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
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 dirt.
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 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.
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 the contractors.
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.
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 the site.
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
... 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