Latest News


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.

My Week of Work Experience

Day 1

My work experience began with a tour of the building by Rachel and provided my first glimpse of Wessex as a company on a daily basis. 
In the late morning and rest of the afternoon I worked in the archives department with Thomas and Jennifer, the two new archivists. Jennifer showed me the new processes of archiving including digitising everything for easier access and availability as well as regulations and guidelines for both the company and the country. We worked on two cases and I was impressed to see the dedication and perseverance of both Jennifer and Thomas in a job which involved so much scanning!

Day 2

3296 On day two I did environmental sampling with Tony and Mai. I found out how environmental research is extremely important to discover past environmental conditions, old changes in landscapes like rivers and the progression of things like farming or cooking from charcoal fragments. The most surprising thing I learnt was the role of mollusc shells in establishing these facts! 

I helped Tony wash some samples which are collected in huge buckets and then sieved to collect flotsam like charcoal pieces. Not even a broken pump could diminish Tony's enthusiasm who then showed me a second method of sieving which was actually lots of fun! Afterwards I filtered off the charcoal pieces and washed clay off the rest of the sample. I was nervous as I found sieving a lot harder than expected and didn't want to wash away any of the samples but the whole team were very encouraging and helpful throughout. 


In the afternoon I helped Erica and Sue in the finds department. They gave me a job of 'marking' which involved labelling pottery shards and CRM (ceramic building material) from Winchester. I had to use a fine nib pen and black Indian ink to write the location number on each piece which was tricky but got easier as you got into the rhythm of it. It was satisfying to know I was helping their finds process and helping contribute to the historical conservation process in a very small way. 

Day 3

I spent the morning of day three with Roberta. She taught me how to use GPS and how archaeologists rely heavily on technology nowadays to accurately pinpoint and locate finds. She helped me map out a ditch, posthole and an 'imaginary sword' in the car park which was fun although it was raining (although this did help set the scene of a real archaeological dig). 
When inside we uploaded my 'finds' and I could see the areas I had plotted using the equipment. She showed me various techniques used in surveying including the work of lasers which was fascinating. She showed me many examples of the department's work including various skeletons and a laser scan of a church. I even got to draw an electronic outline of a skeleton which was quite eerie since I was drawing what was once a living person. Roberta gave me a real insight into her job, and told me many stories of previous sites she had worked even including sites in Afghanistan!
The rest of the afternoon I spent in archiving helping Thomas with another case which now has a digital copy. In this particular case one of the only things found was the remains of a pig!

Day 4

I spent day four with Peta and Tom of the Coastal & Marine department of Wessex. The biggest department of its kind in the country it showed me the extraordinary circumstances archaeology can be found. First, I had an introduction to the services and work the team do with Peta showing me various maps, photos and books used to research and find artefacts. Peta also carefully explained the various maritime services and organisations such as ORPAD who help preserve and regulate the locating of historical finds. Next I helped Peta scan some maps for another of her colleagues to use, highlighting the enormous amount of work the department puts into their research of possible sites. Peta made me feel very welcome and impressed me with her stories of the Iona II which sank off Lundy Island.


I then worked with Tom, who gave me the task of photographing, sketching and measuring the remains of a gun from the 18th/ 19th century. Once again, I was terrified I would drop and break this valuable object but Tom was very reassuring and helped me get the best possible angles for the photographs. I finally finished my sketch and measurements (which took a while as I’m a terrible artist) and Tom asked me what my favourite era of history was in the hope of being able to show me some finds from the time. I replied with the very specific era of Tudor but even so Tom was able to find some Tudor cannonballs to show me. I think working with Coastal & Marine was one of the best experiences of the week and has definitely made me consider other career options in archaeology.  
In the afternoon I was lucky enough to work again with the finds team cleaning Roman pottery, bones and pieces of lead. Using only lukewarm water and a toothbrush I cleaned the pottery and bone and let them dry in a paper-lined tray. It was quite humbling to be the first person to see these objects clean again after they had been underground for hundreds and hundreds of years. 

Day 5

My last day at Wessex was spent with the environmental department. The first half I spent sieving and dividing my previously found samples from Tuesday. Using different sized sieves, I separated my finds and bagged them up, picking out any unusual finds such as burnt rock, pottery or bone. Several times Tony had to tell me I had not picked up a lovely shard of pottery but actually a smooth rock but that did not dampen my spirits to find a ‘thing’. After labelling (and writing on the wrong side) several bags I started the process again with finds from a location with lots of chalk. It was a bad day to wear black jeans as I discovered but it was still lots of fun. Next, I went inside and using the charcoal and small flots I had collected on Tuesday I used a microscope to examine them. It was amazing to see all my work so close and be able to pick out snail shells, burnt grains and even a tiny piece of slag from my small glass dish. 
Thank you so much to the entire company for the wonderful opportunity to experience a field and sector of work I knew very little about! I’m extremely grateful.
By Tabitha Gulliver Lawrence

HMS Caroline


Members of the Edinburgh team visited HMS Caroline, the last survivor of the iconic Battle of Jutland (1916), at her mooring at Alexandra Dock, Belfast in early February, following her return from dry docking at Harland & Wolff. Caroline, part of the collection of historic ships held by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, has been undergoing a full restoration and advanced conservation to return the ship to as close a representation of her 1916 Jutland appearance as possible. The project also concentrated on developing interpretation to the public, educational facilities, improving access, safe-guarding historic fabric and enhancing the understanding of the ship, following her decommissioning as the floating base for Ulster Royal Naval Reserve in 2011.
Wessex Archaeology have been involved with the project since early 2014, where Dan Atkinson, Graham Scott and Rosemary Thornber conducted an extensive archaeological survey, the most comprehensive to date, and produced the first Conservation Management Plan for the ship and the associated Alexandra Dock. Since then the refit has been underway, with more recording work required on the exposed deck planking of the starboard waist, potentially dating to the WWI era. 
The most recent visit by Ben Saunders followed the return of Caroline after extensive hull repairs in dry dock and the repainting of the hull to bring her back to the Battleship Grey colour she would have worn at the Battle of Jutland, with a smart deep red below the waterline. The refit work is almost complete and Ben is currently updating the Conservation Management Plan to account for the fantastic work that has been completed during restoration; exposing original fabric throughout the ship and bringing her back to life. A particular highlight are the four 1914 Parsons steam turbines within the now accessible engine rooms, which have been carefully cleaned and conserved, exposing fascinating insights into their installation on the ship.
Dan and Ben will also be working on a Maintenance Plan for HMS Caroline, helping her keepers to ensure the ship continues to be in first class condition. Many thanks go to Victoria Millar, HMS Caroline’s Curator, and to Billy Hughes, the Ship’s Keeper for all of their help and support.
By Ben Saunders, Archaeologist

Churchdown Lane, Hucclecote


An excavation by Wessex Archaeology West in Hucclecote, Gloucester sought to establish whether a site at the Hucclecote Centre, in Chuchdown Lane had some relationship with a known Roman villa to its north. The villa, excavated in the early 20th century, was dated to c. AD 150 but was probably still occupied in the early 5th century, and appeared to sit within a well-established Romano-British landscape.
Our excavation identified two phases of coaxial field system, one pre-dating the villa, the other, incorporating a metalled road or trackway apparently leading towards the villa, contemporary with it. Extensive remains of ridge and furrow cultivation were also identified, the alignment of which appeared to respect the earlier ditches, suggesting that vestiges of the Romano-British  landscape were still visible in the medieval period.
To find out more about this site read the project page here.

Unique Prehistoric Find From Chisenbury?


This tiny but enigmatic object was found in late September 2016 during excavations undertaken by Wessex Archaeology working with Operation Nightingale and Breaking Ground Heritage, supported by Defence Infrastructure Organisation. It came from the base of the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age midden at East Chisenbury on the Salisbury Plain Training Area; a site remarkable for the quantity of late prehistoric ‘rubbish’. The surviving mound (approximately 3 m high) was apparently enclosed by a substantial ditch and had many postholes indicating associated structures.
Made of copper alloy and weighing just 3 g, the loop on the object may indicate it was worn as a pendant of some type, while its overall form is, perhaps, in some way reminiscent of a human figure. A 3D photogrammetric model has been created of the object in order to fully appreciate its delicate shape and form. Due to its size of only being just 24 mm high, a macro zoom lens was used to take the required photographs needed for the photogrammetry software.
The object is currently thought to be unique – it has not been claimed by Romanists, and prehistorians have, so far, failed to come up with any parallels. If anyone has seen anything similar we would love to know – a zipper pull has been suggested several times … it isn’t!

Water Fort, Bristol


During the English Civil War new defences, comprising a bank and ditch interspersed with forts and bastions, were constructed around Bristol, running from the River Avon to Brandon Hill. At the western end of this defensive loop was a fortified promontory, now known as Water Fort, which guarded the seaward entrance to the Avon. Wessex Archaeology West has undertaken a topographic survey of Water Fort, and a desk-based assessment, for Bristol City Council. Although the fort is ascribed to the Civil War period, it does not actually appear on reliable historic maps until 1883.
To find out more about this site read the project page here.

St Edith’s Well


Wessex Archaeology West monitored restoration work on St Edith’s Well, Castle Park, Bristol. The well is located in what was probably the late Saxon settlement of Brigstowe, which later became the centre of the medieval town of Bristol. The well was found to be stone-lined to a depth of 10 m, below which the shaft was cut directly through the bedrock. Evidence for the well having been fitted with a pump mechanism was also recorded during the works, which were funded by the Parks Projects Team of Bristol City Council.
To find out more about this site read the project page here.
By Tracy Smith, Archaeologist
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