Showing posts from May, 2017

Berkeley Castle Archives: an interview with David Smith part 2.

Following on from our blog post yesterday, students Tatchiana and Hattie discussed conservation issues facing Mr Smith as an archivist and his other interests.
What do you personally consider to be the most interesting research that has been conducted using anything from the archives? Is there anything which stands out as particularly significant? There have been several pieces of research that I’ve been really impressed by. The doctoral theses really are the tops because people have the time to really get into the documents in depth, and also read around them and compare them with documents in other repositories. The study of the development of the estate in the eighteenth century based on the Manor of Ham is a brilliant piece of work. He hasn’t quite finished writing it, but it will be brilliant, and he’s made a couple of presentations at Berkeley on what he’s discovered. And the medieval studies have been marvellous. [Bridget Wells-Furby] wrote an economic study of the Berkeley estat…

Berkeley Castle Archives: an interview with David Smith part 1.

David Smith is the archivist of Berkeley Castle, keeper of over 20,000 documents relating to the upkeep and lives of those connected to the Castle.
Mr. Smith began his career as a trainee archivist working in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, under Dr. Richard Hunt after which he spent 35 years as a local authority archivist in Ipswich, Coventry, Lancashire and Gloucestershire. While working as a county archivist in Gloucestershire Mr. Smith aided the current Mr Berkeley by cataloguing the vast archives of the Castle and has since taken a position exclusively working with the Berkeley Castle archives. The Castle archives house a collection of historic documents and books from the Berkeley estates spanning the entire history of the castle from the twelfth to the twentieth century. 

The Muniment room, which currently houses the archive, was established by the 8th Earl of Berkeley in 1925 and contains a number of historically significant documents. The earliest document in…

Humans of the Trench

At the heart of the dig here at Berkeley are the students; for 3 weeks, every Monday to Friday over 60 students gather outside Senate house at 8.45am to get on a coach in the name of archaeology. We arrive knowing the days finds are as unpredictable as the weather, and we arm ourselves with a bucket, trowel, shovel and gloves before descending into the trench. Each student has their own story of how they came to archaeology and here are just a few of Berkeley's students.


Amy is a second year student who was first drawn to archaeology because of the people she met in the field. She enjoys the open community archaeologists thrive in, and likes their (literal) down-to-earth nature. She appreciates that it is an active discipline, including lots of outside work but remains an academic discipline. Amy grew up watching Time Team and has always loved that archaeology can provide an honest narrative of history.

James is a first year student who has had an interest in early history f…

Why we wash mud: environmental sampling.

Archaeologists spend a huge amount of time unearthing and recording artefacts recovered during the excavation process. However some of the most important clues to past lives is not found in the stone and metal work of structures and material culture, but in the microscopic remains of organic material.

To understand the bigger picture of the past we use environmental analysis to uncover past landscapes of an archaeological site. Environmental sampling is an important aspect of archaeology as humans interact within their environments, which in turn have shaped human activity and behaviours (Dincauze 2008). Human life is heavily influenced by the presence of plants, animals and climates creating a relationship interdependent between all aspects of life.

As climates and activities continuously change they produce a record left behind in the micro organic remains of plants and animals. Usually these remains get missed during the process of excavation, which focuses on picking up macro bio…

A fine finial

On the first day of the second week at Berkeley, we uncovered a fragment of a decorative finial. Its decorative style and the location of the find suggest that it belonged to the period between the 13th and 14th century. It resembles the Perpendicular Gothic style seen in churches, where bold straight lines and elaborate designs were widely used.

Surviving finials with similar designs can also be found today, and quite nearby too! The arch of the Berkeley burial chapel in the neighbouring church of St Mary features a row of finials. This chapel was constructed by James I. Berkeley c.1450, which places it firmly in the period when the Perpendicular Gothic style was popular.

Another example with a similar style can be found in Gloucester Cathedral, decorating the tomb of King Edward II, who was also murdered at Berkeley Castle. This tomb dates to the early 14th century.

We have a few possible explanations for the presence of the finial in the pit. It may once have been a part of the dé…

Update from the trench: alignment's not just for the stars.

Previous excavations in Berkeley Castle’s butterfly garden (2005 - 2006) and The Berkeley Arms pub (2009) uncovered archaeological evidence for what is believed to be enclosure ditches that mark the outer limits of the Anglo-Saxon Minster precinct. Artefacts such as pottery sherds and several coins from the tenth century assisted in dating the construction of the ditches. These outer enclosure ditches were aligned at 010° from the north and are shown on Figure 1 as the outer blue line.

However, during further excavations of Trench 8 in 2015, a structure dating to the ninth century was excavated in the south east section of the trench, and found to have an alignment of 356° from north. Constructed of robbed Roman masonry, Professor Mark Horton explains that the building was dated to the eighth or early ninth century through the excavation of three coins from the reign of Coenwulf, the King of Mercia (796 - 821 CE).

During this season a wall has been excavated to the west end of Trench 8 …

Back in Berkeley - Stuart Prior returns

The last eighteen months were challenging for co-Director Stuart Prior. Last year, he was struck by a serious infection that attacked his brain and hospitilised him for an extended period. After operations, physio-therapy sessions, and bucket loads of determination, he was finally able to rejoin the project once more this season.

On the first day of the project, he lead our new students on a tour of the Castle and grounds, explaining why he is so fascinated by Berkeley.

Stuart spoke with the Engagement Team about his recent health challenges:
I was diagnosed with ADEM – swelling of the brain – it’s quite rare. I didn’t realise how bad I was, nobody told me at the time how rare it was. They don’t want to tell you these things, so I didn’t know if I would survive, I didn’t know if I could go back to work.  At one point, they said that I might basically be permanently disabled, I might never be able to drive again, I might never be able to speak again. At one point I couldn’t even feed …

The Romans in South West Britain.

The Roman conquest of Britain began under the Emperor Claudius in AD 43. The Roman Army had reached the South West by AD 45-47 under Aulus Plautius (Hornblower and Spawforth, 1998). Until the end of Roman occupation of Britain the South West was a centre of wealth, trade and farming, although as a whole South West Romano-Britain is under researched.
It has long been thought that the South West offered a strong resistance to ‘Romanisation’, particularly past the Tamar Valley which separates Devon and Cornwall, and that Cornwall remained largely out of Roman hands throughout the Romano-British period (InfoBritain, 2009). Recent research has refuted this interpretation and remains of Roman settlements have been found throughout the further South West, suggesting that Roman influence extended much further than previously thought. One of the sites which this re-evaluation of the evidence is at Ipplepen, in Devon, where a small settlement found in 2011 along with a coin hoard redrew the kn…

Find of the Day - John Legg Clay Pipe

Our find of the day, the first of the 2017 season, is a fragment of clay tobacco pipe. Fortunately, the bulb end is intact and we can easily read the maker's mark "John Legg". With this clue, we consulted the National Pipe Archive and dated the artefact to sometime between 1700 and 1800.
John Legg pipes were produced in the small town of Brosley [Broseley], Shropshire. Coal and clay were the town's primary natural resources exploited during the Industrial Revolution. In the eighteenth century, the pipeworks were one of the largest international exporters of clay pipes in Britain. Today, Broseley Pipeworks form part of a World Heritage Site celebrating this period.
While some pipes of the eighteenth century were decorated, this is plain apart from milling marks below the bowl.
Second year student, Tess Kaye, had this to say:
"I was just really surprised to discover such an interesting find on the first day. It brightened up the morning!"


The Nati…