Welcome (to the future)

Another fine day in the paradise that is the Eastcote House archaeological excavation.  Storm clouds gathered, thought better of it, and departed. We gave so many tours that by the end I could not be sure I was not repeating myself.  Although, since we were giving repeated tours of the same thing, I probably was!

I believe, although this was pretty constant open day activity, that we gave six tours from 9.45 to 15.45, to 25 to 40 people, with a grand total of 223 visitors, including the Mayor, Mayoress, and a descendent of the Hawtrey family, previous occupants of Eastcote House in its heyday.

Thanks to our finds team of Andy and Andy, Simon and Dave who dug some archaeology, Lesley C and the friends, parents of the schoolkids who came during the last two weeks, all the volunteers who cleaned everything that resulted in a clean, excavated and recorded archaeological excavation, I shan’t go on, it sounds like an Oscar Award speech.

What next? is the new question. Well, we have to make our report,  have the finds assessed now that they are cleaned of the dust of time, digitise our plans, prepare presentations for anyone who wants one, but first, we have to fill in our excavation, to return the area to a flat grassy lawn, and get ourselves packed up, so Eastcote can be returned to the lovely park it is.

I’ll post again when we have assessed everything, but roll on 2015 season! Bring a friend, have a dig, enjoy the archaeology, and if you can, bring two friends.

Live long, and prosper.

Les

In time, all these things will be lost, like tears in the rain…

Hi to all reading this. We are gearing up for tomorrow’s open day.  We’ll be giving tours between 10am and 2pm on Sunday at Eastcote House Gardens, to show the archaeology remains and our best finds of this season, and the Friends will be on hand as well with tea and biscuits and info on the gardens.

We concentrated today on some of the things we have to do as a dig comes towards the end. We have been giving our building remains a final clean, in order to take photographs for the archive, for our report, and for showing to local societies and interested groups during talks we can give once we have analysed the findings. We have to record everything we do, to preserve the evidence for future generations

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So, whilst waiting for tomorrow, we have been trowelling the soil horizons that pre-date the extensive buildings of Eastcote House, as proved by the archaeological sequence.

 

South wall of Eastcote House

 

Our training session today was on post-excavation. N

o, not excavation of posts, but how and why we analyse the results. Using the teaching tools of site drawings, site records and dating evidence from finds, we constructed a flow chart of the archaeological sequence (known as a Harris Matrix) compiled by our volunteers. I have never compiled a matrix with a communal effort before, but it worked eventually.

Nearly all of our finds are washed (thanks to the volunteers), but every time we excavate more archaeological soil, we add more finds.

Hurry on sundown, see what tomorrow brings.

Not too much rain, I hope.

Les

Looking at the past

Here we are, on the verge of our last weekend, just as I was getting all our volunteers’ names correct. Sunday is our open day, with tours around the excavations and showing our best finds. The tours are planned to be between 10 and 2, I am sure we will still be there later, depending upon the weather,  and how long it is until the tea and biscuits run out.

We have been working in all our trenches today.  Let’s start with the Ha-ha. One question that we are trying to answer is the origin of the Ha-ha. We have excavated the original slope of the ditch, and found that a drainpipe was inserted into the end of the Ha-ha, protected by a slab and a dump of flint pieces. We should be able to get a date for the construction whilst digging tomorrow. I have a feeling that it looks like a Ha-ha, because the owners felt that they needed one, to keep up with their neighbours!

 

Looking along the Ha-ha
Looking along the Ha-ha

 

We have nearly finished our coach house trench,  so we are sampling the pre-building land surface to see if we can assess the undisturbed sequence of soils. Already, some 15th century pottery has emerged. Anyone who comes to the dig can look at and feel the finds; most have been washed now.

Our main trench reveals the history of the site, from the medieval period until 1965, and we have been shown some plans of Eastcote House, which helps us recognise how the rooms were organised when it became a public building 80 or 90 years ago. It is quite a big area, and shows half of the main building.

Our finds count is approximately:

1000 nails, many bricks and tiles, 100 pieces of pottery, 50 pieces of marble, 20 pieces of decorative plaster, 20 pieces of door fittings, 20 flints, 5 clay tobacco pipe fragments, 4 glass bottles, 3 keys, 2 buttons and one doorbell.

Going now. More tomorrow.

 

It’s ha-ha time!

My Chambers dictionary defines ha-ha as a representation of a laugh. The second definition is ‘a ditch or vertical drop…between a garden and surrounding parkland’. This ditch is present in our third trench this year. It is only a little trench, and is placed to investigate the southern end of a sunken flint wall with a steep sided ditch dropping towards it.

As we expected, the upper levels of soil that had collected in the ditch contained 20th century finds.  We have a Tizer bottle with 3p due on return, a bottle which contained a chocolate milk drink – the ingredients include shagreen (sharkskin) – a stoneware mineral bottle, and smaller, broken pieces. Some of the finds are the result of  accumulation, while others are probably from people seeing a handy ditch to throw rubbish, rather than recycling or taking it to the nearest bin.

It looks as though our ha-ha ditch was originally 2m wide and 1.5m deep, and was probably a grassy slope. Some of the local historians think that this may be less of a ha-ha and more of a drainage ditch. At the moment, I think it may be both. In our excavation is a flat slab with flint blocks on top of it. This may be a secured entry to a drain inserted into the ditch: it looks later. I do wonder whether the slab may have been placed over the burial of a favoured pet though. We will know tomorrow.

 

The ha-ha wall, ditch is being excavated.
The ha-ha wall, ditch is being excavated.

Time for tea now!

What’s going on over there?

Many of the archaeologists have been concentrating on the remains of Eastcote House, and it is now looking really nice and clean. We do have two smaller trenches, and I have been asked several times: ‘What’s going on over there?’

Four of our volunteers have been working occasionally in our ‘coach house’ trench. There are bits and pieces of brick foundations in the trench, but one end had a deep overburden of clay and rubble, and rather than asking our volunteers to excavate horrible, archaeologically sterile soil, I’ve been digging it off when there was free time.

Now that has gone, the coach house remains comprise a 4ft square floor with a foot-worn threshold, and an adjacent fireplace just big enough to heat a small room. Maybe there was a hob grate for a kettle, or perhaps some irons? At the back of the tench, the rear wall of the building only survives as a few bricks.  It looks like the building was less well built than Eastcote House, so when it was demolished by a big machine with a toothed bucket, the foundations were nearly obliterated. Still, the trench does have our only bit of floor so far. Here is the pic of the trench, we will clean it nicely tomorrow. Also tomorrow there may be news from the Ha-ha.

The coach house remains include a floor and fireplace behind it

 

A note on our finds

We are over run by finds. This is largely due to the careful, painstaking work from our volunteers and school classes. What do we think could be the most common finds from a building constructed in c.1580, enlarged piecemeal throughout the centuries and demolished in 1965?

Rather unsurprisingly, bricks and mortar, roof tile, render and other solid building materials. Additionally,  our diggers have collected literally hundreds of nails, and identified window glass.

Big finds include the porch, made of Purbeck Stone, large pieces of ? Italian? marble, pieces of decorative plaster and slate shelves from the basement. Smaller finds include pins, mother-of-pearl buttons, and a couple of coins. The coins are 2 pence piece from 1971 and a penny from 1935. Not rare nor valuable, but to our youngest volunteers,  1971 is virtually antediluvian.

Some of our fixtures and fittings show the form of the house, including H-hinges,  H/L hinges, the front doorbell, key plates, ceiling plaster, cornices; these all add to our knowledge of Eastcote House, where only few photos survive. I wish some panelling and staircases had been saved from the bonfire in 1965.

So it goes.

Now, some pictures of our finds trays.

20140708_150432

 

 

Varios bottles. One says 'tizer'
Varios bottles. One says ‘tizer’

Underground, overground, Wimbledon free…

A full weekend of archaeology, with our volunteers aged between 7 and 77. Everyone has been so much into the archaeology that we had to stop them, or they would still be there now. Instead of Wimbledon tennis finals, it’s the middle weekend of excavations at Eastcote House.

Today included training sessions on surveying and Historic Building Recording, with our digging staff having a break from trowelling and excavating, and other interested people joining the training groups. The surveying used a GPS (Global Positioning System) as well as traditional methods, and was a great opportunity to educate staff with the latest technology, while the building recording complemented yesterday’s laser scanning with our groups applying what they have learned about building materials to spot different periods of construction on the late 16th century stable building.

Todays considerations of the history of the site were inspired by the stable block itself. We know that the stables were constructed of timbers felled in AD 1595. When I was explaining the technology of timber carpentry, specifically mortis and tenon joints, I used an example of a re-used wooden post in part of the earliest roof. In discussions with our trainees, we realised that if this post had been re-used it most likely came from a nearby building demolished before the stables were built…perhaps it came from the mysteriously named Hopkyttes, the cottage on site in 1490.

On the site, our tempting early foundations have been further exposed, but we still need to see more and get some finds before we  can say with confidence that we have revealed building foundations that pre-date the Tudor remains we have uncovered so far.  All we are sure of is that the early foundations are flint and mortar, whilst everything else in the archaeology trenches is built of brick.

Anyone who has been working on the site in the cellar, or watching what we are excavating will be interested to know that we have found a smaller underground room, linked to the main cellar, by a doorway only 0.50m wide. That is less than 2 feet wide (imperial measurements). In three of the walls are little arched sconces with sooting from candles. The little room is just 6 ft square. If anyone can suggest a use for a small room with a small access point in a late 16th century building, drop in a comment. I’ll test any ideas, as long as they stay this side of fantasy…

Sub cellar
excavations in the little cellar. the fence keeps the diggers in.

Two other things. We have another trench, across the remains of a coach house, and we have now a total of three (yes, three) prehistoric flints.

Back on Tuesday

Les

Diversions from digging etc.

Hi, weekend starts, I haven’t managed to blog every day, but now it is the weekend.  Today we had workshops on Laser Scanning and Geophysics, and we had 25 people joining in, including some local Beavers and our regular volunteers (hello Antony and Rosemary). Gemma did a great job surveying the stables: a 3D image of the 1595 building, and we await Alice’s results over the possible old barn. Now, here’s a thing. We think we may have some rubble from a   building demolished immediately before our Tudor building! Is this the previous house named ‘Hopkyttes’, present in 1490?

I’d give you a digipic but we had an afternoon of rain. Despite this, Glenys, Paul, Gery and Jonathon have been in the cellar. We have the front door bell-push, lock plates, and more delicate plaster, pipes, bits of marble fittings and hundreds of Tudor bricks, but I think we can prove that all the fireplaces were salvaged during demolition.

Big cellar
Big cellar

 

Are we digging the ha-ha? Yes, but also rather well-dressed
Are we digging the ha-ha? Yes, but also rather well-dressed

Every day, new finds and new ideas

plaster rosettes or flowersThe remains of Eastcote House are getting more extensive.  If we assume that the bricks can indicate the date of the building’s foundation, then our earliest foundations so far are probably contemporary with the stables. The stable roof has been dendro-dated to 1595, and that would fit with our rectangular Tudor building that lay at the heart of Eastcote.

We can now see our foundations in detail, and the demolition damage is very clear. Enormous scars from the demolition driver’s bucket have ripped through the brickwork,  and it looks as though the internal walls were less substantial; they are virtually non- existent.

BUT

And it’s a big but, the part of the cellar in our main trench looks like it is part of the Tudor building. Our volunteers have been digging vigorously,  to see if we can locate the stairs.  We have no stairs yet, but we have some delightful decorative plaster from the ceiling.  The plaster is very soft, and thanks to volunteer Linda for her dedicated and careful cleaning!

More tomorrow,

Les.

 

Finding Eastcote House

Our volunteers are working hard, and have cleaned the west end of the foundations of Eastcote House. It looks like we can prove the location of sash windows, internal walls, outside drains, and for the more rugged diggers, a cellar is being excavated.

We are measuring bricks in the foundations, and I think we can prove that there was a 16th century house (made of slightly smaller bricks) 15m by 7m in plan, with a cellar.

The cellar is full of architectural fragments (thanks to 1965 demolition guys). These include the columns of the porch, moulded stone and decorated ceiling plaster. Photos of finds next time, but here are Keith and Jonathan excavating the cellar.

All ages in the cellar
All ages in the cellar