A view from the east, the immensely superior Temple of Ancient Virtue
to the right looking down on the suitably hidden remains of the Temple
of (non-existent) Modern Virtue hidden behind the foliage in the centre.
As it was 'a ruin of a ruin' in 1750 from the guidebook at the time.
And here's a small surviving section considerably enlarged by a day of digging, both views looking north west.
Here is a dig photo from the original trench, we have extended a little
to right, plus archaeological evidence for archaeological behaviours,
early 21st. century, actually can is in celebration of the 2004 world
The second site, a short distance to the south was the Doric Arch
with its now vanished but temporarily replaced in plywood, statues of
Apollo and the nine muses. The notice below says it all. Work is not
scheduled to start here just yet but I wanted to take a look at the
possible layouts on the ground. One clue which may prove useful are a
number of yew trees.Comparing them with the yew plantings at
Farnborough suggests they too belong to the mid-eighteenth century and
they may be the remains of a yew hedge set up as a backing for the
display of the statues. If this were the case it could help us
determine the exact degree of curve of the arc on which they were
aligned. There are also traces of some ancient looking box, could there
have been a low box hedge in front of the statues originally? At this
stage the whole thing is very puzzling.
Just in case anybody wants to know...
Detail of view from the Helicon Spring, Chatelain 1753
Changing arrangements? Seeley 1777 and 1820 (plus in red the predicted
position of the statues based on the discovery of four bases so far.
The area to the south of the arch, the plywood stand-ins have been battered by recent storms.
The remaining exposed statue base looking north towards the arch.
Wednesday March 20th.
Having pretty well sorted out trench 4, trench 3 was next in line.
Standing a short distance to the south west but at the top of a slope,
was an isolated mass of stone, again previously excavated by
Northamptonshire Archaeology and now re-excavated. Close at hand was a
trench from last year along the top of the ridge. This was cleaned up
and the remaining fragments of rubble and topsoil were removed after
recording. There was a fair depth of back fill to dig out but the whole
thing was complete by lunch time. There will be some new construction
details to note but the feature does seem to stand alone. After lunch
trench 1 was turned to, can't remember seeing trench 2. Trench 1 lay
around 8m further south and was a similarly centred on a lonely block
of rough masonry. As before a more recent trench almost abutted it to
the east and the whole area was marked out so it could be treated as a
single excavation. After a lot of shifting of ivy and scraping of moss
work started on the south side of the walling and proceeded eastward to
link the two trenches together.
Perhaps the most striking feature was the strange tumbled line of
rubble in the eastern trench which not only extended up to the foot of
the masonry but seemed to continue below it. This is very interesting
and I have begun to wonder whether or not we may have two periods of
construction. Both the isolated masses of stone are built of a very
hard purplish grey stone in a very hard mortar. The foundations in
trench 4 and the rubble deposit in trench 1 are a lighter softer
limestone with a softer sandier mortar in use, lots to think about
Thursday March 21st.
Just a half day on site today to retake some photos and complete
the excavation that unites the two earlier trenches. The band of rubble
noted on the previous day looks increasingly like a feature underlying
the main mass of masonry and I'm beginning to suspect that it is a
later addition that is basically sitting on top of the remains of the
original Temple of Modern Virtue. Imagine the scenario...
"Weren't there supposed to be some ruins over there?
Yea, not sure what happened to them though.
Well we need something, can you scrape a bit a rubble together and rebuild it... a bit?
How's that for going out on an archaeological limb? Anyway there's a
lot going on in this trench which will need further careful excavation,
not to say extension, to help us figure out what's going on. One
interesting observation is that theres a bit of coping stone built into
the block of stonework, a feature it a shares with the similar
block in trench 3.
Friday March 29th.
Just a morning session primarily taken up in discussions about excavation strategies with the Trust's archaeology adviser,
however, there was time to do a little more cleaning and
then identify and record the contexts first identified in 2003 by
Northamptonshire. It has to be said that what we are seeing on the
ground today doesn't quite match what was described back then... hmmm,
Sections cleaned and labeled in trench 1 to the south and north.
Thursday April 11th.
A serious day's work in and around the Doric Arch even if we were
delayed by footballing on the lawn below. First up we relocated and
cleaned the previously identified statue bases and cross referenced
them to the 2003 Northamptonshire Archaeology report, some
discrepancies in numbering to sort out here. Once we had exposed the
centre points of each base we checked the measurements against the
published plans and flagged up the location of the northern most pair
before back-filling. We then took the opportunity to measure out
the predicted location of further bases based on the 'arc of a
circle' model for the layout before further exploring the geometries of
arcs of an ellipse which would in some ways fit better with some of the
early engravings and maps. As part of this we also took a turn at
measuring some angles between the established statue bases and the
centre of the arc using an authentic eighteenth-century angle measurer.
Not terribly accurate as we don't have a tripod for it but good fun.
Finally we sought out and annotated on the tree plan all the existing
historic yews on the basis that they may represent surviving elements
of the yew hedge thought to back the statues of the muses.
Back to the temple of Modern
Virtue... having cleared it with Barry, the head gardener, we pruned
some low hanging deadish looking yew branches and cut down a couple of
small box bushes to clear the ground for extensions to trenches 1 and
4. Trench 1 saw the bulk of our efforts as it rapidly became clear, as
we removed the topsoil only, that there was a substantial bank of
rubble running in a northerly direction backed upslope by a hefty
deposit of grey clay and fronted by a spread of loose rubble and mortar
downslope. Quite excited by this and getting on well we then engineered
a further extension to the north of an additional metre. No longer
quite so excited we then puzzled over the precise nature of this
feature. The best case analysis is that this rubble represents the
original core of to the temple wall minus it's facing stones, however,
close examination reveals that there is no trace of even rudimentary
coursing to this rubble and I'm beginning to wonder if it was simply
placed to act as a revetment for the build up of the high bank to the
west presumably derived from the cutting further to the west, clearly
more to do here before we can be sure. Later in the day a start was
also made on the trench 4 extension which gave us our first good view
of what a reasonably coursed bit of walling on this corner of the site
looking like. Given the fact that it was the school holiday there were
a fair number of family groups with children around and a couple of
times we were aware of children climbing on the slopes behind us. With
this in mind I extended the rope cordon to include the entire site.
Thursday April 25th.
Plan to show the location of the two new trenches.
Friday April 19th.
Just a half day today seeing as how it was the start of the
Easter weekend. The extension to new trench 2 was completed so that we
could take a look at the western edge of the path and the immediate
surroundings of the statue base. It looks as if there could have been a
shallow gully lining the path at this point, there was also a small
mound of mixed composition which may be upcast from the shallow pit dug
for the bases foundations. We also got a good look at the mortar used
here.. The statue base closer to the arch on the south side was also
re cleaned and further dirt shifted to reveal more of its composition.
Interestingly the mortar here seems quite different - white and limey
rather than orange and sandy. Finally I popped out onto the golf course
carefully timing my expeditions between rounds and I'm fairly confident
that through a combination of observing ground conditions and probing
I've identified the three additional bases to the south, however,
there's not much we can do about them until safe access to the area can
be organised. I also came across some interesting indications for the
northward extension but without some serious pruning they were quite
hard to follow up on too. After lunch the park filled up with visitors
and I closed things down when a large group all speaking Spanish made
camp and started playing cricket! Hows that for the full English
experience: cricket on the lawn at Stowe, anyway I didn't fancy
fielding at silly mid on and so went home.
New trench 2, the approach to the statue base looking south and the sharp edge to the path on its eastern side.
Not a very good picture of more of the uncovered base to the north... old trench 3 looking north
The cricket commences.
Another move, this time back to the
site of the Temple of Modern Virtue for a truly game changing day. I
had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that the remains as
currently exposed were part of the eighteenth-century construction. The
more I thought about it the more I was inclined to see the block of
roughly coursed rubble in trench 1 as a late rebuild and the rubble
alignment backed by clay below it looked like a revetment for the bank
built up from the material excavated from the sunken path to the west.
In order to resolve this question we took out the remaining area of
topsoil and some of the underlying rubble to see if there was a faced
wall or even a corner below the looser material. As it happened there
was a wall but running north - south below the later rubble spreads.
More to the point it consisted of two courses, so far, of well dressed
ashlar blocks. The ruinous element of the structure seems to have
laid more with its incompleteness rather than rustic walling.
Wednesday May 8th.
This is tremendously important as it suggests that significant
quantities of walling may survive which would enable us to
completely define the footprint and indeed the nature of the Temple of
Modern Virtue. Given the fact that it seems to be buried below the
upcast from the path the levels of survival could be quite high. To
document some of this in the afternoon we completed a leveled profile
through the site and path from west to east. As if that weren't enough
for one day shifting of topsoil from trench 4 has uncovered
further wall like extensions although it is too early to
characterise them accurately.
Michael makes a start on clearing topsoil and some loose rubble and suddenly we have one, two three faced stones... it's a wall!
And here we are at lunchtime with two courses and possibly, looking at the levels, more to come
A change from digging, peering through the level to measure the slopes.
Friday April 26th.
Operating on two fronts today. In trench 1 the lower course of the
wall was exposed and underneath the dump of rubble and sandy mortar
that covered it all was something that looked very much like a buried
soil, presumably the eighteenth-century ground level. Interestingly the
wall ended at a corner at its south end and the top corner block is
clearly a reused piece of moulding. I haven't had a close look at it
yet but initial thoughts tend towards it being a section of door jamb
rather than from a window opening. The wall does not appear to be faced
to the rear and may have been part of a facade rather than something
you could walk into. It doesn't appear to go back far enough to be a
plinth in which case it could be the southern corner or the northern
side of the opening to the single storey building. I know how
misleading contemporary illustrations can be but on the basis that it's
the best we've got I've marked the possibilities on the illustration
below. Meanwhile Peter P. did great service removing the rest of the
topsoil from trench 4 and then exposing more of the massive rubble
core, no facing stones ... yet.
The wall with the top cleaned and the buried soil in front of it
exposed plus note the moulded block on the left. Here's distant
view showing the relationship with other rubble built structures
Could these be possible locations for the wall? Yes, yes, I know it's a bit premature but it's good to speculate.
Trench 4, the ever growing rubble core looking north west.
The day started out very wet and stayed that way pretty well until
lunchtime. the morning was spent finishing off the recording - plan and
section drawing - on the long thin trench next to statue base 4. peter
completed the excavation of base 1 which enabled me to draw it plus
take mortar samples from each base, they are different, makes you think.
Peter trowels in the rain to reveal the full extent of base 1
A snippet from the report on the Doric Arch area
After lunching in the shelter of the Temple of Ancient Virtue it was
back to the Temple of Modern Virtue where I was able to draw and then
start to remove the nineteenth-century rubble revetment to the upcast
from the Parson's Path to the west. It was hard going sticky and slippy!
Peter lunching in the TAV, only later did he notice he was dining with Socrates who was enjoying a cup of hemlock!
Balancing the drawing frame to draw, except I kept sliding down the
slope to the right. Then digging underway, like excavating a Christmas
Friday May 10th.
A much better day. Peter continued to chase down what is turning into a
massive foundation on the north east corner of the complex whilst I
finished, almost, digging away the dreadful combination of clay, rubble
and roots to come down onto the tumbled mass of sandy mortar and rubble
that sealed the earlier wall. Another half a metre or so of this was
uncovered plus a rather nice piece of architecture, presumably recycled
from the earlier house, came to light.
Thursday May 16th.
for the day by Gary who nobly took on the task of investigating whether
or not a wall extended further to the west from the north east corner.
It didn't, however, there was evidence of a possible gravel path and a
buried soil at quite a low level
. Meanwhile I continued to
trace out the course of the ashlar blocks facing what is increasingly
looking like the facade of some element of the structure for the Temple
of Modern Virtue. We discussed at length the possibility of the walling
belonging to an earlier structure on the site possibly medieval
or sixteenth or seventeenth century. My feeling was that it would be
too much of a co-incidence plus there really were insufficient finds
for any kind of a domestic structure. Time will tell.
Friday May 17th.
A very welcome helping hand from Gary searching for another wall and the finished trench.
The wall goes ever on and on....
joined me for the day to continue to shift the overburden from in front
of the front wall, largely upcast from the Parson's Path to the west
with a large amount of demolition debris: rubble and mortar below it, Dreadfully
difficult digging: pickaxe, mattock, fork, spade.... a combination of
all four, nothing really works. If we do decide to extend I'm going to
lobby hard for squeezing a mini-digger in.
There was then something of a hiatus as
I had a week booked excavating at Cliveden followed by a week of
skeletons in Burton Dassett churchyard, oddly one of the early homes of the Temple family
Thursday June 6th.
Peter poised to take on the final layer of
A rare sight of yours truly pondering the wall, is this the end?
A couple of days had been set aside for the final push on the currently exposed area.
Today was perfect digging weather: dry, sunny, occasional clouds, not
too hot, ideal conditions for digging and Oliver's first visit to Stowe
as a volunteer. He continued the epic struggle to shift
a particularly hard and tenacious grey clay, capping to the looser
deposits of rubble and gravel, as well as shoveling shed loads of
rubble away. His efforts were partially rewarded by a remarkable piece
of stone, a sharp cornered piece of moulding with a diamond shaped
section. Have we found the end of the wall yet? Well certainly the
foundation courses carry on, the facing blocks come to a halt but is
unclear as to whether or not they were robbed out or stop perhaps for
the jamb of one of the openings shown on the early engravings.
Oliver looks for the end of the wall... and doesn't find it.
Meanwhile I was extending the
section from the southern end of the wall westwards towards the
towering mass of rubble that loomed above the trench and guess what?
They both appear to be part of the same structure. This provoked a
serious change of mind. Having previously viewed the rubble mass as a
late addition to the scene it now appears that it is a large upstanding
chunk of walling thoroughly buried below the spoil from the cutting for
the path. What I think we are now looking at is the facade made from
well coursed ashlar blocks backed by a huge wall to the rear acting
partly as a buttress and partly as a side wall for a space of some kind
behind the facade. Not sure about this yet but we do have significant
quantities of what looks like well made and well laid thin stone
paving. Negotiations will now take place as to how much of the rubble
between the lump and the front we can afford to take away. Who says
archaeologists never change their minds?
The photo that says it all: the rubble wall backs on to the finished face, all part of the same structure.
A few finds including more architecture.
Friday June 7th.
pretty well all day. Nevertheless a very useful site meeting with Gary
to discuss future strategy. Although yesterday clarified aspects of
some of the structural elements of the complex we still cannot
relate what we have seen on the ground to the published images. A
couple more dry days should see the last bit of digging in the areas
already open and all the recording completed and then it becomes a
weighty issue for the project team as to what to do with it next. There
is tremendous care being taken to protect and preserve the trees in the
immediate vicinity but it strikes me, and this is a totally personal
view, that the opportunity to fully excavate and preserve the remains
of what is potentially one of the most significant garden buildings of
the eighteenth century should not be overlooked, the man in the hole