Archaeology

Recording an excavated trench

Recording an excavated trench

 


This place in the centre of the township of Blackden is an archaeological palimpsest. The artefacts that have appeared during routine domestic activities, such as gardening and digging drains, span ten thousand years.

Our archaeological research investigates whether this long sequence reflects uninterrupted settlement or a series of episodes.

In 2009 we organised a training excavation to find, record and characterise traces of a long outbuilding that appears on maps from 1789 and disappears by the end of the 19th century.

Interim report on Archaeological Training excavation at Blackden in 2011

Directors Dr Mark Roberts, Professor Richard Morris

Opening a trench

Opening a trench

A third season of excavations to characterise, date and explain traces of former outbuildings took place in August 2011.

In 2009 a small excavation successfully located a long building which partly lay within the present site and ran into the adjoining field, historically known as Barn Croft. This building is known to have existed by 1789 and was gone by 1900. In 2010 the area of study was extended with results summarised on this website.

In 2011 the substructure of the building was further examined. The building had been thoroughly robbed at the time of its abandonment and has since been heavily disturbed by ploughing. Nonetheless it is possible to see that it was largely timber-built, with substructures variously formed of dry-laid stone blocks, rammed brick and clay. Subsidiary structures stood against and within the main building, part of which had had a close-fitting stone-flagged floor.

The building emerges

The building emerges

Demolition debris suggests that the original building carried a thackstone roof; analysis and quantification of brick fragments points to their local manufacture linked with different episodes of modification or repair. The presence of cullet, fragments of window glass and lead calmes implies recycling on or near the site. Finds included pieces of slate lined out for writing, 17th- to early 20th-century ceramics, whetstones, and a small amount of worked flint.

The 2011 campaign also examined a length of a trackway that ran alongside the barn. The track ran out of the southern corner of the former farm complex and aligned with a former field boundary that appears on air photographs as a crop mark continuing south-east of the railway. Excavation found the track to have followed a ditch cut into interleaved fluvioglacial deposits of sand and clay. The ditch formed part of the surrounding system of field boundaries that is visible on 18th/19th-century maps. The origin of this system is uncertain, but we can see that it existed before the end of the Middle Ages.

Interim report on Archaeological Training Excavation at Blackden in 2009 and 2010

Directors: Dr Mark Roberts, Professor Richard Morris

Detail from the 1789 survey showing the building

Detail from the 1789 survey showing the building

A survey made in 1789, the Tithe Map and first edition of the Ordnance Survey agree that a long building or line of structures lay aslant the south-western boundary of the site. By the end of the 19th century the building had disappeared and the boundary itself has been altered.

The maps disagree as to exactly where the building stood, and in 2009 the Trust undertook a short training excavation to locate and characterise its traces. We opened two test pits just inside the curtilage boundary, and one just outside in the adjoining field (named as 'Barn Croft' in the 1789 survey and later Tithe Award). The inner trial holes were at right angles to the long axis of the structure, whilst the trial trench in the field was set out at right angles to the anticipated gable end. This last trench located a broad band of clay that had been laid in a line corresponding to the gable end. Alongside the clay was charcoal from a burnt timber. A heading laid out at right angles from this trench duly intersected a similar band of clay in a position corresponding with the southern long wall of the building. Both deposits had escaped significant plough damage. At the time we thought it likely that the clay deposits were strip footings, but at that stage it was unclear what sort of structure they might have carried.

Area of excavation

Area of excavation

August 2010 saw a second season of excavation, again for training as well as research purposes, and now on a larger scale, aiming to expose the southern portion of the building. This we duly did, finding traces not of one building but several adjoining smaller structures erected at different times. At the northern end of the excavation the structure was footed on large unmortared sandstone blocks. To the south, a neighbouring foundation was formed of compacted brick rubble that had been rammed down in a trench. The putative clay ' strip footings' turned out to be remnants of a more extensive spread of clay found in association with a spread of comminuted and burnt brick -- apparently, a kiln. Around the buildings, the sandy subsoil bears the marks of ploughing undertaken across the site since the building was levelled and associated activities ceased, following the ending of Toad Hall' s existence as a tenant farm in the 1870s.

Excavating sandstone blocks

Excavating sandstone blocks

 

A third season of work in 2011 will complete study of the structures, which on present evidence were mainly built of timber. Although the buildings were stripped of nearly all re-usable material around the time of their abandonment, a good deal can be told from fragments: small pieces of a closely-fitting stone flag floor, for instance, point to the storage of grain in one area, and similar evidence for roofing materials implies substantial timber trusses for the support of a heavy flag roof. Locally-made bricks are of at least six different kinds, implying either a number of episodes of construction, repeated patching, repeated re-use of the same building materials, or a combination of all three.

Blackden soil is rich in small glacial erratics. An innovation in 2010 was the keeping of all such pieces with a view to their petrological analysis, for the information this can provide on the sources of such stones and hence the directions and distances of their travels.

Rammed brick foundations

Rammed brick foundations

Burnt brick - possibly a kiln

Burnt brick - possibly a kiln

Geophysical Survey
 

Considering land to be surveyed

Considering land to be surveyed

October 2009

Dominic Powlesland and Ed Blinkhorn undertook two sample fluxgate gradiometer surveys on the land around Toad Hall. The sample surveys showed that gradiometry is an appropriate survey method on the soils around Toad Hall. More comprehensive surveys will be undertaken in the future to expose hidden evidence which will be correlated to give us an insight into the history of the site. When they have been analysed, the results will be published on the archaeology page.

Surveying south of The Old Medicine House

Surveying south of The Old Medicine House

Surveying north of Toad Hall

Surveying north of Toad Hall

Photo album

Archaeology

slide show  |  click picture to view detail

Finding pottery sherds in a molehill indicates past use of the place :: 2004:01:01 00:00:00 Finding pottery sherds in a molehill indicates past use of the place Geophysical surveys reveal buried features Finds from Blackden

Finding pottery sherds in a molehill indicates past use of the place

Finding pottery sherds in a molehill indicates past use of the place

Geophysical surveys reveal buried features

Finds from Blackden

Excavation Field walking will yield further evidence of occupation Finds tray Experimental archaeology, such as flint knapping, gives us deeper understanding of ancient artefacts :: 2007:06:30 14:58:29

Excavation

Field walking will yield further evidence of occupation

Finds tray

Experimental archaeology, such as flint knapping, gives us deeper understanding of ancient artefacts

Levelling as part of a survey  :: 2007:08:27 15:06:43 Preparing survey notes :: 2007:08:27 15:10:24 Explaining the work in progress :: 2007:08:27 15:36:14 Opening a trench

Levelling as part of a survey

Preparing survey notes

Explaining the work in progress

Opening a trench

Washing pottery sherds    

Washing pottery sherds

   

Printed on: 13 Dec 2017

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