Tag Archives: Archaeology

Archaeology in the View Garden: the report

This month our regular working party update takes the form of a report on the archaeological exploration volunteers undertook in the View Garden in January. This will be just a summary, our full report gives much greater background and detail on what we discovered. 

At the start of the year KWAG identified four areas for investigation in the View Garden, the area of the walled gardens to the north of Napier Miles Road. Our ambitions were to understand more about some lost garden structures and their appearance. Just behind the gateway into the area from the east was a raised bank coinciding with the location of a small building at the head of a long axial path on the historic Ordnance Survey maps. A few well-aimed kicks at the ivy had shown there to be something here, but only a concerted effort might uncover more. The location of Bewy’s Cross was entirely lost, and it was impossible to visualise where it once stood. Here then, was another target for exploration: to locate the location on the ground. Finally, two areas of the woodland floor where ornamental stonework stubbornly clung on were likely the sites of two sets of steps set out along the axial path heading in the direction of a former viewing point at the far west of the garden. The two sites together offered a good opportunity to get a glimpse of the intended ornamental aspirations of the garden’s creators. 

Our ambition has been simply to uncover and record rather than to make more invasive investigations into lower levels, adding “flesh to the bones” of the Victorian era gardens, giving them a new and amplified significance as part of the Grade II Listed Registered Historic Landscape.

Mr Elms stands resting against Bewy’s Cross in 1950, shortly before it was dismantled and moved.

Bewy’s Cross:  
The week before the work started a new photo was discovered in Bristol Archives. Showing the site in 1950 the figure posing on the steps of the cross is Mr W T H Elms, Avonmouth Churchwarden, who had freshly uncovered the cross by pulling ivy off. This was undertaken as part of the final, ultimately unsuccessful, campaign to have the cross moved to the churchyard in Avonmouth. This is the only known photograph of the cross in its View Garden location, but so little recognisable detail in the background made it difficult to pinpoint where the cross had stood. Instead, we relied on a rough measurement taken from the historic maps, a small raised area with a number of self-seeded sycamore trees surrounding it. Digging quickly revealed  a regular gravel surface just 6 inches below the ground.. this was matched on the other side of the small mound by another gravel surface. When excavated further, both these areas terminated at pronounced edges running  parallel to each other and demarking an area  about 10ft 9inches between them. Digging down further in the eastern trench this clean edge continued beneath the gravel, bottoming-out 11inches at a hard flat reddish-brown clay surface assumed to be the natural earth. The area between the two surfaces was characterised by lots of loose rubble stone and dark mulchy earth.

A cross-section of the excavation.

We can be confident from the location and alignments that the gravel surfaces are likely to be the garden paths shown on the 1884 map that once ran around the cross. The space between them was where the cross was removed in about 1952, and the rubble infill probably to level the site again afterwards. Sadly, there was no other evidence that could help date when the cross first came to the gardens, and no sign of any earlier structures. The dig here has identified the location and orientation of the Cross within the View Garden, shown how the paths around it were simply formed around it, and provided answers on how it was left after removal. Finding the exact location has assisted in understanding how it related to other features, particularly the rockery to the east which was encountered as a feature along the path culminating at the cross. It may be that evidence of foundations, dating evidence, or of the features survive beneath the rubble stone pile, but the likelihood is that everything was removed.

Scale drawing of the excavations around the site of the lost cross.

The Garden Building:
The garden building is the most complex and enigmatic of the structures explored as part of our dig. There’s scant documentary evidence for it, the only record of it having existed at all being three consecutive editions of the Ordnance Survey map between 1884 and 1916. These show it was a small structure set close against the Georgian wall defining the east of the garden, and at the head of a long formal path, since vanished. The site remained as a pronounced bank just to the east of the Georgian gate piers, and between two mature yew trees. An idle poke about ahead of December’s working party identified the potential for the survival of structures here, and its significance at the head of the axial path through the garden indicated it was of some importance in the garden design.

The foundations of the garden building with the steps in the foreground and the floor platform beyond. 

 The excavations identified the base of the with a monolithic stone and mortar feature forming the foundation of steps once aligned to the axial path, and a raised platform behind it from where an excellent view could be had down the length of the garden. The floor was laid with a lime mortar base of about 4 inches in depth, and later topped with a thin cement layer in which the pattern of tiles remained. The platform was laid on poor foundations and apparently directly onto the earth mound that ran along the Georgian Garden wall at this point. It has subsided to the rear and disintegrated closer to the wall. The remains delineated a square area roughly 7ft 4 inches wide, but sharply angled to the steps with a chamfered edge against them.

Excavations around the edges of both steps and floor platform provided no evidence of side walls or foundations for them, only loose infill not unlike the surrounding garden soils. The lack of foundations and roof or wall debris poses a puzzle. There are two possible explanations: Firstly, whatever superstructure there was may have been dismantled and taken away in its entirety, maybe for sale or reuse elsewhere. The very poor condition of the monolithic step base shows that the original stair treds and risers have been removed with considerable effort. These would likely have been of high-quality hard-wearing stone that had monetary value to whoever took them. Had the walls of the building been of high-quality materials these may also have succumbed to the salvage man, but this would not fully explain why no obvious foundations could be identified during excavation, there was no evidence of a systematic demolition process. 

Measured plan of the garden building foundations

 The other possibility is that the building was fabricated from timber and other organic materials; these would require a less substantial foundation and decay to nothing over time. Many garden buildings of the 18th and 19th Century were built in this way, with some making deliberate use of the rustic character of natural logs, boughs, bark, and thatch for picturesque effect. The slumping of the floor and disintegration of the edges could have begun early in the building’s history, without the support that more durable structures could have provided.  The cement floor surface illustrates that efforts were made to repair the building at a time in the late 19th or early 20th Century when Portland cement became more commonplace. From the variation in thickness, the cement looks to have been applied as a levelling screed to compensate for the slumping floor level. Care appears to have been taken in the restoration, with the original floor tiles lifted and re-laid on the new surface. However, most of the subsidence should be attributed to a time following the building falling out of use and its walls and floors vanishing. The nearby yew tree may also have accelerated the disturbance of the structures.

3D scale model of the garden building suggesting its appearance as based on the excavated remains. 

 With its dominant position raised up at the commencement of the axial path this building had a key role in the design of the View Garden. Its generally small size limits likely uses to which it could be put, so the likelihood is that it was a covered garden seat from which the Italian-style gardens could be enjoyed at leisure.  It’s likely to have continued in use as part of the View Garden, “the gem of the whole garden”, until the first quarter of the 20th Century, after which it probably decayed and was abandoned. The removal and salvage of valuable materials is unlikely to have preceded the death of Sybil Napier Miles, who delighted in her gardens and maintained ownership of the area until her death in 1948.

The steps: 

Section of the decorative limestone edging, showing sockets and pegs in the end used to connect to the next section in the chain. 

Two sets of steps appear on the Ordnance Survey maps set out towards the west end of the axial path through the garden. Fragments of masonry on the surface showing where volunteers should dig to uncover more. The lower set were heavily damaged and robbed-out, but the upper steps survived in better condition. Both sets provided important evidence of the intended appearance when built. Excavations at the upper steps revealed clear gravel surfaces at the top, and lower level, separated by roughly mortared brick and rubble stone foundations where three steps once descended. Another mortar area at the western end of this area, roughly in line with the end of the decorative edging, represented a final step set away from the main trio. The steps and gravel path were about 8ft 2inches wide,  lined either end by decorative limestone edging stones. The edging was carved with a simple curved moulding. It had been robbed out almost entirely against the south side. Edging stones ran the length of all four steps, turning to terminate against a pair of limestone blocks at the top end. Beyond these blocks were further square stone slabs set at angles to the steps geometry.  

Scale plan of the excavations at the upper steps. 

 The function of the limestone blocks is unclear. As found, with a smooth and level top surface, there were no indications that any of these blocks ever had any structure built upon them; Nor were any of the blocks of adequate depth to support anything of any scale or weight. Had they been the bases for garden urns or statues a degree of differential weathering would have been expected, highlighting the outline of any permanent feature stood upon them. The proximity of the Georgian glasshouse in the View Garden, the knowledge that the Miles Family took great pride in growing exotic plants, and the notion that the View Garden was set out as an Italianate garden, all suggest that these blocks could have formed seasonal platforms for the display of tender potted plants or citrus trees.

Looking east across the upper steps. The two levels of gravel path surface can be seen separated by the brick and rubble stone steps. Decorative edging survives on the left and the stone blocks are visible at the very top.  
A cross-section showing the excavated features. 

The lower set of steps was of the same design. The edging here showed an elegant curve to the design at the bottom of the set of three steps. Evidence for the actual steps came exclusively from this set. A few fragments of pennant stone remained following theft and damage in about 2011, but enough to understand the character and dimensions of the large stones.    The evidence uncovered allows us to make an accurate reconstruction of the two sets of steps. Remains indicate the View Garden was laid out to a high quality design, requiring the use of expensive materials and significant building work. They show the importance of the axial path through the gardens, adding emphasis to the viewpoint found at its western end and the lost building at its east. The importance of the viewpoint, the raison d’etre of the garden, has been largely lost by the gradual growth of trees obscuring the views once celebrated. The design of the garden and other anecdotal evidence suggests that it was laid out in the 1860s. It incorporated the existing Georgian walls and glasshouse, and Bewy’s Cross into its design, adding the new formal path to focus attention on views. One reference to this as an “Italian” garden would fit the Victorian obsession with the Italian Renaissance and the design features introduced at this period. 

An impression of how the view along the axial path might once have appeared. The lower and upper steps are lined with potted citrus trees and in the distance the garden building presides over the whole scene.

 Next month we’ll report on a few surface finds from the area, but if you can’t wait until then, you’ll find everything in the full report now available on our website
If you’d like something more interactive, you can explore our 3D scans of the excavated areas:

Bewy’s Cross base
Garden building
Lower Steps
Upper Steps

Gone with the Wind on Kingsweston Down.

One historic feature of the estate remains shrouded in mystery: the lost windmill on Kingsweston Hill. By chance we rediscovered the remains on a recent walk across Kingsweston Hill, and they remain as a pronounced landscape feature. It’s often been mistaken for a burial mound, of which there are several across the hill, and occasionally as the remains of a Roman signal station or lighthouse.

The location of the old windmill on Kingsweston Hill in relation to other features. 
The windmill shown on the 1720 estate plan with a roof and sails. 

Already, by 1772, it was described as an ‘old’ windmill and is shown on the estate plan of that date standing just within the boundary of the Tithing of Kings Weston. The earliest reference to it appears to be from an earlier such plan from 1720 where it’s shown, perhaps emblematically, as a tower with a rounded top and four arms for sails, but, surely an “old” building would have stood for more than 50 years? Had it already fallen into disrepair by 1772?  The origins of the building are unclear.

The remains surviving on the hill are now hidden somewhat by self-seeded trees that have scattered themselves across the site, but close inspection is worthwhile. There remains a significant mound with a hollow dip in the centre. Loose stonework sits half-buried around the remains and covered in ivy. The ring is about 7m in diameter and 1m in height, but the outline of the original building is likely to have been blurred by the walls falling outwards giving it a broader outline. It was clearly a circular masonry tower when first built.

It occupied a prominent and fittingly exposed location on the hill until trees grew up encroaching onto the open downland in the Nineteenth century. The wind coming up the Severn must have proven a regular if occasionally violent source of power. The mill had certainly fallen out of use by 1768 when a French Colonel was sent to spy on British interests. He recorded that the tower of the old mill was in use as a lookout in times of war, indeed, it was drafted into use for such in 1804 when a flagstaff was erected on it for signalling during the Napoleonic Wars.

The windmill is depicted punctuating the skyline of Kingsweston Hill in 1799. Blaise Castle is visible to the left of the foreground tree. 

Several Georgian drawings and prints confirm that the tower remained to a substantial height and remained a significant feature, complementing the silhouette of Blaise Castle folly as an eyecatcher on the horizon. Perhaps its strategic military use ensured it was maintained at least as long as the country was threatened, but by about 1820 it vanishes. Its fate is as unclear as its origin; perhaps it was dismantled by the 22nd Lord de Clifford, robbed for its building material, or dismantled as a handy source of stone to burn in the nearby limekilns. Whatever happened to it, the surviving earthworks present an intriguing opportunity to excavate it and discover its secrets!  

Explore the site using the 3D scan here 

a 3D survey of the area showing the outline of the lost windmill 

Excavations on The Tump   

Long ago, when we were first exploring the historic sites around the estate a feature came to our attention on a map of 1772. It was drawn on an estate survey by Isaac Taylor, drawn in 1772 and now part of Bristol Archives collections.  A detail showed a rectangular shape, that we knew from later maps was a cattle pond, and a dark square feature shown excavated back into the slope of The Tump nearby. Again, looking at later maps this was marked as a well by the 20th century but its appearance on the Georgian plan raised the question whether it had begun as an ornamental feature in the landscaped grounds.

The location of the arch on The Tump 
 The arch exposed in the north slope of The Tump

Back in 2011, when we were first aware of it, we searched the whole area in vain. The cattle pond remains broadly traceable alongside the path from modern day Moor Grove, but any remails of the other feature completely eluded us. When we returned to the area as part of research for last month’s newsletter we noticed something in the bank that we’d missed before: a low stone arch. We knew from an entry on the city’s Historic Environment Record that an arch existed close by, it had been reported as roman in origin, though was quickly established to be more recent, described as an “18-19th century spring head”. This corresponded with the feature we now saw on The Tump, and with the date of the Taylor plan. With the location now identified we set out to uncover what the arch was from. We undertook some superficial clearance of some of the undergrowth around the arch and excavated either side to establish how wide it was. The arch is irregular in shape, and roughly built. As found its crown was clear of the ground surface by about 20cm, but using a torch it clearly extended backward under the bank. When surveyed it transpired that it went back 1.7m under ground, ending in a flat rear wall.

The location of the livestock pond and square feature on the 1772 estate survey. 

 Cutting back either side revealed the arch was shallow, springing from two side walls 1.34m apart. The front sections of these walls, and the arch itself, were rough, indicating that they had been  broken away with portions demolished. The mortar holding the arch together contained lumps of ash and was white in colour, indicative of an early-mid 19th century date. The mortar of the walls appeared yellow and of different, earlier date. With the general dimensions of the remains established we sought to find out how far the structure once extended out from the hill, and where it terminated below ground. Digging down on one side the infill was loose rubble, so loose large lumps could be easily lifted out by hand. At a depth of 47cm below the springing of the arch there was a clear pool of water!

Something new for KWAG, we’ve utilised new freely available new photogrammetry technology to create a 3D model of the arch and cistern as excavated. To explore it for yourself follow this link: 
Spring head at The Tump, Kings Weston, Bristol – Download Free 3D Model on Polycam

The arch during excavation. the hole dug down on the right reached the water table around 40cm below the arch spring

Unfortunately, further excavations weren’t possible, but the exercise established a lot about the feature, its function and fate. It was clear that it wasn’t a garden feature, but a practical one. As suggested by the Historic Environment Record, it looks to be a natural spring that had a cistern built around it to collect water; this waster was used to feed the livestock pond just a short way downhill to the west. The 1772 estate plan may show an open cistern dug into the side of the hill. It appears that this had a vaulted roof constructed over it at a slightly later date, and from its location it would otherwise have risked filling up with silt washing off the hill. The irregular shape of the exposed edge of the arch represents a square aperture, an inspection hole or hatch, that would account for it being described as a well on later maps, despite having a very shallow water level and not being dug down in the traditional manner.

Scale diagram indicating the form and size of the cistern or springhead.
Image from a 3D photogrammetry model of the arch. Click on it to view the model in 3D

The animal pond survived the construction of Lawrence Weston estate around it, and is shown on aerial photos from 1950, glinting behind the houses of Moor Grove. No doubt this posed a health and safety risk to the new residents of the area, and it is reputed to have flooded downhill in wet weather, into the gardens of new houses. It would have been a practical necessity to infill the pond, and it’s likely that the spring or well head was dealt with at the same time, with the arch partially destroyed to enable its infilling with rubble. Whilst it wasn’t the imagined grotto or ornamental feature that it might have been the cistern is interesting, nevertheless. Its importance to the agricultural estates justifies its marking on the 1772 plan, and the relationship with the livestock pond shows how the opportunities were harnessed.

More revelations from the hot spell

We reported last month on the parch parks that had become visible in the lawns around the house in the hot weather. We’re really grateful to Matt Ford, a drone enthusiast, who remembered us asking about this a couple of years ago, and captured a couple of great images looking down on the area. These have revealed much more about what we could see on the ground, and have also helped correct some of the archaeological survey work we’d undertaken in previous years.

An enhanced version of the drone photo, kindly provided by Matt Ford. The house is visible top-left. North is approximately in the same corner. 

The first thing that probably stands out are the parallel green lines running diagonal to the house. These were also picked up with geophysics surveys and represent low-density, moisture-retaining features that have allowed the grass to remain green for longer. We now think the most likely explanation for these is that they are part of the underlying geology, running roughly aligned to Penpole ridge.  

 The irregular parallel features retaining moisture, and showing as green grass on the aerial photo. 
Enhanced photos showing the feint traces corresponding with the corner of the Great Court and the path aligned with the restored avenue. 

You have to look a little closer to start picking out some of the lost historic features. We knew the  outline of the Great Court in front of the main front of the house remained as a shadow in the geophysics data, but the hot weather revealed it physically on the ground once more. The court was created as the grand formal setting that helped frame the grand main facade of the house when it was rebuilt to the designs of Sir John Vanbrugh from 1712. The aerial photo includes a clear demarcation of the side and front walls, with a pronounced corner being the most defining feature (feature B). Also visible are wide strips of green heading away from the house and the Great Court. These are part of the parallel avenues of lime trees that once connected to The Circle as part of a grand axial arrangement, and alignment of out 2014 trees corresponding with that line.

Halett’s 172 map of the estate overlain, with features showing as parch marks identified. 
The Great Court illustrated in 1746 by James Stewart. the statue is visible in the centre of the walled area.
Diagram showing why the Great Court may be showing as a moisture-retaining greener area. 

One thing that’s puzzling is why the Great Court shows as more green than the dry grass to the south. The visitor can still see the very shallow depression where the court must have been cut down directly into the rock to create a perfectly flat yard, so why would this not be harder ground with shallower soil that would dry out more quickly? It may be that, when the surrounding walls were taken down and the court deformalized in the 1760s, the ground had to be made back up again to form an unbroken smooth lawn. This would see looser fill material offering a better harbour for moisture, and explain why it read as low-density on the geophys. This also suggests the strips were also cut in, and later infilled.

The Great Court might explain another feature further to the north, a thin but defined line, that relates to the alignment of the front wall (Feature E). This was in the area covered by geophys, but there was no corresponding high-resistance feature that would otherwise indicate a wall. The jury’s out on this particular mark.

A pronounced feature (feature A) that does appear on the ground and the geophys is a hard lump or two nearly symmetrical with the front of the house. With its prominent location in the centre of the court it’s tempting to interpret this as being the foundation for the statue base for a statue of Hercules dating from the building of the house from 1712-1716; perhaps future excavation will reveal this and confirm whether the base of the statue of Hercules at Goldney House, Clifton, matches the one lost from Kings Weston.

Enhanced photos showing the corner of the Great Court showing up as a distinct green patch which continues towards the house.

Our second geophys survey in 2017 we supposed to be geo-referenced to make sure it overlaid with our earlier 2014 results, however, the parch marks now indicate that it was a bit off. We have now been able to correct the overlap between the two by matching the physical marks on the ground. Comparing both parch parks and the survey shows that there is a return wall (feature C) stretching southwards, away from the Great Court that adds to our understanding of the garden layout. It’s not a feature shown on any early maps, but probably dates to the same period as the mansion. It bisects the Great Court midway along its south wall suggesting that it was aligned to the centre and the statue location.  

The archaeological geophysics results reconfigured over the parch parks, and showing correlating features.
Enhanced photo showing alignments of a linear feature and the outer wall of the wilderness garden.  

Another new discovery has been the locating of the garden wall of the second of the earlier large garden courts that spread out between the house and the Echo (feature D). We have this in early engravings and plans, but the parch marks now locate it physically. Marks show that the existing formal garden was designed to be slightly shorter, with the lost ‘wilderness’ garden beginning closer to the house than the current hedge. The marks also show that the wilderness garden was much wider than previously thought, and with this knowledge it’s now easy to see variations in the topography of the field that likely relate to it. This area may be worth looking at for archaeological excavation to explore what features might remain from this important 17th Century feature.

At this point it’s worth bringing in another survey technique: LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). This uses laser measuring to create a hyper-detailed topographical survey that can be adjusted to highlight lumps and bumps on the surface of the land. We know from this that there are a series of regular parallel ridges across the whole of the lawn, and that these don’t relate to the natural bedrock below. We don’t know what they are, or why they’re here, but we can tell is that they pre-date the 17th and 18th Century garden features as they’re truncated by them.

LiDAR survey showing how the earlier ridges were truncated by later garden features. 

One final detail brought out by the dry weather has at least photographic evidence supporting it; Moving attention to the garden front of the house there are marks in the recently laid lawn that correspond to alternating circular and rectangular rose and flower beds of the Victorian era (feature F). Perhaps a focus on this area in future years might reveal more of earlier garden layouts?

Key features identified on the enhanced aerial photo .