Archaeology, Cymru, Europe, Ewrop, History, Uncategorized, Wales

New Shoots and Tree Roots

Apologies for the lack of activity. I have been chronically unwell (again). That, coupled with the shear volume of material I had collected, and unfortunately also curated, meant I felt I had nothing constructive to offer by the way of a blog post. Finally however, my last operation – hopefully for a while at least – will be on the 22nd of April 2016, so I expect to be able to write happily unencumbered by the usual ever growing rock army of kidney stones.

In among all this internal excitement I have also moved house. We (my wife and our three cats) now live in the flat which used to belong to my paternal grandparents. Built in the 1970s, it is light, bright and airy and most importantly my desk is now by a big window rather than tucked away in the far corner of the last place we lived.

As part of the moving in process I decided I would re-establish the container garden my grandfather maintained, and pots and soil in hand I planted up some heather and lavender and replanted my wife’s strawberry plant. As I stood and admired my handy work from the kitchen window, arm deep in washing up suds, I decided I would work on the material for my PhD chapter on gardens. It is by far the weakest chapter in terms of content and structure, but the strongest in terms of the new discoveries I have made during the research process. Unfortunately, many of these ideas have gone straight into the lecturing notes and Power Point presentations, rather than into the chapter as they should have.

Last summer I was fortunate enough to be one of two archaeologists working on an archaeological excavation in Rhuddlan (Latitude 53.288595; Longitude -3.463749). I’ve blogged about Rhuddlan previously, see:

https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/our-dark-garden/

and

https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/the-medieval-magic-in-pit-t349/

for some context to the area of North Wales I’m talking about.

The excavation was undertaken for a client who had planning permission to build a new house within a medieval burgage plot directly opposite the north-west corner of the Edwardian castle [A burgage was a town rental property owned by a king or lord. The burgage usually, and distinctly, consisted of a house on a long and narrow plot of land with a narrow street frontage]. A preceding archaeological evaluation, which examined only a small percentage of the total area of the site found medieval and post-medieval pottery and hints of some kind of ditch system within the plot.

Documentary research established that the front of the burgage plot was now lost under part of a row of nineteenth century cottages, but the rear of the plot, as far as all the evidence indicated had been unencumbered by buildings and appeared to have always served as a garden in one form or another. My fellow archaeologist and I employed the services of a mechanical excavator to remove the considerable overburden dumped on the plot from the building of both the cottages at the front of the plot but also from the construction of another row of nineteenth century cottages to the western side of the plot.

The archaeological excavation of the medieval deposits revealed that the rear of the plot had not been occupied by a property, but had served as open space within which over the following centuries a series of pits and ditches had been dug, some of which had animal bone within them. However it was something far more ephemeral which was uncovered that I was more excited about for my PhD research.

The natural ground surface (that is the surface into which we find cut the earliest archaeological deposits on any site) was on one part of the site imprinted with the ends of tree roots. This was where a tree had established itself within the soil higher up than the natural and had then tried to extend its tree roots through the natural. In this case, the natural was a very hard and impermeable clay, meaning the tree roots left ‘dents’ as it tried to force its way into the ground.

Tree Roots Not Marked
The site post excavation (after all excavation had been completed). Rhuddlan Edwardian Castle is at the top of the picture. Scale 1x1m.
Tree Roots Marked
The indentations within the red circle are those left by the tree roots as they tried to push through the natural clay.

Why are tree root indentations exciting? The Edwardian castle garden was only 80 metres (262 feet) away and planted on identical geology. Although all above ground evidence, except for the well within the garden has disappeared, the excavations reveal the kind of archaeological evidence we should expect if an excavation on the site of the Edwardian Castle garden was undertaken. And I haven’t given up on the idea that I could be the person to lead and carry out that excavation.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

My Manchester Metropolitan University page – which describes the aims and objectives of my PhD research:

http://www2.mmu.ac.uk/hpp/research/current-phd-students/

You can also help fund my research – which has reached its original funding target. However if you like what you read, then you can still donate.

http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks

My Academia.edu page – where you can download my published research:

http://mmu.academia.edu/SpencerGavinSmith

 

 

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Uncategorized

Shropshire and Everything After

When I started writing my PhD, I made a conscious decision to include North-West Shropshire with the parameters of my data collection. Which, on the face of it, doesn’t appear to be that exciting or ground breaking.

Apart from the small matter that Shropshire is in England and I was also looking at sites in Wales.

When I began reading round the topic I noticed how the Wales – England border defined the remit of book writers, even when the border, in this case, is a permeable construct. Families have, and will always live on both sides of the border for various reasons, so I failed to understand why the books stop when the archaeology, history, geology and topography don’t?

map-of-england-and-wales-border-i10

In some cases I do understand why. Books can be commissioned by national organisations, who by definition, have to stop at the border. But other books, not bound by this parameter, do not.

North-West Shropshire is an integral part of my study. Without reference to it, how would I understand the influences being passed by medieval families living both sides of the border?

Goods and Services also travelled across the border, and can now be found as archaeological finds or written records.

The research into the area around Wem, Oswestry, Whitchurch and Ellesmere is progressing very well, and I’m looking forward to be able to add the information I’ve collated to the already rich record. And as an example the medieval park at Coton near Whixall is perfect.

The park at Coton is mentioned in the Domesday Book. But then, for some reason, references are lacking. It may be that the park didn’t attract any paperwork, simply because the family who owned were not litigated against. Normally, a park only crops up in the record when somebody either breaks into it, or feels they should own part of it for one reason or another.

The park is mentioned in a Survey of 1561 – but appears by this date to be much reduced in size, and by 1833, it surrounded Coton Hall.

coton

The park is still visible – the oval can be seen running to the west of Coton Hall, south to Coton Farm, north with Woodend Hall on the left and then round to Woodside Farm and Home Farm.

This one example also has some visible archaeology outside the park, whilst I was mapping this park I found a building close to Coton Farm.

Coton AP

The Red Circle highlights the foundations of a building, whilst the blue arrow is pointing at the south east boundary of Coton Park.

Further work will enable me to work out the relationship between these two monuments and add to the archaeology of North West Shropshire.