Books, Prehistory, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Volume 7 1882, Finds Near Stow on the Wold

Finds Near Stow on the Wold is in Volume 7 1882.

"Finds" On, Or Near To, The Excursion Of The Society At Stow-On-The-Wold. On July 25th, 1882. By the Rev. David Royce, M.A.

The subject of this paper will not, it is hoped, be thought below the demands of this extraordinary occasion. An important and distinguished Society, as this now is, on its General Annual Gathering, calls for a corresponding and congenial theme. Subject matter for such theme is, however, necessarily rare and partial. It is beyond the capability of every locality to furnish it. Stations, camps, castles, cistvaens, and the like, are not sown broad-cast. A Cirencester, a Woodchester, a Chedworth, a Uley, is not forthcoming on this section of the Wolds, to make an excursion hither a signal success, or a paper thereupon necessarily easy and engaging. Nevertheless, presumptuous as the assertion may seem, from the centre of the district now visited, with a radius of three miles, you will encircle a portion of the county eminently prolific in traces and relics of British, Roman, and Saxon occupation. Barrington, Bourton-on-the-Water, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Upper and Nether Swell, and the confines of the latter on the Guiting side, retain singular remains of the above-mentioned races. Discoveries have been made in this neighbourhood, yea, in the two Swells, to which the lamented Professor Rolleston declared that science was greatly indebted. That most laborious and learned of men was free to confess, that the long-horned barrows at Swell, Wold, and Hayle Knap, were as a revelation to him. Those mysterious mounds have been copiously described by Canon Greenwell and the Doctor in that most valuable of works, "British Barrows." Sir John Maclean has done good service by his more compendious account in Vol. V. of the Society's Transactions. To keep within the limits now prescribed — inferior to the above great discoveries, must be the subsequent "finds" now submitted to your notice. Comparatively insignificant they may appear — yet should they be consigned to oblivion. Minor "finds" they may be, yet do they clothe these Wolds with peculiar interest. They contribute a modest modicum to archaeological and anthropological science. They offer a page to this County's History. They may minister matter for profitable and inspiring reflexion, even to those whose "daily round and common task," or country-walk, brings these remembrances of remote ages, from time to time, before their eyes or in their way.

This paper would meet you (at least the Bristol, Gloucester, and Cheltenham members of this Society), at your more immediate entrance into this district honoured by your welcome visit to-day, and will conclude where this day's excursion has closed. The paper will greet you at Notgrove, or Westfield Station. It would first attempt to describe to you what once marked, and we may say consecrated, a spot through which the railway train now rattles with its unconscious passengers.

The substance of the notes of the writer of this paper, at the time of discovey, are as follows:-

Westfield Barrow [Note. Probably Notgrove Long Barrow [Map]]. — Sept. 10th, 1876. Tuesday — The excavators of the Banbury and Cheltenham Railroad reached the fine round tumulus in the centre of a large field near to the station, on the Bourton side. It was of the average dimensions, 80 feet in diameter. It was composed of fine mould, although raised on the brashy surface of these Wolds. First, there appeared a kind of slight roofing of slates carried up about one-third of the slope of the Barrow. On the east and north-east side, there was a considerable stratum, some 6 inches thick, of charcoal and decomposed animal matter, intermingled with tooth of horse, tusk of boar, and jaw of dog. This dark lower stratum seemed more or less co-extensive with the base of the tumulus. But, over and above this, the superincumbent earth was singularly and regularly striated with curved lines, or bands, of charcoal to the very surface. The following Friday revealed the desired object. The pick, in pursuing its onward career, struck on loose stones amongst the mould-harbingers of this "find." All carefully cleared off, there came to view a bee-hive-like capping of stones, in size about 2ft. by 10 in., but tapering off — these had sunk in at the apex, from smaller filling-stones having given way. These somewhat spiral coverers removed, all became manifest, viz: a cist, in the rough 4 ft. square, each side facing the cardinal points — two uprights east, two north, two west, and five south (PL X.). In the centre of the chamber, on a floor of carefully laid slates, was deposited a small heap of decomposed matter with small broken bones above it. There were two portions of skulls, perhaps of a mother and her child. To the west of this little heap, a small triangular bronze instrument, much corroded, perforated at the base with two holes. This instrument was sent to Dr. Rolleston, and is probably in the Oxford Museum. This burial was, of course, after cremation. These scanty remains were committed to this cist, erected on the very site of the burning. The charcoal from the pyre seems to have been scattered over the mould as they heaped it up, at intervals. Two Roman bodies were found some 50 yards to the east, edged round with stones, the head and feet covered with planks. Many sherds were scattered about — one, a goodly piece of the white Roman flint-roughed mortar. Here, then, are cremation and inhumation, side by side, as elsewhere in this district — not contemporaneous, judging from the bronze instrument and the cist itself. Yet there were fragments of Roman-like pottery in the barrow. In this discovery the excavators displayed great interest. The archaeological world owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Knox, the engineer, for offering every facility, and for drawings which perpetuate what the Banbury and Cheltenham Railway at once revealed and obliterated. The stones of this cist were conveyed to Copse Hill, and set up there on the site of another burial ground: but not after their original position or arrangement. It may here be noticed that the ancient name of Westfield was Caldecot. Query: Is there any connexion between the old, and not uncommon, name and these interments?

The Chessels or Chestles, Heath Hill, or Æthel. — Our next station is Bourton-on-the-Water, celebrated as being the site, originally, of a British city, and an important station during the Roman dominiou — subsequently, perhaps, called Salmonsbury. The camp here, and the undoubted villa with the "finds" connected with the latter brought to light in building the new railway bridge, will be fully described by our excellent ally, Mr. Moore. Onward, about half-way between Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold, near the Dikler (Theokyloure), whether travelling by rail or road, you have, on the left hand, the field called Chessells, or Chestles — nomen sat — (Cf . Kingscot, Rudder). The colour and richness of the soil, coins silver and bronze, and a crock containing a hoard of minimi found here, indicate Roman occupation. Heath Hill is no doubt more correctly given Æthel in the Ordnance Map. Accidentally, perhaps, it is found in the first two syllables of the adjoining hamlet, Mæthelgaresbyrig, now Maugersbury. In the garden of the farm-house, now called Heath Hill, several Roman coins have been found ; whilst small tumps in the adjacent field may possibly be tumuli.

Stow. — Not a stone's throw from S. Edward's Hall, on the north-east corner of the square, on the east side, at the back of the passage of the first doorway, was lately found a skeleton, in a cavity in the rock, just below the surface, N.N.W. and S.S.W., and pronounced by Dr. Rolleston to be Roman "well filled out globose skull, with the width on the crown, so characteristic of the Roman skull." Outside the town, in the first quarry, on the right, on the Moreton road, lay the Saxon, with a spear-head 18 inches long, a foot of which is the sharp-pointed blade. It was the weapon of one who may have fallen on the spot, afterwards immortalizing Stow and Donington its hamlet, where Royalist and Parliamentarian were together locked in their last mortal decisive struggle. Hard by, fell Capt. Keyte. Within earshot, or at most, gunshot. Sir Jacob Astley (seated on a drum) gave his captors his well-known shrewd and laconic counsel.

Upper and Nether Swell. — Pursuing this day's beat, as originally mapped out, and unfortunately, at the eleventh hour, in part rescinded — it was proposed to halt at the third field down, on the left hand side of the road to Upper Swell. Here, some twenty years ago, old foundations were dug up, wherewith to build cattle sheds and the boundaries below. On the summit of the hill stood the building, laid down (as discovered thus far) on the accompanying plan (PL XI.) It seems to be as follows:- A, vestibule some 8 ft, wide, 27 ft. long, facing south, at each end, traces of walls, projecting southwards, 8ft. Behind A, northwards, in line, were apparently three rooms: B, 45ft.; C, 32ft.; and D, 20ft. by 24 ft. each. In the fore-part of the room A, was found irregular pitching (a), somewhat zig-zag in places, the stones out of the upright. At the north-east corner of this pitching (b), in a hole, 3ft down, were light grey ashes, which, with a very little kneading, became a stiff putty. West of A, a passage E, 3 ft. wide, planked, ended at a wall F, running west, 63 ft., and then turning north, ran in that direction 75 ft. and more. At the north-east corner of D, more and more even pitching, about 8 ft. by 6 ft, implied an entrance there. Beyond D, a passage G, with very strong foundations and rough blocks of freestone. In this passage were found fragments of colander, a bronze armlet, an iron arrow-head, a drain-pipe, etc. All beyond this north side of the building, up to the road some 30 yards, was covered with quantities of rubble, slates, burnt stones, as of old buildings thrown down. This building may have served as a quarry early in the middle ages. It may have supplied in part, the very stones of Abbotswood — judiciously re-utilized from the Park Wall, bounding the field in which this building stood. Those wall-stones, at any rate, for their size, finish, and fire-stain, caught the attention of those "who go about with their eyes open." To return to the building. Below, downhill, south, were circular-foundations, 30 ft. in diameter ; below this, a very strong wall was excavated to the extent of 174 ft. In the northeast corner of the crew-yard, was a kind of kiln filled with ashes. Lower down, below the crew-yard, was an oblong building, 50ft. by 30 ft, between the two latter ran the road, no doubt, the "via regalis," which was diverted by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, when he imparked this part of the parish and gave to his newly founded Abbey at Hayles, with

"The true blood of Christ at Hayles,

Where pylgrymes paynes ryylite much avayles."

A similar oblong building, only with much bolder outline, exists in the field below, toward the Bowl (Bolde). But, still, what ground is there for supposing this to have been a Roman building? The masonry — hypocaust ; flanges ; bits of pseudo-Samian ware and Caistor ware with the potter's mark, | ESCVS. M | ; pointed slates ; nails for slating in abundance; an unique coin of Carausius, obv, IMP • CARAVSIVS • P•F• AVG; rev., two hands, conjoined MAXI • AVG • XX; others, Romano-British; oyster shells, the armlet, arrow-head, and quantities of broken pottery ; the situation — on the Fosse, and commanding a view of it on the distant horizon, beyond Bourton — its half-way position between the great camps of Bourton and Dome, on this highest point of ground — these may be adduced as evidence. It may have been a barrack, or halting place, or receptacle of some kind. It were presumption to suggest that this might have been the "Ystyw," or "Stow," which gave our metropolis its name. To make a compromise, this structure may have been connected with the Stow then, as now — the Pharos of the Wolds.

Upper Swell Barrows. — [Pole's Wood East Barrow [Map] or Pole's Wood West Barrow [Map]] Had the programme been adhered to, the road from Upper to Nether Swell would have taken our party under the two horned barrows, described in "British Barrows," which, it was hoped, the Society would have inspected. A detail or two of "finds," subsequent, and too late for insertion in the above work, may be worth recording, viz: secondary Saxon interment, on that favourite spot, the horned end of Long Barrows. Two Saxons were interred, after their wont, in pure earth, on a barrow of sheer stones. No 1, a young man, arms bent ; left, on breast ; right, on stomach — clavicle, scapula, tibia, fibula wanting ; only half of right femur; under right pelvis, a small iron knife ; spear on right side. The bones were "mashed" by heavy stones over them. No. 2, spear-head, like that of No. 1, only horizontal over head ; left arm down by side ; a large knife below. This skeleton more perfect, was that of a strong tall man ; yet tibia, fibula, feet and finger bones were not found with the body ; but bones that might have belonged to it were found on the top of the barrow, lower down. The bones of both were, in part, decayed and weatherworn. Both lay on their backs in line with the harrow, a foot to 18 inches below the surface and 17 ft. from the curve in the horns.

Barrow 2 [Pole's Wood South Barrow [Map]] — seen at times, by those gifted with second sight, swathed in unearthly flame. On its surface, at the horned end, with her head south, broken, and her bones displaced, lay a lady — between her knees, a small iron knife ; below her breast, an amber bead, whilst two circular cabled fibulae fastened her shroud, one on each shoulder.

But, "place aux dames !" as Dr. Rolleston exclaimed, on further removal of the soil, the remains of other bodies appeared. The frame of a man, lying north-east by south-west, had been displaced to receive the lady's body. Skulls and bones of two infants were found. A Saxon family, prematurely cut ofi", would seem to have been committed to this particular spot, on the, even then, revered and ancient cairn. A singular circumstance attending this "find," was the arrival of a telegram, at a British barrow, summoning Dr. Rolleston, from the grave of the Saxon lady, to the sick bed of his sister. Progress indeed!

Nether Swell. — Within a stone's throw from the north-west angle of the church, on the summit of the rising ground, in the allotments, stood, within the memory of the writer of this paper, a familiar, yet most venerable monolith. It was known as the Whistlestone [Map] (so called, perhaps, from this, the Wheat Hill, as the one beyond was the Oat Hill). This stone was the last, most probably, of a cist. Many bones were found at its base. A witticism, amongst the villagers, was this: — "When the Whistle-stone hears Stow clock (a mile off) strike twelve, it goes down to Lady-well (at the Hill's foot) to drink." Alas, poor Whistlestone! Farmer Illes, one of the olden time, one day picked up two of a perfect set of teeth, in plowing by the stone, but so harried was he by the weirdy teeth, that he replaced them speedily where he found them. But a later occupier did what the good folk of the village declared could not be done — for "All the King's horses and all the King's men" could not cast down nor carry away Whistlestone — but it was carried away — yet rescued from the roads or profane use. In the vicarage-paddock the pre-historic block now finds asylum.