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 cup!
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.
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 here.
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
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 there is a bit of
coping stone built into the block of stonework, a feature it
a shares with the similar block in trench 3.
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, tricky.
Sections cleaned and labeled in trench 1 to the south and north.
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 up slope by a hefty deposit of grey clay and fronted by a
spread of loose rubble and mortar down slope. 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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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 pudding mix.
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
Joined 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.
A very welcome helping hand from Gary searching for another
wall and the finished trench.
The wall goes ever on and on....
Peter 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
Peter poised to take on the final layer of
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
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.
It rained... 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 has spoken..
And then it all stopped, the man who inspects trees came to
call and the two large sycamores that crowned the bank were
condemned and all work brought to a standstill. So the trees had
to come down... wait a minute what about the bats?And so the
wait went on throughout the remainder of 2019. On the plus side
we did get a rather attractive explanatory panel.
In the meantime other jobs were underway which get their own
individual write-ups below.
A fairly quick job undertaken to try and assess the level of the
original 18th. century path at this crossing below a small
recently rebuilt cascade. The trenches were all machine dug and
the archaeology complicated by endless modern pipes and cables,
still we managed to come up with a reasonably convincing story.
The digging underway with heavy weight watching going on whilst
Sarah gets to grips with drawing the sections
Examining layers of recent path patching in brick and ash.
The Lower Copper Bottom Lake
Just a recording job on a late 19th. century sluice but
undertaken during the height of summer when hacking through
the undergrowth to get at it was something of a challenge.
Even so Sarah and I working together managed to get it sorted
out in a couple of very hot days.
The structure after a little weeding and a thorough brush
Sarah demonstrates how drawing should be done on a very hot day.