ROOKERY PARK, MARLOW
This MAS investigation is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund
The site is to the east of the town centre, between Trinity Road and Chapel Street at NG SU 84989:86878. This is the location of a significant 18thC farm, which was replaced by a large house in about 1850, this was subsequently altered and extended, being demolished in the 1960's and the area turned into a park (see photos below). It is possible, even likely that the farm or a predecessor is much older than 18thC. Also intriguing are hints in the record of a Chapel, possibly dating to the 15thC or before. We are indebted to Tony Reeve for the historic research and considerable assistance.
An investigation is currently underway using historical research, survey, resistivity and excavation. There are two reasons for this extensive investigation. MAS is endeavouring to record all heritage assets as part of the Local Asset Register, so that when any decisions are taken by the Authorities, the impact on heritage has to be considered. Also very significant is that when Transport for Buckingham improved the path across the site they revealed structure but this was not recorded as required by the guidelines. When WDC and County were questioned they stated that they had no knowledge of any structures on the site. Whilst this is difficult to believe we thought that we had better record what remained, somewhat urgently.
Luckily we have several maps that show buildings, including Tithe maps, early OS etc. Also many early photographs, apparently from the late 19th to early 20thC. An accurate survey of the site was carried out and when plotted this map information, plus photo rectification and resistivity interpretation was also plotted. This provided a lot of information but a major problem. The process of copying and plotting the maps is not accurate and the resistivity was difficult to interpret due to the spread of demolition. Also it was realised that the different maps showed buildings in different configurations as alterations took place. Some idea of the complications can be seen on plot below. The different colours are the plots from the different maps.
The approval from WDC was limited, requiring minimum sized trenches, closed each day for reasons of safety. Clearly we had to position trenches, as far as possible, over likely structure or we could waste a lot of time, not an easy thing to do in this situation. By good luck it was noticed that a small part of a structure was showing through the grass but what this was or what part of a building was at that time unknown. It was decided to start with this and then follow the structure with successive trenches, so as to be able to plot buildings revealed and hopefully understand the layout. Small teams of MAS have been doing this over many weeks and it continues. Whilst successful, even this wasn't easy, as we came to realise that there were probably several buildings each having been extended and altered, also parts of the structure had been pushed over and moved during demolition. We have called this part of the building the annex for identification.
So what have we learnt so far
The visible parts was revealed as a concrete machine base, within a brick building. Another similar machine base was later revealed slightly to the NE.
The foundations were followed round the building. This end of the structure is assumed to be a single storey building that the documents indicate was built in 1919. The purpose of this building is as yet unknown but it was of some quality, having render and fair face plastered walls, a stone door cill, plus evidence of glazed wall tiles and linoleum floor on a concrete slab and screed. The purpose of the machine bases is also obscure, one having 4, ¼" studs the other 4, ½" bolts, plus indications that they both held an H shaped stand. Machines having cast iron stands of this configuration were common during this period.
About half way down the E wall was found a large ash pit, when plotted it was realised that the position was consistent with a large chimney on the photos. The area around this ash pit had suffered considerable demolition damage, making it difficult to establish function. It was larger than would be required for just a fire, possibly indicating a forge or boiler.
Various one brick thick cross walls were found indicating that the building was divided into rooms. On the W side, tiling was found that maybe the threshold of a door to the garden. Many finds were revealed of pottery (mainly domestic), window glass, iron fittings, floor tiles and similar. As yet although these finds are probably of late 19th or early 20th C date, there is little to establish the function of the building. One type of find of great interest was a number of hanging facing tiles, marked with a star, which we are informed shows they came from the star brickwork's. Attempts will be made to establish a date. An intriguing aspect of this is that the photos do not seem to show any tile hung façades
We are proceeding with excavating the annex in the direction of the main building to determine if it is connected. We hope to complete the outline of the annex within a week or so. It is anticipated that this will lead us to the east main end wall of the house. When this is found it will be followed to the SE where it crosses the path. It is at this point that the various plots mentioned above, converge and it maybe that this will enable us to find the c18thC farm buildings which we can then follow. The history information suggests that part of the old farm building were incorporated into the new house. If we can find this it will supply interesting information.
There is a great deal to be done which will obviously take a considerable time. The more people who get involved the more we can achieve.
RILEY RECREATION AREA, MARLOW - March 2011
Back of central (old Waitrose) car park alongside Crown Lane
Not much is known for certain about early Marlow, so Marlow Archaeological Society embarked on an ambitious series of investigations of a number of sites likely to provide evidence, one of these is Riley Park. Last year, MAS, investigations by terrain, geophysics and probe survey, revealed intriguing features. At the north east corner was a series of anomalies, probably piers for a pavilion. Associated with this arrangement of piers is evidence for an early paved entrance from near the corner of Cambridge Road and Crown Lane. Whilst no direct dating evidence exist it is probable that this pavilion may date from the first use of the site as a park. A further major anomaly was revealed meandering at an angle up the site between 20 to 50m in from the east path. Analysis of the data indicated a ditch like feature with an average width of 4.25m at the top. A worry was that this feature might be a service trench but investigation of the legal documents by the Trust seemed to rule this out.
On the 1st March this year the geophysics survey was extended south to obtain a clearer understanding of the main feature. On the day it was very cold but some 9 people braved the weather and did an excellent job made more difficult due to obstruction by trees, shrubs and paths. Great credit is due to Joy Blake who organised the people and Colin Smith who supervised the geophysics despite a damaged knee. All the data now available was re-analysed and plotted. This revealed that the ditch like feature at the south end curved towards the east. Again the analysis indicated a ditch or watercourse of a consistent width through out its length.
With the assistance of Dave Greenwood and Tony Reeve, considerable investigation of old maps and documents was carried out to try to relate the feature to anything on these old documents. Whilst not certain there were some indications of a relationship with features on an 1806 map but this map is unreliable. Intriguing is that the feature towards the south end appears to be avoiding something.
As early ditches and watercourses often have artefacts washed in that can provide valuable evidence, it is proposed to excavate the feature with one perhaps two narrow trenches. The Trust have kindly given permission for excavation, so long as there is no interference with the football area or public use of the site. In accordance with the archaeological regulations and guidelines, we are now preparing a formal "Written Scheme of Investigation" for County and Trust approval.
Subject to how difficult the excavation is, MAS intend this to be carried out as a training exercise. This will involve two sessions, one off site covering theory and practice and on site experience under professional supervision. Only those attending the theory and practice session and showing themselves to be reasonably competent can be allowed to excavate so as not to damage any archaeology but others are welcome to assist. Anybody interested in taking part must register with MAS in advance so that we know how many will be involved. Dates will shortly be announced by MAS.
Colin Berks MIFA MAAIS
AMERSHAM OLD TOWN WALK - 9th May 2009
Report by Colin Smith
Amersham Old Town nestles in the valley of the River Misbourne and is situated to the S. W. of the larger modern town of Amersham. It is now a collection of quaint shops and attractive old buildings that lie predominantly along one long, wide, street. There is evidence of settlements here going back to prehistoric times, although its name originates from the Saxon name Agmodesham, as recorded in 1086 in the Domesday Book. By the 17th century the town had a large Quaker community, which may explain its strong parliamentarian leanings at that time. Contingents of the parliamentarian troops, who were garrisoned here in the mid 1600's, were known to practice their musketry and gunnery by firing over the river onto the steep slopes on the north side of town. In previous centuries these slopes were also utilised in a more constructive way, they were a necessary component of the local cloth making process – the cloth was washed, stretched and dried on "tinter hooks".
Many of the buildings in the high street appear to be Georgian in style, but the large majority of them are much older. Closer inspection of some of these "Georgian" buildings shows that much earlier building styles are apparent; the brick exteriors are just façades on the fronts of the buildings and inside of many of these buildings they are seen to have been constructed in an earlier oak frame, wattle and daub style. In contrast, the front of the 16th century Kings Arms hotel suggests that it is a medieval building – it actually was reconstructed in 1927 to match the half timbered appearance of a building situated next to it. The old town is conveniently placed between London and several destinations – in earlier times it was a major coaching stop. There are still a large number of pubs opening onto High Street and these were at one time either post inns (for private use) or coaching inns (for the general public), and many of these still have large archways to the side of their main entrances, these would have allowed stage coaches to enter into the cobbled courtyards.
What was originally a simple 14th century village church, Saint Mary's, is situated at the beginning of Church Street. Over the centuries various additions have made it now quite a large building. Its present flint covered exterior was a "renovation" in 1890; apparently this was a way to use this material when it was excavated in huge quantities to produce a railway cutting. The traditional local cloth industry was so important that it was marked by an ancient, law - the newly dead when buried in the church yard had to be wrapped in locally produced cloth shrouds. In the church yard are graves that are marked by a curious half cylindrical structure, about 4ft in length, which apparently signifies this requirement, with the grave stone at its head. Anyone found not adhering to this law would have been heavily fined. The significance of the church to the community is emphasised by the importance that the local squirearchy of many generations – the Drakes, gave to it. There are large monuments to this family within, and many of whom were also interred in the crypt. One member of the Drake family is particularly remembered for his philanthropic work, a certain Tyrwhitt Drake, and details of his achievements are commemorated, in 1807, on the side of the church.
Up until recently Church Street was mainly associated with brewing. Along this street could be found premises to facilitate the work of carpenters and coopers. There is still a master brewer's house in Church Street and a building that was, at one time, the malt house which can be still seen. These trades were all necessary for producing Weller's Beer. The brewery no longer produces beer although the brew house still exists; it has now been tastefully altered for office purposes. The brew house straddles the Misbourne, which would have powered a mill for grinding "grist", this would also have been a direct source of clean water for making beer. There are buildings in the town that stand testament to the philanthropic values of the owners of Weller's Brewery; these were used as accommodation for brewery workers' widows; at a time when the certain fate of a widow was the work house. However, the last owner, George Weller, sold the brewery in good faith on retirement, only for the new owners to promptly close it down. Not surprisingly, the resultant unemployment coursed considerable resentment, and George Weller's memory is not as respected as much as it should be.
The Market Hall, built by the squire of the time Sir William Drake, in 1682, lies halfway along High Street. On prominent display on this building, facing onto High Street, is a coat of arms carved from stone – this was to remind the town's folk of the importance of this prominent family. A structure on top of the carved shield – a hand holding an axe was actually part of the coat of arms of Sir Francis Drake and represents an incident on board his ship where Queen Elizabeth I instructed Sir Francis to execute a member of his crew. It would seem that the Amersham Drakes wanted to identify with the Devonshire Drakes; even though there was not actually any relationship between the two families.
The neat buildings and shops to be seen now would, in earlier times, have had markedly different functions. There would have been a variety of trades performed by local people for the local community, many spilling into the streets. For example, in front of a shop that would have at one time been a butchers shop there is a metal ring that had been inserted into the kerbside, the ring would have been used to tether bulls destined to be slaughtered at the rear of the premises. There were a large number of butchers on High Street at one time. Among the other buildings that originally served different purposes were three that were work houses, and some others that up to the beginning of the 20th century were alms houses, these were built in 1657 exclusively then for widows. The Nine Worthies house was originally the White Hart coaching inn (this has nine paintings on a wall painted in 1550 representing heroes from classical times and biblical figures, i.e. worthies). A grammar school, that had occupied a building since 1626, was moved to larger premises in 1927; it is now a small shop at the S. E. of town. The Dowager House at the N.W. end of High Street was once the manor house.
If one ascends a road up a slope on the south of the high street (the other side of the valley) one passes the Kings Church (a Baptist church opened in 1700), which has a plaque on the side of the building commemorating the opening of a school here in 1842 – a "British school", the first state school to operate in this part of Buckinghamshire. At the top of the slope we were shown "the Platt", the oldest road in Old Amersham Town, this is a narrow, winding, track that derives its name from a local dialectic term for hazel nuts. As you descend back into the town you look down upon the 18th century rectory, a beautiful house set in its own grounds, in the garden is a well-house where, in living memory, it was still worked by a horse.
Famous individuals who had connections with the town include William Penn who lived at Bury Farm at the foot of Gore's Hill near the S. E. end of High Street and who subsequently married the lady of the house, Guilielma Springett, who accompanied him to the American colonies. John Knox is said to have preached at Saint Mary's. Oliver Cromwell may have stayed in the town during the English Civil War (Oliver's wife certainly did stay here). And finally, a celebrity of some notoriety was Ruth Ellis, who is buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery that is situated alongside the Misbourne.
FIELDWORK REPORT- JUNE 08
Phase 2 has been set out, with the JCB starting on Monday 30th June and troweled excavation starting on Tuesday 1st July. The JCB will return for T4 and in all expected to take 2 to 3 weeks. This is a large area and at the same time difficult to identify the archaeology.
Marlow, Low Grounds excavation (phase 2)
I have expressed doubt regarding the magnetometry evidence and have asked to see the report. I have also written to County to ask if the area of T7, 8 & 9 can be protected and excluded from the works. A good thing maybe that the works area but not the works will include the area of the barrows, no archaeological work is proposed here by the Env. Agency. This could enable excavation by MAS of part of say the central barrow, this has been proposed to both Env. Agency and County, we are awaiting a response. Also agreed with the Env. Agency is that members of MAS and others will be offered the opportunity to work on the main archaeology with the contracting unit.
FIELDWORK UPDATE -March 2008
Kings Arms rear
LOW GROUNDS FARM, MARLOW 2007 (LHI phase 2 excavations)
Low Grounds Excavation 2006 (LHI 06)Even though there was an old track adjacent it was unused and in very poor condition. The first task was to repair the entrance and 400 m of this track. This was a big job requiring a JCB, roller, 22 tons of crushed concrete, cutters, strimmers and a lot of effort by the members of MAS. Great fun was had doing this and the track was opened for access to the site.
Marlow Archaeological Society has carried out five years of investigation on this site leading up to the excavations of 2006. This work was initiated so as to investigate crop marks appearing on air photographs. The previous comprehensive fieldwork involved, survey, fieldwalking, auger and geophysics (methods of revealing features underground by electronic impulse. These investigations revealed that there was a low ridge and that on this ridge were three Bronze Age Barrows and an earlier Neolithic mortuary enclosure. Fieldwalking produced hundreds of worked and burnt flint increasing in density towards the north west of the site. Trial trenching produced more evidence mainly worked flint. All of the flint artefacts were reliably dated to the middle Neolithic. As part of a flood protection investigation the Environment Agency commissioned Oxford Archaeology to excavate 32 trenches to the north of the MAS site. These revealed pits and ditches again dated to the Neolithic some 2500 BC or about 4500 years ago. An auger survey was carried out by MAS along a line from the site to the Henley Road and this showed a paleo channel of considerable size. MAS geophysics had shown vague indications of circular features between the Barrows and the paleo channel. Ground and auger survey indicated that at some time the north of the site was an island surrounded to the east by marsh reaching to where the Thames is now and on the other sides by a large channel being a branch of the Thames. Today when flooding occurs in this part of Marlow it is because this channel is trying to run again.
By the start of 2006 significant evidence had built up showing Bronze Age on the top of the ridge but also evidence of earlier Neolithic occupation to the west and north of the island. As this area is on the edge of the site and adjacent to an old out of use track, it was decided, in consultation with the County Archaeologist, that this was the best area to investigate by excavation. Excavation of this type is expensive and an application was made to the Heritage Lottery fund which was granted. Negotiations took place with the owners who were most helpful for one acre to be taken out of production for two months. County required that Oxford Archaeology were commissioned to provide archaeological guidance.
A conference was held with County and Oxford Archaeology when it was decided to excavate 4 more large trenches towards the edges of the site. This started to produce results but the drought was making things difficult and a 5 ton tracked machine had to be used. The trench (T6) closest to one of the Barrows produced flint tools including a projectile point (probably spear). The trench running north (T3) whilst no archaeology was found showed a clean channel filled with sandy clay. A trench (T4) adjacent to the north produced what appeared to be a ditch running from the channel in which was found worked flint.
In August the excavation started with 3 trenches 20 m long and 2 m wide towards the centre of the site. This required a 3 ton tracked excavator which struggled due to the dry ground. The machine excavated down to signs of archaeology or natural, then the excavation was by hand by the many volunteers. These first trenches were disappointing in exposing little archaeology. One trench (T1) revealed a post hole (possibly Bronze Age) but no datable material. Subsequent plotting showed that this post hole was consistent with features on the geophysics. Also a small washed out channel (probably glacial).
The trench (T5) on the north east boundary was all in the sandy clay producing many worked and burnt flints. A small section of this trench was dug down to water level which was on the underlying gravel. When exposed the water could be seen running quite fast in a direction towards the paleo channel.
The last trench (T7) was where we had major archaeology. The end of this trench revealed a burnt area, small circular stake-holes, and many burnt and worked flints. The line of stake-holes seemed to be running towards the west and this trench was extended in this direction by JCB. We were now into September and it was becoming very dry and hot. The west end of this trench was in the sandy clay which dried like concrete when exposed and almost impossible to trowel. Considerations of the dry hard ground and of health in the hot sun caused us to back fill all trenches except the west end of T7 and suspend excavation to await some rain.
Fortunately after about 2 weeks the weather was cooler and there was some rain. This created ideal conditions and trench (T7) was continued. It was found that there were layers of sandy clay, the upper layer being more dense and impervious. When this layer was carefully removed we found a surface on a more sandy layer with many artefacts laying on this surface. A complete sample of a section of these layers was taken and this with other information when analysed produced significant information. It appeared that the surface on the more sandy clay was an intact, undisturbed Neolithic surface. This had been sealed intact by a subsequent inundation creating the more dense overlaying layer. Adding to his unique situation it was realised that this area was the plough headland where the plough had always been lifted which was why the archaeology was undisturbed.
The burnt area appeared to be a fire and carbonised wood was found. The exact position of all artefacts were carefully recorded then placed in sealed bags. When plotted the burnt flints, a line of larger unburned flints and pot boilers appeared to be associated with the fire area, as if they had been dragged from the fire. A large sterile sample was taken from the fire area for subsequent analysis. When plotted the stake-holes appeared to be in a regular pattern but the function was not clear, perhaps wattle and brushwood fences or screen or a small hut. All the flints were subsequently dated to middle Neolithic.
The large sample from the fire area when analysed produced amazing results. It was found to contain a smashed burnt pot and carbonised hazelnut shells. The pot was dated to Neolithic and the shells sent to the Rafter Laboratory in New Zealand for carbon 14 dating. Two dates were reported both having considerable confidence, one of 2672 BC the other 2815 BC both +- 40, the mid within the range being 2744 BC.
Whilst the excavation started with disappointment at the lack of archaeology in the end this was made up for with the results from a (T7) with the unique situation of an undisturbed prehistoric occupation surface plus the bonus of material that could be accurately dated. Consultation is now taking place with County to go back and extend (T7) as research into other similar sites shows that there should be evidence of habitation in the vicinity. The organisation of such an excavation is complex, the results show that the highest standards were used, at times more than 30 volunteers were working on the site. All showing that great credit is due to the organisers and members of MAS for their time, dedication and professionalism.