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.
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 whcih may be upcast from the shallow pit dug
for the bases foundations. We also got a good look at the moratar used
here.. The statue base closer to the arch on the south side was also
recleaned and further dirt shifted to reveal more of its composition.
Interestingly the moratr here seems quite different - white and limey
rather than orange and sandy. Finally I popped out onto the golf course
carefully timing my expedtitons between rounds and I'm fairly confident
that through a combination of observing ground conditionsd 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 strated playing cricket! Hows that for the full English
expereince: cricket on the lawn at Stowe, anyway I didn't fancy
feilding at silly mid on and so went home.
New trench 2, the approach to the statue base lookingsouth and the shap 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.