2016 Conference Toddington

The CIA Conference 2016


The 2016 conference of the Council for Independent Archaeology was held at the most unexpected of venues – a garden centre.  The Poplars Garden Centre at Toddington is a most remarkable exercise.  It was originally a farm but then it became a garden centre with a large ecology park attached.


Poplars Garden Centre CIA DSC02027The garden centre has since expanded to become a shopping centre, one might almost say an entertainment centre with shops, including a bookshop and a restaurant seating 300, to say nothing of a sauna.  Attached to one end is a ‘Learning Centre’, where schools can come and learn about ecology, and no doubt bring their parents along to visit the garden centre too.  The learning centre being unoccupied at the weekend was free to be hired by the CIA for a most splendid conference, hosted by the Ampthill and District Archaeological and Historical Society: in total some 50 members attended  the conference.

The conference began with the Council’s AGM:  financially the Council is in good shape having made a surplus of £1,076 in the previous year.  And we added an additional member to the committee – Liz Friendship-Taylor, the wife of Roy who was already a committee member, so they made a first husband and wife addition to the committee.  We still look for further members and in particular for an hon secretary and newsletter editor.


Steve Upex


Steve Upex DSC_2170The conference opened with a talk by Professor Steve Upex, a distinguished local archaeologist in the Peterborough area who has been digging with a local team near the Roman town of Durobrivae with remarkable results.  There are two main sites in this area, firstly the town of Durobrivae, and then the grand palatial site on the other side of the river underlying the modern town of Castor.  Both sites were originally explored in the early 19th century by E.T. Artis, who published a remarkable book of plans in 1828.  Since then little has been done at Durobrivae, a large Roman town with earthwork defences which can still be seen by travellers passing up the A1, which runs right through the western part of the site.  It forms the centre of the huge Nene Valley Romano-British pottery industry.  But did it begin as a military fort?

The ramparts of the town still survive and aerial photographs reveal a large mound in the centre and traces of other large circular features, hinting that underlying the town there may be a prehistoric feature. The town itself was mostly unplanned, but the only excavations were those carried out by Ernest Greenfield in 1957 in advance of the building of the A1 road.

Military activity was discovered 5 miles away at Longthorpe where Shepherd Frere and J. K. St Joseph discovered what appeared to be a legionary or possibly half legionary fortress, dating to the earliest invasion period.  However another smaller fort was discovered on air photographs just to the north of the Roman town. An extensive geophysical survey by Bob Randall revealed the exact position of the fort and also two gateways and these were both excavated by Steve Upex and a volunteer team. To their surprise there was no Claudian pottery of the invasion period, but what there was, appears all to be post Boudicca’s rebellion. The occupation of the fort appeared to be very short, but the metalling of the road that runs to one side continued into the 4th century, being the part of the Ermine Street, the Roman road that is the predecessor of the A1 and was the main Roman road to the north.

He suggested therefore that the early line of the Roman road ran several miles to the east near the Longthorpe fortress —  which involved a somewhat difficult crossing over the River Nene.  However after the invasion it was decided to straighten the road out along more-or-less its present route which involved building a new bridge over the Nene, so the new fort at Water Newton was essentially built as a temporary camp for the soldiers who were building the new bridge for the Ermine Street.

Castor praetorium DSC_2177Steve has also been busy trying to make sense of the settlement at Castor where rescue excavations in the 1980s provided additional evidence for the original plans of Artis in 1828.  It was clearly a very large building, too large to be a villa, large enough to be called a palace — Artis called it a ‘praetorium’.  The building appeared to be in two stages : an earlier phase in the 2nd century and then a much larger and more palatial building in the 4th century, and he linked this to the governing structure of the fens generally.  Castor lies on the western fringe of the fens.  On the eastern edge,  30 miles away, is the site of Stonea, excavated by Tim Potter who found a similar palatial building of the 2nd century, and he argued that following the Boudiccan revolt, the whole area of the Fens was confiscated by the Romans and made into an Imperial domain, and the Romans drained it and the Fens flourished and became very fertile and Stonea was the palace from which a Roman procurator ruled over the fens.  However in the 3rd century, Stonea appears to collapse and Professor Upex argued that the so-called praetorium at Castor was upgraded in the 4th century to become the grand palace from which the rich fenland area was ruled.


Ampthill Castle

The next two sessions were devoted to Ampthill Castle which is the local site where excavations have recently been carried out.  Ampthill Castle lies in the middle of Ampthill Great Park which is the great amenity glory of the town of Ampthill.  It is a substantial hill with from the top a wonderful view of the plain of the River Ouse.  (John Bunyan, who was a local lad, called it the ‘Slough of Despond”, — but then he was always something of a pessimist).  On the top lay Ampthill Castle which is the source of considerable archaeological controversy.

Ampthill Castle was built around 1420 by Sir John Cornwall, based on the profits he made from the Battle of Agincourt. It eventually came into the hands of Henry VIII who tarted it up substantially.  It was here that Katherine of Aragon, his first wife was kept and where she first heard the news that she had been divorced.  The divorce proceedings were held at nearby Dunstable, and when a messenger brought back a report and she read through and found she was no longer referred to as ‘Queen’ but as the ‘Dowager Duchess’ her former title, she crossed out the words Dowager Duchess in fury.  Later she was moved to Kimbolton Castle where she died, not being allowed to be visited by her daughter Mary.

Henry then installed his new young filly, Ann Boleyn at Ampthill where he built grand new bow windows for her.  However after Henry’s death the castle was neglected and by 1603 it had been entirely demolished, so no trace of it remains, only a cross erected in 1773 and known as the Katherine Cross.  By 1770 it formed the park of Ampthill House and was done over by Capability Brown, and recently with the help of a Lottery grant it has been restored to its former glory.

Mike Turner

Mike Turner DSC_2184The Ampthill session was opened by Mike Turner, the Hon Secretary of the Ampthill Society who has been researching the accounts of Henry VIII and transcribing them, a task of some difficulty.  Carpenters were paid 8 or 7 pence a day, working on a new frame for a window.  There were plasterers who were applying ‘lome’ (i.e. loam) showing that even such a great hall was built of wattle and daub. And also gong farmers who were clearing out the jaques which seem to be the toilets (or as the Americans say today, the ‘johns’). And in Sept 1540 glazing work was carried out for the new windows.

Great WellDSC_2195A lot of work went into the building of the Great Well in the courtyard. In 1540, money was spent mending the curve of the great well and making clean the great well, and also in purchasing two pounds of candles which were no doubt necessary in working down the well. There were also expenses for two bands of iron for the bucket of the well, and also two other bands for the said bucket.


Kevan Fadden


CIA Kevan Fadden DSC_2211Then Kevin Fadden gave an account of the archaeological works and the resistivity surveys that have been carried out at the castle.  The problem is that in addition to the Tudor palace there was also an earlier castle of which there are no recorded remains; but on the ground it can be seen that there is a low mound about a metre high surrounded by a broad ditch 5 metres wide which originally would have been an impressive fortification.  The Katherine Cross was placed on the centre of this mound and it has been generally assumed that a Tudor palace was centred on the mound.  However the resistivity survey suggested otherwise, that the Tudor palace lay to one side and that the two were quite separate.  Indeed there may have been a tower on the site of the mound which may have been in existence when the palace was built.

Excavation was clearly needed to confirm the site of the palace and to confirm too the very existing of the earlier structure on the mound which appears to be analogous to a small scale motte and bailey castle.  This called for a professional excavation: the site lies in the middle of a very public park where any excavation would have to be firmly fenced off.  Grants were obtained, and the site was put out to tender and one of the local units was appointed to carry out the work.

Unfortunately the results were controversial. The local society was not consulted before the trenches were laid out, and the society believes that the trenches were put down in the wrong places and did not either confirm the results of the resistivity survey, or solve the problem of the existence of an earlier castle on the site of the mound.

Certainly no evidence was found of the early castle: the best evidence being an area of cobbling with evidence of burning which could have been the kitchens of an early castle,  though the only dating evidence came from part of what appeared to be a ‘couvre feu’ or fire cover dating to the 13th century.  The site therefore remains somewhat unsatisfactory with the existence of the early castle and the precise addition of the later palace still unresolved.  But thanks to the work of the Ampthill Society, the history of this remarkable monument of the late Medieval and Tudor periods has been in outline resolved.



Adrian Farnsworth

AF DSC_2221After lunch the conference was introduced to the mysteries of Lidar by Adrian Farnsworth.  Lidar is one of the latest pieces of archaeological magic, and Adrian explained how even amateur archaeologists can use it, particularly if they are living in a low lying area.  Lidar, which I learn stands for ‘Light Detecting And Ranging’ is a magic form of aerial photography combined with radar techniques,  whereby trees and vegetation can be removed so it is possible to see the surface of the ground.  Thus if, for example, an earthwork lies concealed and unknown in a forest, Lidar can remove the forest and reveal the earthwork.  It is terribly clever and it is possible to manipulate the information in many different ways, and we were given a very valuable introduction.  English Heritage has led the way by producing a 44-page booklet: “The Light Fantastic” which can be downloaded as a PDF from their website.

The government has also provided a Lidar survey for low lying parts of the country.  This is the work of the Environment Agency, which notes that many councils are encouraging new houses to be built down by rivers where they are in danger of being flooded, and a Lidar survey would enable those who have purchased such houses to see the extent of their danger.  If therefore you live in a river valley like the Thames or the Ouse or the Trent then there is a Lidar survey for your area from http://environment.data.gov.uk/ds/survey/#/download .  This provides the tiles in two formats: the DSM model or ‘Digital Surface Model’ which shows the terrain, buildings and some vegetation; or the DTM the ‘Digital Terrain Model’ where the buildings and vegetation have been removed by software.

The downloads come as tiles and it is very necessary to have the ordinance survey 1” maps to work out just where the tiles fit. You then need to be able to read the data and to this there is a range of programmes all of them freeware.  The easiest is the delightfully named ‘Terrain Bender’ which will open Lidar tiles and produce interactive 3D viewing.  But note that it requires Java to work.  For more advanced work, Qgis mapping software can be used, or rather its related software Saga Gis which comes with Qgis and can stitch Lidar tiles together.  For advanced programming try RVT, which Adrian says is very good but crashes frequently.  Take your choice!  Adrian’s notes, and instructions on how to use Terrain Bender will be downloaded here.


Roy Friendship-Taylor


Roy Friendship Taylor 3 DSC_2231He was followed by Roy Friendship-Taylor, one of the stalwarts of the CIA who gave us an insight into some of his latest work, based on his excavation of the Roman villa at Piddington, Northampton. Here his latest work is on the other side of the brook from the villa where he has located the ditches of what he believes to be a very large Roman military establishment, possibly even a legionary fortress.

However he concentrated on just one aspect of his work, his study of the Samian ware pottery.  Over the years he has become aware that alongside the proper Samian ware, red shiny red pottery imported from France, there is also some imitation Samian ware made locally in a local fabric, and some of it even glazed, a form that always confuses archaeologists because they tend to believe that all glazed pottery is Medieval.  Some of it is however definitely Roman and some of it is an imitation of Samian ware.

These imitations began early, some being produced at the kilns established in Highgate Woods in north London which flourished in the early years of Roman Britain.  But it carried on late, and there was even some imitation Samian ware produced in the late 4th century kilns at Ecton in Northamptonshire.  Roy in his work has been able to track down the whole range of this unusual Roman pottery.


Roger Ainsley

He was followed by Roger Ainsley, a stalwart of archaeology in South Oxford and Berkshire who has been investigating a development site and comparing the work of the county curators and Historic England.  He looked at one particular site which was being redeveloped for housing and the developer was keen to put aside nearly half the site as an open area.  The choice of the open area was based on an archaeological assessment.  Various surveys were done using both a gradiometer and a Caesium magnetometer, both of which gave different results and he argued that the wrong part of the site had been preserved. He argued that the present English system where the developer appoints the archaeologists is fraught with conflicts of interest, and the English guidance magnetometer would appear not to reflect commercial reality.  Furthermore the county curators and their HER (Historic Environment Records System) is very variable.  And he suggested that other countries such a France with their centralised system may do it better.  He also pointed out a Lidar map of the whole country which is basically unknown to archaeologists as it is produced by the benefit of house prices, a Google search for houses prices Lidar will produce a very interesting result.

Andrew Selkirk


After tea it was my turn to face the music, and I gave a brief account of what I have been doing recently.  It was nearly 50 years ago that I launched Current Archaeology,  but now I have succeeded in handing over the management of the business to my son Robert, under whom the magazines are flourishing. We now have three magazines, Current Archaeology, World Archaeology, and Military History: each of them has its own editor, and  I am Editor-in-Chief, but  my main task is not to interfere.

But having spent my life doing archaeology in bits and pieces, jumping from the Palaeolithic one day to the Medieval the next day, and from one part of the country to another, and more recently from one country to another, I felt it was about time that I put it all together and write what I ambitiously call “A History of the World”.  In practice I am concentrating on the Greeks and Romans, and why I believe they introduced an entirely new form of civilisation.

In my fifty years of doing Current Archaeology I have become increasingly aware of what I call ‘academic bias’.  We are all biased and academics who believe they are free from bias are in fact particularly biased, and as an independent archaeologist I view things from a rather different angle.  This can be seen best with regards of our views of the Romans. Academics tend to see them as being ‘imperialists’ and ‘colonists’, and probably even ‘capitalists’, and what is worse, successful ones too.  They must therefore be bad, and they see them as being essentially a militaristic society.

I take a different view: I believe that the great thing about the Greeks and Romans was that they invented money and became the world’s first market economies and their successes came from the virtues of a market economy.  If one considers Roman Britain, and indeed the Roman Empire generally, it is covered with Roman villas which are country estates, totally undefended, but with baths and heated rooms, betokening a life of luxury, far from the academic view of a militaristic society. Roman soldiers were kept to the frontiers: my aim is to rehabilitate the Romans.

My new book, to be called “Barbarism and Civilisation: the origins of Western civilisation”, is divided into two halves: the first half looks at two of the great pre-money empires of the Near East, the Minoans and the Egyptians, both palace based economies, operating on gift exchange.  I also look at a third great palace-based society, that of China, which continued to be palace-based and quite opposed by any form of democracy, even though they use money.

I then contrast these palace-based societies with the market-based societies of Greece and Rome.  These are societies based not round the palace but round the market place, the agora in Greece or the forum in Rome, and I argue that the introduction of a market-based economy tends  to lead to democracy, and I chart the successes – and failures – of the democratic experiments.

I look in particular at the history of Rome: its rise as a very successful market economy, its transformation under Augustus, and its decline and fall due to the inflation caused by the misuse of its money and the wrong remedies applied by Diocletian and Constantine, which led to a revival in the 4th century, but then a total collapse in the 5th.  I argue that my views are due to the fact that I have always been an independent archaeologist, working and enjoying life in the market place, and appreciating its many virtues.

Bob Randall and the Resistivity meter


Bob Randall DSC_2244The final session was the high point of the conference, when Bob Randall announced the launch of the Mark 2 of the Resistivity Meter which he demonstrated on the following day.  The meter is now ready for production and he announced that the initial selling price would be £1130 plus VAT, discounted for members of the CIA to £1050.  The whole kit consists of three parts: the meter itself which is now very small and very light weight.  You then need a tablet, — any tablet using the Android system will work: he was using a Nexus tablet.  And then there is the frame with its probes.  This is not quite ready yet, as the final specifications need to be drawn up but will certainly cost several hundred pounds more as this too is a complex piece of kit.  The frame will come in three sizes: either the small 0.5 metre frame with two probes, a 1 metre frame with three probes or the 1.5 metre frame with four probes – which will take three readings simultaneously and will therefore work much faster – providing it is working on fairly level ground.

The actual meter itself is, he says, dumb.  It simply takes the reading , transmits it by Bluetooth to the tablet, and then waits until the tablet says it has recorded the reading and is ready for the next reading.  All the really clever work is done in the tablet.  There is an app in the Android Playstore which can be downloaded free and as improvements are made these too can be downloaded straight to the tablet.  The display on the tablet is divided into half: one side shows the progress of the survey with features appearing as they are tracked, and the other side consists of all the technical details, most crucially which probe is doing the reading now.

(Don’t tell Bob, but the programme is going to be a little daunting at first. I am sure you all know what a new computer programme is like – however simple and straightforward it will be, it takes at least a day to crack any computer program; and it is going to take at least a day to crack this program.  The layman will then be able to get the hang of it, but for the experts there will be lots of fascinating additional features to be explored.  Bob says he will run special classes to get people going.)

But thBob and meter DSC01952e frame which seems so elementary is also undergoing a revolution.  Originally the main beam which held the probe was made of wood, and wood is a fairly good non-conductor of electricity but it was not good enough so it was replaced by aluminium.  Aluminium is fine providing you do not chip it.  So the latest beams are made of fibreglass with special insulation for the actual stainless-steel probes.  The great thing is that you must not get them wet because water conducts electricity and so you will get the wrong reading.  You can use the machine in the wet or in the long grass and they will give readings, but the readings will be unreliable.  And don’t keep your frame in the garage because the insidious dampness of the garage will get into it, and again your reading will not be perfect.  The new frame will be a real work of art.

Sunday excursion


The next day, Sunday 25th September, was an excursion day, and an opportunity for a hands-on demonstration of the new meter in Ampthill Park. Ampthill Great Park was born in the 1770s when Park House was rebuilt, and Capability Brown was brought in to transform the old deer park into landscaped parkland.

Ampthil park war memorial DSC01951The grounds are now in the possession of the Ampthill Town Council who recently obtained a grant to restore the grounds to Capability Brown’s format,  and Kevin Fadden who conducted us up the hill pointed out some of the changes.  From the top of the hill there is a splendid and unexpected view over the Bedford plain of the River Ouse. Ampthill Castle originally lay on top of the hill and Kevin pointed out the low mound that is the only surviving evidence for the castle, marked by the Katherine Cross laid out in the 1770s. He also demonstrated the position of Henry VIII’s palace as revealed by the resistivity survey.

Ampthill park surveying DSC01952Just outside the scheduled area, Bob Randall and his partner Steve Tyrrell – who between them form TR Systems, had laid out a simple grid using binder twine on which we could all have a go with the meter – even yours truly had a go and found it was quite easy.  At every metre along the binder twine there was a little red marker and you had to plonk the probe on top of the red marker.  It was quite easy really – and very impressive.

AS with resistivity meter DSC01962But the meter is already in existence, orders are being taken and the first batch of 10 will be delivered as soon as Bob can make them.  The specifications for the frame will soon be complete and that too will be ready for delivery by Christmas, — though  for those who already have the Mark 1 frame, the meter will work perfectly with that frame too.  So roll up, roll up, email Kevan on k.fadden@btinternet.com, and place your orders now!

On to the Programme



4th September 2017

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