WHAT ANNOYS – DELIGHTS – AND IS OFTEN UNEXPLAINED.
What is ANNOYING me this week?
The shortness of weekends!
What is DELIGHTING me this week?
The run up to the FIZZ next week with guest poet – Antony Owen.
In the Shadow of Leaves – Mike Six
SOME OF MY DOINGS:
Last Friday saw me attend the daily meeting at the Polesworth Abbey Dig, this was one of the last meetings for this digging season as the trenches will be being closed down at I write. They will however be back next year for another summer dig at which I hope to get my hands dirty with a little bit of digging as part of the volunteer team.
Having attended only three of these sessions, this is my view and impressions on what was found and how it was interpreted; the official view will no doubt be published in due course.
Tim Upson-Smith, the community Archaeologist on the project has done a fantastic job of leading the daily briefing sessions which saw forty people turn up on Friday to hear how the dig had gone.
Starting in Fr Philip’s garden where a T shaped trench has been cut into the lawn. Looking for the Abbey Cloister which following the traditional layouts of Medieval Abbey’s was expected in this area in relation to the church. Despite a disappointing start as they dug through layers of demolition rubble from the post medieval period, when the Abbey was demolished and the better stone works were robbed out to create houses and garden walls in Polesworth. There was also the classic post hole which showed all the signs of being part of some ancient timber structure, for which Fr Philip produced the original post from within the shrubbery and explained that it was in fact the result of a totem pole which was part of a Native American festival, some twelve years ago.
There was also a black slag layer, which was explained as being levelling material from the 1930’s when the vicar of the day was partial to a game of tennis and had the lawn levelled to make a tennis court. The slag most likely came from the local mining works.
By the final week of the dig all these diversions had been sorted out and the Archaeologists had dug down to the in-situ walls that formed the Cloister, which revealed that the Cloister was rectangular rather than a normal square – this was only by a few feet but nevertheless it was unusual. There was also evidence of the original floor of the Cloister with a single tile being found sitting at the correct level.
Under the floor level there was a burial, which had been disturbed in the past as the bones were collected together and lay next to the inner wall of the Cloister. It is thought that the De-Somerville family claimed this, the third most desirable spot to be buried. The Marmions having claimed the second near to the Chapter House and the first spot near to the Altar in the Abbey church being reserved for Holy worthies.
The bones were probably disturbed when the grave digger was lifting the floor for a subsequent burial and so gathered the bones and reburied them as a group rather than them being laid out in a traditional burial position.
We then moved into the next field where the archaeologists were looking for the Chapter House. The field which runs down to the river Anker was subject to open cast mining up until the 1960’s, especially down nearest to the river but the top of the field had been untouched by this and so there were two trenches cut into this that revealed walls of the possible Chapter house and also the infirmary, outside of this there were two burials one of a woman and the other a man, the latter of which only the legs were revealed.
The woman was laid out with her arms across her chest, as was tradition in a Christian most probably Catholic burial of the day. Her teeth are very well worn and show that she was of some great age when she died. Her diet would have included a large amount of grit that had the effect of grinding down the teeth. This was most likely the result of grinding flour, grit remnants were ever present in the bread used as part of the staple diet of the medieval times.
In the Chapter House trench there were the walls found, but there was also evidence that the site had been dugout to extract sand and gravel in the 17th Century, this was dated through clay pipes that were found in the backfill.
Archaeologists date things based upon the latest datable object that is found in the layers of the trenches. This is often difficult with objects such as coins, as these can be in circulation for a very long time. I remember that in the pre-decimalisation days of the late 1960’s that there will still Victorian pennies in circulation perhaps one hundred years after they were first minted. So Tim was delighted with clay pipes as they were very much of the time that they were made and used, like today’s cigarettes they were bought, smoked and then thrown away with in a matter of days or weeks.
Clay pipes can be dated from the size of the bowl; smaller ones are earlier as tobacco was expensive. These were also one of the first products to be given a makers mark and records of these makers and when they were making pipes can be checked. The pipes found indicated that the area where the sand and gravel were extracted was dug at around 1690.
We next moved out into the churchyard and the exploration of the mound. The mound in the churchyard was subject to Garrie Fletcher’s Poets Trail poem “God’s Dance within us”. Garrie’s poem explored the local myth that the Devil lived on top of the mound watching for the souls he could capture.
Further legends were voiced during the daily tours throughout the dig, with locals offering up thoughts as to what the mound was, these included: A Bronze Age burial site, a Saxon burial site. The last resting place of Boudicca – she was buried here because of the Abbey, (despite her death preceding the founding of an Abbey on the site by some 800 years.)
More practical ideas were that when the grave diggers dug the graves there was always a couple of barrow’s full of earth that would not go back into the grave, so these were dumped on the mound and over time this is how it grew. There is some evidence that this happened later, but if it was the complete story, would we not find these types of mounds in all churchyards?
Many locals were in two minds as to whether the mound should be explored as it would potentially destroy all the myths and legends and prove that the mound was in fact a rubble heap from the original Abbey.
Myths often grow around the feature in its current position in the landscape. Not that the mound has moved but the use of landscape around it has changed over time. It is first recorded on an 18th Century map and is in the garden of the manor house and not the churchyard. So it would not have started out as dumping ground for surplus grave soil.
The dig revealed that it was built up of stone rubble overlaid with earth and was most likely originally built as a vista point with a gazebo on the top from which the Lord and his guests could view and admire the layout of the formal gardens.
There is a fine preserved example of this type of mound with a gazebo, known as The Mount, at Boscobel House near Wolverhampton.
Link to the English Heritage site for Boscobel House.
Back in Polesworth, 19th Century documents show that the church purchasing the land around the mound to provide much needed ground for the extension of the churchyard, in the mid 1800’s around the time the current vicarage was built.
So there it is a garden feature built of earth and rubble, but that does not mean that the Devil does not live on the top, if you want to believe such things.
Myths and legends are after all, the archaeology of ancestral minds.
The final area of the tour was on the other side of the church near to the old stables. Here the team led by Mark had more walls than he could shake a stick at and I saw him try.
There are several walls but two down the middle of the site are the most striking. One is an older well made wall which has been cut into at an odd angle by a later less well made wall, which it is suggested is the foundation of later timber framed building. There is also a drainage system, which may have been part of the original building and was reused as part of the later timber built construction.
This, with a day and half to go, was still a mystery and it was felt that more exploration was needed during next summer’s dig, to get a better interpretation as to what activities have been the focus of this area of the site.
It is here that I can use the word “Shards” without my fellow poets screaming cliché. Shards, the overused word that is mostly used by poets in the wrong context.
There was a mass of pottery shards from across the site covering many periods, styles and uses.
Finds included some pottery that was possibly from the Polesworth Pottery that once stood in Potters Lane. There was also some Nuneaton green glazed ware, most probably from the Kilns at Chilvers Coton.
Midland Purple, a common hard fired pottery produced widely and in many forms from about 1450 to 1600 was also found on the site.
More information on Green glaze and Midland Purple ware can be found at the University of Leicester Archaeological Services website: http://www.le.ac.uk/ulas/services/ceramic_analysis.html
Other ceramic items included roof tiles and Tudor bricks – distinctive by their long, narrow profile.
Beer and wine stoneware bottles from Germany, known as Bartmann Jugs or Bellarmine Jugs. These jugs were etched with a face of a bearded man (hence Bartmann) and sometimes a seal or coat of arms. They were produced in mainland Europe in particular around Cologne, showing that Polesworth in the 17th Century had wider outlook than we would have perhaps presumed.
Bones were another feature and not the human kind. Remains of animals including pigs, cattle and chickens, which were most likely the remnants of the many dinners and feasts that the Abbey was to host in the times of the Gooderes and later the Nethersoles.
There was also almost the full remains of a horses leg – which was given the name Shergar (I bet archaeologists all over Britain call equine remains, Shergar), although where the rest of it is, remains to be found. I must add that there was no suggestion that the horse was consumed as part of a feast, indeed horses are still very much part of the Polesworth site, in the fields next to the Abbey.
And to Tim’s animated delight – Clay pipes in abundance, many datable. The pipes most likely came from Broseley in Shropshire (at the heart of the birth of industry), where pipes were made as far back as 1590 and as recently as 1957.
See Tim talking about them here:
I hasten to add that my interest in the paraphernalia of tobacco smoking is not in anyway an endorsement of such practices.
FOOD, DRINK AND TOBACCO – IT ALL BODES WELL FOR A SEASON OF FRUITFUL DIGGING NEXT YEAR. I MUST SORT OUT MY TROWEL!
Polesworth Abbey Website for the Dig
Dig the Abbey YouTube Channel links:
You can see the video footage by Peter Rally of this seasons dig at:
Plus some animations of how the Abbey may have looked
Photos from the Dig:
I WILL RETURN TO MY LOST POETS IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS.
SOME OF MY COMING SOON DOINGS
16th Sept – SPOKEN WORLDS – Burton on Trent.
20th Sept – THE FIZZ at Polesworth
24th Sept – 100000 Poets for Change – venue TBA
30th Sept – Launch of Sculpture on the Mound at Pooley Country Park.
(I will be reading Bernadette O’Dwyer’s Poem Jutt)
Some advance dates for October
4th October Night Blue Fruit – Taylor John’s House Coventry.
Guest Poets Janet Smith and David Calcutt.