All posts by John Laker

Flint work at Warren Wood

Twelve AIM members took a break from digging on Sunday the 21st of April to attend a ‘flint workshop’ at Warren Wood, run by Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark, a professional archaeologist and flintworking expert.

Hugo gave a demonstration of flint tool production and flint identification and began by showing the group what man-made flint tools and waste flakes look like and the changes that pieces of flint undergo when heated.

Hugo then demonstrated how some of these flint tools were made (see photograph), by a process known as knapping, culminating in him creating a hand axe from a large piece of flint which he had brought along (see photograph on page 2).

He then showed us an amazing collection of ancient and modern manufactured flints; from arrow heads, to scrapers, to hand axes. Hugo had also manufactured a replica arrow head, which was recently presented as a trophy to Time Team’s Phil Harding on being voted the Archaeologist of the Year.

AIM restarted its excavations in Warren Wood in April. The site was thought to be a medieval enclosure, but has revealed itself to be a site with a much older occupation. Further information can be found by visiting the Archaeology in Marlow website, www.archaeologyinmarlow.org.uk.

 

See page five for more information about AIM work at Warren Wood

 

Excavations at Elizabeth House, (St Johns College, Oxford)

An excellent evening with Steve Ford of Thames Valley Archaeological Services detailing the evaluation and investigation of an area being redeveloped following the demolition of a 1950s building.  The new plans included basement levels, so deep excavations were included.

The area lies on local gravels overlain with alluvial soils.  An evaluation in 2008 uncovered medieval remains, a mass grave and an unexplained “linear spread” some 10m across.

This material was later shown to be the upper extent of a curving ditch, 7 – 9 m wide at the top, about 2.5m deep and between 120 – 150m in diameter with an outer bank i.e. an henge.  Decorated Beaker pottery, cow bones and charcoal was found and carbon dated to 2,200 BC.  At the very bottom of the dug out ditch were several red deer antler picks.  A separate finding, during pipe laying in a nearby road, confirmed that this was indeed a circular structure, 120m across.  Dating of a nearby hearth and charcoal gave a date of 2100 – 1950 BC.

A  wealth of Neolithic sites have and continue to be uncovered in the Thames Valley area; with well know henge ditches at Dorchester and Stanton Harcourt, each with large numbers of nearby ploughed-out barrows, ring ditches, pits etc. it obviously was a major bronze age area ending about 2000 BC.

Near to this ditch were human remains of 36 young males, muscular and tall, all showing evidence of a violent death, with sword and spear wounds, often from behind, limbs slashed clear through and decapitations.  The articulated bodies were then dumped in a mass burial, but no grave goods, weapons or clothes fastenings were ever found.  Bones were radio carbon dated to about 1000AD.

Steve detailed at some length, information that could be relevant.  In 994 Ethelred employed Viking mercenaries, paid in “land”.  In the 1300s John of Wallingford wrote of Athelred ordering a killing of male Danes, giving the year as 1004AD (Charter to Oxford).  Supposedly the Danes took refuge in a church which was subsequently torched.  The Danes were slaughtered and the church rebuilt later.  This event was later described as the St Brice’s Day Massacre.  Isotope testing of bones showed that many were from north and eastern europe, they were not people of local origin.  It fits, but whether true or not will probably never be known.  What is odd is that the burial ground does not appear to have been built on or used.

Medieval and later archaeology was uncovered.  The parish of St. Giles (Oxford) and the church date from the 12th century.  Evidence of buildings, ovens, a well and pits as well as a solidly constructed post pad were exposed.  Evidence of C13 occupation was found but there was little from the C14 and C15, the time of Plague and Black Death.

St John’s bought the land in the later C15.  The footings of two buildings are known as well as sections of wall.

Maps of 1587 and 1673 exist and give details of the current buildings, barns etc. and of the layout of streets and by-ways.  Black Hall farm and its outbuilding shown on the later map were demolished in the early 1700s and the area redeveloped as an ornamental garden, later to be built on again as the Oxford Universities increased.

This proved to be an incredible piece of land, not far from the middle of the city but with multiple layers of occupation covering a time span of 4000 years and re-writing much of the history of the area.

Gerry Platten

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

Warren Wood Investigations – December 2012

In order to evaluate other local sites, which may be similar to the Warren Wood enclosures, our Chairman, Andy Ford, arranged a visit to Naphill Common and Park Wood, Bradenham, on Sunday 2nd of December 2012. Andy’s report follows.

There are certain winter mornings when you feel impelled to put the walking boots on and venture forth – the sky is clear and blue, the air clean and fresh, the ground a blanket of early morning frost and the Chiltern hills are at their most inviting.  Thankfully, Sunday 2 December was just such a day as a small but select group of AIM members gathered at the church in Bradenham village to explore two of the local archaeological sites.

Our purpose was to visit Naphill Common and Park Wood to explore sites that have, at least on paper, some similarities with the enclosures at Warren Wood that we have been investigating and excavating over the last few years.  By so doing, we hoped to be able to better understand Warren Wood as possibly part of a pattern of similar settlements across the Chiltern hills.

The site at Naphill Common (grid reference SU 8365 9687) consists of a simple rectangular enclosure approximately one kilometre east of the Bradenham church.  It is reached quite easily via footpaths up a relatively steep incline from Bradenham village and is on open access land.

While it lacks the complexity of the double-enclosure structure of Warren Wood, the site at Naphill Common does have a number of similarities with the former – it is at a similar height above sea level, is of a similar size and is in dense, most likely old, woodland.  It consists of a ditch with some remains of a slight rampart and, in places, both inner and outer banks.  The archaeological finds there have included a portion of a broad swordblade, iron slag suggesting industrial activity at the site and Romano-British pottery sherds.  There is a very helpful interpretation board near the site covering the whole of Naphill Common that suggests the enclosure is Romano-British in origin, but other schools of thought argue it is more likely medieval given its rectangular form.  One of the more interesting features at the site – and notably lacking in our interpretation to date of Warren Wood – is a large dewpond next to one side of the enclosure.

The group located the site with relative ease, notwithstanding the prodigious quantities of mud on the footpath that presented something of a hurdle, and bravely fought their way through the undergrowth to follow the line of the bank and the ditch around the full extent of the enclosure.  In truth, the outwardly mundane nature of the site means that it is unlikely ever to make it into anyone’s list of “top 10 places to visit in Buckinghamshire”. But for those who do venture off the path into the wood, it does pay dividends – at times the line of the bank is as clear as that at Warren Wood and the ditch occasionally surprisingly wide.  All in all, the site serves as a useful reminder that such ancient enclosures are a common feature of this part of the Chilterns and that Warren Wood is far from being unique.  Indeed, previous research in the 1990s by Andrew Pike identified potentially more than a dozen similar sites in the south Chilterns.

As an aside, Naphill Common is well worth a visit for other reasons – there are intriguing “clumps” of trees whose purpose remains a mystery and a wealth of flora around the common.  Of particular mention must be the rare juniper tree near the enclosure site, joyfully identified by one of our more observant group members.

The site at Park Wood (SU 8265 9815) is an altogether different proposition.  It is approximately one kilometre north of Bradenham and can again be reached with relative ease by footpaths from the village, although the final 100 metres or so involves a steep climb through dense and sometimes unforgiving woodland.  Extensive archaeological investigations were undertaken here during the 1970s and are well-described in an article in Records of Bucks, 1979.

There are a large number of small archaeological sites spread across a wide area towards the top of the slope in Park Wood.  These can be located with relative ease in the woodland with the aid of a GPS system – however, on this occasion, the Chairman had unfortunately failed to charge the battery on his and the group had to resort to older forms of amateur orienteering in an attempt to interpret the site!  While this was initially somewhat frustrating (and embarrassing for the Chairman), it did eventually bear fruit, but whether by luck or judgement must remain a matter for some debate.

 

The site has been identified as the remains of a medieval homestead, probably dating from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries.  Amidst a complex series of banks, a number of buildings have been identified, most notably a raised rectangular house, approximately 5m wide and 10m long and with seemingly substantial flint walls (see photo).

Also recorded on the site are possible dewponds and potentially even a dovecote.  The existence of the latter, alongside the nature of the pottery finds at the site, suggest some refinement, possibly even touches of luxury, in the lives of the occupants of the settlement.  Other finds at the site have included tiles, iron objects, iron nails, copper alloy pan, slag and animal bones, all pointing to medieval occupation, as does the find of coin from 1205 or soon after.

There are strong similarities between the dating of the finds at Park Wood and the dating of some of the finds at Warren Wood which also point to medieval occupation at a very similar time.  If nothing else, the clear existence of a medieval flint-walled dwelling at Park Wood should give us further hope that we may have found a similar building in our work to date at Warren Wood – and help to focus further our investigations next year and beyond.

It is also worth noting that there it is possible that the dwelling at Park Wood was associated with hunting in the area.  The name alone suggests the existence of a deer park in the vicinity and there are certainly records of the existence of one in Bradenham, albeit nothing that definitively predates the Tudor period.  The investigations in the 1970s did also identify the potential boundary of a possible deer park surrounding Park Wood and much of the nearby area to the north and west of Bradenham village.  All of which does leave open the possibility that the house at Park Wood was the dwelling of the local park-keeper, a theory that has also been put forward to explain the purpose of Warren Wood.

After much wandering through the wood, the group took great solace in finding many of the sites identified in the 1970s’ investigations – although there remained much confusion about whether they had found them all in anything like the right order!  A further visit at some point in the future with the aid of a GPS might assist – but at least we know for sure now where the key medieval dwelling is located.

The journey back to Bradenham village was further enhanced by our resident flora expert (aka Gerry Platten) identifying what was undeniably an impressive fungal circle around a beech tree near the path – later identified as a collection of trooping funnels.  In short, an educational and rewarding expedition on many levels!

So in summary, these two sites provide strong evidence that Warren Wood is far from unique as well as helping us with more clues as to its purpose(s). There are other sites in the vicinity that warrant similar investigations and we will therefore look into arranging further visits for some time in 2013.

 

Christmas Quiz

Four teams assembled in the Garden Room of Liston Hall on Thursday the 13th of December to listen to Question Master Mike Miller (see photo’), who read out the 50 general knowledge questions kindly supplied by AIM member Keith Bracey.

Prior to  Mike’s inquisition, mulled wine, soft drinks, mince pies and other savouries, plus a selection of  sweet nibbles, were served up for the willing (and not so willing) contestants (see photo’) and a good quantity of raffle tickets were sold.

Once 30 questions had been asked, glasses were refilled and appetites salved. As we had assembled around 40 raffle prizes, half of these were raffled off prior to returning to the quiz.

20 questions later, the ‘We Three Queens’ team emerged triumphantly (by one point) and each team member was awarded a Terry’s chocolate orange, or a bag of chocolate money.

Drinks and food were topped up and then the raffle recommenced until no prizes were left. However, everyone won at least two prizes and these generally outweighed the expenditure. So, a fun evening was had by all and small profit boosted AIM’s funds.

Many thanks to all those who contributed raffle prizes  –  Saddle Safari, Andrew Milsom, the Market (fruit, veg, fish [voucher], Sicilian foods [voucher], bird and dog food), Hunts Hardware, Burgers [voucher], Jean Raymond and a significant number of generous AIM members.

 

AIM’s Visit to Naphill Common and Park Wood, Bradenham 2nd December 2012

There are certain winter mornings when you feel impelled to put the walking boots on and venture forth – the sky is clear and blue, the air clean and fresh, the ground a blanket of early morning frost and the Chiltern hills are at their most inviting.  Thankfully, Sunday 2 December was just such a day as a small but select group of AIM members gathered at the church in Bradenham village to explore two of the local archaeological sites.

Our purpose was to visit Naphill Common and Park Wood to explore sites that have, at least on paper, some similarities with the enclosures at Warren Wood that we have been investigating and excavating over the last few years.  By so doing, we hoped to be able to better understand Warren Wood as possibly part of a pattern of similar settlements across the Chiltern hills.

The site at Naphill Common (grid reference SU 8365 9687) consists of a simple rectangular enclosure approximately one kilometre east of the Bradenham church.  It is reached quite easily via footpaths up a relatively steep incline from Bradenham village and is on open access land.

While it lacks the complexity of the double-enclosure structure of Warren Wood, the site at Naphill Common does have a number of similarities with the former – it is at a similar height above sea level, is of a similar size and is in dense, most likely old, woodland.  It consists of a ditch with some remains of a slight rampart and, in places, both inner and outer banks.  The archaeological finds there have included a portion of a broad swordblade, iron slag suggesting industrial activity at the site and Romano-British pottery sherds.   There is a very helpful interpretation board (see photograph below) near the site covering the whole of Naphill Common that suggests the enclosure is Romano-British in origin, but other schools of thought argue it is more likely medieval given its rectangular form.

AIM Naphill&Bradenham121202 (0) (640x426)

One of the more interesting features at the site – and notably lacking in our interpretation to date of Warren Wood – is a large dewpond next to one side of the enclosure.
The group located the site with relative ease, notwithstanding the prodigious quantities of mud on the footpath that presented something of a hurdle, and bravely fought their way through the undergrowth to follow the line of the bank and the ditch around the full extent of the enclosure.  In truth, the outwardly mundane nature of the site means that it is unlikely ever to make it into anyone’s list of “top 10 places to visit in Buckinghamshire”. But for those who do venture off the path into the wood, it does pay dividends – at times the line of the bank is as clear as that at Warren Wood and the ditch occasionally surprisingly wide.  All in all, the site serves as a useful reminder that such ancient enclosures are a common feature of this part of the Chilterns and that Warren Wood is far from being unique.  Indeed, previous research in the 1990s by Andrew Pike identified potentially more than a dozen similar sites in the south Chilterns.

As an aside, Naphill Common is well worth a visit for other reasons – there are intriguing “clumps” of trees whose purpose remains a mystery and a wealth of flora around the common.  Of particular mention must be the rare juniper tree near the enclosure site, joyfully identified by one of our more observant group members.

The site at Park Wood (SU 8265 9815) is an altogether different proposition.  It is approximately one kilometre north of Bradenham and can again be reached with relative ease by footpaths from the village, although the final 100 metres or so involves a steep climb through dense and sometimes unforgiving woodland.  Extensive archaeological investigations were undertaken here during the 1970s and are well-described in an article in Records of Bucks, 1979. There are a large number of small archaeological sites spread across a wide area towards the top of the slope in Park Wood.  These can be located with relative ease in the woodland with the aid of a GPS system – however, on this occasion, the Chairman had unfortunately failed to charge the battery on his and the group had to resort to older forms of amateur orienteering in an attempt to interpret the site!

The site has been identified as the remains of a medieval homestead, probably dating from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries.  Amidst a complex series of banks, a number of buildings have been identified, most notably a raised rectangular house, approximately 5m wide and 10m long and with seemingly substantial flint walls (see photograph below).

AIM Naphill&Bradenham121202 (4) (640x426)

Also recorded on the site are possible dewponds and potentially even a dovecote.  The existence of the latter, alongside the nature of the pottery finds at the site, suggest some refinement, possibly even touches of luxury, in the lives of the occupants of the settlement.  Other finds at the site have included tiles, iron objects, iron nails, copper alloy pan, slag and animal bones, all pointing to medieval occupation, as does the find of coin from 1205 or soon after.

There are strong similarities between the dating of the finds at Park Wood and the dating of some of the finds at Warren Wood which also point to medieval occupation at a very similar time.  If nothing else, the clear existence of a medieval flint-walled dwelling at Park Wood should give us further hope that we may have found a similar building in our work to date at Warren Wood – and help to focus further our investigations next year and beyond.

It is also worth noting that it is possible that the dwelling at Park Wood was associated with hunting in the area.  The name alone suggests the existence of a deer park in the vicinity and there are certainly records of the existence of one in Bradenham, albeit nothing that definitively predates the Tudor period.  The investigations in the 1970s did also identify the potential boundary of a possible deer park surrounding Park Wood and much of the nearby area to the north and west of Bradenham village.  All of which does leave open the possibility that the house at Park Wood was the dwelling of the local park-keeper, a theory that has also been put forward to explain the purpose of Warren Wood.
After much wandering through the wood, the group took great solace in finding many of the sites identified in the 1970s’ investigations – although there remained much confusion about whether they had found them all in anything like the right order!  A further visit at some point in the future with the aid of a GPS might assist – but at least we know for sure now where the key medieval dwelling is located.

The journey back to Bradenham village was further enhanced by our resident flora expert (aka Gerry Platten) identifying what was undeniably an impressive fungal circle around a beech tree near the path – later identified as a collection of trooping funnels.  In short, an educational and rewarding expedition on many levels!

So in summary, these two sites provide strong evidence that Warren Wood is far from unique as well as helping us with more clues as to its purpose(s). There are other sites in the vicinity that warrant similar investigations and we will therefore look into arranging further visits for some time in 2013.

by Andy Ford

 

 

Warren Wood Investigations – November 2012

Only one visit was made to the site in November. On Sunday, the 11th, Four AIM members endeavoured to survey the outer enclosure (see photographs below).

A sunny day at Warren Wood
Total Station in use

Pegs and poles were inserted on the bank of the outer enclosure every 7/8 metres. Measurements were then recorded on AIM’s Total Station at these points and at one metres distances up and down Trench 9 (see graphic below).

Red dots show trench 9 and the high points of the bank of the outer enclosure overlaid on previous hachure drawing of the inner and outer enclosures

 

 

Roman Archaeology in South Bucks

On Wednesday 7 November 2012 at the Denton Rooms, Marlow Methodist Church Allan Wilson visited AIM to give a talk on Roman Archaeology in South Bucks. Allan has tutored courses in archaeology, is an expert on Roman Archaeology and has written a book recently on Roman and Native in Scotland. He said that this talk would be his personal perspective on the subject, as a great deal of excavations had either not been published or the finds lost, so not all may agree with his thoughts.

Allan explained he would look at the Iron Age, the Roman Military Advance, Communications, Urbanisation and the Rural Economy including Roman villas in the area.

He firstly defined the territory of the Catuvellauni in which South Bucks lay.   Their territory was bounded by the Rivers, Lea, Nene, Cherwell and Thames.  The capital of this large area was Verulamium (St Albans) and there were other towns in their area, e.g. Towcester and Water Newton, and nearby was Silchester, the capital of the neighbouring Atrebates.

He showed us slides and talked of various Iron Age hillforts including Ivinghoe Beacon, Cheddington, Boddington Hill, Pulpit Hill, and Dyke Hills and mentioned that as recently as this summer it was reported that  a Claudian Roman fort had been found in London.

He then showed slides of Roman roads and possible Roman roads and discussed these and mentioned that in Henley, at an excavation in Bell Street, Roman levels had been found.   He also mentioned a report in Records of Bucks in 1970 that suggested that there was a Roman road near the line of the A40 running from Uxbridge to West Wycombe and beyond.

Allan had drawn outlines of some of the Roman Villas he would then discuss, Latimer, High Wycombe, Saunderton Lee, Saunderton, Yewdon, Mill End, Cox Green and Harpsden

Latimer had 3 periods of Roman, 4 post Roman and 5 modern periods of occupation. At Sarratt, Chess Valley Archaeological Society had done extensive field walking.

The villa at Little Missenden has been taken sufficiently seriously for the HS2 to be rerouted because of it.  When the Amersham Bypass was created, there were many finds from the sizeable villa at Shardloes, Mantles Green and Old Amersham.

With regard to Marlow, Allan said that 2 Roman figurines were found in 1870 and it was also reported that tiles and wall plaster of 1 – 4th Cen. AD were found.  It has been suggested that there might be a shrine at Marlow but without further information he couldn’t really comment.

The next villa he mentioned was The Rye at High Wycombe, saying there was controversy here. There were references to a fortress at Holywell Mead following finds made there between 1722 and 1724 but although a villa, bathhouse and other buildings have been identified, Allan said there is no evidence of a fortress.  He said that there is a just published report which identifies parch marks which could indicate another villa on the site.

He then came on to the areas along the Saunderton gap and the Chilterns including Little Kimble which has been excavated but no reports published.  At Hambledon, the original excavation report on Yewden Villa mentions 70 styli, 40 corn dryers and 97 infant burials.  Peter Salway suggested it may have been the site of a rural female slave trade.  At Mill End there were 4 periods of occupation.  Bix had been excavated but not published and at Harpsden, excavations showed a small winged villa built in the 3rd Cen. AD, part of which is underneath the 16th hole of Henley Golf Course

Allan also touched on Romano British cemeteries, the most important being at West Wycombe, alongside the A40. Apparently when the lakes were drained on the West Wycombe estate more material was found.

Our thanks to Allan for an interesting and informative talk.

by Ann Pitwell

 

 

Finds from the River Thames: The Thames Water Collection

Jill Greenaway spoke to the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group on 6 November about this collection which she curates at Reading Museum. Around 500 items were discovered from the non-tidal part of the Thames, from its source in Gloucestershire up to Teddington Lock, in a period which covered from 1911 to 1980.

An historic agreement with the Thames Conservancy Board (TCB) is allowed for all archaeological items found in this upper section of the river during dredging to be deposited with the Museum on indefinite loan.

Then, in 1996, Thames Water, successor to the TCB, donated the collection to Reading Museum.

Additionally, the collection of river based finds by George W. Smith has bolstered the collection. The speaker told how, after the extensive floods of 1947, a programme of deep dredging was launched which added to the yield.

However, it is likely that many more items were missed. The dredger crews only recovered what they recognised as being of interest and so much may have passed unnoticed. Another problem was identifying the locality as no careful recording was done as the dredger made its passage along the river.  ‘Above or below’ a bridge, lock or riverside pub was as close as they normally got. Thus, no evidence could be deduced from the finds with any accuracy, such as crossing points on the river.

Finders were rewarded with ten shillings for items handed in but this was a sum that was not increased from when it was instituted in 1932!  We were reminded that, in the days before municipally-organised rubbish disposal, rivers were often used as dumps which helps to explain the eclectic nature of the items ranging from Mesolithic flints to Victorian ginger beer bottles.

The most important part of the collection is the large quantity of beautiful Bronze Age and Iron Age metalwork weaponry. Similar discoveries, from the London section of the Thames and other English rivers flowing into the North Sea suggest a prehistoric cult of ritual offerings made to river gods.

However, the speaker was sceptical of the claim that the 23 skulls in the Collection necessarily related to burial rites pointing out that accidental river fatalities – and criminality – over the last 10,000 years may have been equally responsible.

by Jeff Griffiths