The third season at Croft began in May
as the contractors undertook 'dry' work concentrating on the restoration
of the cascade on dam 7 and the spillway on dam 6. Work anywhere near
water was carefully avoided as it was breeding season for the rare white
clawed crayfish. This is what happened:
An interesting start to the week. I hadn’t appreciated the issues around
the crayfish at this time of year so we had to change our plans a
little. We opened up a trench just past the end of the cascade to
uncover a deep channel full of tumbled but well shaped stones. Birch
Brothers took out the stone sets from the cascade to reveal a serious
retaining wall and what may be the remains of an earlier phase of
spillway. All photographed and recorded. We also opened an area above
the west end of the dam to look for the other end of the scouring tunnel
examined in 2017. I’ve got an idea that we are looking at a two phase
structure here. The area marked on the eighteenth-century estate map as
a conduit is currently buried below a mass of brushwood however we have
permission to shift it and Charlie was happy that it would be a crayfish
free zone so we can start on that tomorrow as well.
Another productive day. After I had drawn the new elevations of the side
walls to the cascade the contractors lifted one of the capstones to
examine the void below the main channel. This enabled us to extend the
elevations and take a look at the other side of the cross wall. At the
foot of the cascade a lot of topsoil and loose rubble was removed from
the channel. It was agreed that the tree should go.
The test pit above the tunnel at the west end of the dam was cut down at
one corner by well over a metre to reveal what is assumed to be the
upper surface of the tunnel arch This area was fenced off due to the
depth of the trench.
The highlight of the day was a visit from Imogen bearing cake!
An action packed day with a sudden shift down to dam 6 to clean and
record the spillway. Jeremy Milln had drawn a part of the east wall but
the brick paving had not been seen so we opened it all out and did some
further excavation on the side walls facing the pool. At this point it
became clear that as well as a major slump close to the centre of the
spillway other areas of brick had also been displaced and loosened from
the underlying clay some of them were bedded in. The surfaces were drawn
at a scale of 1:10 and multiple photos taken.
Back up at dam 7 two of the volunteers carried on looking for the base
of the cascade whilst the third ( thanks Malcolm) took down the levels
in the test pit above the conduit. Excavations here at the start of the
day uncovered a curious revetment of what appears to be corrugated iron
sheeting. More to investigate here tomorrow.
Relocated to the spillway on dam 6, a rush job to clean it all up and
record it in its pristine condition... if you ignore the slumps.
There are always lots of other things being done by the contractors in
the valley, here is work underway to improve access to dam 7.
Huge excitement up behind the modern pump house. The team of volunteers
started clearing the brush wood and followed the trail of building
debris until they stumbled upon a wall and not just any wall but a well
mortared one of large well dressed blocks. Exploring further we ended up
with a corner and a second wall and perhaps most remarkable of all the
remains of a ceramic tile floor! My best guess at present is that the
name 'The Conduit' on the late eighteenth century estate map refers to a
building centred on a natural spring with stone walls, a tiled roof and
probably home to a cold bath as found at a number of other properties of
the period. This could give us the major focus for our investigations in
July and potentially another monument for valley bearing in mind that in
places the wall could survive to a height of 1.5m. The plan for tomorrow
morning is to uncover enough to identify the limits of the structure so
I can start to think about the logistics of any future full excavation
of the site plus there is a fallen tree to remove.
The impenetrable tangle of brushwood cleared by the volunteers... as if
by magic, OK actually with a lot of hard work, ultimately to reveal....
By the end of the day two walls and a corner.
The tree at the foot of the cascade was expertly felled by Jason who
dropped it with great precision exactly where he wanted it and the root
was removed by Grant at the controls of the digger. Not much new
archaeology though we did get a chance to take a look at the section
through one of the side walls. I told Nick that I was finished with the
cascade so he was free to move on to the construction phase.
Down at the spillway at dam 6 I excavated the area around the slump at
the centre of the brick paving and recorded the deposit beneath. Again I
handed this over to contractors who lifted and stacked the remaining
The very deep test pit has now uncovered substantial walling, it may be
associated with the culvert but it stops way short of the upstream face
of the dam. Sections drawn and plan nearly complete, tomorrow I’ll
finish off and hopefully start back filling.
Exploring below the brick paving on the spillway to dam 6... it's just
The tree is down, Jason slices it into manageable chunks ...
... and Grant digs out the stump ...
... leaving a mess which we tidy up to reveal, well not a lot really.
Back in the test pit the limit of what is safe to dig is reached, it's
time to try and understand it all.
After all the dismantling it's great to see things being put back
together again, the foundation for the debris catcher at the top of the
Well we certainly finished the week in style. Whilst waiting for the
volunteers to arrive I completed the recording on our rather deep test
pit at the west end of dam 7. We ended up with quite a complicated
sequence involving the culvert through the smaller earlier dam of red
clay being sealed by a cross wall before the later larger dam was dumped
From 10.00 onwards the team of 5 volunteers set to to meet my immediate
objectives namely first off to remove enough vegetation and topsoil to
enable everyone to see the character of the new monument we have added
to the Croft landscape and also explore the limits of the site to
aid me in thinking through logistics for July on the grounds that we may
want to proceed with further investigations into this structure. With
extraordinary efficiency a member of the Trust's staff turned up with
his chain saw and we were able to slice up and remove the trunk of a
fallen tree that was hampering our efforts. This enabled us to see the
big picture of an extremely well build stone structure - probably
square and note arrangements for flooring (at least two periods)
and draining the structure. At the moment I'm going to stick with the
idea that this was both a conduit house which tapped the natural spring
but could have been a cold bath too.
Huge thanks to all the volunteers and especially the team who went back
in the rain on Friday afternoon to fill in the big test pit. There's so
much to look forward to later in the summer.
I was back for just one day later in May to take a look at the floor in
the pump house. Scaffolding had gone up around the structure but I was
mainly concerned with what was going on inside. With marvelous
assistance from the contractor we were able to shift at least a tonne of
assorted debris, all of it in buckets and up a ladder, before I cleaned
by hand and then recorded a variety of different flooring 'episodes'.
Once this was done the additional props and scaffolding needed for the
next stage of the work could go in.
The pump house from the north encased in scaffolding/
the interior, a nightmare to photograph on account of the uneven light
and shade but with a variety of flooring materials and surfaces
And so onto July.
As planned week one began on the site of the Conduit here
are the daily reports:
Arriving around midday we were able to join some of the volunteers for
lunch before heading down to the valley. Birch Brothers were there
waiting for their welfare facilities to be delivered. Our team of
volunteers made an excellent start clearing the undergrowth and
beginning to remove turf and top soil and large amounts of rubble
especially from the south wall of the building. Early days yet so
several options remain open regarding the nature of the structure. The
big issue will be the continuing question of what to do with the spoil,
lots of carrying material up the slope to dump it. Anyway we have the
area cleared and marked out and are set to press on tomorrow. There is
an issue, we really need to remove a small ash tree growing in the south
west corner, perhaps we can get Jason to look at it.
Before we started we visited some old haunts to examine the work being
done on the grotto and the finished work on the cascade.
Everyone sets to work with a will on a preliminary clearance of the
site. On the west side tree roots are exposed plus an opening which may
have brought in the original piped supply of spring water to the pool.
Sarah and I started the day up at the summer house where we weeded and
swept, tidying up the monument before roping it off. Back at the Conduit
work was facilitated no end by Jason popping up to fell a small sickly
ash tree and then by David slicing it up and Malcolm helping clear the
timber. Sarah and Viviana then excavated what looks like a later drain
and perimeter wall whilst levels within the walled area were
progressively reduced as buckets of soil and rubble were hauled away.
Midway through the afternoon Ian uncovered the edge of a deep central
pool surrounded by a paved walkway about 65cm wide. A little later
excavations within the south east corner revealed the remains of what
looked like slate paving, all enormously interesting. Results tomorrow
should be really spectacular.
I also monitored the work done down at dam 7 where the concrete barrier
was broken out. At the end of the day I recorded a rather uninteresting
profile through the dam.
The steps and summer house site slightly overgrown and half an hour
later tidied up.
Viviana investigates a curious arrangement of bricks and stone 'upstream
which turns out to be a drain whilst below, with tree cut down the roots
a teased out from the wall.
A partial section through dam 7 not especially informative as we are
well above the level of the stonework to the east.
Thanks to Ian's efforts the extent of the walkway and the edge of the
central pool start to become clear.
Whilst in the south east corner for a moment I think we have slate
paving... we haven't.
A terrific effort from all concerned today. The morning was devoted to
excavating the top of the south wall but then after that it was all
hands to the inside and the shifting of huge quantities of brick and
rubble. We set up a really efficient system for filling buckets and
removing spoil. As a result we now have exposed around two thirds of the
peripheral walkway and about half the perimeter of the central pool.
Tomorrow we shall hopefully complete the uncovering of the full extent
of the pool which is looking pretty square. The surrounding wall is now
standing to a height of 1.2m in places.
Down to the pump house first thing to take a closer look at the current
state of the inside. The scaffolding will certainly help with access for
some of the drawings although it is rather in the way when it comes to
making a photographic record. Essentially this means we'll be quite
happy to get on with the work next week without any further input from
Recording was started in earnest on the Conduit or plunge bath as we
should perhaps now call it. The site plan is well underway and profiles
and elevations completed. There’s still plenty of drawing to do but we
aim to have the bulk of it done by lunchtime tomorrow when we depart for
the weekend. Our heroic crew of volunteers: Fran, David and John really
worked hard on the rather thankless task of clearing an increasingly
sticky mass of fallen brick and rubble to the point where we now have
the entire perimeter wall and walkway uncovered and have started to
excavate the pool itself. I’m hoping to at least see the bottom tomorrow
which I guess will give us a pool somewhere between 1 and 1.5m deep.
By lunchtime we had the sides all clear and were able to concentrate on
the central pool and here is the site at the end of the day. Note the
overflow channel in the middle of the east side.
So we did not get down to bottom this morning despite everyone's best
efforts, still it leaves us well poised for next week. A few
things remain concerning about the site. Firstly apart from the tile and
brick along the east side in what quite frankly looks like a bit of a
repair job, we have no evidence to date the structure. Take that away
and you could be looking at a well preserved Roman monument! Then there
is the question of its function. Cold bath / plunge pool remains the
favourite although there is the issue of the naming of the site as
'conduit'. If this was simply an elaborate arrangement to collect spring
water the question is what was then done with it? Should we be concerned
that the tank does not have a waterproof lining?
Next week will certainly see the excavation of the tank completed and
although finds have not been particularly common there are certainly
exciting possibilities as we reach the bottom. We will then see what
mechanism existed for draining the pool nd hopefully we will be
able to dig outside the east wall and uncover the outlet channel. there
will be more work to do up stream to examine the water supply to the
site plus the possibility exists that there may be other structures in
the vicinity which we will need to identify.
A busy scene as the pool is cleared with Clive and Joan hands on with
Julie working the bucket chain and the recording continues apace and
here is the pool with three or four courses of walling at close of play
The classic before and after photos, the view looking north east
from the start of the week to the end.
Starting once more at lunchtime on Monday we continued recording the
stone walling with elevation drawings. The volunteers again did
sterling service: Ian, David, Clive and particularly Joan worked
with a will to lower the levels of rubble within the central pool.
This paid off as we uncovered an additional step in brick round the
north, east and west sides as well as the site of the outflowing
drain. Especially exciting was the discovery at the foot of the west
wall of the incoming supply in a lead pipe still flowing with
crystal clear spring water! Beyond the pool, down stream, we
removed quantities of rubble to ensure a ready flow of water out of
To the north of the main structure Sarah and I worked on the
incoming drain and the separate largely collapsed retaining wall
excavating a new stretch and drawing the western most part. Late in
the afternoon we undertook a quick inspection of the on-going work
on dam 7 photographing a newly exposed section on the north side as
well as examining other spring locations further up the valley.
The first couple of hours were spent in surveying the fabric of the
pump house itself together with the wheel pit and the timbers that
carried the wheel and associated gearing. We met with the contractor
on site and agreed that our phase of the recording work would be
completed by the end of the week .
Back up at the conduit work continued to remove the rubble fill from
the central pool. From this point onwards excavation was essentially
carried out by touch under water. A particularly significant find
was a large piece of folded lead sheet that looked as if it had been
used to cap a post or possibly a pyramidical roof. At one stage the
outlet became blocked and the pool rapidly refilled until Malcolm
managed to clear it. The gush of water downstream was quite
impressive. Beyond the east wall Ian, Julie and Malcolm deepened the
channel but more importantly began examining the outer face and
foundation of the east wall. Sarah who had spent the morning
excavating the next stretch of the northern retaining wall moved on
to work on elevations whilst I completed the plan of the walkway.
Meanwhile John and Fran had made a start on investigating the area
‘up stream’ beyond the north west corner of the pool. A series of
features, largely in a state of collapse, were identified including
a couple of additional drains and a possible pitched stone surface.
We were able to welcome several visitors to the site and those who
brought dough nuts were especially welcome. I had been in
correspondence with Julian Munby, head of buildings archaeology at
Oxford Archaeology and he was able to cite a number of similar
structures in and around Oxfordshire with a ledge around the sides
of the central pool which were without a doubt conduit houses and
this rather sways opinion away from a plunge pool towards a
structure connected with the water supply which is by the way
excellent, I sampled it this morning.
Back again for a couple of hours into the gloom of the pump house to
carry on with the intensive business of measuring and drawing the
surviving machinery and then after a quick burst of work up at the
Conduit alongside the volunteers we all had to retreat to a safe
distance whilst Louis, under Jason's supervision, took down a Wych
Elm that was growing almost immediately above the west wall of the
building, it had to go. Once cleared, and further thanks to John for
shifting all the trimmed off branches, we could resume work. This
resulted in the second significant find of the excavation a
splendidly engineered combined filter and plug all made in lead. We
were carrying on working underwater and excavating pretty well blind
to remove fallen roof slates, stone and brick. Another stunning
effort, again, especially by Joan and Clive.
By the end of the day we had probably pulled out enough material to
bring us within striking distance of the bottom... or so we thought.
Efforts had continued apace, particularly on the part of Ian to
deepen the out-flowing channel to reduce water levels in the tank.
Unfortunately the deeper we dug the further down stream the channel
had to be cut. Finally after having made several measurements we
concluded that we just wouldn't be able to to go any further with
this particular epic struggle. Meanwhile efforts were made to work
up the small valley to the north west in order to make sense of the
jumble of stone and brick up that end, no sense to it yet
In the depths of the pump house, full PPE gear. A slightly more
casual look, apart from Joan's water proof trousers, as we watch
trees get cut down.
... and here it goes, Louis in action.
Back in the tank Joan is delighted as the lead filter comes out.
Intensive work at one point to lower levels by bucketing, it worked
up to a point but then re flooded.
... and the fruits of another post-dig archaeological
excursion, the view from Wigmore Castle.
On the previous day the contractors had partly removed the roof
to the pump house letting in for the first time for some time some
much needed light. This speeded up our job no end and we were pretty
well able to complete the planning and photography in the first
couple of hours of the day. Back up at the Conduit we were joined by
Janine who was up for a serious day of digging plus later in the day
the arrival of Imogen with a whole crowd of visitors around for a
conference but down to see the sights.
Work concentrated on the area to the north and west of the building
with a degree of clarity being achieved in the sense that it was
pretty obvious that we were looking at an area that had been subject
to repeated attempts at drainage followed by occasional catastrophic
episodes of flooding with the consequent destruction. One very
remarkable discovery involved the excavation of few stones by Anita
and Fran just down from the north east corner of the building which
turned into a complete collapsed corner from the original structure.
Down in the tank a determined effort was made to reach the bottom.
This involved almost complete immersion in order to reach down deep
enough to lift out the accumulated rubble and mud. It became clear
after a little probing that we may have hit bottom by 'digging' in
just a small area in the south east corner but this was at a depth
of nearly 1.10m below current water levels. Reluctantly we decided
there was no future in pursuing this until we could reliably drain
the tank and keep it dry, perhaps a task for next year?
The ultimate before and after photo, May to July 2019