ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 42, March 1999


Civil War fortification brought back to light

A rare example of a Civil War defensive earthwork, long buried under thick vegetation and largely forgotten for years, has been cleared and surveyed by archaeologists from the English Royal Commission (RCHME) and the National Trust.

The survey found that Gallants Bower, one of a pair of forts on either side of the Dart estuary near Dartmouth in Devon, survives almost complete with five massive bastions up to 5m high, linked by a large curtain wall. The fort was built and manned with guns by Royalist forces who occupied the town in 1643. It was intended as a bulwark against an expected Parliamentarian assault, but in the event it served only as a refuge for defeated Royalist forces when the town was taken by General Fairfax in January 1646.

Surviving Civil War military structures are rare because most were associated with the sieges of large towns, and have since been obliterated by urban expansion or pressure on agricultural land, although substantial fragments remain at Newark and Huntingdon. The partner of Gallants Bower, Mount Ridley on the eastern bank of the estuary, is less well preserved, as a large house was built on the site, which has since been subdivided into holiday apartments. Gallants Bower, which belongs to the National Trust, survived because of its prominent but less accessible location on a narrow wooded spur above the Dart estuary.

According to the surveyor, Rob Wilson-North of RCHME, the strength of the fortifications reflects the length of time available to the Royalists for building the fort, in contrast to the more hastily-erected structures surviving at places such as Newark. The steepness of some of the curtain wall's upper scarps suggests they were originally retained by wooden or stone revetting.

Gallants Bower and Mount Ridley defended the routes into Dartmouth from the south-west and south-east respectively. Fairfax, however, attacked from the north. According to the local historian Ray Freeman, as many as 1,000 Royalists then fled the town to Gallants Bower and nearby Dartmouth Castle, but all quickly surrendered on the promise that their lives would be spared. Many years later, one soldier told of how he had to have his hand amputated because of frostbite, as a result of lying all night on the ground in Gallants Bower during the freezing January night. In 1650, orders were given for Gallants Bower to be demolished.

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Early Saxon pots in wide trade network

Scientific analysis of early/mid Anglo-Saxon pottery from the Midlands has raised the intriguing possibility that everyday goods were distributed on a regional basis in England at a far earlier date than had previously been thought.

Much late Roman pottery in Britain was manufactured in defined areas and distributed nationally by road, river or coastal transport; but in the post-Roman period, scholars have regarded most pottery as locally produced, reflecting a fragmentation of the economy as a whole. Only from the later 7th century, with the development of Maxey-type ware in the East Midlands and Ipswich-type ware in East Anglia, did pottery seem once again to resume a regional distribution.

Studies by pottery specialists Alan Vince of Internet Archaeology and David Williams of Southampton University, however, have shown that vast quantities of pottery, almost certainly made in Leicestershire, were distributed north to East Yorkshire and south as far as the English Channel in the late 5th to early 7th centuries. The pottery, Charnwood ware, generally rough in texture and dark grey, can be identified by traces in the clay of an igneous rock, granodiorite, whose source lies in the Charnwood forest in the northern part of the modern county.

This type of pottery was used for domestic items and funeral urns, and examples have been studied from both settlements and cemeteries using `thin section' analysis and binocular microscopes. It is unknown whether the granodiorite occurred naturally in the potter's clay or whether it was introduced as a temper. The proportion of this type of pottery in the overall sample from an area diminishes with distance from Leicestershire: it makes up about half the pots from Northamptonshire, a third from the Fens, and less than a twentieth beyond the Humber and on the South Coast.

According to Dr Vince, it is unclear at present if the pottery was made at `production centres' in Leicestershire or if potters from elsewhere came to Charnwood for materials - a seemingly bizarre idea for which there are nevertheless ethnographic parallels. Another possibility is that the goods were exchanged - perhaps during religious festivals - at the large cremation cemeteries, some with more than 2,000 urns, that are known throughout the area where Charnwood ware occurs.

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New pressures on public archaeology

The archaeology service in Worcestershire gained a last-minute reprieve last month, after alarming proposals had been put forward by the county council to close it down for lack of funds.

The change of heart by the county's main budget committee followed a wave of local media and public support for achaeological work in the county. A new proposal for a 10 per cent increase in the council tax, which has yet to be confirmed, is expected to leave the service intact.

The proposal to abolish the service, made in advance of annual budget-setting, recalled similar brinkmanship in Buckinghamshire last year, where the county council drew back in the end from complete abolition but left only a skeletal archaeology service with a staff of two to look after planning guidance and the county's Sites and Monuments Record (the SMR).

Further proposals this year include the abolition of Northamptonshire Heritage's nationally admired education service, and cut-backs to museum archaeology in North Somerset. The Pembrokeshire Coast national park authority has decided not to refill its vacant post of park archaeologist. These renewed pressures follow the fragmentation of services in Bedfordshire, and deep cuts over recent years to archaeology in Staffordshire, Hampshire and elsewhere (see BA, February, March 1998).

In Worcestershire, loss of the archaeology service would have brought an end to archaeological advice on planning applications, the closure or export of the SMR to a neighbouring county, an end to services for local schools, and the abolition of the field unit which currently undertakes the great majority of archaeological work in the county. Recent projects include the discovery of an Iron Age site near Evesham, prehistoric landscape surveys, and an assessment of the surviving archaeology of 64 small towns along the Welsh border.

In Northamptonshire, loss of the education service will mean an end to teacher training, archaeology sessions in the classroom, and the provision of artefacts such as pottery and bone, as well as the closure of the local Young Archaeologists' Club.

Vicky Pearson, education officer, said that the council was engaged in a fundamental reassessment of its services, and that archaeology was perceived as a luxury. `Other parts of the archaeology service are likely to be threatened in future years,' she said.

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In brief

Field boundaries

The Government signalled its support for the protection of all field boundaries, in its response last month to a report by the Environment Select Committee (see BA, February). It recognised that traditional field boundaries are of `historic importance' and `contribute significantly to local distinctiveness'.

At present only hedgerows enjoy some protection. New legislation to cover all boundaries, however, has to await the results of the Government's own research into landscape damage caused by agriculture and forestry, and up-to-date information on the state of boundaries provided by the Government's Countryside 2000 Survey.

An excavation in the vaults of Bellots Hospital, Bath, by the Bath Archaeological Trust has revealed a substantial Roman road and frontage buildings, one of which formed part of a black-smith's shop containing an anvil stone and spoil heap, preserved beneath demolition deposits of uncertain date. The anvil stone contains a worn area, possibly where the smith placed his foot. It will eventually be stored in the Roman Baths Museum.

Rose Theatre

Visitors will be admitted to the site of the Elizabethan Rose Theatre in Southwark, London, for the first time in four centuries next month, when a sound-and-light show will be staged telling the history of the Rose and of Bankside. The show forms part of a campaign by the Rose Theatre Trust to raise funds for a full excavation of the site, which was discovered in 1989 and preserved in the basement of an office block.

The news follows an assessment, published last month, of the location and survival of the archaeological remains of all surviving Elizabethan theatres in London, including the Theatre in Shoreditch, where some of Shakespeare's earliest plays were performed, and which was dismantled to provide building material for the Globe. The survey, by Simon Blatherwick for English Heritage, pinpointed 24 theatres of which the remains of eight - including well-known sites such as the Theatre, the Cockpit, the Hope and the Fortune - are thought to survive well.

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© Council for British Archaeology, 1999