Recent Work on Local National Trust Properties

Thursday 21 February 2013 – Liston Hall

The National Trust employs their own Archaeologists, using outside contractors when pressure of work demands.   Gary Marshall is one of the three who cover London and the South-East Region.  Their interests involve research on the structure above ground as much as may exist below soil level. Materials, methods of building and construction, alterations and additions all unite to create the history of a house or an estate.

The necessity to upgrade and renew the sewerage systems at Cliveden resulted in trenches up to 5m deep being opened up.  Inevitably, excavation exposed older walls and foundations, all of which were cleaned, photographed and recorded and where possible attributed to previous structures known to have existed.

The original C17 mansion was destroyed by fire in 1795.  The property was rebuilt some 30 years later only to be damaged in another major fire in 1849.  Many artists’ sketches, drawings, engravings and paintings exist, covering 300 years, that give an idea of how this property changed over time, the South Terrace being subject to several restylings.

Recent work to replace upper bedrooms windows on the south front revealed charred and burnt lintels and brickwork from the second fire. Damage had been repaired and additions made in 1851.

Deep trenches cut for new outfall pipes on the South Terrace exposed “running sand” 1 metre down; this caused major safety problems and most likely has always been a cause of structural damage and subsequent rebuilding in this area.  At a depth of 2.5 metres C17 brickwork was uncovered believed to belong to circular staircases depicted in an old engraving.

In the C18, ferneries existed at each end of the South Terrace, possibly altered from existing orangeries.  The Trust hopes to re-open these, but future work is delayed while plans on how and where to relocate the resident bat population are agreed.  On the Cliveden Estate 14 species of native bat have been recorded.  There are also C18 vaults under this terrace that need researching and hopefully being opened up, again, currently occupied.

At the Western end of the terrace C17 brick foundations, retaining walls and pads of lime concrete, probably statue bases, have been exposed.  Possibly the first house was in a different position.  Apotropaic marks (graffiti or witch marks) have been found on some of this uncovered work.

After the second fire, water storage tanks were created under the terrace.  These collected water from the roof gutters although how it was used is not known.  Again, more investigation is required, as and when the bats can be rehomed.

In the 1890s Lord Astor had the Dukes Steps constructed at the eastern end of the terrace.  Recent clearance work has shown these to be in poor condition having been built on inadequate foundations.  Older footings have been found, their original purpose uncertain.

The 1890s structure covering the Marc Twain Sequoia tree section is causing concern.  It needs careful recording before being refurbished to modern standards.

All together, there’s a lot been happening at Cliveden.

Not far away at West Wycombe the N.T. Archaeologists have been busy.  Recent hot summers have caused the Radnage source of the River Wye to dry up.  This has resulted in the feeder stream and lake bed in West Wycombe Park being exposed.  Several hundreds of Roman coins were detected in the dried muds of the lake.  1750s brick channels and timbers were exposed in the stream bed, believed to belong to an old irrigation system.  Other sections of old brickwork have been found in low lying areas of the park, away from the existing main house.

In the village the Trust is in the process of upgrading some of its tenanted buildings in the High Street, including retiling roofs.  C16 and C17 timberwork has been exposed, probably for the first time, giving ample opportunity to study the carpenters’ skills.  Where possible samples are being taken for dendrochronologic dating.

Although not a Trust property, the C15 Church loft is the oldest surviving property in the village and has been of special interest.  Examination of its original structure, the spliced repairs of 1914, and indoor furniture have helped in creating a more complete history of the area.   The rubbish and “lost” items that have fallen between floorboards and the materials used, a primitive insulation between lower and upper storeys, give valuable information about what professions have been carried out over the centuries in different houses.

The old barn in Fingest is currently being reroofed, again giving access to timberwork not previously examined.  Local hand made brickmakers, Matthews in Chesham, and another firm in Hull are used by the Trust to recreate specialist bricks, tiles and roof tiles to replace or blend with originals, as required.

This was a well illustrated, well attended and informative talk.  Thanks to Gary.

Gerry Platten

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