2015 Conference Wimborne

CIA Conference, 19th September 2015

 Allendale House, Wimborne


Allendale House Wimborne

Allendale House

The 2015 conference of the Council for Independent Archaeology was held on one of the few sunny days in a rather grim autumn, at Allendale House in Wimborne, Dorset. The conference was hosted by the East Dorset Antiquarian Society, a very active society with over 200 members. Their big success as with so many societies is that they are a digging society, most of the digs being conducted by Lilian Ladle, who after spending a dozen years digging at the Bestwall Quarry has now completed her third year of exploration of the Roman villa at Druce Farm, four miles north east of Dorchester, which we visited on the Sunday, the day after the conference.

CIA Conference

CIA conference in progress

The conference was held in Allenby House, the headquarters of the East Dorset Heritage Trust. After the AGM during which the chairman made an appeal for more members to join the committee, and in particular for replacements for the now aging officers of the committee, and suggested that the council should take a more forceful role in promoting the interests of local archaeological societies.


Tim Darvill: Planning and Local Communities

Tim Darvill

Professor Tim Darvill talks on Planning and Archaeology

The opening lecture was by Tim Darvill, Professor of Archaeology at the Bournemouth University who spoke on planning and local communities. He began by pointing out that round the world, control of heritage comes in many different forms, but that Britain was rather unusual in that archaeological control was done essentially through the planning process. At Bournemouth they had been carrying out a project since 1990 to record all the archaeology done throughout the country, and between 1990 and 2010 they recorded 85,000 events which were taking place at approximately 4,000 a year. The events can be divided between planning driven results, or rescue archaeology, and problem oriented, or curiosity driven results. Analysis showed that 21% was non-planning, and that 79% was therefore rescue archaeology.

In 1990 there was a new Town and Country Planning Act which had grown since then, so that there are now nine volumes of planning law: simplification would be a good thing. In November 1990 archaeology was brought specifically within the remit of the planning laws with the publication of PPG 16, or Planning Policy Guidance 16; which was followed in 1994 by PPG 15 which spread the same principles to standing buildings. This was replaced in March 2010 by PPS 5: Planning for the Historic Environment, followed in March 2012 by the National Planning Policy Framework, or NPPF which was a much simplified document consisting of just four pages.

He pointed out cynically that planning went through different stages – from (?)monopoly through instrumentalism which has now been replaced by localism. There were now three levels of strategic planning of which the lowest level was the Neighbourhood Plan and he urged all local societies to take a part in drawing up their local Neighbourhood Plan and thus strengthen the government’s power over archaeology.


Lilian Ladle: Druce Farm Roman Villa

The next speaker was Lilian Ladle. She said she would not speak in detail about the villa as we were going to see it tomorrow, but instead she wanted to concentrate on the resources used in the excavation of the villa.

Villa estate agentsThe site was first brought to her notice in 2011 by local field walkers and metal detectorists and when she went to see it, it was clear that there was a great quantity of Roman remains on the surface, including tesserae from Roman Mosaics, suggesting that there had been mosaics on the site, but probably they had all been ploughed out. They resolved to explore further next year and thus the excavations were set up, all of them undertaken by amateurs, – there had been no paid excavators at any time. Any funds would be reserved for help in specialist reports where it would be necessary to pay the specialist. But the landowner was an enthusiastic supporter of the excavations and had even donated a tent as their headquarters structure. Recently they have been greatly helped by an architect who had been doing reconstruction drawings of the site at various periods.

Plan of villa

Plan of the Druce Farm villa, with the main house at the top, the aisled hall to the right, and the workshops to the left.

They now realised that there were three major building or rebuilding phases on the site. The earliest features were the very deep ditches which demarcated the site, but which were filled with late Iron Age or early Roman pottery. The first villa was then erected around AD 100. It was rebuilt around 250 and then had its final enlargement around 350 to which period the finest of the mosaics should be dated. However they now realised that occupation of the villa continued down into the 6th or even 7th century as the Saxons did not get to Dorset until around 650. The most obvious evidence is the very crude patching of the mosaic, clearly done at a time when a professional mosaicist was no longer available. They also had considerable quantities of pottery known as Dorset Orange Slipped ware, which is dated between 380 and 420. There was also a considerable quantity of iron, but interestingly there were no iron agricultural implements – the site was definitely not a farm. The roofing was also elaborate and almost entirely of tiles. The majority were Kimmeridge tiles, but there were also some darker tiles from Delabole in Devon and clearly the tiles were intended to give an impression of prestige of the villa as a whole.

Visitors were encouraged: over a thousand people came on the Open Day and one time there were 120 cars in the car park, while school visits were encouraged. They had intended that this year should be the last year, but they had been encouraged to continue for a further year. Surprisingly no bath house has been discovered and air photos shows that the whole complex continues into the adjacent field and they would like to put down a few trenches there too. Druce Farm has yet more secrets to reveal.


Kevin Barton: Resistivity surveys in Ireland

Kevin Barton

Kevin Barton

The next lecture was given by Kevin Barton who told us of his continuing work of resistivity surveys in Ireland. These could be considered under three headings: commercial work, academic work, and community work. The commercial work consisted of testing part of a field where it was proposed to dig a septic tank and though the septic tank area appeared to be free from archaeology, an adjacent area revealed pits, possibly for flax retting.


He then did some resistivity surveys in a very important part of the country indeed – the area around the New Grange Passage Tombs. The whole area was a protected zone and had been surveyed by Lidar from the air, but he followed up an indication from the Lidar survey and discovered a long feature with terminals which could be a passage tomb.


Finally he had been doing some community archaeology in Norway around Trondheim. This was an area where the Battle of Stiklestad had taken place in AD 1030 where local chieftains were being   put down by Christian kings, and Norway was become a united kingdom. Two linear features were surveyed followed up by excavations which revealed two rows of post holes. However the radiocarbon dates came out over a very wide range suggesting that the site may have begun in prehistory as a long barrow but continued to be a ritual site long after the battle had taken place.


Hayley Roberts: Professional archaeologists and local societies

Hayley Roberts

Hayley Roberts

Hayley Roberts is PhD candidate at Bournemouth University where she is doing research into the relationship between professional archaeologists and local societies. The advent of professional archaeologists over the past twenty-five years has created a situation where professional archaeologists have felt the need to communicate their findings to the general public and to give training and guidance to local groups.



Through interviews with both professional archaeologists and those who practice within local societies she is exploring the differences and similarities between the people who practice archaeological research within different frameworks. Her presentation contained examples of important themes that she has identified so far and considered questions such as what determines a ‘professional’ archaeologist? how do archaeologists communicate with each other and the public? and what training do local societies require?

The research is funded by the South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership, which received a £2m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help preserve, conserve and celebrate the historic and ecological landscape. It is within this context and landscape that Hayley is also observing two case study projects: the first is a geophysical survey in the village of Portesham, selected by the public as the most interesting project to get involved in and carried out in conjunction with Bournemouth University. The second is in the Valley of Stones and is still in its infancy. It is a project driven by local community members and will be exploring prehistoric field systems.

(Hayley writes a blog at www.perceptionsofprehistory.com )


Steve Clark: The lost Lake of Monmouth

Steve Clarke

Steve Clarke

After lunch we heard another very lively lecture from Steve Clark of the Monmouth Archaeological Society. Steve has been investigating Monmouth for more years than he likes to remember, operating sometimes as a professional archaeologist and sometimes as an amateur. He is one of the well-known figures in Monmouth and will do archaeology anytime, anywhere.


Monmouth lake

Peter Bere’s reconstruction of the Monmouth Pleistocene Lake 12,000 to 10,000 years ago

Monmouth is set at the confluence of two rivers and at the end of the Ice Age a lake was formed but the barrier was breached sometime at the beginning of the Roman era and the lake was drained, meaning that much of Monmouth today sits on what was once the bed of a lake. However round the edge of the lake a number of burnt mounds have been located most of which appear to date to the Bronze Age.


Monmouth development

Parc Glyndŵr – during the development by John Sorrell

His most spectacular recent work has been based round a new housing estate which is called Parc Glyndwr. This is an area of bog land on the former fringes of the lake so the planners decided that it was an ideal site for a new estate.



Monmouth excavations

Parc Glyndŵr – during development – winter

In the first part of the development the houses have already been subject to winter flooding and so in the second part of the development the houses are being built each on a slightly raised mound which hopefully will raise them above the level of any future flooding. Ha ha!



Monmouth channels

Exposing the three channels on the Bronze Age mound

Steve and his team have been doing their best to excavate in advance of the new development, but quite unexpectedly found three parallel straight ditches, all of them with semi-circular profiles: two of them being considerably larger than the third. There was considerable discussion as to how those should be interpreted, but Steve has now been persuaded that they are the remains of a prehistoric boat. The two main channels form the two hulls of a catamaran, while the third smaller trench could have been an outrigger. The three channels cut through a burnt mound which provides a dating for them as the burnt mound is presumably Bronze Age.

Monmouth boat reconstruction

Parc Glyndŵr channels – Peter Bere’s interpretation

There was considerable scepticism about this interpretation – indeed Steve himself was at first dubious, but TimeTeam has previously excavated a similar feature. This forms the highlight of his investigation of the lake at Monmouth which continues to be the main thrust of their investigations.


Katherine Barker: Dorset County Boundary Survey

Katherine Barker

Katherine Barker

Katherine Barker of Bournemouth University then gave an account of her extremely interesting survey of the boundaries of the County of Dorset. The boundaries she argues were mostly formed in the Saxon period when they began as the boundaries of various ecclesiastic properties.




Map of Uplyme parish, the earliest evidence for the establishment of the county boundary of Dorset

The most interesting of these and the starting point of her investigation occurs in the parish of Uplyme, near Lyme Regis on the western edge of Dorset. This was a holding of the Bishop of Sherborne, but in around the 750s Ine, the King of Wessex divided the parish of Uplyme into half between the Bishopric of Sherborne and Glastonbury Abbey and the charter in which he did it still survives and is closely dated, and thus provides the earliest evidence for position and date of the county boundary.




Dorset boundary

The county boundary as it appears today, a bank with very ancient ash trees

When she went to investigate this on the ground she found evidence in the form of a raised bank, or in places two raised banks with a road running between them, and in places this raised bank can be followed on the ground round much of the boundary of present day Dorset. In this she is much helped by a charter of 938 recording the holdings of Glastonbury Abbey.


It is difficult to know what a boundary looks like but they can often be distinguished by the trees, because different types of trees were often planted on the boundaries. In this way she has traced the boundaries of the entire county and is now in the process of writing it all up. She is keen to spread her news and will be very willing to assist any other person or group who wish to investigate the boundaries of other counties.


Philippe Planel: Foundations of archaeology project run by Cranborne Chase

Philippe Planel

Philippe Planel

We then heard an extremely interesting lecture by Philippe Planel on the Foundations of Archaeology Project which has been set up with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to try and give more attention to Cranborne Chase. Cranborne Chase is today an AONB – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but it has particular significance to archaeology as Cranborne Chase is associated with three of the great pioneers of archaeology – Richard Colt Hoare, William Cunnington and General Pitt-Rivers, indeed I think General Pitt-Rivers owned most of Cranborne Chase.


The Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Southern England, with Cranborne Chase marked by CC

The aim of the new project is to publicise the whole area and the work of these three pioneer archaeologists. We tend to think of them as being distinguished figures of the past but we should remember that in their days they were rebels against the conventional wisdom. Before Charles Darwin, the conventional wisdom held that the world was created in 4004 BC, and although Pitt Rivers came after Charles Darwin, Colt Hoare and Cunnington were very much rebels in investigating the antiquity of man.

Wor barow

How to excavate a barrow: Wor Barrow under excavation by General Pitt Rivers in 1893-4.

The first event of the new project was to visit the site of Wor Barrow which was one of the more spectacular of Pitt-Rivers excavations as he set his workmen to work to excavate the huge barrow, and in his thorough going way removed it completely. In places he has organised teams to cut down spontaneous growth which was obscuring archaeological monuments and he was sponsoring a walk around the entire Pitt-Rivers estate.

The project was only in its beginning stages but it is fascinating to realise that there are a number of such projects often running for a couple of years and financed mainly by the Heritage Lottery Fund together with local councils. Philippe Planel appears to specialise in running such projects; previously he had run the Parishscapes Community project, a joint initiative funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, East Devon District Council and Natural England (eastdevonaonb.org.uk) which investigated vanished houses in two parishes in East Devon. One of the projects looked at an abandoned 19th century cottage on Summerdown Farm where ironically I lived for several years as a teenager and had rummaged around in the foundations that were investigated. It would appear that there are a number of such projects being run on a two-year basis and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The question is whether they have any “legacy” and continue to function when the money runs out.


Bob Randall: The new Mk2 Resistivity Meter

Finally we heard from Bob Randall who is now reaching the final stages for the design of the Mk2 Resistivity Meter which the Council hopes to have ready for sale in 2016. This is designed to work with an Android tablet computer, which will clamp on to the main box so that it will be possible to see the results of the survey while the survey is in progress.

Bob Randall demonstrating resistivity meter

Bob Randall demonstrating the 4-probe array on the new resistivity meter

However it will be much improved from the previous design. Previously it was only possible to take one reading at a time from the twin probes that are stuck into the ground. The new design will be a multiplex design so that it can take up to three readings simultaneously from a much larger frame which has six probes that can be stuck into the ground simultaneously, providing that is that the ground is sufficiently level to take six probes simultaneously.

He also hopes to be able to integrate it with a GPS system as an add-on so that it will be possible to give an exact position of the survey as the survey is in progress.

Rob and tablet 632

The new resistivity meter will show its results live on a tablet computer

After the lecture and the numerous questions that followed it we went outside to the lawn behind the house where Bob gave a brief demonstration of the new meter. All seems fine and we look forward to the meter going into production.

(One might add that Bob works professionally as part of a high-powered electrical engineering research firm which he runs together with a partner. The resistivity meter is a spare time activity. However his partner who has not hitherto been an ardent archaeologist has now married an archaeologist and has been converted to the joys of archaeology. So we now have two electronic wizz kids working on the new meter. We hope that in 2016 it can be produced at a price that local societies can afford and that it will become part of every local societies’ local excavation kit.)

Priest’s House Museum

Priests House Museum 646

Reception at the Priest’s House Museum, with David Morgan, chairman of the trustees (left) and  James Webb, the Assistant Curator of the museum (right)

Following the conference we were invited to a reception at the local Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne. In the 19th century this was a flourishing ironmonger’s shop, but when the owner died his daughter continued to live there and turned the shop into a museum. This has since expanded and has been taken over by the local council and is now a flourishing example of a local museum. Much of it is devoted to maintaining the 18th and 19th century accommodation, but there is also a flourishing archaeology room of which the highlights are the remains of the Tarrant Hinton Roman villa excavated in the 1970s which produced some spectacular Roman wall plaster and also the base of a Roman timber water pump – one of only two known from this country.

Druce Farm Roman Villa

Villa and mosaic 679

View over the main wing at the Druce Farm villa, with the mosaic in the foreground

On the following day, the Sunday, we all drove in our cars down the road nearly to Dorchester where we visited the Druce Farm Roman villa hidden away down a long dirt track, where fortunately arrows had been inserted for our guidance. It was a fine day and we were able to see the villa at its best. The northern wing still had its two fine mosaics on display.



Druce farm: Plan of villa

Plan of the Druce Farm villa, with the main wing at the top, the aisled hall (right) and the workshops bottom left,

We then visited the east wing and the remains of what would have been a spectacular aisled hall with the huge flint foundations that would have held the timber upright. And then on the other side of the courtyard were the workshops, again enclosed in a substantial building with a number of hearths or furnaces in it. I think we were probably the last to see the villa in all its splendour as it must be backfilled if the mosaics are to be preserved for the future.

Villa and visitors 716

Lilian Ladle showing the Druce Farm villa to members of the CIA conference

Excavations will continue next year but investigating the outlying areas and looking in particular for the bath house which must surely exist but has not yet been discovered.




It was a wonderful weekend and we must thank the East Dorset Antiquarian Society and in particular Andrew Morgan for all the hard work in making the conference such a success and also to Lilian Ladle, the original inspiration for the conference and for showing us her spectacular villa.


Andrew Selkirk, 26th September 2015

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