Chacombe Community Archaeology - Berry Close

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(Thanks to Geoff Jones (GJ) for some of the photographs.)

Back in 2014 I was approached by Ian Williams and Geoff Jones, two individuals with a strong interest in the field known as Berry Close which lies next to the church in Chacombe. All empty fields next to churches are interesting and it was clear from the earthworks in the field that something special was happening here. An entry into the archaeology of the site was offered when it was decided to erect a large stone monument to the donor who gave the field to the people of Chacombe. A condition of the planning was that the seating for the stone should be investigated archaeologically which lead us to stage the first Chacombe Archaeology Weekend. of course any programme of archaeological work associated with planning begins with a detailed plan known as a Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI). It's a fairly dull document but if interested you can read ours HERE.

The weekend of the 21st. / 22nd. saw us supporting the Chacombe Archaeology Weekend. A small group of local enthusiasts have been  encouraging their community to take a more informed interest in Berry Close, this suggestively named field next to the church. The field is packed with earthworks which to my eye had the look of a small medieval ringwork with attached settlement remains. There was a portion of a large rampart and ditch which looked defensive and behind the rampart were clearly visible the grass covered foundations of some major stone buildings so during the event we had teams of volunteers working on surveying in detail for the first time these remains.

The monument was to be set on a low bank and we were charged with digging out a trench 2 metres long by 1 metre wide and 1 metre deep. We had a number of willing and able volunteers to assist with this and would have finished by the end of Sunday if it hadn't been for the arrival of a vicious winter storm around 1.00 p.m. The results needed some thinking about, most of the bank seems to have been composed of loam of varying quality but the good news was that within this were certain horizons where we found a very extensive assemblage of medieval pottery.

February     February
The day before preparations are nearly complete then Saturday morning dawns clear and bright and Pater puts his team through their paces.

February     February
Out in the field Mike leads his team of surveyors.  Verna and Hazel had not sloped off to the pub but were getting acquainted with the level of the 110m contour.

February      February
Back on the field large scale surveying and heavy duty conversation.                                                   Fitting four diggers round one trench... easy, until it starts to get deep.

Berry Close
We were delighted to welcome local planning archaeologist Liz Mordue on a site visit.

As part of our programme to involve the community we had several school age children join us. For insurance reasons they could not take part in the main dig but Ian Williams came up with the brilliant idea of having them investigate the mole hills in Berry Close. To this end he had marked them out and then helped our budding archaeologists sift through the soil with trowels in search of finds which were then properly washed, numbered and bagged. Here is William's account:

On the weekend of the 21st of February 2015 I went to the archaeological dig in Berry Close. The reason we were there was that there was a dig there because some people wanted to stand one of the big sand stones up as a tribute to Mrs Bennet who released the field to the public. But when you are digging in a site like Berry Close (which is on the Jurassic Way) you have to excavate it properly.

When I arrived I was asked to dig up some marked molehills. I had to dig up molehills because when moles come to the surface they pull up a lot of objects that have been previously buried, when I dug in the molehills I was asked to remove anything that was not dirt from the mound of earth.  Whilst I was there we found numerous things including some animal bone, some possible pieces of pot and a piece of clay pipe.  In the main dig, some practice musket balls were found.

and this is what Jai-Jay had to say:

On Saturday afternoon we went to the field to see the archaeologist who was digging a pit in the filed next to the pub, we were asked if we wanted to do some digging. After the safety brief we had to put on gloves and a high viz vest. Our job was to scrape mole hills in different places in the field to see if the mole hills had finds and find out the differences that happened in different places.

Kneeling down next to thew molehill i used the trowel to scrape the dirt towards me a few centimetres at a time looking closely for bits of pottery, glass, metal or stones, until we had scraped the mole hills to ground level. We then washed the finds in very cold water for Stephen the archaeologist to look at for us.

In the mole hills nearest the mound we found bits of flint, pottery, stones, plaster and burnt bits of wood and a nail. At the bottom of the field we found nothing in the mole hills which means that at the top of the field there could be a building under the grass and not at the bottom of the field.

     Berry Close
Our human moles (Photos by GJ).

February     Berry Close
Sunday just before the storm hit, a new level (A004) has just been defined.                                     And here we are  rapidly clearing up loose soil as the rain begins (Photo by GJ).

Because of the bad weather on Sunday we returned to the site the following Wednesday and the material we had started to see appearing turned out to be primarily burnt daub as in wattle and daub. This is a common phenomenon on many sites where a building has burnt down the daub - which is mainly clay - gets fired. In our case we had elements of the finished facing of the wall and pieces which preserved the placing of the stakes that would have supported the wall. Mixed in with this destruction layer were further fragments of early medieval pottery. Things became really exciting as we cleared this deposit to uncover a small arrangement of flat stones which was almost certainly a post pad or a base for a vertical timber post supporting some structure and underneath that a further post hole and possible slot for a horizontal beam, probably belonging to an earlier  building. An amazing amount of evidence to recover from such a small 'random' area. Once the pottery is washed and examined we'll have a much better idea of the dating of all this. Unfortunately working in such a confined area it's quite difficult to make sense of the structural elements but we can be sure there was plenty going on here in the middle ages.

February     February
Post pad to the right, charcoal spread to the left.                                                            Some of the fired daub and samples of the pottery that was coming up.

Recording underway: Peter is drawing the plan and Geoff is helping me draw the section

    February       February
Underneath the post pad a complicated arrangement of hollows and burnt clay and underneath that slot and post hole.

And then it was all over except for the pot washing and office work.

People often have to be reminded that in general terms one day's digging generates two days back in the office following it all up, sorting out the drawings, checking the records and then writing up the report. An early step was to take the rough pencil plan from the survey of the manor mound and draw it out as 'best' for publication. Here it is and it shows just how much detail can be recorded by careful observation of the 'humps and bumps' on the ground. One can clearly begin to see the potential outlines of buildings amongst what initially seems a confusing pattern of earthworks.

Berry Close

Another task was to join up the dots on the earthwork profile drawn through the main earthworks on the 'manor' site.

Berry Close

The following weekend we gathered at Geoff's place where he had helpfully set up doors on dustbins to give us a working surface. Then after the appropriate briefing the group set to work. By the end of it we had identified 76 medieval pot sherds weighing in at 0.8 kg. that seems quite a lot for a small trench in a corner of a field. Still it will give us plenty of material to analyse once we have made a pilgrimage to look at whatever exists in Northamptonshire by way of a type series. The occasion, as well as being one for good coffee, also gave everyone lots of chances to talk over some of the issues raised by the dig. Geoff made some interesting suggestions about the firing temperatures and colours of the local clay as well as ingeniously cutting hazel wands of suitable dimensions to recreate the arrangement preserved in one of our lumps of preserved daub.

Chacombe     chacombe
A happy band of washers and Geoff's hazel wand confection.