Joe Flatman explores half a century of reports from the past.
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In my previous column I explored some of the sites and structures on the Isle of Wight that Current Archaeology has visited over the years. Continuing on this theme, in this month’s column I focus on the neighbouring county of Hampshire. My recent work for the National Trust has led to a happy return here, rekindling memories linked to this column. It was as a student at Southampton University in the 1990s that I came under the tutelage of Colin Platt, who in an act of unparalleled generosity gifted me a run of CAs when he retired from the university in the early 2000s. This gift was instrumental to my commencing this column back in November 2016 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the magazine. I am exceptionally pleased to salute this most gentlemanly of scholars once again here.
PORTS AND WICS
Southampton, and Colin Platt, featured in the first ever issue of CA in March 1967. Fieldwork in the heart of the medieval city there had begun back in the early 1960s, and has continued, off and on, across the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, as reported in issues 17 (November 1969), with an excellent review of knowledge of the city, including its Roman and Saxon antecedents; 79 (October 1981), on work on Saxon Southampton – Hamwih / Hamwic – to the north-east of the medieval city; and 279 (June 2013), among others. Poor old Southampton suffered the dual indignities of heavy bombing during the Second World War and heavy-handed redevelopment in the post-war era, and as such it is often overlooked archaeologically in favour of the historical riches that lie nearby, including Roman Portchester and Fishbourne to the east, and Saxon and medieval Winchester to the north. But the city has an exceptionally well-preserved run of medieval town walls that few visitors seek out. If you’ve never visited before, or haven’t been in a while, then I’d urge you to do so now – in 2019, a major new arts and heritage venue opened in the 13th-century God’s House Tower at the south-eastern corner of the walled city, retelling the city’s story in a building that has literally stood the test of time (see godshousetower.org.uk).
WE DIG DANEBURY
Southampton as a university rather than as a city has been home to a dynamic group of archaeologists for roughly as long as CA has been in production. Issue 2 (May 1967) reported on the appointment of the then impossibly fresh-faced (26-year-old!) Barry Cunliffe as the first professor of archaeology there, a post subsequently filled by other archaeological superstars, including Colin Renfew and Peter Ucko, to name but two. I previously touched on some of Cunliffe’s work in Hampshire in issue 330 (September 2017), especially at Roman Portchester, but another long-running county site that caught CA’s attention over multiple issues is that of Danebury, the prehistoric hillfort just outside of Stockbridge in central Hampshire, where Cunliffe led work between 1969 and 1988. CA first visited in issue 18 (January 1970), reporting on the first season of work in the summer of 1969, where the team cut a section through the defences that revealed three phases of construction.
Just a couple of years later, CA covered Danebury again in issue 30 (January 1972), having been on site in the summers of 1970 and 1971. In these two years, the team investigated the main entrance to the east and then a large area of the interior. The interior especially revealed some surprises: square houses were discovered, laid out in regular rows, maintained and continued through a period of three centuries, challenging traditional ideas about Iron Age architecture and social structures at this time. A final visit to Danebury was made in issue 87 (June 1983). By this point, the project had completed 14 seasons of excavation, uncovering nearly half the interior of what proved to be a densely occupied location. The project’s fieldwork ran for another five years after this time, concluding in the summer of 1988, and with an impressive array of publications and related research to follow. One of the more intriguing examples of the latter featured in CA 144 (August/September 1995): the analysis of evidence for prehistoric and later foot deformities from a range of sites, including Danebury, by chiropodist-turned-archaeologist Phyllis Jackson.
Work continued in the area around Danebury for many years. CA 188 (October 2003) reported, for example, on the work of teams exploring the Romano-British environs of the hillfort. Today, Danebury is run as a nature reserve by the county council (see www.hants.gov.uk/thingstodo/ countryside/finder/danebury), and on a clear day it is an exceptional site to explore, with stunning views that emphasise its strategic location in the landscape.
TEMPLES TO THE COMMON HUMAN
One of the special pleasures of writing this column for CA is the rediscovery of paths less followed and sites lesser known. With no disrespect to Sir Barry and co, Danebury’s place in archaeological textbooks is (rightly) assured. But what of other sites whose names don’t resonate in our consciousness? Hampshire has three such examples that I am pleased to present to you here.
Firstly, there is the Bronze Age cemetery at Kimpton, just to the north of the A303 near Andover. CA 11 (November 1968) visited the work then under way by the Andover Archaeological Society on a site identified by a local farmer who was an enthusiastic amateur archaeologist. In due course, the team there uncovered over 80 urn burials.
Secondly, there is a Saxon village at Chalton, just to the east of the A3 near Butser Ancient Farm (see my column on experimental archaeology in CA 359 [February 2020] for more on the latter). CA 37 (March 1973) visited this site, another project initiated by an enthusiastic local farmer-cum-archaeologist. In this case, he worked in partnership with a team from Southampton University – not the aforementioned Barry Cunliffe but his colleague Peter Addyman (who went on to achieve great things at the York Archaeological Trust – see CA 341 [August 2018] for more on that). Across the early 1970s, the team at the site uncovered a series of Grubenhäuser or ‘sunken huts’, small rectangular dwellings sunk a foot or more in the ground.
Thirdly and finally there is Basing House in Basingstoke. Issue 142 (March/April 1995) explored the site’s Civil War archaeology. Basing House was one of the great Tudor houses built (or at least converted) by William Paulet, the 1st Marquis of Winchester, in the years around 1532. During the Civil War, the house (which is set inside the ‘citadel’, a massive ringwork over 90m in diameter) suffered a three-year siege that was only concluded by a final, dramatic assault in October 1645 personally led by Oliver Cromwell, which reduced the site to a burnt-out shell. In the mid-1990s, slumping of the citadel’s outer bank prompted consolidation works to make the site safe, which revealed details of the construction of the citadel, of the Tudor uses of this space, of the 17th-century defence and assault works, and even of 19th-century archaeological excavations undertaken at the instigation of Lord Bolton, the then owner-occupier of the house. The site today is run as a visitor attraction open to the public between April and October (see www.hampshireculture.org.uk/basing-house).
For some other Hampshire-oriented explorations of the CA archive, see also my columns in issues 323 (February 2017) and 331 (October 2017) on medieval Winchester, issue 337 (April 2018) on Roman Silchester, and issue 357 (December 2019) on Roman villas in the county.
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The articles discussed in this post will be available for free for one month, from 5 March. Print subscribers can add digital access to the entire back catalogue of CA for just £12 a year – simply call us on 020 8819 5580 and quote ‘DIGI361’.
About the author
Joe Flatman completed a PhD in medieval archaeology at the University of Southampton in 2003, and since then has held positions in universities, and local and most recently – central government. Since March 2019, he has been a Consultancy Manager in the National Trust’s London and South-East Region, leading a team working on Trust sites across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. You can follow him on Twitter @joeflatman.