All posts by Kathy Bragg

Warren Wood 2010/2011

AIM has finished its project at Warren Wood, which is believed to be a medieval site. Within the double enclosure, we have excavating eight 1 metre x 1 metre test trenches which we hope will date the site more accurately.

So, if you are interested archaeological site work, please call our fieldwork co-ordinator, John Laker, on 01628 481792 for more information. If you are not an AIM member and wish to be covered by our insurance, temporary membership is available on the day at £2/day

“But the Thames is Liquid History” (The non-tidal Thames in the post-medieval period)

“But the Thames is Liquid History” (The non-tidal Thames in the post-medieval period),
A Talk by Jill Hind

Jill Hind works for Oxford Archaeology, having retrained from being a science teacher. Much of her time has been devoted to researching the history of sites across England and Wales in advance of development or for conservation and management plans. Jill is also involved in strategic studies, helping to develop policy and guidance on various aspects of the historic environment. She worked on the preparation of the Urban Archaeological Database for the City of Oxford and this, plus her experience of sites within the area, led to her involvement in the Solent Thames Research Framework project .

Jill started her talk by explaining that although she is an archaeologist, she is not one that gets her hands dirty, most of her work is concerned with policy planning and guidance. She is currently writing about the post medieval period for Oxford Archaeology’s “Thames Through Time” publication.

Tonight she would be covering the post medieval Thames and its tributaries from the start to Teddington Lock which is the non-tidal part looking at the history of the area from 1540 to 1900, through archaeological investigations and surviving structures/buildings. The Thames obviously had a huge impact on communication, resources, settlement and recreation and Jill covered various aspects of locks, mills, bridges, railways, turnpike roads, wharves, boatyards along this part of the Thames.

Jill explained that the Thames was not navigable the whole way at this time. In 1635 flash locks were replaced with pound locks which were more efficient, originally they were turf sided with timber lining and later stone was used. She mentioned that Wessex Archaeology had investigated the restored Monkey Lock, a scheduled ancient monument. Canals were also built to widen and straighten or bypass the river where it was impassable.

Bridges included lift and swing types; there are two remaining toll bridges, at Whitchurch and Swinford. Jill showed us picture of the Maidenhead railway bridge and mentioned that Windsor bridge was the same design as the Tamar road bridge. Oxford swing bridge, which carried the LMS railway line, is a scheduled monument.

Railways brought more prosperity to the area, people and goods could be moved much faster than by water, however not everyone thought it a good idea, Oxford University opposed the railway station, it was the same for Eton college. Queen Victoria was also reported to be unhappy about it.

In the late 17th century Turnpike Acts enabled tolls to be collected on roads and made it mandatory to list the charges. The High Wycombe toll house is now housed at Chiltern Open Air Museum, there is also one on Folly Bridge at Oxford, now used as a newsagents.

Mills were obviously prevalent along the river, as were paper mills, one with a tar paper roof, (tubes of tar paper were also used for building walls). Jill also talked about the Brick kilns, and pottery kilns at Nettlebed and Boarstall where some excavations had taken place.

Other items of interest were the timber factories, especially in High Wycombe and the micro brewery in Thame; Osney was the first electric power station in Oxford and Ravenscroft lead crystal used sand from the Stonor estate.

Jill explained that the post medieval period was not popular for excavating because a lot of the buildings had been either knocked down or had been reused.

Jill’s talk was full of information and she gave us an insight to the history of this great river.

Iron Age Hillforts of Marlow and Taplow

As a landscape archaeologist, Dr Paul Tubb considers that Bockmer lane (adjacent to Medmenham Camp) is probably an ancient North-South route as it continues in field boundaries beyond the lane itself, and that both Medmenham and Danesfield Camps are there to control this access to the River. This doesn’t necessarily imply that hillforts are always about defence; it is difficult to adequately defend so large an area and so we should regard these structures as a statement in the landscape. It’s all about being seen and saying ‘I am here’.

As Archaeology in Marlow have surveyed Medmenham Camp, both dimensionally, and partially with geophysics, Dr Tubb went on to consider these results. There is certainly a suggestion of a ring ditch, implying that the site may have been of some importance before the hillfort was constructed. The area on the geophysical results thought to have been a dewpond, Dr Tubb thinks is probably more like to be as the results of quarrying, as it looks to have gone down to the bedrock.

The location of Danesfield was probably picked because of the naturally steep cliff and its position in a reentrant valley. Not much can be said about the site in terms of previous archaeological reports as they do not seem to be available, but Danesfield and Medmenham are unusual in that both seem to have their entrances in the Northwest quadrant, whereas a significant proportion of hillforts (40%) have their entrances to the East. There has been no Early Iron Age pottery recorded and this ties in with the theory that hillforts in the Chilterns tend to be more Middle Iron Age, than Early Iron Age.

Medmenham and Danesfield are peculiarly close together. It has been suggested that they were constructed by two different tribes, but Dr Tubb points out that just South of Swindon, there are two hillforts, Barbury and Liddington, similarly close together, but not contemporary. Liddington is earlier than Barbury. So it is possible that the two Marlow hillforts represent a shift from one site to another, rather than the two sites being contemporary. More work needs to be done to establish dating evidence.

Further down the river, Taplow suffered from being misidentified as a garden feature. It’s not clear how this happened as it was identified on the maps.
Oxford report findings show enclosures small early and larger later one, with the mound inside the bottom of the later enclosure and lots of metal finds.

There was a series of fencelines and postholes, parallel, following approximately same course. All aligned, but using different construction techniques, sometimes inheriting features from previous constructions, notably a v-shaped ditch lined with trees similar to Boscombe Down lines of postholes. There was then a period of abandonment 500 years and then u-shaped ditches that don’t respect the old palisade lines, eventually replaced with a huge earth rampart, replacing the timber.

Wittenham clumps similar to Taplow as there’s an inner late bronze age enclosure, middle ironage round it, and outside (in car park) black earth site. Black earth sites are areas of darker, greasier soil with feasting debris and deliberate deposits of domestic material. Sometimes these sites can be several feet thick and spread over a large area. To call them middens is missing some of their symbolic purpose. Blewburton hill has black earth rampart-outlines, covered in chalk, underneath the earth ramparts, possibly using the past to validate their present by incorporating this older material into their new structure.

Generally hillforts usually have associated field systems and these have not been yet located for the Marlow hillforts and it would be interesting to see where they were. It is important to remember that not all hillforts were occupied and could in fact have been a location to assess what is “on the hoof” as cattle were an important resource in prehistory, as now.

Balksbury has intact delta enclosure shallow ditch with bank inside it. During the Bronze Age the area inside of the hillfort was probably used for cattle (black earth etc in one corner particularly), but in the Early Iron Age it was completely empty, and was reused and settled in the Late Iron Age.

When looking at hillforts, it’s important to consider the activity that occurs outside the hillfort. As well as black-earth sites, other evidence exists outside the ramparts of hillforts. Outside Cherbury fake copper vessels were found (copper becoming scarce by this point) and some new-fangled iron pins for decoration. Iron was not used in the same way as bronze, initially, it was a material of decoration, of special status-indicating items.

Dr Paul Tubb is a landscape archaeologist with 30 years experience, mostly in the chalklands of Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire. He is particularly interested in Bronze and Iron Age settlement. He is a tutor on the Part-Time Archaeology degree course at Bristol University and also teaches Continuing Education courses at Oxford and Reading.

Chairmaking in the Chilterns

Although it was a cold, wet day and evening there was a good attendance for Dr Catherine Grigg’s talk entitled “Chairmaking in the Chilterns.” Catherine is the Collections Officer at Wycombe Museum (formally known as the Chair Museum).

The audience was introduced to various chair designs, depending on the mode of construction, and then concentrated on Windsor Chairs, the style that made the Lower Chilterns famous. A Windsor chair can be described as a stool with a back and, sometimes, arm-rests, and where all of the main parts fit into holes bored or cut into the seat.

The style was first recorded in the 1720’s; and was made in many parts of the country, East Anglia, The North-East, Wales and the Chilterns. These early specimens were made by individual craftsmen, from selected timbers and were made for the wealthy.

As working conditions and standards of living improved in the mid 1800’s there was an ever increasing demand for economically priced chairs for home and commercial use. The chalk hills of the Chilterns had a ready supply of Beech, cheap and easily workable on simple pole lathes in the “green”, (i.e. newly felled and split). Chair turners set up camps all over the local woods, producing chair parts by the thousand. Legs, spindles and stretchers and all the round parts were produced by these men who later became known as the Bodgers. And “No,” Catherine said, the word ”bodge” doesn’t come from Bodger – it was probably the other way around as “Bodger” only dates from the early 20th Century.

Catherine also mentioned that High Wycombe had the first fire brigade in Bucks – probably because of all the flammable wood and glue! The manufacturers produced the elm seats, shaped the chair backs and arms, often using steam to make the timber more pliable, and shaved and fretted other parts such as the splats. The parts were
then assembled into finished chairs; stained, polished and finished ready for sale.

Catherine’s talk and slides highlighted the tools used by chairmakers, the woods used and the similarities and differences that help to give clues as to where a chair was produced. Subtle changes in the shape or detail of component parts, the method by which pieces are fixed into their sockets and the overall design, all help to identify a chair. Local chairs are less ornate than many others, with slender, elegant legs and with the centre piece in
the back made in one piece also, where the back hoop fits into the seat. If it tapers it isn’t local, if it doesn’t it
probably is!

Windsor chairs remained popular as mass produced items for a hundred years, but by the 1950’s, mechanisation replaced hand craftsmanship. Timber and low-cost furniture were imported and the Bodger was gone from a furniture industry that was, itself, struggling for survival. Today, there does seem to be a renewed interest in wooden chairs and the Windsors are still produced by a few specialist master craftsmen – long-lasting, individual,
traditionally made but costly.

Christmas Quiz

By popular demand, this has now become an annual event. A prize for the winning team. You don’t need to have a team to come to this, just turn up and we arrange teams on the night – but you will need to think of a good name ! Nibbles (sausage rolls, mince pies etc) and drinks (mulled wine etc) will be provided. There will be a raffle as usual. If you have any items for the raffle, please either let me know, especially if it needs collecting, or bring on the night. My number is 01628 481792 (Ann)
Monday 7 December 8 p.m. Garden Room, Liston Hall