NATIONAL TRUST: CROFT CASTLE AND PARKLAND



THE FISHPOOL VALLEY PROJECT 2019

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It's always good to be able to see a project through to completion, here is the finished cascade and spillway on dam 1 first excavated in 2017.



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:

DAY 1
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.


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John starts on a little archaeological weeding at the foot of the cascade whilst Grant wrestles with part of the broken capstone from the top of the dam.




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Clive and Joan start on the large test pit above the west end of dam 7.                                                           Once one goes, they all go, taking out the stone setts from the cascade.




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Nick contemplates the intricacies of cascade construction.




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Once the contractors have done the heavy lifting we move in, I think that's Ian, to tidy up and begin the process of recording and analysis.



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The deep and quite impressive retaining wall on the east side of the cascade.


DAY 2
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!



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Excavations at the foot of the cascade continue with lots more rubble but no bottom.



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The test pit, now known as IP22, at the start and end of the day, interesting structures start to appear.




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Grant appears to loose his head over the void below the channel and here it is cleaned out with the rear of the cross wall in position.






DAY 3
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.



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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.



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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.



DAY 4
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.



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The impenetrable tangle of brushwood cleared by the volunteers... as if by magic, OK actually with a lot of hard work, ultimately to reveal.... a wall!




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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 bricks.

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.


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Exploring below the brick paving on the spillway to dam 6... it's just dirt.




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The tree is down, Jason slices it into manageable chunks ...




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... and Grant digs out the stump ...




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... leaving a mess which we tidy up to reveal, well not a lot really.




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Back in the test pit the limit of what is safe to dig is reached, it's time to try and understand it all.



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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 cascade.



DAY 5
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 on top.

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.



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The last morning and work starts to assess the limits of the structure now known as 'The Conduit' a process helped by the removal of the fallen tree.




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After the logs have been rolled away the clean up starts.   Managing spoil could be a big issue, everything is moved up slope and stacked out of the way.




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The down stream wall plus drainage channel.




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The walling in the north west corner and a general view across the site looking south.




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Goodbye to it all, the site as left hopefully pending our return in July.