Latest News


A Rare Iron ‘Pig’ from Steart Farm, Devon


The built heritage team has recently recorded a group of 18th–19th-century farm buildings, including a Grade II listed farmhouse, at Steart Farm, Buck’s Cross, near Bideford on the north Devon coast. The Level 4 record was carried out for RPS Planning and Development in advance of construction of the new Route 39 academy on the site.
The work included detailed digital 3D measured survey, photography, fabric analysis and documentary research. Analysis of the plan form and fabric of the farmhouse suggests the earliest part may date from the 17th–early 18th century, which is older than that suggested in the listing description. This early house had a simple rectangular plan, with walls constructed of cob and timber ‘A’ framed roof trusses. At one end was a large inglenook fireplace, the focal point of the house, providing heat and where all the cooking was done. The farmhouse was extended to the south-west with a service range added during the mid-18th century.

3322 Cloam oven with re-used cast iron ingot

On one side of the inglenook fireplace was a ‘cloam’ oven, a feature characteristic of traditional north Devon houses. Cloam ovens were built of clay and made locally in the Bideford and Barnstaple area, a centre of clay oven construction and distribution from the 17th–19th centuries. The surveyors were surprised to discover a re-used cast iron ingot with visible maker’s stamp that had been used as a lintel over the oven opening, albeit inserted upside down. On close inspection, the stamp reads ‘PRINCIPO * 1727’.
The significance of this feature was not at first apparent, however research has indicated that the iron ingot or ‘pig’ is a rare survivor of the Principio Iron Works in Perryville, Maryland, USA. The works was established in 1719 and operated from 1723 being the earliest in the county and one of the first in the American colonies. It has been estimated that approximately 50,000 tons of pig and bar iron were exported from Maryland to Britain between 1718 and 1755, perhaps half from the furnaces of the Principio Company. Most of this went to London, but some consignments were sent to other ports, amongst which may have been nearby Bideford.


Steart Farm was part of the large Rolle Devon estate during the 18th–19th centuries. During the late 19th century the estate was run by the prolific philanthropist and builder Mark Rolle (1865–1907) who was responsible for many improvements to farm buildings across his estates in south and north Devon. Rolle’s work can be seen at Steart Farm in the characteristic red brick dressings and features on some of the buildings (see left and below). Rolle constructed a new cow shed or shippon (later converted into a bungalow) attached to the existing barn and, as part of this general improvement, a horse engine house was built so that fodder could be processed for the cows kept nearby.
Following the death of Mark Rolle in 1907, Steart Farm was sold to meet inheritance taxes. It continued for some time as a small independent farm for most of the remaining years of the 20th century, but was eventually sold and ended up as a camping and caravanning park until this closed in 2014. Despite the new development, this is not the end of the farm, as the farmhouse, and some of the historic outbuildings will be incorporated into the academy complex. 

Kirkthorpe Weir and Hydropower Station


In 2015 Yorkshire Hydropower Limited and Barn Energy, began the construction of a new low head hydropower station adjacent to the Grade II listed Kirkthorpe Weir and Sluice Gates, on the River Calder, Wakefield. The hydropower scheme will use the flow of the river to power a single 500kW axial turbine to generate approximately 2.3 million units of electricity per year. 
During November 2016 Wessex Archaeology carried out a photographic survey of the Grade II listed weir and sluice gates as part of the works, when the opportunity to record the structure arose during a time when an unprecedented amount of the structure was visible. 
The extant weir and its sluices were constructed in 1827, replacing an earlier original weir dating to the early 18th century, and was granted Grade II listed status in 1986. The weir was constructed at Kirkthorpe as part of the Aire and Calder Navigation, when in 1699 an Act was passed in Parliament to improve the navigability of the River Calder from Castleford to Wakefield, essential for trade and the development of the area. 
The weir and its sluices have remained largely intact for the last 200 years almost and are the property of the Canal and Rivers Trust. The construction of the new hydropower station symbolises a new era for the site.
The new hydropower station was officially opened on 13 March 2017 by Sir John Armitt, Deputy Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, in a ceremony at the site which Wessex Archaeology were kindly invited to. We are privileged to have been part of such a fantastic project.
Further information on the prestigious project can be found at:
By Lucy Dawson, Project Manager

Sheffield Witch Flies to New Home


One of the more unusual artefacts that Wessex North inherited from ARCUS was a large wooden sign from a building on Corporation Street in Sheffield, removed during the demolition phase of sites along the ring road. Affectionately known as ‘The Witch’ the sign comprises a silhouette of a witch on a broomstick with the word MAGIC underneath. Discussions on local forums suggest that the sign was erected as part of a Halloween promotion advertising mattresses at ‘magic prices’. Since it was not directly relevant to the building it came from, Sheffield Museum didn’t want to add it to their social history collection. After some quick research, I found a museum in Cornwall called ‘The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic’ and I thought they might be interested in having the sign. It turns out they are! So after a long stay in the basement in the Sheffield office, she is finally flying down south to her new home in Boscastle. 
Here is a link to the museum should anyone be in the vicinity, one of the more unusual repositories Wessex has sent finds to!
Assiciated Links

Wessex Archaeology (Scotland) have moved!


After nearly seven years we have left our old premises at North St David Street and moved to 21-23 Slaters Steps, in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, near to the Scottish Parliament! The new building boasts a large open-plan office space over two levels, a laboratory space, storage unit, and conference room. With the addition of some plants and decorations depicting some of our key projects, the team have started feeling at home.
Following our recent recruitment drive we will be increasing the size of our team, in our shiny new office!

Falkirk Natural History and Archaeology Society

Wessex Archaeology was invited by the Falkirk Natural History and Archaeology Society to give a talk on the SAMPHIRE project. After arriving in Falkirk Isger Vico Sommer gave an hour-long presentation about three years of SAMPHIRE and the legacy it created. Highlights were the Ardno and Galmisdale wrecks. The members of the Society were very enthusiastic about the SAMPHIRE project and rewarded our speaker with tea and biscuits!

Littlehampton Talks on FIPAD

On Friday 3 March the Littlehampton Civic Society hosted my talk on ‘Nets, Wrecks & Artefacts’, discussing the Fishing Industry Protocol for Archaeological Discoveries.  I reprised the talk at Littlehampton’s
Look & Sea Visitors Centre on the following Monday and continued to share the contribution that the Sussex fishing fleet are making to the understanding of our shared maritime heritage.


The talks were well attended, with over 40 people at the first, and around 30 at the second. The Look & Sea presentation was followed by a fantastic lunch with the audience who had just been enlightened as to how the project operates, the ease in which finders can report material either through myself, via the website or MAS app, and a selection of the more recent finds was on display. These include: an early 15th-century cast iron cannon, an 18th-century lead ingot or ‘pig’, an early 19th-century rigging block, aircraft fragments and remains, anchors and mystery objects, along with a wide range of bottles and other items. This allows us to trace our maritime heritage from the medieval through to the 20th century using finds reported and shared by the fishing community of Sussex in the last 12 months. Both talks ended with lots of audience questions: from the survival of bone in the marine environment to the long term preservation and display of artefacts via ownership, salvage, the Merchant Shipping and Treasure Acts. 
There was also a lot of interest in the finds I had brought along to show people illustrating the sort of material found off the Sussex coast and how hard some of it is to see or identify whilst working in a wet and hazardous environment whilst on the moving deck of a fishing boat.

Ambergate Covered Reservoir


The Heritage Team from both Salisbury and Sheffield has recently carried out recording work at Ambergate Reservoir in Derbyshire. A Historic England Level 2 survey was undertaken as part of a planning condition required by the Amber Valley Borough Council, in advance of the redevelopment of the site which will include the decommissioning and replacement of the covered reservoir. 
Ambergate Reservoir was constructed in 1910, to an Edwardian design, as part of a wider scheme by the Derwent Valley Water Board. The whole scheme supplied drinking water to Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield via a series of reservoirs along the upper reaches of the River Derwent in Derbyshire. Originally three such covered reservoirs were planned but, only Ambergate was built. The reservoir had a capacity of 28 million gallons or nearly 106 million litres.
The scale was enormous, with reinforced concrete side walls 15 m thick at the base and 436 brick piers supporting a network of steel beams onto which a reinforced cast concrete cover was poured. The maximum depth of water was approximately 7 m when full. Clean water entered the 10.8 m deep octagonal inlet well via a tunnel where it was stored. Water was then pumped down several pipes to Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield from a 10.8 m deep hexagonal gauge well. In case of over filling, the reservoir was constructed with two giant overflow pipes.


Defined as a confined space, the dark cavernous interior, measuring 190 m long and 112 m wide and 8.20 m deep, was photographed using ultra long exposures under challenging conditions and with strict health and safety guidelines. Measured plans and cross sections were also produced so that there is a full record of the reservoir.

'Capability' Brown's Last Great Work

It is Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s last great work, a sweeping landscape designed around an imposing stately home. At first glance it looks like many other Brownian sites, a haha surrounds the house, a long drive curves around to the entrance and there are beautiful views across wood pasture fields. But hidden in the corner is a rare and mysterious feature − a huge curved kitchen garden wall. Kitchen gardens are a common part of stately homes, and most of the surviving ones were built in the mid- to late 19th century and consist of a fairly standard quadrilateral design. However, an early Ordnance Survey map from 1815 shows the garden at Berrington as round (it looks a bit like an egg with the bottom cut off), but by the time the 1844 Tithe map was made most of it has disappeared and been replaced with a standard square design. Only the curved northern section remains.
3305 1815 Ordnance Survey map (left) and 1844 Tithe map (right). Images provided by the National Trust
The National Trust want to renovate the walled garden and need information to support their plans so they asked Wessex Archaeology to investigate. Did Brown really design a curved garden or is the early map just a bad drawing? If there was a curved garden who demolished it? When did they do it and why? We decided on a three pronged attack – examination of the structural remains, geophysics and of course, a few trenches!

3307 The old wall on the left, cut short by the new wall on the right

First the wall: straight away we could see that the curved part of the wall had been cut short and the rectangular wall built up against it; this implies that the curved wall is earlier. Also, the brickwork patterns in the curved wall and rectangular wall are different, which suggests they were built at different times. So it looks like the curved wall could be original Brown and the rectangular wall is a later. Next the geophysics: we picked up the remains of several old buildings and, more importantly, what looked like a continuation of the curved wall buried beneath the car park, so we put a trench right over it but found nothing! Perhaps all the old bricks had been removed and reused to build the new wall or perhaps the line visible in the geophysics was nothing to do with the wall at all? 
Looking at all of the evidence, we still think its most likely that the curved wall is an original Brown design and the rectangular wall is later. Geophysics, old maps and even remains in the ground can sometimes be misleading and it’s up to us, the archaeologists, to make a decision. Perhaps you disagree… some old maps and photos are included here, what do you think?

Milepost on Boreham Road, Warminster


Wessex Archaeology has recently been involved with the conservation and refurbishment of a Grade II listed milepost which was commissioned by HPH Ltd. The milepost was located on the south side of Boreham Road, Warminster, Wiltshire. Listed building consent was granted for the restoration and relocation of the milepost with the new location in a prominent position approximately 30m further to the east.


The cast iron milepost, which was erected circa 1840, reads:

In addition, it has ‘WARMINSTER’ (the parish name) inscribed in smaller lettering across the plinth, although over time it appears that the ground surface had risen up so that the lower lettering and ‘1’ mile distance to Warminster had become buried.
The milepost was manufactured by Carson and Miller, who ran the Wiltshire Foundry based in East Street, Warminster. Over forty similar mileposts, many of them stamped ‘C & M W 1840’, can still be seen on roads radiating out from Warminster as well as other examples in Wiltshire, north Dorset and east Somerset. In addition to mileposts, Carson and Miller were well known for producing numerous agricultural implements, many of which were exported to places such as New Zealand, France and Germany.


An unexpected discovery during the excavation and removal was that the cast iron milepost was set into an earlier, 18th/early 19th century milestone beneath it. This milestone is inscribed:
To Warminster Town Hall Half a Mile, Sarum 20 Miles
Due to the discrepancy in terms of its distance to the town hall, it seems likely that the earlier milestone has been relocated from its original position and simply used as a useful base for the later cast iron milepost. A milestone measuring approximately half a mile from the town hall is depicted on Andrews’ and Dury’s 1773 Map of Wiltshire and this appears to show the earlier stone’s original location. 
Throughout the project, Wessex Archaeology was closely involved with members of the Milestone Society who have labelled it a ‘possibly unique’ example due to the use of an earlier milestone as a later base. The excavation and reinstatement work was carefully carried out by local builders R Moulding & Co under close supervision by Wessex Archaeology staff.
Once in our Salisbury workshop, specialist conservation and refurbishment works were carried out by our ICON accredited conservator Lynn Wootten and her team. This involved cleaning, treating the rust and repainting the milestone. A 3D photo model, which involved taking hundreds of digital images of the joined milepost and milestone, was created so that future researchers can closely examine both items following its reinstatement.
The relocation and conservation of the milepost has ensured that it is preserved for many years to come with the full height of the milepost revealed and the added benefit that it is now more visible in its new location. In addition, the removal of the milestone has provided useful information for the Milestone Society perhaps indicating that several other earlier milestones may have been taken up and re-used as bases for later mileposts. 

Iron Age Flax


This huge quantity of flax capsules and stem debris has been recovered from an Iron Age ring gully near Doncaster, and are thought to be the by-products of flax retting.
Flax – Linum usitatissimum –  is a plant first brought into cultivation during the Neolithic in Europe and south-west Asia, and for which two main uses have been recorded in archaeological, historical and ethnographical sources.
First came the use of linseed and linseed oil for cooking, of which we have abundant evidence since the Neolithic in many sites across Britain and the rest of Europe. Later came the use of fibres for textile production. 
Before they can be used for textile production, flax fibres need to be extracted through a process called ‘retting’, which consists of soaking the flax stems until they partially break down and the fibres can be extracted. This is known to have been done in features such as pits, ditches and even river channels. There is archaeological evidence for that process in Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age sites in Denmark but little evidence exists in Britain until the Saxon and medieval periods. Most archaeobotanical evidence in Europe is preserved in a carbonised state, because organic matter does not usually survive in archaeological sites unless there are special conditions such as waterlogging, freezing, desiccation or mineral replacement (as in latrines). For that reason, only in very few occasions we can recover evidence from activities unrelated to the use of fire, such as the extraction of fibres for textile production.
This is a really exceptional piece of evidence and we are thrilled about having the opportunity to study these lovely waterlogged samples.
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