Kelmscott Community Archaeology: our first test-pitting weekend

Following on from the launch of the Kelmscott Manor Community Archaeology Research Programme in March, the first of three test-pitting weekends took place at the end of April to uncover more information about the village’s past. With support from local residents and a team of volunteers, four test-pits were excavated – three in private gardens and another to the side of the local village hall. Our ‘HQ’ was based at The Plough Inn, where we displayed finds and talked to members of the public visiting the village, particularly Kelmscott Manor itself, former 19th century home of poet, craftsman, and designer William Morris. We held debriefs here at the start and end of each day to discuss the weekend’s aims and shared details of all that was found at the end!

Kelmscott Manor
Kelmscott Manor
Some of our staff and volunteers helping us during our Kelmscott test pitting weekend
Some of our staff and volunteers helping us during our Kelmscott test pitting weekend

One local resident had already uncovered a wealth of post-medieval pottery from his garden and field.  We based our test-pit in his garden, but apart from a Roman pottery sherd that appeared to have been displaced and found within the topsoil, little archaeology was uncovered.  We then found a very hardened surface, which seemed to relate to the remains of a 20th century engineering yard known to have been in this position previously. After further investigative digging, we back-filled this test-pit with no further finds, but will be back to uncover another test-pit to the other side of the house next time.

 Finlay and Richard starting their test pit in one local resident’s garden
Finlay and Richard starting their test pit in one local resident’s garden

Within the grounds of the Morris Memorial Hall (opened in 1934), we opened a test-pit towards the end of Day 1, positioning our excavation at the building’s side and in front of a wall separating the grounds from farmland beyond, where evidence of what appears to be prehistoric cropmarks had been found. During this first weekend, a depth of approximately 0.3m was dug with post-medieval pottery and window glass being found so far – a promising start.

At the opposite end of the village from Kelmscott Manor, and again in private gardens, two test-pits were dug, both looking out onto a scheduled area of Iron Age and Roman settlement activity. One of the excavations produced various fragments of post-medieval pottery, mostly dating to the 19th century, in an area that was previously used as a vegetable garden, with a depth of 0.4m being reached. The garden’s owners are keen for us to go back and continue our digging during further test-pitting weekends.

A 14th/ 15th century ‘Minety Ware’ sherd
A 14th/ 15th century ‘Minety Ware’ sherd

The second of these gardens, at the fair side of the village, revealed a range of finds! After making our way through layers of modern and post-medieval pottery, nails and other finds, we appeared to reach a medieval layer approximately 0.6 metres below the surface, largely producing 14th to 15th century finds which included pottery sherds, in particular a sherd of ‘Minety ware’. Pottery was manufactured at Minety (North Wiltshire) from the early 12th century until the 15th or early 16th centuries, with the earliest forms including handmade pitchers and jars. Wheel-thrown vessels were produced after c. AD 1250, with a wider variety of forms from c. AD 1350.  There was much excitement when a copper-alloy lace chape was found, again dating to the 14th/ 15th century, measuring approximately 2cm long. Lace shapes were widely used as metal sheaths, applied to the ends of laces to stop them from fraying, and was used for decoration. This lace chape, like most others, was formed from a rolled metal sheet with four lozenge-shaped indentations along its length.

A 14th/ 15th lace chape
A 14th/ 15th lace chape

All artefacts were washed on site by our volunteer Alison, with the support of Cotswold Archaeology finds experts, before making their way back to our Kemble office for further study and cataloguing.

So, what’s next? We’re back on the 18th/ 19th June and the 23rd/ 24th July to dig more test-pits and uncover more archaeology.  Would you like to take part?  If so, please contact Caroline Adams, Cotswold Archaeology’s Outreach and Community Engagement Officer – caroline.adams@cotswoldarchaeology.co.uk.  Previous archaeological experience isn’t essential as we’ll be on hand to give you all the training you need! We’ll be re-visiting some test pits already started, as well as excavating new ones at various locations in the village, including in Kelmscott Manor’s grounds.

Caz Adams

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