News

Warwickshire gem building recording

We have recently been commissioned to conduct a heritage assessment and building recording of Wellesbourne Hall, a grade II* ‘William & Mary’ manor house in Warwickshire.  The recording involved some in-depth archival sleuthing to understand the history of the hall and its wider grounds, including a stable block and two 19th century walled  gardens.  Through analysis of building fabric and spaces we were able to broadly phase the development of the buildings and date the fabric and features within them; identifying significant spaces and features.   The recording will inform a repair schedule to ensure the ongoing conservation of this special house and its grounds. As part of the work we commissioned these fantastic 3D drone (photogrammetric) models, which give great aerial views of the house. A fascinating historic place and a very interesting piece of work to be involved in.

 


Down by the Riverside (it’s not just for ducks!)

The River Lark at Mildenhall is a tranquil riverside location now, but it was a different story in the past!

River Lark at Mildenhall at present
© Copyright John Goldsmith and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

Back in 2010, Cotswold Archaeology excavated a site at Recreation Way, Mildenhall, in Suffolk, ahead of the development of a new supermarket. Our excavations revealed evidence that the site had been settled, farmed and even defended during a long sequence  of occupation running from late prehistory (1000 BC) through to the early medieval period.

A detailed account of these discoveries has recently been published in East Anglian Archaeology publications No. 169: Iron Age Fortification beside the River Lark, Excavations at Mildenhall Suffolk by Tim Havard, Mary Alexander and Ray Holt.

Iron Age Fortification beside the river Lark, book cover
Iron Age Fortification beside the river Lark, Published by: East Anglian Archaeology. Available through Oxbow Books

The earliest evidence for settlement at the site dated to the Late Bronze Age. One important pit survived from this period, which reached a depth of over 2m deep to reach the water table. Once the pit had ceased to be used as a source of fresh water, it was filled with discarded domestic refuse, which included charred seeds, principally of barley, spelt wheat and emmer/spelt wheat, along with the remains of at least two sheep; horse, roe deer, pig and dog bones were also discovered. It was obvious from this mixed assemblage that settlement lay close by, although no other domestic features survived. The recovery of sherds of Post-Deverel Rimbury style pottery, along with radiocarbon dates obtained from the charred seeds and a small fragment of a human skull from within the pit, enabled us to date this settlement to between c. 1000 and 800 BC.

The Bronze Age pit with one quarter excavated
The Bronze Age pit with one quarter excavated

The Middle Iron Age (400–50 BC) was a period of intense activity at the site; a pair of massive ditches were constructed, defining the eastern part of an enclosure (another equally substantial ditch at the eastern edge of the excavated area may also have been constructed during this period, although this remains undated).

The pair of ditches were originally accompanied by a bank against the interior of the enclosure and together they likely represent the remains of a defensive feature built to dominate what was probably a major crossing point of the River Lark during the Iron Age. As the western side of the enclosure lay beyond the limit of our excavation, its exact form is uncertain. It was apparent, however, that the southern side of the enclosure facing the river was un-ditched, and here the river or its marshy floodplain may have served as a natural barrier.

One of the Iron Age ditches during excavation
One of the Iron Age ditches during excavation
Decorated sherds of pottery
Decorated sherds of pottery

We believe that the ditched enclosure may have been as much concerned with display as with military defence, and possibly played a strategic role in controlling a tribal boundary. Numerous pits were found in the interior of the enclosure, and although no Iron Age houses were revealed, the fills of the pits and ditches were rich in finds and environmental material. As well as evidence for the consumption of meat and cereals, there were many finds associated with textile working, including bone needles, weaving tablets or bobbins and a weaving comb (shown on the cover of the book), along with a clay spindle whorl and clay loom weights. Evidence for the casting of copper-alloys came from a small number of ceramic crucible and mould fragments. The assemblage of decorated Middle Iron Age pottery from the site is the largest found in the region to date; the presence of so much decorated pottery might be an indication that the site had some special status.

The medieval lime kiln base
The medieval lime kiln base

By the Roman period the enclosure ditches had fallen out of use, and at this time a farmstead occupied the higher ground. During this period the river floodplain was used for fields, represented by a series of drainage ditches, although the area became prone to flooding by the later Roman period.

Activity at the site continued throughout the Saxon period, spanning the early, middle and later periods. Activities associated with farming took place on the higher ground and the wet environment probably restricted use of the floodplain. The evidence suggests that there was a process of deliberate land reclamation on the floodplain during the medieval period, and the area was subsequently divided into fields. On the higher ground, a large north-south orientated ditch may have been dug to demarcate the medieval town boundary, but this is far from certain. Excavated features from this period related to activities undertaken at the periphery of settlement, including crop-processing, animal husbandry and iron-working. A well-preserved kiln base may have been used for the production of lime, using chalk quarried from the edge of the higher ground.

There was a rapid decline in use of the area from the 14th century onwards, which broadly coincided with a downturn in the town’s prosperity, beginning in the early 15th century. The area continued to be used as farmland until modern development and the construction of the new supermarket.

The site archive has been deposited with Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service.

Mary Alexander


Clare Castle Community Excavations

We are now a week into the community dig at Clare Castle in Suffolk, which is being carried out by local volunteers under the direction of archaeologists from CA’s Suffolk Office. The work is part of a large Heritage Lottery Grant awarded to the Clare Castle Country Park Trust in 2018 to improve understanding of the history of the site and the visitor experience.

A silver cut halfpenny of William I
A silver cut halfpenny of William I

Following on from last year’s successful dig in the Outer Bailey, this year’s work is focussed in the Inner Bailey, where excavation in 2013 had identified the possible site of a College of Secular Canons, founded c. 1045. As well as evidence for this pre-conquest activity, we hope to identify buildings associated with the occupation of the castle. Clare Castle is one of the earliest motte and bailey castles in Suffolk, constructed by Richard Fitzgilbert (who was awarded the lands of the Saxon lord Aelfric in 1075 following a revolt against William I) before AD 1090. One of the first finds made this year is a cut silver halfpenny of William I (the Conqueror), contemporary with the castle’s construction.

Despite a wet start on Monday, we managed to open enough trenches to start digging in the afternoon. Machining has removed the overlying railway deposits, revealing a buried soil containing medieval pottery. As we have started to remove this layer, flint and mortar walls and rubble spreads/surfaces are being revealed, so it all looks very promising. Considerable quantities of medieval pottery have been recovered, some of it large and very fresh-looking, so it is probably being recovered close to the site of its original deposition.

Digging on Day 1 with the castle in the background
Digging on Day 1 with the castle in the background

We have also inserted a single trench to confirm the presence of an infilled stretch of moat around the motte and to determine whether there may have been an outer bank, which perhaps preserves pre-Conquest buried soils beneath it. We have found the moat and can see where part of the motte had slipped into the inner edge and have immediately backfilled this length. A thick deposit of chalk at the outer edge needs further investigation in order to determine if it represents bank material that slipped into the moat.

We were delighted to host our CEO, Neil and three of our trustees during a visit on Tuesday afternoon and I could see they were itching to get involved!

The trustees visit
The trustees visit
Volunteers cleaning one of the walls
Volunteers cleaning one of the walls

We have a great HQ in the newly refurbished Old Goods Shed of the former railway line, where we are able to present displays and updates. Our volunteer team is consistently large and are proving capable and dedicated – and good humoured as they battle the soil layers compacted by a hundred years of train traffic. We are posting updates via social media and have an Open Day next Sunday between 12 and 4pm, where there will be displays, finds handling and guided tours. So if you’re in the area on Sunday, why not come and see the site for yourself?!


CA’s New Trustee

new trustee, Karen Ann Jospehides

We are delighted to welcome Karen Ann Josephides, People Director at Arsenal Football Club, as a new trustee and non-executive company director of Cotswold Archaeology. Karen Ann says

“The Trustee role at CA is a great opportunity and privilege.  I have experience of both working in business and for a Charity.  This role provides an ideal avenue for me to contribute to the valuable archaeological and heritage services work, and another way for me to integrate fully into the Cotswolds Community, having purchased a property in Gloucestershire last year.

Despite my lack of recent practice, I have never lost my passion for archaeology.  I developed my interest at a very young age.  The three years I spent studying archaeology at Durham, were some of the best of my life.  I majored on Roman Britain and thoroughly enjoyed my digs at Shiptonthorpe.  I analysed a huge amount of wood and drew many artefacts in my spare time for Professor Martin Millett which were published in one of the Shiptonthorpe volumes. Happy days!

I’ve worked in business since leaving university.  I’ve always had a strong performance focused work ethic.  I am the People Director for Arsenal Football Club and have been with the Premier League Club since 2010.  I lead a team of Equality, HR and Safeguarding professionals.  The football world within which I operate on a daily basis is extremely demanding and fast paced and it is now the time for me to engage in my personal interests again, which have been very much neglected over recent years. I’m relishing the opportunity to get more involved and help support the fantastic work CA does in supplying heritage services and increasing awareness of the past.

I am also a Trustee for Nordoff Robbins, the largest independent music therapy charity in the UK, an organisation that through the power of music therapy enriches lives.  I have an MSc in Strategic Human Resources Management.  I am also a Fellow of the Institute of Personnel & Development and a member of the Governments Disability Confident Business Leaders Group which engages with the business community on disability employment”.


Boxford Open Day 2019

Cotswold Archaeology are pleased to have been working with the Boxford History Project on further excavations at the Mud Hole Roman Villa site. Following the discovery in 2017 of the a very rare mosaic featuring scenes from Greek Mythology, the community group raised enough funds to allow another season of excavation, which has just come to an end.

crowd of people looking at the boxford mosaic

On Saturday 31 August we supported an open day at the site and were astounded by the numbers of visitors and the very real enthusiasm and interest in the site. Around 3,000 people turned out on the day to see the site, listen to the site team explain what had been found and have a look at some of the artefacts recovered.

an archaeologist showing the excavation site to a crowd of people

While the focus of the excavations this year has been on revealing and recording the full mosaic floor, there were a number of other research questions that we were keen to resolve. The investigations have explored the origins of the structure, sought to determine whether further mosaics might have been present and tried to understand the later history of the building and its use.

The results have been astounding. Further elements of the imagery on the mosaic have been revealed, showing a greater array of tales from Greek Mythology. We also now have a much better understanding of the building’s construction, evidence to suggest that no other mosaic floors were present and evidence of alterations and repair late in the building’s life. There is a wide range of material that now needs further detailed investigation and analysis before we can tell the full story. We look forward to sharing this with you when the work is complete!

Overhead photo of the mosaic during cleaning
©Copyright: David Shepherd

Bristol’s Brilliant Archaeology at Blaise Castle

On Saturday 3rd August, staff from our Cirencester office returned to Blaise Castle Museum to take part in the fifth Bristol’s Brilliant Archaeology Day, celebrating the Festival of Archaeology and the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Council for British Archaeology in 1944.

We think it’s fair to say that this year’s event was the biggest and best yet, with more archaeological groups, societies and companies than ever before. Thankfully the rain stayed away while the droves of visitors descended.

CA stall at Bristol's Brilliant Archaeology

Visitors to the Cotswold Archaeology stand were able to learn about 6000 years of Bristol and South Gloucestershire history! We showcased a variety of finds, dating from the Neolithic era through the Iron Age, Roman, medieval and post-medieval periods. Our ‘Bristol Finds Timeline’ went right up to 1944 to mark the special anniversary.

Children learnt about the important part Bristol played in the Second World War and how our historic buildings specialists investigate and record wartime defences. They were also able to design and keep their own aeroplanes, which proved very popular.

Children designed their own aeroplanes

We think some of them could have given the engineers of the Bristol Aeroplane Company a run for their money.

Jess Cook