Dr. Jude Jones, Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton
The summer season of 2014 concentrated on the reinvestigation of Lord Bolton’s late 19th-early 20th century excavations carried out in order to find the footprint of the New House built by William Paulet, Marquess of Winchester in the third quarter of the 16th century. A single trench (Trench 2) was opened on the NW range of the house’s outer courtyard and the wall foundations were uncovered together with the intervening domestic or service spaces. The trench extended to the inner side of the house and accordingly a limited amount of courtyard was explored too which revealed an embanked revetment made of brick and masonry pieces lining a ditch which may have been constructed as a service conduit by the later 20th century investigators of Paulet’s well and well house which lies immediately to the south.
The topsoil (Context 53) produced a mixture of finds which ranged from 20th century coins, shotgun cartridges and plastic ice cream lids to small fragments of 17th-19th century clay pipes, ceramics of various periods, Civil War musket and pistol balls, square-shanked nails and a great deal of 16th-17th century building rubble including some small, worked and diagnostic masonry fragments possibly part of the back-filling processes carried out by Lord Bolton’s workmen. These included the carved palmate capital of a central limestone window mullion which showed signs of having once had dark paint applied to the sculpted grooves (SF2). Its face, discoloured pink, was also plainly fire damaged which contrasted strongly with its inner unworked surface showing that it was an external fitting and the fire which took place immediately after the house fell in 1645 had only scorched the fragment’s outer side. Another item – a piece of limestone string course had a shallow cross incised on it, most probably a mason’s mark (SF3), while of two small corner fragments (SF46 Nos 1905/1908) the second seems to have been subjected to a rough graffiti mark. This appears to be an oval shape with an internal cross whose lower member bisects a circle. This suggests an orb and might therefore be hazarded to be a form of Royalist symbol but more work is needed on this object – an RTI image will undoubtedly shed light on its true shape. As both pieces are probably fragments of window sills or jambs a graffiti explanation is not unlikely.
Small ceramic sherds (totalling 120) were discovered spread fairly evenly across all contexts, including the topsoil. Few of them were particularly exceptional or gave evidence of much high status ownership with the exception of a fragment from the face roundel of the bearded male (traditionally thought to be Cardinal Bellarmino) whose mask is usually affixed to the front of Bellarmine vessels, also known as Bartmann jugs. These valued and popular jugs and flagons which originated in the Rhineland were imported widely during the 16th and 17th centuries and are constructed from salt-glazed stoneware which gives them a very characteristic stippled patina and colour (usually blues, greys and browns). This single sherd (SF 82), a fragment of beard with a blue and brown salt glaze shows that the mask was extremely large and suggests this was a sizeable and expensive jug or flagon. In all 12 salt-glazed stoneware sherds have been recorded though the other vessels which they represent are smaller and less prestigious. Three other very highly glazed sherds (SF 83 and Bag 147 No 1996) – all from the same artefact – indicate another early modern high status jug or tankard. This was fired both internally and externally with a dark brown glaze so highly polished it resembles lusterware. It has sgraffito decoration of combed incisions in chevron and band shapes.
The early modern ceramic material is generally homogenous and ranges from a large number of partially glazed domestic and cooking wares (51 in total) in the usual range of coloured slip glazes – browns, yellows and greens, to similar vessels (14 in total) with overall slip glazes in the same spectrum of colours. They come from a range of low-mid-status domestic crockery and cooking ware commonly found across the British Isles up until the 19th century.
These sherds were generally small suggesting that the site had been extensively harvested for unbroken ceramics when the post-siege New House was being dismantled and recycled after 1645 and that Lord Bolton’s workers had also managed to collect up the larger, more diagnostic sherds. They were also relatively unabraded which confirms current ideas that (with the above mentioned exceptions) this particular area was not extensively interfered with in later centuries. However, the ceramic collection also contains modern fragments from the topsoil, a single sherd of 16th century green-speckled Surrey Whiteware, 16 prehistoric sherds (most of which are from Iron Age flint tempered cooking vessel sherds similar to ones found in 2013), 5 coarseware Roman sherds and a possible 6 medieval sherds. One can infer from this that the IA/Roman settlement evidence examined in 2013 had spread across the site over time.
Most of the metalwork from Trench 2 was recorded as small finds and appears under that category in the data-base. The vast majority of it consisted of iron fragments or fittings which had escaped the recycling process because of their insignificance. X ray work kindly carried out at Chilcomb House for us by Amanda Sutherland and Claire Woodhead of Hampshire Cultural Trust was inconclusive and the functions of much of this ironwork remains unknown. RTI images taken by Claire and Nicole Beale are as yet to be published.
In total 57 iron nail fragments and one bronze nail were discovered, most of these being square-shanked, implying that they had been hand-forged and were not produced by a recent industrial process. A small early modern buckle (SF 72) was also found, suitable for use on a narrow belt, on leather harness or as a fitting for leather pouches or containers. A misshapen tin fragment was conjectured to be a Civil War bandolier bottle cap (SF 32).
More securely, other Civil War metal objects were represented by the lead musket and pistol shot found in the topsoil and elsewhere. Of these three musket balls were spherical and unspent, one was also unspent and retained its sprue, one was a pistol ball which was partly dented suggesting it had glanced off its target and the last was spent, having hit a hard surface and splattered.
Earlier Tudor metal finds were present in the form of window cames or the lead double-sided frames which hold diamond-shaped glass panes in place in 16th-17th century windows (for a further exploration of cames-making see my blog). There were 6 sets of these, most being bent into recyclable clumps which had evidently been overlooked during the post-siege metal reprocessing. It is most likely that these were from the original Tudor windows as they are more redolent of medieval window cames than later 17th-18th century ones. They were found across a series of contexts (1 x Con 53, 1 x Con 55, 1 x Con 54, 1 x Con 57 and 2 x Con 58).
Again, listed under small finds, a substantial number of small fragments of thin, high status window glass were discovered. A possible theory which I am presently considering is that the 1640s recycling activities were performed in discrete areas. Window glass, of course, would have been a vastly desirable commodity to recycle and may well have been collected up more safely and securely in a single spot rather than over the entire site. Unlike their cames which have a greater spread it is immediately apparent that the glass fragments are highly localised. Their contexts and frequency are as follows: Con 53 x 8, Con 54 x 78, Con 56 x 2, Con 57 x 4, Con 69 x 7, Con 77 x 3. This clearly shows that Context 54 has produced the vast majority of Tudor glass window pane fragments and suggests this was either a dump for broken panes (though these surely would also have been collected) or a possible recycling locality for glass where numbers of the smaller pieces have escaped.
Shell and bones
A moderate quantity of oyster shell was retrieved. As this had to be imported into Basing from the coast its carriage must have rendered it an expensive shell fish. However, oyster shell is also an important ingredient in the making of lime mortar so oysters have a dual usefulness.
The vast majority of bone consists of split sherds and fragments of the usual domestic eating animals – sheep, pork, fowl but less beef, all as yet unexamined osteologically. A bone report needs to be produced which examines the condition of this material as an initial brief analysis of it suggests the sherds are unusually small and have been cleft to extract the marrow bone. Evidence of a siege diet?
Both the Old House and the New were brick-built structures dressed with white limestone, some of it from Caen, all of it of good quality. The masonry fragments which turn up are usually worked at least on one surface, if not more. The three fragments discussed above which were found in the topsoil are perhaps the most diagnostic of the building’s masonry composition and certainly suggest it was painted on the outside, a regular way of emphasising the magnificence of the aristocracy’s great houses both in England and Europe. Thirteen other masonry pieces were found in the topsoil and in Contexts 54 (x 2), 56 (x 5) and 62 (x 4) consisting of worked architectural fragments which may have come from window and door dressings. Different stone types include one of an as yet unidentified material, rich in sea shell which is evidently a fraction of a window sill or jamb and which has a notch at one end for a transom bar and a groove to hold the leaded window (photograph attached). A masonry fragment of clunch (hard, quarried chalk) has been worked into a curved shape and suggests that less expensive stone may have been used in the guest or service ranges. A few fragments of slate indicate that at least part of the New House’s roofs were slated though these may alternatively be slivers of slate flooring. In all 11 worked flint flakes were found, confirming the occupational longevity of this part of Old Basing.
Ceramic Building Material (CBM)
Last year in our reinvestigations of the 1963-4 Aldermaston Archaeological Society’s excavations on the far side of the Old House we trawled up an immense amount of 16-17th century brick, roof and floor tile and other forms of CBM. Unfortunately as much of this material was 1960s backfilling it proved extremely hard to make either quantitative or qualitative analyses as it was impossible to track any of it back to its original location. This year the quantities were even greater and as a result our strategy was to retain both typical and unusual examples and make qualitative deductions about what appeared. The roof tiles had treenail pegholes and a nearly complete one gave the following typical dimensions:
- Trench 2 Con 54 No 2096
- 5 x 15.5 x 2 cms (11 and a half inches x 6 inches x three quarters of an inch).
As there were so many broken roof tiles found it was obvious that most of the roof of this part of the outer courtyard range was tiled in this way, pegged into the rafters and fixed together with an internal mortar skim. Floor tiles made of plain baked red clay were also plentiful measuring an average of 17.75 x 17.75 x 2cms (ie c 7’’ square). As these contrasted with other much larger, glazed floor tiles it is likely that, if they came from this part of the House, the area was likely to have been (especially towards the lower southern end) part of a service range.
Finds of the more high status glazed tiles were rarer but these were considerably heavier being c 4-5 cms deep. These had a rough dark green slip glaze and two were discovered (SFs 62 and 84). SF 62’s surface was fairly unworn as it had an unmortared side suggesting it was an edging floor tile. SF 84 had a glazed surface which showed considerable wear as if from the passage of many feet. It is possible therefore that the grander corridors and entry ways used frequently by members of the household had this type of more solid, decorative flooring.
As expected, there were a huge number of Tudor bricks, some of which showed signs of warping and vitrification indicating their proximity to an episode of intense heat such as the post-siege fire. This seems highly likely. However, in addition, on studying the wall foundations it became evident that a small room annex had been added, projecting into the inner courtyard, after the building’s construction since its brick foundations abutted the Tudor walls rather than being keyed in. The foundations of these walls contained a number of reused bricks, some of which were highly vitrified. Our colleague, Dr Yvonne Marshall put forward the suggestion that during the early part of the 17th century when the Paulets, having financially over-extended themselves, were trying to reduce the scale of Basing House, other areas had been dismantled and recycled. These bricks may therefore have been gleaned from decommissioned hearths and fireplaces and were accordingly suitable only for foundations. It would be interesting to try to test this theory as there is as yet no hard physical evidence of such an episode apart from documentary material.
There have been few signs of terracotta objects or decorative artefacts this year, except for three shaped decorative fragments of floor tiles which suggested a form of parquetry or opus sectile terracotta pavement (a garden feature?). In addition 2 small but beautifully crafted red terracotta bricks were found which might have come from a specially created wall or building such that lining a private garden or pavilion. Other CBM material includes an elaborately rubbed brick fragment. This appears to stand either upright or sideways in a solid bed of mortar with a narrow profile topped with a inverted V shape and an external coved side under this which has been plastered and then painted (in what is now a rose pink pigment). This intriguing find has puzzled a number of experts and the consensus is that it may be part of a decorative wall parapet either attached to one of the buildings or as part of a fine garden enclosure. Certainly it demonstrates the grandeur of conception and the brightly coloured design of the two Great Houses. Lastly a number of fragments of wall plaster have been gathered and we have also taken some mortar samples.
Although this year there have been few finds of an unusual or spectacular kind, the assemblage is beginning to disclose a number of elements which are helping us to form an idea of the New House’s external and internal feature during its life. They are also allowing us to start analysing the methodology of its Civil War destruction and the means whereby its materials were recycled. While it is impossible to draw any definite conclusions in this respect, nevertheless 2015’s excavations will benefit enormously from the progress made in 2014.
In addition an analysis of the X-ray and Reflectance Transformation Imaging sessions done on a selection of the finds will also assist us to assess the treatment of the data, especially in regard to the metalwork and the masonry with its possible graffiti or mason’s marks and painted decoration.
In order to explore the possibility of locational recycling it may be as well to adopt a quantitative finds methodology in 2015 in order to understand the distribution, not only of window glass but also of the whole range of building materials across the courtyard as we expand our investigations.