|Some of the coins we found|
This year’s CVAHS Open Evening celebrated the 50th anniversary of the society. Past and present members recalled key events in the development of CVAHS and displays of maps, artifacts and publications showed some of our current work.
CVAHS started in 1963 with just 4 members. In 1964 the society was able to play a major role in excavating the Romano-British villa at Latimer and this work continued until 1971. Further major digs followed the start at Latimer, including Stratford’s Yard, Bury Farm and Valley Farm, and membership numbers rapidly grew to exceed 100.
Valley Farm and the neighbouring Mount Wood Field are examples of the continuity of the society’s work, as they were intially surveyed and dug in the 1970s and then further investigated in 2007-11, adding to our knowledge of this fascinating site. Similarly, Great Missenden Abbey was the subject of a dig back in 1983-5, and we are currently analysing finds from the dig and producing a detailed write-up.
The meeting concluded with the cutting of a 50th birthday cake and a good time was had by all. Many thanks to all those who worked to make the presentations, displays and catering such a success.
Ploughing in previous centuries has reduced the visibility of this feature, although the remains of a substantial bank and outer ditch are visible in the eastern and southern areas. We completed geophysics surveys in 2012, so have a good idea of the position of ditches and other features and have written a plan of action which is currently being considered by English Heritage.
The earthwork is currently listed as Iron Age and described by English Heritage as "the visible and buried remains of a univallate hillfort located on a broad plateau in the Chiltern Hills. The hillfort is roughly circular in plan with the interior measuring 120m north west-south east by 100m south west-north east".
However, the shape and size of the earthwork does not fit the common pattern of Iron Age fortified enclosures, hinting that it may be of earlier date, perhaps Bronze Age. There are some similarities with the early Ram’s Hill enclosures at Uffington and with enclosures excavated in Essex such as Mucking and Springfields Lyons.
No archaeological exploration of the earthwork has taken place. If the CVAHS plan is well received we hope to carry out exploratory excavations on this interesting site during 2013. A good reason to join our society!
Chesham Bois House has provided the society with some fascinating digging and finds over the years. It was the subject of a Time Team programme involving CVAHS in May 2006, which can be viewed online on the Channel 4 website.
In June 2012 we started further investigations, looking at features revealed by a new geophysics survey. As usual, Julia Plaistowe made us very welcome, providing ample places for undercover work and welcome refreshments. The dig got off to a good start with two days when the sun shone until early afternoon when it poured with rain. Initially three trenches were opened; trenches 1 & 3 on the lawn in front of the house and trench 2 on the south lawn.
Trench 1 revealed building material and other objects from the old Chesham Bois Manor, dumped probably sometime in the early 19th C. All the bricks were hand made but varied in date, with about 40% derived from a building of the Tudor period. Several large metal objects turned out to be antique boot scrapers. We were also intrigued to find a significant numbers of animal bones in good condition including the complete mandible of a large horse, cattle long bones and girdle bones and several sheep mandibles and long bones.
Trench 2 also seems to have been an area of mixed dumping, but with signs of relatively more recent activity including a large bonfire. The oldest find was the base of a large punted bottle dating to c. AD 1650-1750.
Trench 3 uncovered a substantial garden path made up of reused bricks, several bricks deep and running across the lawn for a considerable distance.
Sad to say, the weather gradually deteriorated during the week and we eventually decided to close the dig two days early.
We have for several years been interested in the possible existence of a "holy well" in the Sarratt Bottom area. There are records from the 14th C of a spring belonging to the Lord of the Manor at Chenies called Mayden Well and in the mid-16thC to a Holy Well field and Holy Well Lane.
One of our team and a friend from the Chiltern Society kindly undertook to clear the area at short notice on a rainy day in May. Using the earlier CVAHS map and obvious signs of marshy ground, four hearty diggers put in an exploratory trench.
Various challenging levels were first encountered, including a solid layer of nettle roots underneath which lay an even more solid layer of asphalt (which had been dumped over most of the field) together with large old water pipes and lumps of discarded clay. Once these relatively modern layers were removed we came down onto a scatter of small pieces of abraded Romano-British pot and animal bone resulting from downhill wash from the field slope above.
At deeper levels, below a black peaty layer, larger pieces of pot and animal bone began to emerge from wet deposits, including large fragments of a mortarium, a horse mandible and femur, sheep bones and oyster shells. There were no signs of structures, votive offerings or coins that might indicate a site special to the Romano-British community living at Valley Farm. At about 1 meter deep, finds petered out and the trench began to fill with water.
We concluded that this was not a holy well. The spring may have been used as a source of water for livestock kept in the higher level fields on this side of the river, and it also appears to have served as an occasional household rubbish dump.
One of the commonest finds on most archaeological site are pottery sherds, which are extremely resistant to degradation once buried. And this is fortunate, as potentially these sherds can give the age of the site and tell us a lot about the people who lived there and where they traded. The only problem is that you need to know a fair bit about the local pottery throughout history in order to do a proper analysis.
In CVAHS we have two approaches to solving the problem. We often take our pottery to specialists for identification, and we are also in the process of building a local Type Series.
A Type Series is a collection of pottery from the local area that has been identified and dated. When a new shard is found, it can be compared with items in the Type Series to determine its likely date and provenance.
CVAHS has been working for a number of years on a local Type Series for Romano-British pottery, as previously no such series existed for the Chess Valley area. The series now spans a wide range of dates and pottery types for this period and will be added to in the future. We also hope to extend it to include pottery from the medieval period.
Ever wondered what happens to all those finds from our digs? Much of the CBM (ceramic building material) is returned to the ground after weighing and counting, but that still leaves an awful lot of pot, bone and other items.
After a variable length of time in storage, these finds are catalogued for reference in the future. This is the task that a keen group of CVAHS volunteers undertook in late April when they sorted all the finds from our 2005-07 digs at Chesham Bois House.
All finds bags were checked and we made sure all were clearly labelled with excavation code, trench and context number as well as a description of the content, e.g. bone or pottery. The bags were then placed in archival boxes and the boxes (seven in total) were then in turn marked with their contents and an accession number given to us by Buckinghamshire County Museum.
And that is where the finds will be deposited, safely stored and available for research by any interested party in the future.
The earthwork is circular with a diameter of some 100m and, in part, a pronounced outer ditch. There are two prominent entrances to the east and south east. It is recorded in the county archaeological records as an Iron Age hill fort, and scheduled by English Heritage.
Our first survey in 2002 revealed a number of puzzling features. The site did not fit the classic range of Iron Age fort shapes, but it did have similarities with Bronze Age earthwork features in Eastern England, especially Essex. Some of these have been excavated, revealing fine ware pottery, domestic activity and extensive bronze smithy working. They are interpreted as Late Bronze Age enclosures possibly belonging to local chieftains, or were important ritual sites. If Whelpley Hill falls into this group it would be the most western one known to date.
In February this year we obtained permission to conduct two further geophysics surveys. For magnetometry, we used a Bartington Gradiometer, a much more technically advanced and sensitive instrument than that used in 2002. We hoped this would show more details of potential hearths and pit sites. The second survey was resistivity, and was restricted to the eastern exterior where we looked for further evidence of the entrance zone and "track way".
The combined results appear to further support the Bronze Age hypothesis, but only excavation will give us the evidence we need. To this end we are preparing a project proposal for English Heritage and the current landowner, with the aim of getting permission to dig during the 2012 season.
October 2011: Our Dig at The Lee
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Our autumn dig for 2011 was at the earthwork enclosure at The Lee in the last two weeks of October. This site has long been regarded as the location of a deserted medieval settlement, but no previous excavation had been attempted.
As previously reported, we have carried out both resistivity and magnetometry surveys within and across the earthworks. While neither of these convincingly identified buildings, there were a sufficient number of linear features and magnetometry hot spots to encourage further exploration by excavation.
A report and plan of action was submitted to the landowner Mrs Stewart-Liberty who generously allowed us access to the land. The members of The Lee Old Church Trust were kind and helpful, allowing us to pitch the tent behind the church and to use their lavatory and small kitchen area.
The dig started in weather that was exceptionally good for October - sunny and breezy – and there was a good turnout of CVAHS members. After several days digging, there were no clear signs of significant settlement, although there had clearly been human activity here in the past.
This was marked by:
a) A circular dump of unworked clunch (chalk/clay or soft limestone) blocks. This was used as a local building material and is visible in the walls of the Lee Old Church.
b) Large quantities of iron working slag nodules that represent the unwanted leftovers after the metal fraction has been recovered. One of these were associated with a large dump of huge flints. While small areas of burnt clay were uncovered there was no significant evidence for furnaces on site.
c) A brick feature associated with a low boundary of mortared flints was uncovered. This looks like the remains of a retaining structure, perhaps steps or a wall providing access to the orchard area that can still be identified today. Some unusual post-medieval pottery was found here which might help with dating.
We were particularly pleased that local people were interested in the project, took part in the dig and provided us with a great deal of interesting information about the history of the immediate area.
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In July we ran a two week excavation at the Roman Villa site at Sarratt, mostly in sun but with odd showers. This year we had the luxury of a double gazebo shelter for finds washing and recording, dining and chatting.
A major objective was to explore in more detail the ‘pit’ which we had partially excavated last year. This feature yielded a number of coins, along with bronze and iron objects. Extension of the trench revealed that the ‘pit’ was a ditch running diagonally down hill. It appeared to be associated with a cut land-surface and nearby posthole. A rich mixture of pot, quern stone fragments, coins and copper alloy items were recovered.
We also took a closer look at a series of ditches and banks forming a partial enclosure near the river in the adjacent wood. These were surveyed in the 1970’s but no excavation carried out. Two trenches were put across the ditches of the earthworks and good ditch profiles recorded. Llittle in the way of finds which might help with dating these features but one or two nice Mesolithic microflints emerged from the fill.
While the excavations were in progress we also managed to complete the resistivity and magnetometry surveys of the field. So, combining all sources of information, we have a good overview of activities during and before the Roman occupation of this area.
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The CVAHS annual Open Evening was held on 18th March 2011 8pm in the grand surroundings of the council chamber in Chesham Town Hall.
Around 80 people - members and non-members - gathered to hear presentations on recent society activities. For the Field Group, Yvonne Edwards and John Gover described our digs and finds in 2010 at Mount Wood and Lowndes Park, while Marion Wells outlined the results of a comparative study of pottery from the Mount Wood and Colemans Wood sites.
For the Records Group, Garry Marshall drew on extensive research to paint a picture how Chesham and its surroundings developed from Roman times up to the Middle Ages.
Attendees were then able to enjoy a range of finger food and drinks while looking at posters and displays of recent finds, while a rolling audio-visual presentation by Phil Nixon showed the Field Group in action during last year's digs.
A big thank you to everyone who contributed to making the evening such a success.
As previously recorded here, during the summer of 2010 CVAHS excavated the mound in Lowndes Park and uncovered a large number of broken glass bottles. We then had the daunting task of analysing these glass fragments - 3960 in all - to determine their ages and dates.
Firstly, 3706 of the fragments were body sherds that were deemed too small to be useful for dating purposes, and so were discarded. Of the remaining 254 fragments, five body sherds could be dated to the post-medieval period, but more accurate dating was not possible. A stopper, thought to be from a pharmaceutical bottle, was dated to the early 19th century.
Five glass seals bearing the coat of arms of Welbeck-Pyrmont and the words 'PYRMONT WATER' were also recovered. We discovered that mineral water was imported in sealed bottles from Germany in the 18th century, and the seal type indicated that the seals had a date of c.1745-70.
This left us with 243 fragments consisting of 86 bases and 157 necks of what we assumed were wine bottles, although no wine bottle seals were found. Since no complete bottles were recovered, dating of the bases and necks proved difficult. All appeared to be handmade which, again, made dating a challenge.
For bases, the body shape, diameter, and kick-up height can give a clue as to the date. Similarly, for the necks, the shape, width of lip, and type and position of the string-rim, can be used to give a rough date. We measured all the fragments, grouped them, and allocated tentative dates.
We then visited Will Phillips, Keeper of Social History at Buckinghamshire County Museum's Resource Centre with a selection of 25 bases and necks. There we were able to view the museum's collection of complete bottles and Will very helpfully confirmed our dating, which we were relieved to find was not too far out. The majority of the glass bases (69 of the 86) and necks (124 of the 157) have now been dated to c.1770-80. 11 bases and 25 necks have been given earlier dates, the earliest being c.1650-60, and 6 bases and 8 necks have been given later dates, the latest being c.1800-20.
So, in conclusion, all we can say at present is that a large number of broken bottles, dating mostly from the 18th century, were buried in the mound. But the mystery remains as to where the bottles came from, whether they were deliberately smashed, and why they were carried to the top of a hill in Chesham and buried.
The mound in Lowndes Park is scheduled as a possible Bronze Age burial mound but excavations by CVAHS in July 2010 uncovered no evidence to support this idea. There was no signs of encircling ditches and all the finds made in the three trenches placed on the mound found only post-medieval items.
The trench on the upper flat surface of the mound uncovered part of a pit where large quantities of tile, glass bottle fragments, pot and bone dating from late 17th century to early 19th century had been deliberately dumped. The dates suggest that some or all of this material may have come from Bury Hill Manor, the home of the Whichcote and Skottowe families since 1656, which was demolished in the early 19th century.
The majority of the glass came from wine bottles, but there were also fragments from bottles of Pyrmont mineral water imported from Germany, which was highly fashionable in the 18th century. There were bones from cattle and sheep showing signs of butchery, presumably the remains of hearty meals; in addition there were the remains of a young cat and a tortoise(?) Perhaps these were pets at the Bury Hill Manor?
At the base of the pit were rough rectangular brick foundations for a small building. These may be the base of a gazebo/look-out pavilion from which the Skottowes enjoyed views along the Chess and Pednor valleys. From the mound, Chesham people and visitors still enjoy these views today.