Blog 4

Welcome to blog no.4, intended to be the 2019 New Year blog, then the 2019 Spring Blog (sprog?), but, now only four months late, here it is…

Shrewsbury Castle

Possibly the best-preserved Norman shire-town earthwork castle anywhere in the country, Shrewsbury Castle has never been excavated. Until now…

The Castle Studies Trust awarded £10k for a research project at Shrewsbury Castle this year, kicking off with a geophysical survey by Tiger Geo on May 9th, then a community excavation, July 22nd to August 2nd. A full team of volunteers has been recruited, Dai Williams lured out of Herefordshire to supervise, Shropshire Council are fully on board and the University of Chester are involved too, offering every prospect of a project that will yield a fair bit more than a ‘grey literature’ dig report. It will be open to the public for 11 out of 12 days, fully accessible, lots of media interest. Watch the next blog for the results of the geophysical survey…and maybe some additional exploration. What are we looking for? Everything. We have absolutely no idea how the medieval castle interior was planned. Nor what was on the site before the castle. The plan is however to concentrate on the uppermost archaeological surfaces of significance – to maximise understanding of what’s below the grass but minimise damage to otherwise unthreatened deposits and to not generate a cataclysmic quantity of post-excavation. BUT, this is archaeology so, having predicted (maybe ever so slightly whimsically) that the trench will alight on the service end of Henry II’s Great Hall, it feels inevitable that we’ll actually spend two weeks investigating Thomas Telford’s little-known abandoned career as a landscape gardener in the 1790s.

But the geophysics survey day is almost upon us…what will it reveal? And the ‘additional exploration’ referred to mysteriously? All I’ll say is that Wellness should be on everyone’s agenda…answers in Blog 5, coming soon.


Attingham Park and Dr Baker’s Regency love-nest

The last blog covered the excavation of a previously-unknown Regency summer-house near the Walled Garden in Attingham Park, just down the road, for the National Trust. The report (revised version here as a PDF) suggested that it was probably built for the spendthrift second Lord Berwick, sometime in the period c. 1812-20, perhaps for his young wife Sophia Dubochet, who he married in 1812 (hence the BBC’s ‘Regency love-nest’ label). It appears to have been started as a simple square stone-faced building, very probably in the neoclassical style of the other Attingham Park buildings. Then flanking rooms were added, perhaps for servants, and the original building was made taller. And then, in another design change, the flanking rooms were taken down and a lightweight portico built instead, wrapping around three sides.

Who built it? It’s most likely to be a lost work by either John Nash (better known for Regent Street, the Brighton Pavilion and Buckingham Palace), or Humphrey Repton, landscape gardener extraordinaire, and himself an architect with a track-record building park lodges. Proof, if it still exists, probably lies in a box of uncatalogued estate papers, awaiting a National Trust historian.

Post-excavation had its fun moments – like reconstructing the pieces of the Purbeck Marble fireplace and its mantelpiece. One small chunk of the latter is missing, as is all of the overmantle. Work continues within the National Trust, and the excavation is being re-opened in late May/early June with, amongst other targets, the last unexcavated quarter of the summerhouse, partly obscured by a tree stump. Will the last bit of the mantelpiece be found there? Maybe the overmantle – though the chances are that was removed from the site.

Best of all perhaps was the earlier discovery by Kevin Trigg, for the N.T., of a letter dated 1909 and design for a new pump-house for Attingham using-up the stone and cornice from ‘the summerhouse in the woods’. Our building? Very possibly. Probable enough to be worth using the drawings on the excavated footprint to generate reconstructions of the design changes the summer-house went through before its short period of use. And bizarrely, it was never, ever, mapped.

Research does lead one in odd directions. Among the papers in the Hub library in Attingham is a page of typescript, lacking a good source reference, which purports to be an account of a punch-up between John Nash and Humphrey Repton in 1799 on the steps of Attingham Hall – watched by amazed gardeners. Nash is said to have won with a sneaky low blow. Can this be true? Should the Trust’s re-enactors take note? Should modern architects routinely practice their left hook for those awkward moments in Planning Committee?


The waster in the river

About ten years back I was kayaking on my local stretch of the Severn opposite Wroxeter Roman city and noticed a sherd of Roman Severn Valley Ware, pink pottery, on the riverbank on the Brompton side. Then noticed another piece underwater, and another, and another, over about a thirty metre length, trailing downstream into deeper water. And, collected, they all joined together and formed the top third of a large pottery jar. But what was a semi-complete pot doing there, in the floodplain, where no-one lived and no-one was buried? A possible answer lay in the wavy mis-shapen rim. Could it be a kiln waste-product? And if so, what was the clay source they’d used? A possible solution lay immediately to hand in the form of an old, prehistoric, river-channel, a palaeochannel, sealed under the floodplain silt but cut by the present river, its bottom containing a deposit of fine light grey clay, formed when the old channel had been cut off and began to silt up. But could it be proved? It was, by Viviana Culshaw, National Trust archaeologist, who made a pot from the clay, dried it and fired it, producing a bright orange vessel almost indistinguishable from the Roman original. In short – Roman pots made with prehistoric clay, in our local floodplain.

Paddling into the Past 2019: archaeological canoe-tours around Shrewsbury

Archaeology in and of the river comes in many forms –as the many hundreds of people who’ve done our Paddle into the Past tours around the Shrewsbury river-loop will know. More are planned for this year, with the first 2019 dates June 13th and July 11th. To book a place, and find out everything you ever wanted to know about ancient town streams and sewers, defences, wharves, bridges, old ferries and the pubs that went with them, book a place with Drummond Outdoor via or, or ring 01743 365022. All degrees of mobility accommodated in safe, stable, twin-hulled canoes, no experience necessary, all kit provided, qualified staff always present. In 15 years only one person has ever fallen in: me.

Summerhouse seq finalATTINGHAM 2 EXCAVS REPORT 2nd ed 5-19


One thought on “Blog 4”

  1. Hi Nigel

    I have done some ‘digging’ in the archives since last September and have come up with very little direct connection with the building. However, the glass is probably the work of the local firm of John Betton who worked on the Picture Gallery glass and other parts of the house as well as garden buildings. From the archives he was active between 1801-7 at Attingham. Interestingly he took on an apprentice called David Evans in 1808 who later became his partner. They worked on several churches and cathedrals including Litchfield. David Evans in particular was a talented glazier and was renowned for his artisanship and restoration of Medieval glass – St Mary’s, St Chads are amongst his works in Shrewsbury. One intriguing receipt is a bill dated 1822 in payment to Betton and Evans which is much later than the previous work as Evans was not part of the firm then. There are also payments at the same time to Scoltock local builder, Robert Carline stone mason and associates of Hazeldine.

    The track that was evident from the section excavated and from archival maps i have looked at could suggest a Turnpike gate standing at the excavation site which was taken down around 1797 – around the time of the canal construction at Berwick Wharf, there is documentary evidence suggesting this. The turnpike was then moved to the present Uffington to Atcham Road and is evident on the 1807 map as well as archival canal maps. I believe it is a possibility that the wings of the building are the remains of this turnpike and that the later building was the central one built on the site as a lodge or summerhouse over where the road once existed.

    There is one documentary piece of evidence of lead repair done to a summerhouse at Possibly Attingham in 1813 from a local firm. There is an early bill from Emes relating to a building of a lodge and Mylne was also active at Attingham around the time of his work on Haughmond Hill folly, although these are probably too early. Nash worked extensively for the Berwick’s both at Attingham and London over an extended period of time, so he is a distinct possibility. The brickwork is quite indistinct in its construction. May be worth closer inspection as bonds such as English and Monk could be datable although I suspect it is what is sometimes known as ‘flying bond’ which has no real form. This is indicative of quite early work as most buildings were constructed quite roughy earlier on before the Victorian period. However, as the brickwork remaining would not have been visible it is possibly done with little due care. Evidence of the slate packing to support and level up the stone is evident in the outer courtyard building construction – most probably also in the main house. Basically the mortar would spill from the joint if this packing was not included.

    The lack of archival evidence may be because I haven’t come across it yet, but I suspect that traces of the building may have been removed for some reason – however, this is merely conjectural.

    Many thanks


    Sent from my iPhone



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