SVCA Medieval Graffiti Survey Project

Since we have been unable to get out and about on our various projects, we are including write-ups of some of our projects – maybe this will whet your appetite for when the lock down eases. The first of these reports is about our medieval graffiti surveys.

For some time we have been surveying medieval churches in our area for old graffiti. Much of this is what you might suppose: someone scratching their name and the date – although this may have been done as far back as the 1500’s – but a lot are clearly of ritual significance and are known as apotropaic marks. The graffiti are usually carved so as not to obstruct previous marks, indicating some respect for them, and they can also be quite elaborate.

Research into these marks was pioneered a few years back by a historian and writer, Matthew Champion, to try and understand their meanings and SVCA has been contributing to this by forwarding our findings to a central database.

Having found a suitable church we get permission from the church wardens – who are often surprised at what we manage to find – to do the survey. We generally work as a team with pairs working in different locations of the church. We use an LED light held at an oblique angle to bring out the details and hold a scale card against the graffito being recorded before taking the photo – it can be like playing Twister to get everything into the shot! Generally overcast days are best for doing the surveys as the graffiti are not so visible on bright sunny days.

Here are some of our findings:

This “daisy” pattern is one of the commonest that we find and is in almost every church that we have surveyed but its meaning is not clear. It’s clearly not idle scratching as a compass is required to make it. This example is from the church at Hintlesham
Known as a Marian mark; may be found the other way up as an M or in combination. The V version shown here is thought to represent “Virgin of Virgins” whilst the M version represents the Virgin Mary. This example comes from Gestingthorpe church.
This pentangle is another common finding and is thought to represent the five wounds of Christ. this example comes from Stradishall church
As mentioned earlier, some graffiti are quite elaborate. we think this is a peacock and comes from St Peters church in Sudbury
Crucifixion scene – another elaborate carving for St Peters church
An example of a name and date form some centuries ago; this example is from Chilton church.

So next time you are in an old church, take a look around you and see what you can find, If you want to seem more about graffiti see or in Matt Champion’s book “Medieval Graffiti: The Lost Voices of England’s Churches” – or better still, join us on our next survey when lockdown restrictions are eased. We have covered nosy of the churches in the upper Stour area so we mat have to go further afield.

As usual, you cane-mail us at for any information about us.

Finally, a big thank you to our committee member, Jane, who has masterminded SVCA’s work in this field.

Hopefully, I will get to meet you face to face in the not too distant future.

David Orrell (SVCA Chairman)

SVCA update.

As the effects of the Covid-19 virus are becoming more and more grave, it is becoming clear that we will be seriously hampered in offering you an archaeology programme over the next few months. We will aim to offer you some interesting blogs  to  read instead.

Please note that the committee has decided that subs paid this year will cover next year as well.

Clare Dig 2019.1
Clare Castle Dig September 2019


Further to the above Cotswold Archaeology made the following announcement today:

After careful consideration we have decided to postpone this year’s scheduled dig at Clare Castle. It is likely that some social distancing will still be in place and this will limit the scale of the excavations with reduced numbers of volunteers and community engagement. This in turn will impact on the value of the archaeological information gained which would be a shame given the important information already identified and the questions we wish to pose of that final year’s digging.  This was not a decision taken lightly and I do hope that you understand the reasons behind it. Our hope is to be able to carry out the excavations planned for September in Spring or Summer 2021 when the restrictions are lifted.   In the meantime we shall be updating the Country Park website with some of the results of the post-excavation work.


Gestingthorpe Dig Update

We had two digging days in June;  the first was rather wet, the other a sublime summer day. Read on to find out what happened…

David and Peter exposed flints in our new trench ‘H24’. The latter is approximately 10 meters from G26. Are the cobbles a continuation of those unearthed in G26—or are they are different feature? Hopefully we’ll find out soon!  

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David and Peter in H24

Steve and Stephen have been investigating the black sooty area in G26, finding pottery, burnt clay and degraded bone. They’ve dug a slot, which may indicate the profile of the ditch below.


Christine, Diana, Jan, Jane, Mary, Pam and Sarah have been working in Trench C, possibly exposing a dark ‘ditch like’ feature that may cross our original trench.


Jane and Diana investigating the ditch like feature
The next two events at Hill Farm, are the ‘Pottery and Finds Processing’ afternoon on Thursday, July 4th, from 3 to 7.00 p.m.

On Monday July 8th, there is another ‘Dig Day’, 9.30 to 4.00, this will probably be the last before the harvest.

For more information about our activities and membership information email

Work continues at Gestingthorpe – read on to find out more!

Working at Gestingthorpe is progressing well this year. During the cooler months a team of members have been identifying and processing pottery.

David Orrell and John Pegg tackle some pottery identification

We’ve also recently returned to excavate our site on Old Barn Field. Do take a look at our photos to see what’s been going on. 

Diggin 2
Peter, Jane, David and Peter continuing to explore the eastern end of Trench G26

Christine, Pam Louise and Mary continue work in Trench C

black area
Another area of black material excavated by Alan Border, at the Western end of G26


diggin 3
Nigel, David and Steve researching the ‘sooty black area’ of G26

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Mary and Pam about to remove two very nice bases of pots which they found

base of Pam's pot
The pot base.

Our next events are a Pottery ID afternoon on Thursday, June 6th from 3pm – 7pm. There will also be digging at Goldingham on June 8th and 15th.  Do  contact us on if you  would like to join us. You need to be a member to take part in our activities, £10 for one person, £15 for couples or families.

Graffiti survey 25th May 2019 Chilton Church

A small group  of SVCA members undertook a survey of Chilton Church near Sudbury today. The building is managed by the Churches Conservation Trust and is a peaceful ocean of tranquility behind an industrial estate.

Chilton Church 

George Crane 


Most of the graffiti was on the tombs of members of the Crane family and  post medieval (MUFC for example) they are part of the story of the building and so worth recording and enjoying.

Was a Manchester United fan here?
Was a Manchester United fan here?


Our next survey will be on Saturday 29th June at 10am in the Church of All Saints Sudbury, All members are welcome to join us and there is no need for prior experience. Do get in touch with us at for more information.

Gestingthorpe October update

Although we’re approaching the winter months and a pause in work on our Romano British site several SVCA members gathered last Saturday, 13th October, to enjoy work on a warm and sunny day. Here’s a few photos from then and the digging days in August to keep you up to date.

Working on our flint covered ditch in August’

Continuing the work in September

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Excavating another deposit of pottery, bone and burnt material on 13th October

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We’re wondering what this area of dark soil is

David Gevaux publishes stories about World War I in Long Melford.

SVCA Treasurer David Gevaux has recently published ‘ Long Melford and the Great War—the stories of a thousand lives’ with an introduction by Ashley Cooper.


David presented Ashely with a copy at the Gestingthorpe dig on Saturday 13th October. Ashley said, ‘It really is an incredible achievement; it is over 400 pages in length, is  superbly printed,  has a hard back cover, contains photographs and an extraordinary amount of information about all those who served from Long Melford—together with an insight of the village in World War One.’

Well done David from all of us in SVCA!

Exciting discoveries at Clare Castle


The trustees of Clare Castle Country Park and Suffolk Archaeology are running a HLF funded dig in the castle’s outer bailey during September 2018. Four trenches have been opened up to investigate anomalies revealed by geophysical surveys.

Probable walls made of stone and peg tiles, a large cobbled surface and lumps of daub with wattle impressions have been found in Trench 1. Late medieval jug handles have been found in Trench 2. Meanwhile in Trench 4 there is evidence of an oven and pieces of late Saxon Thetford Ware .

Do keep an eye on the blog for updates and if you’d like to visit there will be an open day on Sunday 23rd September from 12 noon until 4pm. 

A very happy and successful Romano British weekend.

16th to 17th June 2018 was a very productive weekend on our Romano British site. Steady progress was made on two of the Romano British features in Old Barn Field.

Peter Hart earned the title ‘a new star in the firmament’ by making a very useful plan of area G26.

In trench A the area aligned east to west was deepened to reveal an interesting black linear feature close to a rich deposit of pottery. Work continued on the north to south trench revealing evidence of a ditch which produced more pottery.


Trench A on Sunday

The complexity of trench A, with it’s numerous different colours of soil was unravelled on Sunday afternoon when clay and brick expert Peter Minter visited and explained the Ice Age geological processes that created it.


Peter Minter visits the site on Sunday 16th June




Meanwhile in area G26 the SVCA dish of happiness was served up on Saturday when half a Roman bowl was found on a bed of burnt clay and other pottery  in an area of black soil.

The Roman bowl on it’s bed of burnt clay and other pottery 

Animal teeth were found in a nearby black deposit, intriguingly hinting at further ritual use of the ditch.

On Saturday evening a digger extended G26 to the east. The newly revealed area was dug on Sunday. This required some heavy mattocking of hard clay, but our efforts were rewarded when the dark, ditch area was revealed to be less curved than previously thought. Finding Roman pottery cheered up the flagging diggers and ex dancer Diana celebrated by elegantly performing a celebratory jig!