All posts by archa

Silchester Visit

On Wednesday the 8th of August four AIM members visited the Roman Town Excavation project at Silchester, south of Reading. We were extremely grateful to Maidenhead Archaeological & Historical Society who kindly allowed us join their visit.

After an excellent meal in the Red Lion at Mortimer West End, we and the Maidenhead members assembled in the official car park and then walked around to the excavation area.

The Silchester site is one of the largest and best-preserved towns in the south of Britain with walls that still stand up to almost five metres high and the site’s features lie relatively shallowly below the surface.  It is a ‘greenfield’ site, one of only half a dozen towns that has had no modern successor built upon it.

The current excavation is a large single trench known as ‘Insula IX’ and has been dug since 1997. Over 100 students are accommodated (mostly in tents on site) and they are trained in archaeological practices by Reading University. Insula IX was chosen especially because it lies adjacent to the north-south and west- east principal thoroughfares that bisect the site. The project is using the latest archaeological techniques to trace the site’s development from its origins before the Roman Conquest to its abandonment in the fifth or sixth century A.D.

Professor Mike Fulford, Site Director, believes Calleva (Silchester) was founded around 50BC by Commius, an Atrobates leader, once a trusted ally of Julius Caesar, who then joined an unsuccessful rebellion against him and had to leave Gaul rapidly. Whether Commius headed for an existing Atrebates settlement at Silchester, or started to build on a greenfield site, a defensible hill with excellent views, near the navigable Kennet and Thames, is, Mike suggests, “a million-dollar question – why here?” They have found nothing earlier than 50BC – yet.

Commius’s town flourished, trading across Britain, Ireland and both Roman and Iron Age tribal Europe. The Callevans paid for their luxuries with exports of metalwork, wheat – the site is still surrounded by prime farm land, and there is evidence of grain-drying on an industrial scale – hunting dogs, and, almost certainly, slaves: British slaves and dogs were equally prized in continental Europe. They have also found evidence in little flayed bones for a more exotic craft industry, puppy-fur cloaks.

Commius was succeeded by three quarrelsome sons – significantly dubbing themselves on coins as “rex” or king – who successively deposed one another. The third, Verica, was toppled by local tribes and made a move that would change the course of British history: he fled to Rome and asked for help – and in AD43 the Romans came. Calleva already had strong trade links with the Continent and political allegiances to Rome before the Conquest.

Those who attended Amanda Clarke’s talk on 24th January 2012, will remember the wealth of knowledge and information she conveyed to us about the Silchester site.

Amanda, who is the Field Director at Silchester and Research Fellow at Reading University, gave us a most detailed tour of the site explaining its different phases. The western part of the trench is mainly Iron Age and is set out south-west to north-east (an alignment which is based on the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset), whereas the eastern side of the trench is Roman and runs north south.

It appears that Calleva was a well-organised Iron Age town.  Amanda pointed out the earliest feature, a late 1st century BC Iron Age ditch.  Finds in the ditch could be military and might point to Caesar’s invasion.  There is also a large rectangular Iron Age building, not the traditional round house, which has a dog buried in one corner.  There is strong evidence that the Iron Age people lived at Calleva in regular house plots flanking broad gravelled roads,


The site has no natural water and so there are numerous wells.  In these have been found four holed pots, perhaps evidence that they had been ritually disfigured.  Samian ware from Italy and France is also to be found together with amphorae in this period, evidence of Calleva’s trading links.

Amanda said that Iron Age Britons were importing olives from the Mediterranean a century before the Romans arrived with their exotic tastes in food. Excavators have discovered a single olive stone from an excavation of an Iron Age well. The stone came from a layer securely dated to the first century BC, making it the earliest ever found in Britain – but since nobody ever went to the trouble of importing one olive, there must be more, rotted beyond recognition or still buried. The stone, combined with earlier finds of seasoning herbs such as coriander, dill and celery, all previously believed to have arrived with the Romans, suggests a diet at Silchester that would be familiar in any high street pizza restaurant

Amanda informed us that this year a tiny skeleton of a dog, no bigger than a celebrity’s handbag dog, had been unearthed and it was one of a handful ever found in Europe from such an early date: the evidence suggests it lived for up to three years, and was then laid, curled as if asleep, into the foundations of a house. Also the skeleton of a cat was found, carefully packed into a clay jar.

Following Amanda’s tour, we sat in a large gazebo where Elise (Finds Supervisor) handed around some of the most important artefacts found this year. Including a selection of brooches, a bronze hair pin, an Iron age coin, pieces of multi-coloured glass, a portable toilet set, a sherd of Samian ware – inscribed with the potter’s name, a coin of Nero, a bone awl and a gaming dice.

For reasons unknown, Calleva was abandoned shortly after the end of the Roman era.  There is no evidence of a cataclysmic event.  Maybe the water supply ran out.  It has been suggested that the Saxons deliberately avoided Calleva after it was abandoned, preferring to maintain their existing centres at Winchester and Dorchester.  With the exception of one small medieval manor, now part of a farm, and the church of St Mary, which probably stands on a Roman temple, nobody ever built on or lived at Calleva Atrebatum to this day.

The 16th season of work on Insula IX at the Roman town of Silchester took place between 2nd July and 12th August 2012.  The dig has another three years to run, ending in 2015. For further information see

Many thanks to Maidenhead A. & H. Society for arranging this visit and to Amanda and her team for providing us with an impressive and informative tour.

by John Laker, with help from Jeff Griffiths, Reading University’s website and Maev Kennedy’s articles in the Guardian

Visit to SOAG Roman Excavation

On Sunday the 1st of July, four intrepid AIM members travelled to S.O.A.G.’s (South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group) Roman site near Goring-on-Thames.

Hazel Williams, the site Director, welcomed us and gave us a guided tour of this large site, which has now entered its twentieth year of excavation. The description of ‘Roman Villa’ has changed to ‘a large Roman Farmstead’. This is mainly due to the lack of mosaics found there.

Hazel showed photographic overlays, which outline the areas had been excavated previously and the areas under current excavation. A geophysics graphic showing the Farmstead and it setting in the local area was most illuminating. Hazel also showed us a selection of artefacts found at the site, including some pieces of high class Samian ware pottery.

After our tour, we entered the very large trench (see photo’) to start excavating. We dug in an area just outside of the main building’s western wall. We expected this area to be devoid of ‘finds’, but the finds tray was soon full of pieces of roof tile and burnt pottery.

The spoil from such a dig gathers quickly and wheelbarrows are used to convey the spoil to areas outside excavation areas. One of our members used his metal detector to find various metal items, including a selection of Roman nails.

At lunchtime all the volunteers gathered in a circle and sat eating their lunches and chatting about archaeology locally and in general.

Having been refuelled, the gathering dispersed to various parts of the site. The AIM members continued digging in the same area, but, not long after we were transferred to the southern side of the trench to dig amongst the probable fall of a Roman wall. This tumble of flints and chalk contained few finds, but some roof tile and on small piece of painted plaster were unearthed.

Although the weather was cool and windy, the rain held off all day! Just before 4 o’clock we packed our gear away, said our goodbyes and departed for Marlow.

We all had a wonderful day on the important site. Many thanks to Hazel and her team. SOAG’s hospitality was at its usual high quality.

For more information see SOAG’s website at

John Laker




Photos gS and qS

HG Matthews Brick Company Visit

On Wednesday the 21st of June, the Chilterns Woodlands Project (CWP) arranged a visit to HG Matthews Brick Company which is situated at Bellingdon, near Chesham.

The Brick Works was started in 1923 and the grandson of the founder, Jim Matthews, gave us guided tour of the works. About 50% of the brick production is machine made and the other half are handmade. HG Matthews has made bricks for Hampton Court, Chequers, Mapledurham House and many more.

Jim showed us bricks being made by hand and the kilns in which they were placed before firing. All the clay used for brickmaking is sourced within a few miles of the plant.

The kilns used to be fired by coal and then oil, but escalating costs have made wood an economic alternative. The wood is cut locally and the family business has woodlands close by that they can harvest sustainably.

Apart from bricks of all shapes and sizes, HG Matthews sell a large range of wood burning stoves and fires. They are also agents for larger wood burning boilers which can attract grants from the government.

Following Jim’s tour we had a quick lunch and John Morris (of the CWP) led us around the local woodland explaining how the woods are to be managed. Older and sickly trees have been marked for felling and some overcrowding has been earmarked for thinning. Again there is Government money available to woodland owners to help to access areas for sustainable tree felling.

It seems a historic craft and the sustainable use of renewable fuels are combining to make HG Matthews a very viable enterprise.

Investigations on the River Chess

On Thursday the 21st of June, Yvonne Edwards of Chess Valley Archaeological and Historical Society (CVAHS) gave an excellent talk about their investigations along the river Chess.

Yvonne illustrated talk began with CVAHS excavations at a Burnt Mound adjacent to the river. Yvonne said that burnt mounds are common in Ireland and Scotland but not so common in Britain. Most are associated with a good stream or river water supply, hearths and a large trough. The troughs, that are thought to have held water, are sometimes clay-lined or wood-lined. Radiocarbon dates for these mounds vary quite widely, ranging from the late Neolithic to the Iron Age, but most between 2,000 – 800BC during the Bronze Age.

The mound is made of charcoal and heat shattered flints which are thought to be the remains of stones heated in fires and wood burnt on the fire.  The hot stones were subsequently used to heat the water in the trough. There are various theories about what the hot  water was for – possibly cooking, bathing, dyeing or leather treatment – but no general agreement as yet.

CVAHS’s test excavation spanned four days and enabled them to make a section through the mound and uncover the underlying surface of river deposits. They also recovered pieces of crude pottery and some fragments of bone. The pottery fragments have been examined by a specialist and identified as late Bronze Age (1,200 – 800BC) jar fragments tempered with flint. One of the pieces appears to have slight finger impressions in the surface, which is very common in Bronze Age pots.

No trace of a hearth, or trough, were found during this initial excavation, but CVAHS hope to return in the future for a more comprehensive investigation.

Yvonne next spoke about their dig at a suspected Romano-British site near Sarratt. CVAHS had conducted an extensive geophysical survey near the Chess at Sarratt. This had revealed numerous indications of tracks, walls and buildings. A vast array of Roman coins and artifacts have been found in this area since the 1960s and they were pretty sure there was a significant Romano-British settlement there.

Three trenches were positioned in order to examine features that CVAHS had previously identified by resistivity survey. These included what looked like a large rectangular area enclosed by a ditch and possible traces of a small building.

These trenches were dug and uncovered evidence of possible enclosure ditches, dumped building material and pottery all dating to the Romano-British period. This quickly uncovered several undated pottery sherds, a tile with the imprint of a hobnailed sandal, and another with a paw print, probably of a dog.

CVAHS succeeded in finding ditches in two trenches. In one case the ditch contained pottery dating from the late Late Iron Age and first century. The other ditch contained pottery dating  from the second to third centuries, many iron and bronze objects and a substantial number of third century coins. Other trenches produced a large amount of Romano-British roof tile fragments, together with some floor tile and also flue tile, indicating under-floor (hypocaust) heating.

These finds indicate that human occupation probably spanned at least the period from the Iron Age to the Romano-British period. During the latter period there appears to have been at least one villa and/or a bath house on the site, as indicated by the flue tile fragments.

The third site Yvonne discussed was the Chesham Bois Manor.  The current Chesham Bois House stands on the site of a much older and larger residence and estate dating back to the 11th century. There is evidence that the estate was one of the 5 estates (or manors) listed in the Domesday Book in 1086 as part of Chesham. The estate had had a long and varied history since the days of King Harold. It was taken over by the Norman Bishop Odo of Bayeaux, but by 1213 the de Bois family were in residence, they brought their name from France and it became attached to the Parish.

Subsequently various families owned and extended the manor, especially the Cheyne family, from (around) 1430 to 1735. The house and estate were then purchased by the Duke of Bedford, but were considered of little value. The house was eventually demolished and another building replaced it in the early nineteenth century. Excavations by the Chess Valley Archaeological Society uncovered a 12th century pitch tile hearth and a smithying pit.   In 2006  Time Team asked if they could take part in these investigations (Series 14, Episode 10 – available on Channel 4 OD) and their work over 3 days helped to discover more  about  the old Manor House. CVAHS volunteers help Tony and co., to map out 17th and 18th century features and buildings.

Tea, coffee and biscuits followed a question and answer session. Yvonne was thanked for a very interesting and informative talk and we departed with a much greater knowledge of the history of a town not far from Marlow.

Richard of Cornwall, Lord of Marlow and King of the Romans

Following our AGM on 31 May, AIM Chairman Andy Ford gave a talk on “Richard Cornwall, Lord of Marlow and King of the Romans”.

Andy explained that the origin of the talk was in the research that he has been conducting over the last few months into Warren Wood.  As part of that he came across an entry in the medieval Close Roll document for 14 April 1233 which, roughly translated, reads as follows:

“Peter de Rivall is ordered to give eighteen fallow deer from the royal forest of Windsor as a gift from the king to Richard, Earl of Cornwall for the establishment of his park in Marlow”.  Andy has therefore been exploring both the life of Richard of Cornwall and trying to identify the location of the deer park.

Andy explained that Richard was born in Winchester in January 1209 and was the second son of King John.  He was only six years old when his father died and his elder brother Henry succeeded to the throne.  Henry III spent much of his reign trying to assert his royal authority over the powerful barons, often through controversial means such as promoting outsiders and foreigners.  His younger brother Richard was, by contrast, a far more able and sensitive politician who was known during his lifetime for his diplomacy and his strengths as a negotiator.

Although Richard was a member of the royal family and heir to the throne until 1239, he had to make his own way in the world and did so with remarkable success.  He became reputedly the wealthiest man in England and one of the richest in Europe.  He acquired much of that wealth through land granted to him by Henry III, including the Earldom of Cornwall in 1231.  Many of the subsequent grants were made after the brothers had quarrelled and were often, in effect, a bribe to keep Richard from siding with the barons.  During the course of his life, Richard built up an extensive portfolio of estates in Cornwall, the Thames Valley and Buckinghamshire, Middlesex, Suffolk, the East Midlands and Yorkshire, as well as enjoying wealth from tin mines in Cornwall and Devon, and presiding over a highly lucrative recoinage across the country.

Once he had secured his position both financially and politically at home, Richard became increasingly active overseas, for example joining the Sixth Crusade between 1240 and 1242.  The success of his contribution to the Crusade and the increasingly close links with leading European families fuelled Richard’s ambitions and he became heavily involved in European politics.  This culminated in his being elected King of the Romans in 1256, although in truth this meant that he became effectively not much more than overlord to a number of German states concentrated around the Rhine.  Richard spent a considerable proportion of his wealth to acquire the title and visited his new kingdom on four occasions during his fifteen year reign, albeit spending less than four years in total there.

Richard’s focus on his overseas ambitions coincided with increasing unrest at home.  Marginalised barons, frustrated by Henry III’s increasingly autocratic and aloof kingship, found an effective champion in the form of Simon de Montfort who led them in open revolt in 1263.  In May of the following year, his army comprehensively defeated the royal forces at the Battle of Lewes where both Henry III and Richard were taken prisoner.  The situation was reversed in August 1265 when royalist forces under Henry III’s son defeated the rebels at Evesham and restored Henry’s position as king.  Richard played a key role in re-establishing peace in England after the rebellion and remained a central figure at court until he died in April 1272.  He was buried in Hailes Abbey (Gloucestershire), which he had founded after surviving a shipwreck in 1243.

There is no evidence of Richard of Cornwall having any association with Marlow until 1231 when two separate events established firm links with the town and the area.  The first was his marriage in Fawley in March 1231 to Isabel Marshal who was a member of one of the leading baronial families of the time.  Isabel already had connections with Marlow through her former husband, the Earl of Gloucester who had died in the autumn of 1230.

It seems the new family spent quite some time in Marlow in the first years after the wedding.   Isabel gave birth to four children during her marriage to Richard.  Their first, John, died in Marlow in September 1233 and may have been born in the town in the preceding year.  He was buried in Reading Abbey, as was the second child, Isabel, who was born in 1233 and died in the following year.  It is possible that Isabel also was born and died in Marlow.  Coupled with the establishment of a deer park by Richard in Marlow in 1233, these births and deaths suggest a close association by the family with the area over a short but intense period.  Unfortunately, we can’t say for sure where the family were resident when they stayed in Marlow.

What is also notable is that Richard did not gain control of the estates of the former Earl of Gloucester including Marlow, except perhaps for temporary custody of them during the period 1239-43.  Instead, Richard did acquire land in Little Marlow, also in 1231.  In that year, one of a series of royal charters granted him the honour of Wallingford that brought with it an estate in Little Marlow.  Given this, it is highly likely that the location of Richard of Cornwall’s deer park is to be found in Little Marlow rather than Great Marlow.

Deer parks were a common feature of the landscape during the medieval period.  It is possible that over 3,000 existed at various points during the period and 50 have been identified to date in Buckinghamshire alone.  These were typically enclosed areas of land preserved for the purpose of the local lord being able to hunt deer, both for food and for sport.

Andy suggested that Warren Wood, which is located in Little Marlow, may be the site for the deer park for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it shares many of the characteristics of other known deer parks in terms of both location and features, in that it is a sloping, wooded site some distance from the main village settlement, on the edge of the parish/manor boundary and on a site that would have been difficult to cultivate.

In addition, the various finds from our investigations to date on the site suggest that it was highly likely that there was a medieval dwelling at Warren Wood, the dating of which is consistent with the establishment of Richard’s deer park in1233.   Dwellings of this type for a park-keeper would have been common in deer parks at this time to help with maintenance and security.

A further clue is offered by the name of the site.  For some time, it has been assumed that the name of the wood derived from the local Borlase Warren family who were prominent local landowners during the eighteenth century.  However, the first record of a map for the wood identifies it as “The Warren”.  Andy explained that the term “warren” had a number of different meanings during the medieval period, but all in some way were associated with the hunting or rearing of animals.

Andy explained that there were some challenges with this interpretation, for example the lack of evidence of a boundary around the Warren Wood site which would have been necessary for keeping the deer in the park.  It is also possible that the name refers to the prior existence of a rabbit warren.  In the early medieval period, rabbits were extremely rare and highly prized, both for their meat and their fur.  They were farmed in specially developed “coneygarths”.  There is documentary evidence showing that Richard maintained rabbit warrens at his other estates so it is possible that Warren Wood also served that purpose.  Interestingly, rabbit warrens were elsewhere maintained alongside deer parks.

There are no further records relating to the deer park in Marlow after Richard’s death.  By the turn of the next century, the number of parks across the country was at its peak and for various reasons it declined after that.  Due largely to the effects of the Black Death and the subsequent labour shortage, it became more and more difficult to maintain the hunting parks and many gradually fell into disuse and were leased out.

Pottery Analysis from Warren Woods –

Pottery expert Paul Blinkhorn
Pottery expert Paul Blinkhorn

(extracted from) Paul Blinkhorn’s Report to AiM

The pottery assemblage comprised 296 sherds with a total weight of 4229g.  It comprised a mixture of Iron Age and medieval fabrics, indicating that there were two entirely separate phases of activity at the site, one in the Early Iron Age (C9th – 5th century BC), and the other in the early 12th – early 13th century.


The following fabric types were noted:
F1:  Sand and Flint.  Moderate to dense sub-rounded quartz up to 0.5mm, most 0.2mm or less.  Sparse angular white flint up to 1mm, some carbonized organic material.  94 sherds, 2423g.

Sherds from the 5-9th century BC Iron Age 300 mm diameter pot
Sherds from the 5-9th century BC Iron Age 300 mm diameter pot

F2:  Coarse flint.  Moderate to dense angular white flint up to 2mm. Moderate to dense sub-rounded quartz up to 0.5mm, most 0.2mm or less, some carbonized organic material.  6 sherds, 51g.

F3:  Fine flint.  Rare to sparse sub-angular flint up to 0.5mm, sparse to moderate sub-rounded quartz up to 0.5mm, most 0.2mm or less, some carbonized organic material.  Thin-walled, burnished vessels.  4 sherds, 17g.

 A cross-section across the Iron Age pit in Trench 6, where the pot was found
A cross-section across the Iron Age pit in Trench 6, where the pot was found

F4:  Shell.  Sparse shell fragments up to 5mm, sparse sub-rounded quartz up to 0.5mm.  Most of the calcareous inclusions had dissolved.  2 sherds, 36g.

The range of fabric types is typical of the Iron Age pottery of the region, and can be paralleled at a number of sites, such as George Street, Aylesbury (Allen and Dalwood 1983) and Oxford Road, Stone (Last, 2001).  Trench 6 produced all but three sherds of the Iron Age pottery from the site.  Most of it consisted of plain bodysherds from different vessels, but all but two sherds from Trench 6, context 3, were from a single vessel.  The pot in question is a large jar (rim diameter = 300mm, 20% complete) which was partially reconstructed, and had a fingertipped rim and two rows of fingertip impressions on the outer body between the rim and shoulder.  It is in reasonably good condition, although all the sherds are slightly abraded.  The fabric is very soft however, so the attrition seems most likely to be due to bioturbation rather than redeposition via human activity.  A large area of the lower body was also reconstructed, and it seems very likely that more of the vessel is stratified beyond the limits of the trench.  The rim-form and decoration is very typical of the pottery of the Late Bronze Age – Early Iron Age period in the south of England (Knight 2002), and suggests a date of the 9th – 5th century BC for the assemblage.


Glazed tile  found on site  - dates are possibly slightly later than the dates of the associated pottery
Glazed tile found on site - dates are possibly slightly later than the dates of the associated pottery

The medieval assemblage was recorded using the coding system of the Milton Keynes Archaeological Unit type-series (e.g. Mynard and Zeepvat 1992; Zeepvat et al. 1994), as follows:

MS3:      Medieval Grey Sandy Wares.  Mid 11th – late 14th century.  188 sherds, 1662g.
MS9:      Brill/Boarstall Ware.  1200-?1600.  1 sherd, 36g.
TLMS3:  Late Medieval Reduced Ware.  Mid 14th – early 16th century.  1 sherd, 4g.

The pottery occurrence by number and weight of sherds per context by fabric type was included by Paul but is too detailed to include here. Each date should be regarded as a terminus post quem.  The bulk of the medieval pottery occurred in Trenches 6, 7 and 8.
Most of the pottery comprised unglazed, sand-tempered wares which can all be regarded as part of the fabric MS3, Medieval Grey Sandy Ware tradition of Buckinghamshire.  It

Animal bone found on site
Animal bone found on Warren Wood site

would also appear that it is mainly is of fairly local manufacture, as the fabric very similar to that of medieval wares from kiln-sites at Great Missenden (Ashworth 1983; Blinkhorn in press) and Denham (McCarthy and Brooks, 1988, 293).  A few sherds were noted with vertical or diagonal incised decoration on the outer bodies.  This is typical of the so-called ‘M40 Ware’ tradition (Hinton 1973).  Such pottery was manufactured at the Denham kiln, and also at Camley Gardens, Maidenhead (Pike 1965).  The Denham scored sherds are dated to the early 12th century in London (Vince 1985, 37), although the kiln itself produced an archaeomagnetic date for its final firing of AD1250 +/-20 (McCarthy and Brooks 1988, 293).  The Camley Gardens wares usually have noticeable flint in the fabric, which the sherds from this site lack, so Denham seems the most likely source of the scored wares, and it is entirely possible that some of the plain sandy wares also come from that source.  All the rimsherds in MS3 were from jars, and there were no obvious jug sherds anywhere amongst the assemblage.  This is a trait more typical of the earlier part of the medieval period, jugs are much more common in the later part of that era.

The largest group, from Trench 7 Context 3, is in good condition and the sherd size is fairly large.  A number of vessels in the group are represented by more than one sherd, and the group appears to be the result of primary deposition, suggesting that there was medieval occupation in the immediate vicinity of the trench.

The only pottery which can be definitely dated to the 13th century is the fragment of Brill/Boarstall ware from Trench 1 Context 1.  Such wares are usually very common on sites of the 13th – 14th century in Buckinghamshire.  For example, this was the case at George Street, Aylesbury (Yeoman 1983), and suggests that activity at Warren Wood did not extend much beyond the beginning of the 13th century.  In addition, glazed London Wares, which are known from sites in High Wycombe (eg. Thompson 2009) from the mid-late 12th century onwards, and Surrey Whitewares, which are common at places such as Maidenhead from the second quarter of the 13th century onwards (eg. Whittingham 2002, 89) are also absent, which reinforces this suggestion.  The single sherd of TLMS3, dated to the 14th century, seems likely to be a stray find.

It would appear therefore that the medieval activity at this site was from the early 12th to the early 13th century, and may have started in the late 11th century.

The four “inner enclosure” trenches at Warren Wood superimposed on our topographical and resistance surveys
The four “inner enclosure” trenches at Warren Wood superimposed on our topographical and resistance surveys

Hardicanut’s Moat in Burnham Beeches and a Speculative Parallel with Warren Wood

Local folklore has it that Hardicanut (Canute’s son and the king of England from 1040 to 1042, also known as Harthacnut) had, as one of his lodges, the intriguing double enclosure in the woods at Burnham Beeches.  After all it’s called Hardicanut’s Moat (as well as Harlequin’s palace and Hartley court).

I would like to talk a little about this intriguing Viking king, but first it is interesting to look at the double enclosure itself, as there are good physical parallels between it and our dig at Warren Wood (albeit on a smaller scale as our entire enclosure is roughly the size of their inner enclosure).  The date range for the construction of both enclosures is the same (see Warren Wood news and article).

Hardicanut’s Moat lies in ancient woodland that was probably once a part of the Royal Windsor forest; the inner enclosure covers one and a half acres, and the outer another eight.  The outer moat and ditch form a somewhat wonky fat diamond shape and the inner enclosure is sub-rectangular and sits at an angle to it.

Hardicanute's moat in Burnham Beeches
After DD and MM Miller, Records of Bucks 1978

The inner enclosure’s ditch is broken by a few gaps, though these are probably not original.  No buildings have been found within the enclosure (but as it is scheduled they may simply not have been found yet).  However, the inner enclosure is divided by several banks and it has been suggested that one may exist between two of these.  There is also evidence of a well (though I couldn’t spot it with the naked eye) and a suggestion of a second building (possibly a kitchen / brew / bake house) nearby.

There are other slightly raised areas, which may be building platforms.
Pottery and building materials are common and easy to spot laying on the surface (especially around the entrance way).  But, sadly these are modern, some probably dating from a local 19th century pottery kiln and others even more recent, from the time the Beeches was used as a vehicle depot for the D-day landings.

Hardicanute’s Moat
Hardicanute’s Moat - taken before the clean up

The ditches and banks of the outer enclosure are much smaller and in poorer condition than those of the inner.  They are believed to have enclosed an area to keep domestic animals, probably pigs and deer, as well as an area for vegetables or grain.  Evidence implies that much of the degradation of the outer banks and ditches has been in the last hundred years.

This leads to the obvious speculation that the outer enclosure at Warren Wood could also have been used for animals or crops.  Warren Wood’s inner enclosure, with its mass of flint and roof tiles, as well as its pottery is an obvious parallel to the probable dwelling in the Burnham Beeches inner enclosure.

Hardicanut’s moat is believed to date from between C12th and C14th, which ties in neatly with the new 12th to early 13th century pottery dates from Warren Wood.  This was the golden age of building moated houses – though surprisingly they were often a fashion item rather than for defence.  There are literally dozens of them in Buckinghamshire, two more lie within Burnham parish alone.

Sadly the date puts the enclosure around two hundred years after the death of Hardicanut, and so it seems that local folklore has played us false!  However, Park Lane lies just 100 metres west of the enclosure and, together with Green Lane and it formed the boundary between Burnham and Dorney.  Green, in a boundary name, is said to derive from the Old English Gemaere and indicates a Saxon origin.  So it is still, just, possible that there is a link to a time before our Viking after all!

This tenuous link was enough to set me off on the trail of Hardicanut, though I no longer believe he had a hunting lodge nearby.  Anyone who has the bad taste to die while making a toast at a wedding, is always interesting to investigate!

Hardicanut – King of England

Coin of Hardicanut
Coin of Hardicanut

Having dispelled the local story that Hardicanut ever lived in Burnham Beeches, I have to say that this is a good thing as, unlike his father Cnut (also spelled Canute) he and his brothers were not pleasant people.  When Hardicanut became king he had his half-brother’s (Harold) body disinterred from Westminster, publicly beheaded, thrown in a sewer, retrieved and then thrown into the Thames.

To be fair, Harold had not only usurped his place as king of England, but had tricked their younger brother, Prince Alfred, into capture and had six hundred of his men barbarously tortured and killed.  Alfred was then stripped naked, tied to a horse, taken from Guildford to the Isle of Ely, where his eyes were torn out and he died miserably a few days later.

Hardicanut was the son of Cnut and Emma of Normandy (who had previously been married to Æthelred the Unready and had held out against Cnut’s invasion after her husband died).  Though Hardicanut was made King of Denmark when his father died, it is unclear why he didn’t also become King of England, though it is possible that it was arranged for him to rule south of the Thames while his brother Harold would reign to the north.  Certainly the penny coin shown supports this as it was struck around at this time.  However, Harold became overall regent.

Hardicanut meeting Magnus of Norway
Hardicanut meeting Magnus of Norway

Fear of invasion from Magnus of Norway probably kept Hardicanut away from England, and two years later in 1037,Harold was accepted by the English as their king.  Having come to an agreement with Magnus, Hardicanut and his mother Emma planned an invasion of England but delayed it as Harold became ill and died.

Hardicanut was welcomed to England with open arms, (probably because he came backed with 62 warships at a time when the English navy had only 16!)  However, as these “peaceful” invaders needed payment, a geld of £21,000 was levied – a huge sum of money for the times.

Although the English were used to a king ruling with a council, Hardicanut ruled as a ruthless and feared autocrat.  He caused great hardship in 1041 by increasing taxes in order to to double the size of the navy at a time of a poor harvest.  His tax gatherers were so harsh that people in Worcester rioted and killed them.  Hardicanut reacted by imposing the legal but unpopular punishment of “harrying” and ordered his earls to burn the town and kill the population. Fortunately most fled.

After a reign of just two years Hardicanute died from a seizure at a riotous drinking bout in Clapham to celebrate the marriage of the daughter oh his Thane, Osgod Clapa. Collapsing whilst making a toast, he never spoke again and died a few days later.  As he had never married and had no children, he was succeeded by another half-brother, Edward the Confessor, restoring the Saxon line for the next quarter of a century.  Hardicanute was buried at Winchester Cathedral where he still lies along with both Cnut and his mother Emma.

By Gerry Palmer

Horemheb, the Forgotten Pharaoh

As soon as our speaker, Gerry Palmer, stood up it was obvious that he was impressed by Horemheb – a virtually unknown Pharaoh from Egypt’s New Kingdom who started his rule just four years after Tutankhamun died. By the end of the evening pretty much everyone else was impressed as well!

Horemheb ruled for between 14 and 27 years around 1300 BC, when the Pyramids were already some 1200 years old. He was the last ruler of Egypt’s 18th dynasty – which is considered by many to be the highpoint of their civilization.

To understand how impressive Horemheb was you need to understand how low the earlier Pharaoh, Akhenaten – the so called “Heretic Pharaoh,” had brought the country. Obsessed by the sun god Aten (Ra) he had dismantled the religious structures of an empire that had lasted for well over a thousand years – and for Egyptians, religion ruled and moulded every aspect of life. He had disbanded the Amun priesthood and, like Henry VIII’s monastic dissolution, he had taken their entire staggering wealth as his own.

He built a new capital at Armana and declared that the only person who was able to talk to the god Aten was him, and perhaps his wife Nefertiti – everyone else had to pray to Akhenaten who, as a semi-divine living god, could pass their requests on. He employed teams of masons to visit temples across the country and remove the name of the old chief god, Amun. He overthrew over a thousand years of artistic convention and changed the style used in temples and palaces and he pretty much let everything else go to pot.

The rule of law broke down across the country. Corruption became endemic; Enemies invaded, beating the Egyptians in major battles and plagues broke out across the country.

In those days the Pharaoh personally had four main tasks to perform: to ensure the Nile flooded every year (but not by too much!), to win battles, to keep the country free from plague and to make the sun rise each morning. Well, at least the sun continued to rise!

Egypt had come to a disastrously low ebb and the Pharaohs that ruled for the next fourteen or so years made little impact. The best was Tutankhamun, but he was very young and much of the power for the first half of his reign lay with his regent and deputy Pharaoh – and that was Horemheb!

Horemheb was also the general in charge of the Army and may have held this post since the reign of Akhenaten.

As the de-facto ruler of the country under Tutankhamun, Horemheb was a main player in moving the capital back to Thebes (modern Luxor) and restoring the old Amun religion. He was probably also responsible for changing the young king’s name to Tutankhamun from Tutankhamun. He was certainly responsible for turning the balance back against Egypt’s enemies – the Hittites in the North and the Nubians in the south.

Horemheb was the son of a minor noble; he became a scribe, then a military scribe, then a general, then commander of the Army and chief scribe of the country. He campaigned successfully in both the north (Egypt’s power extended nearly as far north as Turkey) and in south. But perhaps his greatest military achievement was planning and building a row of major forts along the north of Sinai which protected Egypt and even acted as a secure base for later expansion plans.

As Pharaoh he introduced his “Great Edict,” which effectively restored the rule of law. He imposed draconian punishments on corrupt officials and army officers – especially those that stole his tax money! In doing so he largely wiped out official corruption.

He also put a law court and a (paid) judge in every town throughout the land. His laws were even fair on peasants, who, if they had their tax money stolen, did not have to pay again, as they had been forced to in the past.

Horemheb restored the religion of Amun, along with the priesthood and temples throughout the land – he even gave them back their wealth, power and prestige. Being quite canny, he appointed most of the senior priests from positions in the military to ensure they were loyal to him!

He pulled down Akhenaten’s great Temple to the Aten at Karnak, using the stones as filling for three giant Pylons (50 metre high entrance gateways) as well as half completing the best-known feature of Karnak – the great Hypostyle hall (which is usually and erroneously credited to Seti and Ramesses as they finished it and added their cartouches!)

He also spent a considerable time eradicating traces of the name Aten and the years of the Armana “criminals” so that, effectively, they “officially” never happened and Maat (continuity, order and balance) was restored.

Unusually Horemheb built two tombs, one, near the pyramids at Saqqara, before becoming Pharaoh. He used it as the grave for his two wives (the second was Nefertiti’s sister).

His second tomb in the Valley of the Kings is very large and introduced architectural styles and texts which were copied for a centuries after he died. Some of the decoration in these tombs is amongst the very finest from all of ancient Egypt. His coffin (which was later reused by Ramesses the Great) and one of the statues in the British Museum have only been identified recently and are, again, amongst the finest anywhere.

But what of his Dynasty after his death? Having re-built international links, achieved a peace with the Hittites and a long lasting security for Egypt; having restored religion, law and economy, he still failed in one, all-important aspect. He had no son to rule after him.

Being the man he was, he nominated one of his generals, not just because he had ability but because had a son and a grandson. It was a very good choice as the son became Seti I, one of the greatest Pharaohs, and the grandson became Ramesses the Great who eclipsed even his father.

So is Horemheb known today? Well, it’s true that few have heard of him, but the millions who visit Karnak (the largest temple ever built) will see his great works. For those not lucky enough to visit, his amazing Hypostyle hall appears in Death on the Nile, The Mummy Returns, The Spy Who Loved Me, Lara Croft –The Last Revelation and it even saw Megan Fox in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

And that’s not bad for a man who has been forgotten for over three thousand years!


By Gerry Palmer