Happy Valley

Archaeology In Marlow’s investigations at Happy Valley


In the Summer of 2002 an investigation took place to try to discover the history (and pre-history) of a dry valley, known locally as ‘Happy Valley’.

Happy Valley (SU 835 863 to 837 859) is accessed from Henley Road, Marlow, almost opposite the junction with Pound Lane (see map below). The first 100 metres of the valley has a dozen, or so, houses which have been built on land that used to house greenhouses (ex-Beechwood Nurseries). Happy Valley is a gentle dry valley cutting through the chalk hills towards the river Thames below. The valley has an underground stream, which used to flow directly into the Thames, but has been diverted into the main drainage system (Thames Water PLC) close to Henley Road. A public footpath runs along the floor of the valley in a north easterly direction dividing the valley into two.


OS Map of Happy Valley
Map showing Happy Valley – Ordnance Survey (License No. 100044133)


It is rumoured that the Romans cultivated a vineyard on the north-west facing slope. Troops in the Civil War may have trained on the site. Second World War troops were billeted in the valley and may have given Happy Valley its name.

Peter Ricketts, AIM member and the owner of the land, has a collection of coins from Happy Valley. They include an Iron Coin (a silver unit of Epatticus [approx 30AD]), a Roman coin of Valentianian I (364-375AD), a Charles II Farthing (1674), three George III coins, five George II coins (plus a sixpence of George I or II), a gold coin (Portuguese, dated 1722, John the Vth, ‘The Magnanimous’), six 19th century coins (Victorian) and an ornate watch/clock key (undated). In addition buckles and musket balls have been found on the site.

In late July 2002, Peter intended to plough both sides of the valley. It was arranged that volunteers would ‘field walk’ behind the plough to identify any building materials, or artefacts, that appeared in the turned soil


Partially ploughed south-west side of the valley
Partially ploughed south-west side of the valley


Finds were plotted on a grid consisting of twelve 30 metre strips on each side of the valley. The two grids were then surveyed into the site map using metal Datum Points/Temporary Bench Marks site adjacent to the footpath (see graphic below).

Happy Valley grid map
Happy Valley grid

Fieldwalking in the south-west valley slope identified 1488 artefacts, which were mostly modern (753 pieces of tile, 244 sherds of pottery and 251 pieces of brick). However, amongst the pottery, there were two Iron Age sherds, one Roman and seven that were Medieval. In addition, six buttons, three pieces of clay pipe, three Oyster shells, five animal bones, worked flints and 18 nails were found. Eight of the tile pieces were identified as mostly 17th century; the pot sherds were dated to the 16th and 17th centuries. After identification, the pot and tile pieces were returned to the rows in which they were found.

Fieldwalking in the north-east valley slope identified 392 items, with 11 being relatively ancient. Amongst the pottery there were three Roman sherds and four from the Medieval period. In addition, three buttons, five pieces of clay pipe, and three animal bones were found. After identification, the artefacts were returned to the rows where they were found.

The field walking on the north-east side showed much less waste materials than the south east side, probably with older artefacts. The spread was not so random, but led to no conclusions.

On both sides of the valley, more items were found closer to the Henley Road and present habitation, but a similar concentration was also found at the far end on the field, with the central strips being the sparsest.

Serendipitously, some booklets written by a local author, Hugh Grice, were spotted at an exhibition in August 2002 in Marlow. Hugh had done considerable research on Happy Valley and lent AIM three booklets about it! Hugh says that there was a house standing in the floor of the valley called Redpits Lodge, which was built no later than the late 1700s. It was bought in 1819 by Wadham Wyndham and later the name was changed to Beech Lodge. In I879, Robert Hammond-Chambers bought Beech Lodge for £5,700 and in about 1884 demolished it and built Beechwood House (above the valley) at about the same time. Beechwood House was in turn demolished in the 1950s.

10 coins have been found dating from the reigns of the first three Georges (1714-1820). This may indicate that Redpits Lodge predates the late 1700s, or there was another house on the site prior to Redpits Lodge. The waste materials from the north-east field indicate a building, that may be Redpits Lodge or its predecessor.

Further research has found that five Nissen huts constructed in the valley close to Beechwood house during the Second World War. Twelve or thirteen additional Nissen huts were built, on the higher land adjacent to Beechwood House.

Research is currently being conducted concerning the alleged Roman vineyard at the site, although following receipt of a negative reply from the British Museum, AIM is rapidly running out of potential sources of information.

In conclusion, in general, the artefacts located at Happy Valley tend to confirm the known history of the site. We concluded that it may be worthwhile to arrange one resistivity survey (See below), parallel to the footpath, half way up each side of the valley. After analysis, any significant changes in resistivity readings could be expanded upon by setting out a grid around the anomalies and conducting more detailed resistivity surveys.


Following on from the 2002 investigation, AIM decided to arrange three archaeological training days in October 2003.

The objective of these was to introduce members of Archaeology In Marlow to practical archaeological fieldwork, included surveying techniques, Resistivity, field walking, metal detecting, excavation, location, recording, section drawing, photography and general site safety and working practices.

Specifically, AIM intended to survey in all of the existing marker points (the 24 row corners), observe and plot any significant crop-marks, conduct resistivity surveys on both sides of valley, excavate a trial trench, process any finds, investigate the possibility that a Roman Vineyard existed in the north-east field, conduct metal detecting surveys, ensure all participants were given full training in all site procedures, were aware of correct standards and create a proper record of the work.

Over 18 members attended and everyone was offered the opportunity sessions, on each of the subjects and techniques listed above.

To survey the site, it was necessary to re-confirm and plot the existing Temporary Bench Marks (TBM), which were on site and the strips of the fields (running north-east to south-west) which had been field walked in 2002. The TBM’s were checked and confirmed.

Any unusual marks in the grass and shadows, which were noticeable in both fields, were marked onto the site plan and photographed.

AIM had been advised by resistivity and magnetometry expert Roger Ainslie, of Abingdon Archaeological Geophysics, that it would be beneficial to use the resistivity meter to check a 20m grid rather than long strips. So an area, which was possibly associated with the Roman vineyard, was selected for the resistivity study and excavation. A 20x20m square grid was measured in to the last but one row in the far end of the north-east field (row 23) and plotted onto the site map.

Roger conducted a first resistivity survey, so that any extra detailed surveys could be organised where significant, or unusual, results were found. Readings were downloaded to a laptop for a visual display. The results suggested that there might be a feature 9m up from the base line and 5m in from the northwest side of the grid 2×2 metre square was marked out for excavation. A second 20 metre x 10 metre grid was laid out below the first, for further training and study though nothing significant was found in it.

The last row (row 24) in the north-east field was selected as being in the proximity of the possible Roman vineyard. Metal detecting and find removal methods were demonstrated, including the recognition of different types of metal (eg: ferrous and non-ferrous, copper, lead) and then the field walkers and the metal detectorists traversed the row at two metre intervals. Any artefact was left in situ with a marker of its location, to be recorded later.

Work on the 2×2 metre trial trench started with explanations and a demonstration of the procedures. To assist the trainees, examples of worked flints, pieces of pottery, brick and tile and metal artefacts had been provided by AIM to help with future identification.

The turf was removed from the trench first. The whole area was then trowelled to a depth of about 5cm, in three successive layers.

Once excavated, the locations of the artefacts were recorded. In addition the trench soil was collected and sieved to ensure no artefacts were overlooked. The artefacts were cleaned, washed and sorted into numbered bags.

The area was divided into quarters and the northwest two were trowelled again, until there appeared to be no further artefacts and a layer of dark brown sub-soil had been reached. A number of possible plough lines were found. The section was then measured, drawn and the trench was back-filled with the turf replaced.

The corners of the test pit were surveyed, with the nearest TBM and one of the artefacts was surveyed in to identify its location in the trench. Next the two TBM’s on site were surveyed to the nearest Ordnance Survey Permanent Benchmark, at The Hare & Hounds, on the Henley Road. It was then possible for any position on the site to be co-ordinated with the TBM’s.

In conclusion, the training proved very successful, as everyone had the opportunity to use the equipment and practise the procedures and start to become familiar with archaeological fieldwork. AIM was indebted to Roger, and his wife Sally, for their help and patience whilst training a significant number of volunteers.

Although some interesting results and artefacts were obtained, confirming a general scatter of 18th century or later artefacts, no evidence of a Roman vineyard was found. The artefacts found were probably the result of scatter by casual loss or refuse spreading on agricultural land and orchards. Their dates are probably 18th century or later.

Further detailed resistivity studies in selected areas might be useful to confirm if there are other anomalies or geological features present. In addition it was felt that future investigations could be carried out (see below), especially where maps and aerial photographs show the existence of field boundaries and footpaths.


Aancient footpath in Happy Valley It was decided to investigate the south-west field in 2004. The investigations were to be centred on the ancient footpath which ran almost due west from about halfway along the current footpath (see photograph).

The objective of this investigation was to add to the knowledge gained from the Training Days held in October 2003 and to introduce old and new AIM members to practical archaeological fieldwork on a real archaeological site.

AIM tried to ensure that all participants, were given full training in all site and safety procedures to make them aware of correct standards, so that they could observe and plot any significant crop-marks; lay out a grid across the ancient footpath of at least two 20 metre squares; conduct a metal detecting survey on the area to be surveyed with the magnetometer; to ascertain the heights above sea level of the grids by relating them to the Temporary Bench Marks, previously installed on the site; mark out and excavate a 2×2 metre trial trench, again across the ancient footpath; identify and plot finds and their contexts; wash, process and identify any artefacts found; draw and photograph significant occurrences and artefacts, where appropriate; assemble data and record all investigations to the highest standard; relate any relevant research, from the north-east field, to the Final Report.

15 members attended the site on the two days of Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 12th of August 2004.

AIM had been able to purchase tools through the generosity of AIM members and sponsors’ donations. The more specialised equipment was borrowed from other local organisations. The surveying level, tripod and staff were lent to us by a local surveyor, Trevor Bownass, and the magnetometry meter was provided and operated by a Geoff Deakin, a member of South Oxfordshire Archaeological Society.

The Magnetometry Survey was the first activity to be undertaken. The function of the meter (a Fluxgate Gradiometer) was explained by Geoff and its method of use was demonstrated.

Surveying for magnetic anomolies in Happy ValleyAn ancient footpath ran across the 5th row of the grid in the south-west field. Two 20×20 metre square grids were laid out, the first ran directly across the ancient footpath and covered the proposed excavation trench. Lines were placed out at 1 metre intervals in the 20 metre grids and readings taken at 1 metre intervals to the end of the grid. We were indebted to Geoff Deakin (featured in photograph below) who gave us excellent training whilst conducting the survey for us.

The readings were downloaded to a laptop for a visual display which showed some spikes which related to significantly large pieces of metal. Once these high readings were edited out, no structure, or any anomalies, could be seen from either the shade, or trace, plots.

The heights above sea level of the site under investigation had been established using the TBMs and our Total Station surveying unit.

Metal detecting and find removal methods were demonstrated, including recognition of different types of metal (e.g. ferrous and non-ferrous, copper, lead) and then walkers and metal detectorists traversed the grids at 1 metre spacing. All artefacts were left in situ with a marker of its location, to be recorded later. There were 29 artefacts found in square one, of which 22 were recorded; plus five in square two, all of which were recorded.

Excavation started in the 2×2 metre trial trench by removing the turf, topsoil was trowelled to a depth of about 25 cm and the trench was divided into quarters and the northwest two quarters were trowelled again in two successive contexts, or layers, until there appeared to be no further artefacts and a layer of dark brown sub-soil had been reached.

Before each of these operations was begun, the procedure was explained and a demonstration given, so that all personnel were aware of the correct methods to be used.

Again, AIM brought along examples of identified worked flints, pieces of pottery, brick and tile, metal objects for comparison and training purposes.

After the artefacts’ locations had been recorded, they were cleaned and sorted into bags relating to the squares and the trench’s contexts.

Just over 100 artefacts were discovered in the trial trench. The majority were ceramic (either building materials or pottery) of relative recent date, but 2 clay pipe stems, 8 snails, 12 animal bones, 20 pieces of flint (possible worked and pot boilers) 6 nails, a button and a cartridge case were also unearthed.

At the end of the final day, the trench was back-filled and the turf replaced.

Again, everyone seemed to enjoy the training weekend and all were able to use the equipment and practise the procedures and therefore start to become familiar with archaeological fieldwork.

The artefacts found were probably the result of scatter by casual loss or refuse spreading on agricultural land and orchards. In the main, their dates were probably 18th century or later.

Again some interesting results were achieved and artefacts found, although ‘the footpath’ did not reveal anything spectacular.

The results of this and the earlier work adds to the history of the site. When other priorities are completed AIM may return to Happy Valley to conduct more investigations.


On the 5th of October 2008 and the 26th of April 2009, members of Archaeology in Marlow (AIM) visited Happy Valley on training days to discover the effectiveness of dowsing in archaeology. Dowsers from Thames Valley Dowsers showed AiM members how to dowse and during the visits, most of those dowsing identified four circular features, three around 10 metres in diameter, the fourth being around 20 metres in diameter (see map below). The dowsers thought that these features were likely to be Iron Age round houses.

Map showing circular features which could have been Iron Age round houses
Map showing circular features which could have been Iron Age round houses

So, to establish if Iron Age round houses existed, it was decided to survey the circular features into the site map and then establish where a trial trench could be dug, which might prove their existence. So, a 7.5 metre by 2.5 metre trench was marked out, which crossed the eastern part of the middle circular feature and the western part of the lower circular feature (see map above and photograph below ‘digging commences!’).

It was decided to make the excavation a three day training event. Over three Sunday mornings, volunteers would be able to be schooled in as many aspects and practises in archaeology as possible.

Despite AIM’s considered estimate that the project would take 3 days, the excavations took much longer and the investigation eventually concluded after 11 days of effort!

The turf was removed from the trench and three contexts (levels) were exposed and excavated until natural geology was reached. Within the contexts, 708 artefacts were unearthed, washed, dried and identified. 266 items were relatively modern building materials (brick, tile, glass and slate), although 193 pieces of charcoal were located as well as 58 sherds of pottery (mostly modern), 8 fragments of clay pipes, 46 pieces of flint (possibly worked and pot boilers), 35 pieces of metal, 4 pieces of animal bone, 2 oyster fragments (see photographs below) and 51 snails.

Animal bones Oyster shells

The snails were sent off to ‘snail expert’ Janet Sharpe, who reported as follows.

‘The Happy Valley context may be a mixed deposit. Overall, the assemblage is typical of both short-turfed grassland and a hay meadow; if the land is being cut for hay now, then at some time in the past (and probably not too long ago) it was being grazed by sheep and/or rabbits. The presence of alien species, one at least of which was not present in this country until after the Medieval period, suggests that the context is either disturbed or relatively recent, and certainly not prehistoric’.

Ultimately our attempts to locate Iron Age Round Houses failed. Tantalising evidence of ’drip channels’ proved to be plough marks and changes within soils were just changes within soils.

However, the joint objective was to train AIM members in best archaeological practices. This objective was met and the majority of those attending, not only learnt new skills, but also became proficient in them.

In addition to trowelling, trench management and protection, drawing, surveying, sieving, artefact identification and washing, still and video photography, measuring, trench maintenance and site health and safety, were all conducted to a very high standard.

There is now a team of over a dozen AIM members who are capable of handling most aspects of an excavation of this type.

AIM may return to Happy Valley at a future date, should a suitable project be identified.

By John Laker

One thought on “Happy Valley”

  1. Fascinating reading – thank you – and wonderful to get confirmation of the location of my Gt Gt Gt Grandfather’s home.

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Exploring the Archaeology and History of Marlow