evaluation of two fields in the village. The evaluation built on the results of last year’s test pit excavations with volunteers and local schools, magnetometer and resistivity geophysical survey by the South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group (SOAG), and this year’s desktop research and field mapping exercises. We opened a total of five 30m long trenches in the Car Park field at the north of the village and the Manor Farm field, near to Kelmscott Manor in the south of the village.

Last year’s test pits had revealed significant concentrations of medieval pottery at the north of the village, close to St. George’s Church (which is known to have 12th-century origins), but little or no evidence for medieval settlement was found in test pits closer to the current manor. The existing properties in the north of the village may well preserve the medieval village layout, suggesting that the village consisted of a small number of properties, located to the west of the church and fronting onto a road running east/west.

Volunteer Amanda excavates a ditch in the car park field at Kelmscott Community Archaeology Dig
Volunteer Amanda excavates a ditch in the Car Park field

It was hoped that the trenches in the Car Park field would reveal whether the medieval village also featured domestic plots to the east of the church. These trenches would also give us the chance to explore features noted during geophysical survey and desktop research that may be related to cropmarks recorded to the east of the village and interpreted as part of a prehistoric or Roman settlement.

In order to tackle these questions we were joined by 31 volunteers over the 9 days of excavation, who collectively contributed 475 hours! The volunteers were trained and supervised by CA staff, Chris, Chloe, Merrin and Indie. Over the two weeks they learned how to excavate features, complete context sheets, use the GPS, draw sections, metal detect and more! Thanks to their incredible hard work our understanding of the village of Kelmscott has grown.

There was no conclusive proof in the trenches for the prehistoric settlement, although a number of undated ditches in the central part of the field may have belonged to this period. At the southern end of the field the remains of an east/west aligned hedgerow and flanking ditch were uncovered by volunteers Stuart and Sam. These have been preliminarily dated to the medieval period and may have formed the rear of domestic plots fronting on to the road. If so, this would indicate that the medieval village did indeed extend to the east of the church. We also identified substantial parallel medieval ditches that may have formed the eastern boundary of the village.

Senior Project Officer, Chris talks to volunteer Debbie about the finds from the ditch she is excavating at Kelmscott Community Archaeology Dig
Volunteer Debbie and Chris discuss a ditch in Trench 1

The trenches in the Manor Farm field were looking for evidence to show whether the medieval village did extend closer to the manor. In these trenches we excavated several ditches that contained medieval pottery within their fills. Because of this we can now be sure that the land around the manor was actively used for agriculture during the medieval period. Year 8 students from Farmor’s School, who participated in the test pit excavations last year, returned to helped our volunteers to dig test pits through a pond feature which is shown in the field on 19th-century mapping. Unexpectedly, we discovered 11th–13th-century pottery in the lower fill deposits of the pond, indicating that it was far older than had been thought!

In this field our metal detectorist discovered a jeton, or trading counter, minted in Nuremburg in the mid to late 16th century. This find ties in nicely with the known history of the village, as it dates to the same period that the Turner family established Lower Farm, which later became Kelmscott Manor. The find of the jeton is an illustration of the access to trade networks that the River Thames provided in the early Post-medieval period and how traders could come to establish themselves as wealthy landowners.

Besides the jeton, other star finds from this year’s evaluation included a fragment of a ceramic strainer that likely dated to the Roman period, and a lead toy soldier that appeared to be from the Napoleonic wars.

William Morris was heavily influenced by the medieval period and the pre-industrial landscape; hopefully when we return to Kelmscott next year we can uncover more of the medieval history of the village that inspired some of his most famous designs.

Thank you to all the volunteers who attending during the excavations and contributed your enthusiasm and time! If you would like to here more about future volunteer opportunities please email Caroline Adams:

What motivated you to come on a dig? What are you finding most rewarding about being here? What did you find? Watch to see how our lovely Kelmscott volunteers have added their stories to the medieval ones, on this exciting project!

Chris Leonard
Senior Project Officer

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