Medieval Oven Re-construction

If you have seen the “Memories of Goldingham Hall” blog you will have read how there was much excitement by the team and speculation as to how it would operate. To test out the theories it was decided to carry out a re-construction.

In November 2014 a group of SVCA members met at Goldingham, to pug the clay before making a wattle frame and applying the daub
Peter Hogan adding straw to the clay. The latter had been dug just a few yards away.
Michael Hogan making the oven’s frame. The hazel withes also came from the adjoining copse.
Applying the daub.
The completed oven a week later. In August 2015 it was used to make bread at a special “Lammas Service” organised by the Revd Gay Ellis for parishioners of Bulmer and Gestingthorpe.
A depiction, by artist Benjamin Perkins, of how one of the “above ground” ovens at Goldingham might have appeared. To the left of the oven, a man can be seen tipping ash into a ditch. This is where “Trench B” was excavated. Behind him is a timber and thatched building revealed by “Trench A”

Ashley Cooper

Memories of Goldingham Hall – Trench A

Between 2012 and 2015, some very happy archaeological excavations took place on Long Smallbridge Field, Goldingham Hall, Bulmer. It is particularly heartening to recall them – especially during “lockdown”.

On this occasion we will look at Trench A. Trenches “B, C, D and E” will be described in future blogs.

Newer members may like to know how the excavations began.

The site was discovered on the afternoon of Sunday, July 27th, 1997. The field had just been ploughed and a number of dark, sooty patches, each about the size of a football, were noted when walking across the field. These patches were all marked with canes then measured to record their position. After harvest six test pits were dug, which revealed medieval pottery, together with oyster and whelk shells, animal bones an more black, sooty soil. Realising the complexity of the site, the trial holes were marked and filled in, until professional guidance could be obtained.

In 2012, Carenza Lewis of Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA), together with representatives of the Stour Valley “Manage a Masterpiece Scheme” were invited to visit the site. They decided to organise a Field Walk around the vicinity of the original Test Pits.

Funded by Manage a Masterpiece and organised by ACA, the Field Walk – assisted by about twenty five volunteers – took place in November of that year.

In this picture, Catherine Ranson, (now Collins), is plotting the Field Walking grids. The tower of Belchamp Walter Church is just visible in the distance.

The Field Walk was a pivotal occasion. It was the first of several, highly enjoyable, archaeological events at Goldingham Hall. It lead to ACA commencing excavations on the field in October 2013. These were continued by the SVCA in 2014 and 2015. Utilising a grant which Corinne Cox obtained from Braintree District Council, professional guidance continued to be provided by ACA during these years.

Prior to Access Cambridge Archaeology commencing excavations in 2013, David and Aline Black – who are now honorary members of the SVCA – undertook a geophysics survey.
Three highly promising positions were located. The area which was to become “Trench A” is marked in red at the top of the photograph. “Trench B” is in the middle. “Trench C”, which was closet to the farm buildings – and the “Tea Shed” – is at the bottom.
“Trench A” just after the digger had removed the top soil, under Catherine’s supervision, in October 2013. The camera is pointing south easterly. (The farm buildings are just visible in the background). The patches of dark soil were particularly exciting – as our next photograph reveals!
A close up of one of the areas of black soil.
Excavations began on October 3rd. In this picture the camera is pointing towards Belchamp Walter Church. In the foreground, Peter Nice and Mike Crome are working in a ditch-like feature. Behind them, members of Gestingthorpe History Group are painstakingly unearthing a cluster of bones – which later proved to be the skeleton of a pig. To their right, Peter Hart and Peter Rowe are examining the red semi-circular area previously pictured. Catherine is just visible in the background walking towards Aldous Rees, who is standing beside the largest black area. Kneeling on the ground is Abie, who was a great enthusiast in excavating the ovens.
One of the patches of black sooty soil. Three of these areas contained arcs of burnt red clay, as seen above. As the excavations continued, they were revealed to be the remains of medieval cooking ovens. Two of the ovens would have been shaped like large, up-turned “pudding bowls” and constructed of wattle and lath.
Both of these ovens may have been re-built a number of times. The third oven was especially interesting, being built beneath ground level.
Excavations on this oven (referred to as F14), continued into 2014 and 2015, as we wondered about its shape – and how it had been used. It was a truly intriguing discovery!
By 2015, a flue-like opening to the south-east had become visible. Interest about how this oven functioned still continues.
Pottery from “Trench A”, largely dated from the early eleventh century, to the late fourteenth. Examples are included above, together with fragments of burnt clay from the kilns.
In addition to the archaeology we learnt new skills and made new friends. Carenza, whio ispictured above, delivering an “up-sum”, (her expression), as she informed us about the finds and conjectured about the site, at the end of each day.
A number of current Committee members, including Corinne and Phil Cox, Peter Hart and David Gevaux can be seen listening to Carenza in the “Tea Shed”.
By the autumn of 2015, the “subterranean” oven was beginning to suffer from weathering. Following advice from ACA, it was covered with sand – see below – and backfilled.
Interest in the ovens however, had already prompted the SVCA to learn more, by making a replica of one of the “above ground” ovens. This will be the subject of a future blog.

In addition to the mystery of “how” the subterranean oven was used, great excitement was also caused by the discovery of a complete pig’s skeleton in “Trench A”. There was speculation that it might have derived from pre-roman times and been placed there for a ritual reason. (worked flint and a few sherds of late Bronze Age or early Iron Age pottery was also found on the field). One of the pig’s bones was sent to Glasgow University to be radiocarbon dated…

…The result was much more mundane. The pig, a female, aged about three years old, was dated to AD 1530 (+/- 35 years).
It is thought that it might have been diseased or suffered from some other trauma, before being buried, close to where the ovens had been used, two hundred years before.

In writing this blog innumerable questions about the excavations have surfaced. Fortunately a ful report of all the archaeological work and finds has been published. Written by Catherine Collins it is entitled “Archaeological Excavations at Goldingham Hall, Bulmer, Essex, 2013, 2014 & 2015”. Published by Access Cambridge Archaeology and Cambridge University (with support from the SVCA), it is easily accessible on the internet – where it can be read page by page.

“Trench A” is particularly discussed on pages 28-41. A photograph of a metal arrow head discovered in the trench is included on page 41, while the front cover shows “Trench A” in the foreground.

As always, the ever helpful expertise of Dr. Carenza Lewis, Catherine Collins and their colleagues at ACA is readily acknowledged. In bringing archaeology to Goldingham Hall, they not only enriched our understanding of a Domesday manor in medieval times, together with the lives of those who lived there, but they also did something else: they brought the sounds of humanity to an otherwise isolated wheat field, where other people had bantered and laughed, cooked and baked, eight hundred years before.

The trowels and mattocks have been returned to the tool store; the Permatrace and drawing boards have been put away. The Report has been written. The trenches have all been backfilled…. Long Smallbridge Field as it is today.

Ashley Cooper

Finds from the OBF excavations

If you haven’t been involved in the finds processing sessions, you are probably not aware of the range of artefacts that we have been finding. I thought therefore that it would be interesting to post a selection of our finds.

These round and heavy stones were found together and do not seem to be natural; we believe that they are sling shots.
Teeth like these have been found in abundance at the OBF site. We believe that they are from a pig or boar – but if you know better, please tell us!
Bronze broach – one of our most interesting finds. In Iron Age/Roman times broaches were the only way of holding clothes together. On this sample, there should have been a long pin (slightly longer than the broach’s diameter) attached to the runner round the ring; to use, the cloth to be secured would have been pulled through the ring, impaled on the pin, then pulled back t secure the broach.
The site has produced a large amount of bone though because of the acidity of the soil, much of it is badly degraded. The intact samples that we have found are clearly animal though we aren’t always able to tell which animal.
A rim of Roman greyware pottery typical of the huge volume of pot sherds found at the site.
As well as the Roman greyware, we have also found iron age pottery which tends to be thicker and coarser than greyware. When we say “iron age”, we are referring to the style rather than the age – pots like this would have continued to be made well into the Roman age.
Another pot rim showing some nice decoration on the body of the pot
Piece of greyware pot base – you can also see the piece identification number written on the pot by the finds processing team.
A piece of Samian ware. Samian ware was quite high status and is characterised by a glossy surface and often has decoration embossed on it.
“Pot Boiler” stones. Early pottery was not robust enough to put directly into a fire so, to heat water, pot boiler stones were heated in a fire then dropped into a pot of water. The stones are recognisable by the crackled and cracked surface and are likely to pre-date the other finds from the site.
Broken loom weight. Early cloth was produced by hanging the warp threads from a frame and tying loom weights to the bottom to keep them taut whilst the weaver added the weft threads.
Oyster shell. It’s only in the last century or so that we have regarded oysters as a luxury food – previously is was a cheap food and barrels of oysters were brought to inland settlements. Consequently many archaeology sites are littered with discarded oyster shells

David Orrell

Distance Learning and Archaeology (A long journey!)

During these uncertain times and as we are unable to meet as a group for the forseeable future I thought I would write about my experience of being a mature student of archaeology at the University of Leicester.

In 2013 I decided to persue my interest in archaeology further by enrolling in the University of Leicesters distance learning BA in Archaeology. As I had family and work commitments I decided to do the course as a part time student so I knew that I would not graduate until 2020! Text books and course materials duly arrived along with the realisation that I would have to write three to four essays (3,000 + words per essay) every year for six years along with vast amounts of reading and research and a 10,000 word dissertation in year six. Undaunted, I set to work writing and researching subjects covering a wide range of time; from human evolution to post industrial archaeology.

As I had not been to university in my youth I very quickly had to learn many new skills such as accessing digital libraries/computer skills, academic writing and how to reference correctly all my sources of information (a skill which took me many months to master). We were also required to complete several weeks of fieldschool and to attend a laboratory week at the university. I could not have completed my required practical/ fieldschool tasks without SVCA, most of which took place over several years on Ashley Coopers land at Goldingham Hall and at Hill Farm. It was so rewarding meeting so many like minded, knowledgeable and lovely people and I even met a couple of members who were on the same course as me. During these ‘dig days’ I consumed my fair share of coffee and donuts and made many new friends.

In 2018 I set off for the laboratory/practical week…..luckily  instead of staying in dubious student accommodation I booked a room in the relative luxury of a Premier Inn! During the week we took part in practical lessons on subjects such as recording standing buildings, Bronze Age tools/microware and archaeobotany. The highlight of the week for me was having to extract DNA from a banana with our tutor for the day Professor Turi King, who led the DNA analysis in the Richard the Third identification project. The evenings in Leicester were generally spent in various pubs as we felt it was important to experience a proper mature student Freshers week (well that was our excuse anyway). I left Leicester at the end of the week with a slight hangover but feeling that I had learnt many new skills and made some lifelong friends.

Picture above: Lab week fun; evolutionary scientists pose!

During my final year I was required to write a dissertation on a subject of my choice with a original research question…..not a easy task! After many weeks of trying to decide what my subject might be I finally decided on researching my local WW2 airbase, concentrating on the American occupation of RAF Ridgewell, Essex during 1943 to 1945. Having always had a particular interest in conflict archaeology I decided that I would like to research this particular airbase and the men who lived and worked there. During the course of my research I was privileged to be given the opportunity to speak to some veterans and their families in America and have now become a commitee member and volunteer at the Ridgewell commemorative museum.

In January this year I completed my degree and will graduate next summer. I hope to persue a career in archaeology or to work in a museum in the future. The course gave me many new opportunities and experiences and I have met so many interesting people some of which will be friends for life. I could not have completed it all without SVCA. If you think you might like to complete a certificate, diploma or degree in archaeology then I would encourage you to do so, you wont regret it! If I can do it then anyone can. Many universities are now able to offer distance learning/part time courses.

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Picture above: Dissertation completed!

I hope we can all meet up again soon and get back to our ‘dig days’. Dont forget to bring the donuts!






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!  

D and p
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

diggin 4
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.