Tales from the Trenches

Steve Palmer’s blog for the September – October 2010 dig..

Monday 20th September – Day One
Hello everyone. Welcome to the archaeology update and the first day of excavation at Manor Farm, Bredenbury. First thing to say, is that we have had a geophysical survey done by Headland Archaeology, using a technique called magnetometry. This machine measures magnetic changes in the soil and shows areas that have been disturbed or where burning has taken place. So the plan will show up features such as: Ditches, Rubbish pits, Walls and Hearths. We needed these results to give us an idea of where the trenches should be positioned.
Day one has been a great success. Weather fine and cool, just right for digging. The geophysics seems to have been successful too, as the first trench was opened up to take in two anomalies which were close enough for us to put in a 6×2 metre trench, so that when we get into the archaeology proper, tomorrow, we will better understand the relationship between the two features. In this trench thus far we have found 17th- 18th century pottery, which ties in nicely with the documentary evidence of the farmstead going out of use in the late 18th century to make way for parkland.
Trench two has been opened over the edge of an earthwork platform on which we believe there may have stood a building, possibly timber construction. Two pieces of medieval pottery have come from this trench today, and there may be a posthole relating to the building just showing in the south-west corner of the trench. Looking forward to tomorrow, when these features come properly into view and we may be at the beginning of our understanding the site. Brilliant

Tuesday 21st September – Day Two
On this the second day of excavations at Manor Farm, we have been carefully taking down surfaces in both trenches, and recording as we go. Dai has taken on the challenge of context planning, and is thoroughly enjoying the challenge; I think !
Working out what it is we are looking at in large trench is extraordinarily difficult at the moment and even our on site experts Chris Atkinson and David Williams from Herefordshire Archaeology are scratching their heads, lets hope thet tomorrow, as we go a bit deeper things will become clearer. At the moment it appears that we have at least 5 or 6 features cutting the bedrock in this trench ! Good news is that we are beginning to find small sherds of what appears to be medieval pottery. I forgot yesterday to thank our volunteers, very remiss of me. Without them giving their time and labour the project could not take place. THANK YOU TO YOU ALL.

Wednesday 22nd September – Day Three
Hello again. Day three of dig and still nothing is obvious, invariably the case in archaeology ! Today we have been cleaning fill material out of features, some of which appear to be postholes either associated with dividing fences or possibly structures within the farmstead site. Also the smaller trench which was cut over an earthwork bank and into a small holloway feature, has been extended by 1 metre into the holloway and a semi-metalled ( Laid stone surface) has appeared. This stone has been laid to stop carts and stock sinking into the mud during our wet winter months. We then opened a metre square test pit over a raised area between the main holloway and the farmstead, we were hoping to find signs of a structure there, but unfortunately found nothing. Late in the day we opened a new trench in the largest platform on the site. Will there be a building on there ? More news from the trenches tomorrow. Ps our volunteers are really enjoying the hunt for the dwelling. Fingers crossed everyone !


Thursday 23rd September – Day 4
Hello again. Day 4 of the dig has again provided us with more questions than answers. We started the day by extending the big trench to try and discover if there was a wall foundation cut, or post pads (large stones placed into ground on which the upright timbers of a wooden structure stood). The extension on the western end may have picked this up. We have a definite cut into the natural, which appears to run parallel with the one in the trench, we will get deeper into this feature tomorrow. The extension on the eastern end has some way to go yet, but there are signs of a cut feature running through this one too ! What were they doing ? are these cuts contemporary, or of different periods? Are you getting to see the problems we are trying to solve ? We also opened another metre square test pit to the east of the big trench, to investigate the area that is at the centre of a circular geophysics anomaly. Thanks again to our volunteers, the afternoon gang got quite a soaking, as the heavens opened. Roll on tomorrow, I hope i will be able to clarify what more of the features are, and if they fit together to give us a dateable structure. More tales tomorrow.

Friday 24th, Day 5
Here I am again. Day 5 of the dig has proved to be very interesting. We started the day by cleaning up the trenches which had lain in puddles after yesterday’s rain and hail storm that battered us. Several of us then set to work on the different features that have appeared within the big trench, just digging carefully into them to remove the fill and expose the edges where they were originally cut into the natural (soil sitting just above bedrock) and into the bedrock itself. Also Peter, Joy and Beryl Carried on work in the test pit we opened yesterday. Has the day went on we began to think that maybe, just maybe we were beginning to understand what it was we were looking at, Two rock-cut features appeared that may just push the earliest occupation on our site to the IRON AGE ! If you look at the picture of these features you will see just how nicely they were cut through the bedrock. As ever, at the moment this is just an idea, but is based on seeing cut ditches of this period on other sites. It is exciting to think that if these do turn out to be of that period, There has been occupation on these earthwork platforms for two thousand years ! I am looking forward to the weekend and extending the trench again to understand these features and to hopefully finding pottery to help us with dating them.

Saturday 25th, Day six.
What a fantastic autumn morning on the site. We have lovely view of the Malvern Hills, and they looked particularly stunning in the autumn sunlight; not that we are looking too often, far too busy ! The point of this beginning to my tale for the day is that our site is on elevated ground, with a clear view of the Iron Age Hillfort “British Camp”, so is an ideal spot for an iron age site, able to easily signal the camp. I am thinking along these lines of course because of the sherds of possibly Romano-British pottery that have been excavated. We also have the rock cut ditch, which has signs of industrial activity particularly metalworking, with, Charcoal, Burnt Clay and Slag coming out of the fill of the ditch. Could we, in the course of investigating a Post- Medieval farmstead have chanced upon a 2000 year old industrial site ? As always we all put in a lot of hard work, hope we will be well rewarded for our efforts by getting the mystery solved before our dig ends on Monday 4th Oct.

Sunday 26th, Day Seven.
Today we had to be at Manor Farm bright and early. We had a guided tour of the site to prepare for. Tables were dragged out from the farm buildings on which we could put our display boards and finds to give our visitors an extra insight into what we have achieved thus far, and to show the site with maps and aerial photos. 10 am arrived and so did a dozen or so visitors, interested in learning more. Chris Atkinson, the Community Archaeologist from Hereford, took them on the walk, whilst the diggers and I continued work on the Big Trench. We couldn’t do an awful lot today, mainly cleaning up the features so that we can record them tomorrow. A lot of time is spent recording and contexting every stain in the base of the trench as we go deeper, to ensure that we don’t miss anything, and don’t dig out an important feature accidentally ! You have to have your eyes open at all times. The visitors all agreed that it was a very interesting site, and wished us luck. End of today’s tale.

Monday 27th September –  Day 8.
What a start to the day, pouring with rain, cool and misty! We arrived at Manor Farm and almost decided not to make a start, but decided that the least we should do before giving up, would be to see how much the rain had affected our trenches. Walking up to the Big Trench, we realised that we stood no chance of working in it today. The decision was taken to walk up to the other site and mark out a few trenches, which could then be opened tomorrow, which is forecast to be relatively fine. On reaching the top site, just east of the old London-Aberystwyth road we had to decide where, on this multi-earthwork and holloway area. We decided to start with 1 metre square test pits, which, if we came down on to archaeology could be extended to better understand what we were looking at.
It was decided to put the first test pit over a feature that David Jones had dowsed and thought was probably a wall ( yes dowsing is our main form of geophysics within the group !) This turned out to be a great success, as we found a laid stone floor surface, a narrow stone-on-edge causeway and what at the moment appears to be a robbed out wall trench, which now contains the demolition material from the building. The finds from this trench consist of: mainly Post-Medieval pottery, bones and 1 piece of pot that may just be late medieval in date! See PHOTOS. Exciting isn’t it ?
The next Test Pit was positioned at the top of the bank of what may be a quarry or pond, or maybe it was both ! There is a nice possible building platform here and it appears that it probably did hold a dwelling, as finds from this pit are looking very much like household waste., Dark soil containing: Post-Med Pottery and 2 Pieces of probably Mid to Late Medieval pottery.
Another Test Pit was positioned over a Geophysical anomaly sitting on a platform. In this one we have gone down 75cms and are still going through the material used to make this feature in the landscape. Finds are mainly, Post-med pottery and Clay Pipe bowls, some with dateable stamps on. I will try to get these dates on site this week if I can find them.
Nearly there now, It has been a busy day! Final Test Pit of the the day has been placed in the rear corner of a possible rectangular feature cut into the base of what appears to be a lynchet (old field boundary) Finds so far in this one have consisted of: Charcoal, Clinker-Like Cinder and Sherds of Clay Pigeon ! We are still in the overburden (Soil That has eroded off the bank, covering the original surface) at the moment. More on this one tomorrow. I will give you the TP numbers next time so you know which is which.

Tuesday 28th, Day 9.
Getting tired now, had to make notes to remember what we had done today ! The beginning of the day saw us opening a new test pit over what we believed was in the area of the east front corner of the causewayed building we saw in our trench yesterday.
We came down onto a real jumble of dark soil fill, stones and bricks with lime mortar on them., but no obvious wall. We realised then that we had to change our strategy if we wanted to get any answers from this particular platform. It was decided that widening the trench by 1 metre was the best option, so we got busy. We then spent hours cleaning it all back in order to clearly see what was happening to the walls, floor, etc. we felt sure this would give us the answers to our questions about this particular building. You already know, I’m sure that the more you dig, the more questions present themselves! What it has shown us is that there are at least two phases of building in this trench which don’t appear at this time, to be related. If you look at new pics of the trench you should be able to see: The Causeway, then directly behind that, a very poorly built wall. These two are contemporary. Then you will see a very substantial wall, running from the poor wall towards the back of the trench ( see photo taken from south side, above right) if not you may get slightly confused! This trench has some way to go yet. Hope we get clear answers as we take out more fill. Sherds of medieval pot have appeared in the fill today. Med pot has in fact appeared in every hole we have dug, except for the Lynchet test pit. The top of bank test pit is again producing Med pot. We have also opened another Test pit on the platform beyond the bank one to try to establish whether there was, as we believe a dwelling on it to account for all the pottery going over the bank edge.
Hope you are enjoying following our trials and tribulations! more tales tomorrow if weather forecast is wrong! Bye for now.

Day Ten
Rain stopped play – Steve had a well earned break!

Day Eleven, Thursday 30th Sept
Back at work. .. Thanks to the weather improving we have put in a full day again. It began with putting a metre extension on the top of bank test pit. This was needed to help us understand the relationship between the platform (on which we dowsed a building) and the hollow at the bank bottom. Whilst the Walls trench was being recorded and drawn by Chris Atkinson (Hereford Archaeology) we delved deeper into the platform Test Pit, it was like digging concrete. Dai Jones was the poor, unfortunate soul that got the job. It looked for most of the day as though we were digging through the Natural (soil sitting directly above the bedrock) but pottery, slag and iron, were still mixed within it. It was right at the end of a hard day’s digging there that what appears to be a Post Pad (Stones on which the uprights of timber buildings stood) See centre picture, above.  Finding that made his day !
Also today., a 2×1 metre trench was put in to ascertain what damage Post- Medieval Ploughing had done to what may be the medieval settlement. This was inconclusive, but threw up more Slag and Pot including medieval. Most of the pottery is hardly abraded, meaning that it has not gone far from where it was deposited. We have to be on the right track !
The Test Pit that was put in to try to find a wall corner has also been taken down and cleaned, ready for photo and recording. This one, although having Post-Med pot and bricks in one half, has medieval pot and a Post hole in the other half. What a mixed-up site this is.
Lastly, the Wall Trench Has been taken down, (above right) and has finally found the bottom of the large wall running north-south. There are still questions to be answered in this one, that will involve a lot more manual labour yet!
Think we may be rained off again tomorrow if the forecast is to be believed.
End of today’s tale. Hope you are no more confused by this than we are.


Day 12 – Friday 1st October.
Guess what happened again today! No prizes will be given for correct answer. Yes rained off again. It’s so frustrating, but we can’t do anything in those conditions but have a rest and plan our strategy for tomorrow. There is plenty to do, and time is not on our side. Jobs to do are:* Finish top of bank extension, remove fill remaining to east of large wall, to see whether the poor wall has truncated the end, or to find the front corner, if this isn’t the case.* fill to west of large wall to be removed in search of surface beyond it. Test pit to east of wall trench needs cleaning down to expose possible Post holes.* A 1 metre square Test pit will be opened to try and locate rear large wall junction (hope to know what size building was. It is now thought to have been a Medieval Tithe Barn, as during this period Bredenbury was owned by the Bishop Of Hereford.
Back on the Farmstead site, I want to define full width of the ditch surrounding the large circular feature, and take it down, to see if I can find some dating evidence in the Primary Fill (the beginning of the natural filling of the ditch by erosion, and/or action of man) I am thinking at this stage that the feature has all the hallmarks of something Pre-Historic in nature. Flint is what I will be looking for, so any primary fill will be sieved ! How are we going to do it all ? End of tale for today. Find out how we get on tomorrow. Steve Palmer. Ps Remember that the Guided Tour of the site is at 10am Prompt on Sunday 3rd Oct. This is your last chance to look before trenches are back-filled. More Soon.

Saturday 2nd October – Day 13
Back to work!. Day 13. A lovely sunny morning greeted me as I walked across to the site at 8-30am. Imagine my surprise when I saw that we had been visited by the trench fairy during the night! A 1 metre square Test pit had been opened and taken down to a cobbled surface some 60 cms below surface. I believe this to be the work of one Tim Hoverd of Herefordshire archaeology. Thanks for that Tim. Not far distant a 2×1 metre trench had been de-turfed by David Jones. Lord only knows what I will find when I arrive tomorrow!
Anyway; The rain yesterday had made the trenches very sticky and progress was going to be difficult. I made a start by beginning to clear the fill to the east of the large wall. Dai arrived next and began taking fill out of west side, which we had to later extend in order to understand the relationship between, a cobbled surface which appeared, and the stone on edge which we had exposed. That may be resolved tomorrow, weather permitting. The removal of fill on east side produced, Medieval pot, bones and a piece of worked flint( don’t ask me what that’s doing there) Meanwhile, Scott was set the task of clearing the bricks and Post-Medieval deposit out of Test pit east of wall trench. The 2×1 trench that had been de-turfed, was cleaned up. and again revealed a cobbled surface. The cobbles had to be very well cleaned so that they can be photographed and drawn. So many cobbles to draw, so little time! All the volunteers have worked really hard again. Thank you all. Am getting ready for the walk tomorrow now. Hope the weather holds. May see you there. End of today’s tale.


Sunday 3rd October Day 14.
Guess what, You’re right, rained off yet again. It’s so frustrating. Desperate to get answers, but time has all but run out.
Anyway, the guided walk still went ahead, despite the wet and windy conditions. Dai and I arrived at 9am to alter and set up display panels, hoping against hope that someone may still turn up wishing to see the trenches and gain an understanding of our 2 sites, before we backfill, probably this week. Thanks go to; Alex and Joy Hoyle, Beryl Hunt and Jane Jinks for braving the elements and giving me an audience to tell the tale to. As we set off into the wind and rain, I told them that I would keep it short so that we could get back to shelter a.s.a.p. David and Jane Jones and Dai Jones also came along. I think I managed to give a fairly accurate account of our findings thus far, They were asking questions, which is always a good sign ! After braving the elements we were invited in for coffee and biscuits. Thank you for that David and Jane, it was much appreciated. And that was the end of our day. Hopefully we will be able to dig tomorrow. The answers, I feel are so close. Thank you all for being involved with us on this voyage of discovery.

Days 15 and 16.
Firstly I would like to say thank you to those of you who have followed our progress during this dig. Also a huge THANK YOU to our happy band of volunteers, who have worked really hard.
Basically, the last 2 days have involved, cleaning up, and trying to draw some conclusions from our findings.
Let us firstly re-visit the Farmstead site. This threw up some very unusual features, which are going to take more time and more digging to resolve ! This will be done over the next year or two. What we can say is that there was a Post-Medieval Farmstead on this site. We found the archaeological evidence for this in the form of: Probable wall foundation cut, Post Holes, Building Platforms, and Pottery. There is evidence of earlier occupation and/or industrial activity on this site, in the form of: Charcoal, burnt clay or daub, Metal Slag and Medieval and possibly Romano/British Pottery. The Ditches cut into bedrock, and the Peculiar 15 metre circular geophysical anomaly, just demand further investigation!
Now we will move up to the Top site. Here we know there was a Post-Medieval Blacksmith’s Shop, Servicing the adjacent London to Aberystwyth Road. Have we found evidence of it? There are signs of burning, some slag and cinder and odd bits and pieces of metalwork.
Possibly, the Stone on edge path and the poorly built wall were a part of the complex, but we cannot, without further investigation say definitively that it is. The Large well-built wall, and associated pottery, which is medieval, and appears high status, could be pointing to a Medieval Manor House, Given it’s proximity to the old church, and the probable village site. On the Platform to the south-west of this is our Medieval Post pad, which would have supported a timber-framed structure, almost certainly a dwelling, as evidenced by the deep pottery build-up on the eastern downslope of this platform.

We have run out of time on this exercise, it has been extremely interesting and exciting to delve into the buried past of what could could conceivably be the origins of the village of Bredenbury. As I say, we will carry on our archaeological investigations, probably beginning again next year. Thanks again to all our happy volunteers. Thanks to Chris, Dai, and Tim of Herefordshire Archaeology. And Thanks to you all. End of tales for now. Steve Palmer.