In 2019, CA was commissioned to record part of a reasonably well-preserved ‘Chain Home’ early warning radar station, located just south of Norwich.
Chain Home was a pioneering network of radar stations constructed prior to, and during, the Second World War. An experiment in 1935 proved conclusively that it was possible to detect aircraft by radio. The experiment worked by ‘illuminating’ the sky with radio waves whereby sufficient energy would be reflected from an aircraft to permit detection on the ground via a receiver. After further research, funding was provided for the construction of a ‘chain’ of early warning stations along the east coast of Britain using the new radar technology. These stations became the first radar to be organised into a complete air defence system used in wartime operations.
A key component of each station was a pair of ‘buried reserves’, which comprised underground bunkers and associated surface features containing a set of duplicated backup equipment, intended for use if the principal transmitting or receiving sites were attacked and put out of action.
Our task was to record the visible, above ground remains of the ‘transmitting’ buried reserve at Stoke Holy Cross Radar Station, which required the identification of many non-descript concrete features scattered amongst the encroaching vegetation. Luckily, Chain Home stations all follow a fairly standard form and further research allowed the identification of most of these features. These included ventilation shafts (see photo below left), a holdfort for a Bofors anti-aircraft gun, concrete plinths for the steel transmitting tower, and heavy concrete access hatches -(see photo below right) for the underground reserve itself, including their steel rollers and rails. Although the underground reserve is presently unsafe to enter, the positions of the above ground features were such that the layout of the reserve could be reliably determined by comparing the site with other, better preserved examples at stations around the country.
Ultimately, the Chain Home network was supplanted by superior technology, but the important role that these stations played during the Second World War, and the increasing scarcity of their most significant features, is being recognised through appropriate statutory protection.
CA has launched a new online recruitment portal to advertise and manage our recruitment process. You can register your details on the website and receive notifications when vacancies of interest become available. When registering on the website, you will create a profile (like a CV) and then when a vacancy becomes available you can quickly apply.
Once you apply for a vacancy, the process will be managed through the portal. You will be able to access any messages that have been sent, and track the progress of your application. Our hope is that by having this new portal, our recruitment process will be smoother and our candidate experience will improve.
During spring and summer 2020, Cotswold Archaeology undertook an excavation on behalf of Bloor Homes in Somerton, Somerset. The excavation took place on land to the north of Bancombe Road, focusing on two areas in two fields (Areas 1 and 2), totalling 0.74ha. The Somerton area is known to be archaeologically rich, and investigations undertaken by a range of individuals and organisations over the past 50 years have revealed a wealth of evidence for settlement and burials dating from the prehistoric and Roman periods.
Areas 1 & 2
Areas 1 and 2 were selected to target groups of features identified in previous archaeological investigations at the site during 2018 and 2019, which included a desk-based assessment (ASE 2018), a geophysical survey (Archaeological Surveys Limited 2019) and an archaeological evaluation (Cotswold Archaeology 2019).
In Area 1, the geophysical survey revealed evidence for a number of rectangular ditched enclosures aligned with a possible east/west orientated ditched droveway. In Area 2, a ring-ditch measuring 12m in diameter was identified, along with ditched features which may have represented land boundaries or enclosure ditches.
The subsequent evaluation confirmed the presence of an extensive Roman settlement and associated landscape features dating from the 1st–4th century AD in Area 1. Identified features included a stone building, flagstone working surfaces/floors, pits, and the suspected east/west aligned droveway. In Area 2, the evaluation confirmed the presence of the ring-ditch and an associated field ditch; these were not dated but were considered likely to be of prehistoric date.
In light of the significant archaeology revealed by the above investigations, the excavation of Areas 1 and 2 were requested by Somerset County Council’s archaeological advisor.
The excavation of Area 2 confirmed the results of the previous investigations at this part of the site. The ring-ditch (see photo above) was identified as a probable drainage gully for a roundhouse measuring around 12m in diameter, while the nearby ditch was possibly associated. Neither feature has yet been dated, although both are believed likely to be of Middle to Late Iron Age in date (c. 400 BC–AD 43); the ring-ditch is very similar to eight other roundhouse ring-ditches excavated at the local authority school development site 100m to the north (Wessex Archaeology 2020), which have all tentatively been dated to the Middle to Late Iron Age.
The excavation in Area 1 revealed the presence of a pre-Roman phase of activity, probably during the Late Iron Age. Features associated with this phase included a small number of postholes, a hearth, a group of rectangular enclosures and an oval enclosure. This may be part of a wider pattern witnessed in many parts of Britain, where Late Iron Age settlement and landscape features often continued into the early Roman period (up to around AD 100), sometimes then developing extensively.
During the Roman period Area 1 became the focus for several rectangular ditched enclosures (see photo above), separated by a wide, east/west aligned, ditched droveway. The droveway lay immediately to the south of a group of stone buildings located in the north-east of the area, suggesting a direct association with them.
Stone blacksmiths workshop and lambing shed buildings
The building complex included multiple stone-built buildings and flagstone floor surfaces, and metalworking waste recovered from the buildings suggests that the complex may have functioned as a blacksmith’s workshop. Several finds appear to confirm this, including an iron blacksmith’s hammer (see photo below), an iron cleaver, an iron punch or engraving tool, lumps of iron slag, iron hammerscale and vitrified fired clay (possible furnace lining).
A wealth of other finds recovered from the buildings include large quantities of pottery, animal bone, copper-alloy objects including tweezers (see photo below left), brooches, coins, stone mortar fragments (see photobelow right), stone gaming pieces, Kimmeridge shale bracelet fragments, a bone pin, and a large number of iron nails and hobnails.
Features associated with the workshop included smithing furnaces and stokeholes (where the furnace fires were tended), and at least three phases of use were identified. The structure may ultimately have changed function and been used as a lambing shed , a suggestion supported by the construction of small, separate, internal bays within the building, demarcated by tabular rock slabs laid on edge in narrow construction gullies. A stone cobbled yard surface to the immediate east of the building was probably related in some way, and a stone-lined cist or basin (see photo below) perhaps held water, possibly having been associated with the smithing activity or for watering livestock.
Several human and animal burials were recorded within the buildings in their latest phase, before this part of the site fell into disuse, other than for the dumping of settlement waste and the robbing of suitable building stone from the now ruined buildings. The human burials included two neonate (baby) burials and eight possible lamb burials, just on the inside edge of the walls. These may represent ‘closure’ deposits associated with the disuse of the Roman structures, a widely recorded ritual practice known from Roman Britain, thought to mark the final ‘closing off’ or abandonment of a specific structure.
While the full extent of the site is uncertain, it evidently continued to the north, as traces of the settlement complex have been found in recent investigations by Wessex Archaeology (2019; 2020), extending across the local authority school development site. The excavations undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology have shed light on some fascinating aspects of life (and death) in what was evidently an extensive Roman rural settlement occupied between the 1st and 4th centuries AD.
Archaeological Surveys Limited 2019 Land North of Bancombe Road, Somerton: Magnetometer Survey Report
ASE (Archaeology South East) 2018 Land to the North of Bancombe Road, Somerton, Somerset: Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment (Heritage Statement).Report Ref: 2018198
Cotswold Archaeology 2019 Land to the North of Bancombe Road, Somerton, Somerset: Archaeological Evaluation. Report Ref: EX0075_01
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.