BAS Day School 2023

This year’s Day School was held at The Cornerstone, Wokingham, on Saturday 1st April and was chaired by Andrew Hutt.

Recent discoveries in East Berkshire, Fiona MacDonald, Berkshire Archaeology

At Tilehurst Road, Binfield a 10-trench evaluation revealed mediaeval cut ditches and pits, with charcoal spread on top with sherds of mediaeval pottery. There were a lot of wasters indicating manufacture on site but no evidence of the kiln which is presumably nearby.  A single cremation was found in a burial pit and left in situ.  Its top had been truncated by the plough, leaving 500g of burnt material which is not enough for a full body.  Radiocarbon gave dates of 52 BC to 78 AD.

A geophysical survey over 100 hectares  at Hogwood Farm showed a feature 40 m x 40 m which could be moated and some clustering of features.  There are a lot of mediaeval and post-mediaeval features and charcoal was found as was evidence of Romano-British field systems with pits and ditches and evidence of ironworking.  Not all the site will be excavated but to date Parcel 7 has been, showing evidence of a mediaeval enclosure with Roman slag and charcoal pits.

A Lidar survey near California Park has shown features which are probably prehistoric or Roman.  Another at Binfield Park has shown a hollow trackway, and a third has shown a ridge and furrow system near Windsor.

Near Reading rugby club parch marks have been seen which may indicate the presence of a Roman Road.

Recent discoveries in West Berkshire, Beth Asbury on behalf of Sarah Orr, West Berkshire Council

At Coley Farm north of Newbury, a mediaeval vessel was found.  A building demolition in High Street, Theale revealed 17th and 18th century activity.  A drone produced a 3-D image of Walbury hillfort earthworks.  TVAS has submitted a monograph on Neolithic and Bronze Age pits and a late Iron Age linear ditch at Salisbury Road, Hungerford, and a report on Pyle Hill, Greenham with largely Iron Age activity.  Crop marks at Hampstead Norreys were reportedas were the possible remnants of a Merville Battery replica at Inkpen, the site of rehearsals for the D-Day landings.  The Second World War American Military Hospital, Hermitage, was added to the local list.

The Battlefields Trust is running a pilot project, ‘The Battles of Newbury Garden Archaeology Project’ with 150 houses over the 1643 and 1644 Newbury battle sites to see if more information can be gleaned about them from finds

As a result of information received through Planning about buildings which even though listed are now in disrepair the West Berkshire Council Archaeology team is now asking for building records.

Statutory changes mean that the relevant authority must now maintain an Historic Environment Record (HER) and stipulates what information must be within it.  This now includes public art, and any changes to such, such as its construction and dismantling.  Consequently, an appeal has been made for public artistic works, sculptures, and statutes to be notified and added to the HER.

Recently found portable antiquities in Berkshire, Phil Smither, PAS Officer Berkshire 

Metal detecting finds, which are recorded on the PAS database, feed into research.  However, their find locations are not published on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website but are made available to researchers.

Five pierced coins, one dating to the time of Postumus, and the others to the fourth century A.D. point to a possible ritual site.

The account of the second battle of Newbury, 1644, was written 200 years later and explains the manoeuvrings of the opposing sides.  Work with The Battlefields Trust shows that musket balls found to date line up with this account.

In Tilehurst a builder found three tiny pots which no ceramic specialist claims for their period.  The handles are odd, and the fabric shape and size indicate they are probably Roman.

Recent finds include an Iron Age hoard including 26 gold staters which in this case are Celtic, a book clasp dated to 1694 with the inscription ‘His Book’,  i.e., the Bible, and an incomplete mystery coin of good silver in five pieces which may be a groschen (groat) of the Holy Roman Empire dating to the late 16th or early 17th century.

There is a new display of the Padworth Hoard which features 8 English and 2 French coins deposited after 1529 A.D.  Its value at the time would have equated to 20 days’ work for a skilled labourer.

Acquisitions include a silver gilt brooch made from a Henry II Tealby penny of Class C and a Japanese puzzle box from the Roman period.

Calleva and the Roman Conquest, Professor Mike Fulford, Reading University

There is little in the written record about the first couple of years after the Claudian invasion in A.D. 43.  At that time Caractacus may have been in charge of Calleva and resisted the Romans taking it.

There is no evidence of the traditional playing card shaped Roman military fortress at Richborough, Colchester and Calleva in these very early years so, it looks as though the Roman army made use of the defences it found and expelled the original inhabitants.

Work in Insula IX on the buildings from A.D. 44 to 85 shows some imposition of Roman roads but the Iron Age buildings were still extant.

The 1980s Forum Basilica excavations show the early Roman building overlies the Iron Age settlement.  Its position suggests it was a Praetorium built in the A.D. 40s.  It was clearly military as no one else could build like that then. 

Fragments of weaponry including a military dagger pommel, brooches, belt buckles, arrowheads, spearheads, and hobnail boot nails are present in deposits at Calleva from the end of the first century B.C.  Mike thinks these items are Roman.

Human skeletal remains have been found in Calleva in the antiquarian period, in the 1980s and in 2018.  Most are dated to the interface between the Iron Age and the Roman period when instead of being cremated as was usual then, they were buried near to where they had fallen.  DNA profiles and isotopes of these skeletal remains are being sought to compare against those of animals raised at Calleva.

Julie Worsfold

Runnymede Explored Archaeological Investigations, Harry Farmer, National Trust

The site at Ankerwycke is between Heathrow and Staines, next to where the Magna Carta was signed at Runnymede, and is a Scheduled Monument: It was a liminal space between two Saxon boundaries and possibly had spiritual associations. Ankerwycke Priory, a Benedictine nunnery, became a Tudor house after the Dissolution, but that too was demolished and replaced in the 19th century, only to burn down in the 1950s! BAS has carried out geophysical surveys on the site as part of the National Trust’s current project there, Runnymede Explored: A great deal is known about male monastic life in the medieval period, but less about that of women, which this project hopes to address. One finding so far is that pigs were very important to the nunnery – lots of bones and tusks have been excavated – and that the nuns were allowed to take them to forage in the royal forest on the other side of the River Thames by barge! An exhibition about the project is on at Chertsey Museum in Surrey until 9 October:

Gatehampton Villa, Hazel Williams, South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group (SOAG)

This site was identified when Oxford Archaeology carried out an excavation along the railway line but was initially thought to be medieval field boundaries. SOAG undertook fieldwalking there and identified a Roman villa! The site features an 2nd century A.D. farmstead and an 3rd-4th century A.D. corridor villa with two bathhouses and a cess pit attached to the kitchen: Painted wall plaster associated with the hypocaust and a great many tesserae have been found on the site, but, sadly, no in situ mosaics. The villa appears to have been abandoned in c. 380 A.D. and then inhabited by a barn owl that left a layer of rat and mice bones above the floor. This is some of the earliest evidence of black rats in the country! Gatehampton has an important aquifer, which may explain the existence of the two bathhouses. A visiting Young Archaeologists’ Club group tested a footbath by pouring water into it that successfully drained down its surviving lead pipe!

Recent Discoveries at Boxwood, Jo Skerry, BAS, on behalf of the Eling Estate

Jo began researching this Roman site as part of her degree and now on behalf of the Eling Estate: She carried out a metal detecting survey and then surveyed the site’s features with a total station, recording everything with a unique number and using What Three Words ( A 10m grid square has now been created on the site and Jo has been working hard to reinterpret features that were possibly over-enthusiastically identified by a previous researcher, such as by reidentifying a plane crash site and a Roman quarry. Members of the BAS and Berkshire Archaeology Research Group (BARG) have assisted Jo with test pits and LiDAR interpretation. Jo has also carried out fieldwalking at Wellhouse Farm in Wickham and carried out a geophysical survey there too. Jo hopes to involve members of Berkshire Women’s Aid with her ongoing research at Boxwood later this year.

Bricks in East Berkshire, John Harrison, BAS

John provided a very thorough introduction to brick making and types of bricks, recommending Old Bricks: History at Your Feet to those who would like to learn more: When the Romans left Britain, brickmaking seems to have died out and been reintroduced in the 13th century. Although this area has a lot of London clay, it is not all good quality, and brickmaking was not reintroduced here until the 16th century. Clay would be dug in the winter, moulded in the spring, and dried in the summer until the introduction of drying sheds, which lengthened the period bricks could be dried in. Bricks were fired in a similar way to charcoal production until permanent kilns were developed, the simplest being the Scotch kiln. Down draft kilns were later developed and then the (oval-shaped!) circular kiln was patented in 1850 by Frederick Hoffman. When bricks were fashionable in the 17th or 18th century, it was popular for timber-framed houses to be refaced! Many 19th century brickworks also made terracotta decorations for houses and the Victorians enjoyed polychrome brick patterns too. Thomas Lawrence (look out for the ‘TLB’ brick stamp) dominated production in east Berkshire. The company started in Bracknell in the 1860s and was internationally popular until production declined in the 1920s.

report by Beth Asbury

Image: Phil Smither talking about the PAS

Exploring the archaeology, history and heritage of Berkshire