Mystery of the Moor; 4000 years of woodturning

The collection of artefacts could be one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last 100 years

 

  The original discovery      

In August 2011, an early Bronze Age 4000 years old cist (A small chamber made of thin stone slabs) burial was discovered on Dartmoor. Inside were the cremated remains of a female, and, almost uniquely for this period were well preserved grave goods including 4 lathe turned ear studs (labrets).

Stuart King image Oct 2013,  (12)

The old and the new

Analysis has established that these studs are turned from spindle wood, a small shrubby tree that still grows on the Moor.

Stuart King filming BBC doc re 4000 BC  Bronze Age  cist burial,  Dartmoor, Oct 2013--

 

 

Studying high resolution images confirmed to me that these artefacts were turned rather than carved, but the question that was put to me by Andrew Brown of de facto Films who was Producing a BBC documentary was how were these exquisite items turned on a lathe, and what sort of lathe? These objects are no more than 2½ cm diameter so I ruled out the use of a traditional pole lathe, much too heavy for such delicate woodturning. As the invention of the crankshaft was at least another 1500 years away, possibly more, the only options were some form of reciprocating apparatus, and this left me with the bow lathe or ‘strap’ lathe.  

Filming BBC doc, Mystery of the Moor, Stuart King with presenter Mike Dilger image Oct 2013,

Stuart King with One Show presenter Mike Dilger.

This was to become an intriguing archaeological experiment. I set up a piece of ‘round wood’ spindle tree between two points and with a bow in one hand and a chisel in the other it was clear that with a little practice progress could be made, coordinating the bowing and holding the tool using a separate hand for each and only making a cut as the wood revolves forwards is tricky at first. Perseverance proved that it could be achieved and I did indeed produce a passable ear stud, and so down to Dartmoor for the filming.

Stuart King filming BBC doc re 4000 BC  Bronze Age  cist burial,  Dartmoor, Oct 2013-- (2)

In deepest Dartmoor

The location was perfect, in front of a recreated ancient round house. The lathe was set up, the presenter was Mike Dilger of the ‘One Show’ with Dr Richard Brunning, wood expert in attendance. Using my set of Bronze Age tools, notably a socketed bronze chisel and a small round nose scraper I bowed away, slow but sure. I then suggested that if Mike put a cord around the work piece it would free up both of my hands and this would allow me more control, this made a great difference with both the speed of turning and the accuracy of tool use. More speed, more torque, more accuracy, quicker production, this had to be the method used. Indeed, this form of turning proved so efficient that multiples could be turned, pointing possibly to the earliest form of mass production?

Stuart King image Oct 2013,  (10)

Bronze Age chisel alongside neolithic flint chisel

The original studs were so well preserved that one could see evidence of final finishing on the some of the side walls, as if the turnings had been rubbed on a course stone to remove the uneven surface where the studs had been finally parted from the main stock, possibly with a knife. This was my first encounter with spindle wood and I was amazed at the fine finish that was achieved directly from the bronze skew chisel.

Stuart King image Oct 2013,  (9)

Within a couple of hours I had taken woodturning back another 500 years to the early Bronze Age. My next challenge is to take woodturning back to the Neolithic!

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ear studs bronze age

The forthcoming BBC2 TV Documentary will be broadcast 28th February 8.30 pm then on iplayer for a while 

 

 

The BBC TV news visits the Wildwood

The BBC TV news visited the Wildwood to see a few of my discoveries recently,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1os0-jqfk4   particularly from the Roman era.

Wildwood, BBC TV News, filming Stuart King Oct 2013- (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wildwood, BBC TV News, filming Stuart King Oct 2013- (3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wildwood treasure- Julius Caesar Denarius 42BCYoung Archaeologists of the Year,  Isla and Liliana King in Romarno British Ditch, The Wildwood

 

 

 

 

 

Presenter Sandra Harris and cameraman Charlie Figgis were amazed at the wonderful isolation of this precious environment. I have been doing quite a lot of archaeological work during the summer, everything is recorded of course and some of my discoveries will appear here in the future.

The Romans were here!

The Wildwood has many secrets, some of them very ancient but some of them have left tiny clues on the woodland floor. Most Chiltern woodland contain mysterious banks and ditches, some mark ownership boundaries, others enclosures or industrial sites, they can also cover 3000 years or more. I have been working on a particularly interesting bank and ditch, in fact the bank stands proud with no sign of a ditch, and only by putting a trench across at right angles was a one metre deep ditch discovered.

Romarno British ditch

Excavation revealed a few surprises; this feature is late Iron Age and was eventually filled in by later Roman invaders. I know this because they dumped a lot of their broken pottery as part of the infill. The finds have been dated from late Iron Age to early second century AD, all this begs the question, what were the Romans doing in the Wildwood? More to do.

Roman Pottery find, Pos fragment of large platter Holmer Green, Stuart King image Roman Pottery Rim, Holmer Green, Stuart King image Roman Pottery finds,Rim of large storage jar, Holmer Green, Stuart King image Roman Pottery finds, Holmer Green, Stuart King image (7) Roman Pottery find, small vessel base and rim Holmer Green, Stuart King image Decorated Roman Pottery Holmer Green, Stuart King image (3) Decorated Roman Pottery Holmer Green, Stuart King image

 

Beech Nuts

Beech Nuts

While many trees and shrubs exhibit distinctive spring flowers there are some that are more discreet, the beech is one of these and most folk would be hard put to recognise a beech flower.

Beech Flowers,   Stuart king image, May 2013,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earlier this year the wildwood floor was littered with them and now those that remained on the trees are maturing into distinctive triangular nuts.

 Beech nut  Stuart King image Beech Nut-Seed sprouting, Stuart King image

In earlier century’s pigs would be let loose in the woods to fatten up on acorns and these beech nuts, or beechmast as the locals referred to them and in doing so the ‘commoners’ were exercising their right of ‘pannage’.

 Pannage, woodland pigs feeding, Stuart King

The bluebells have long finished but their shiny black seeds are now ready for dispersal. An early autumn woodland bonus is the small but sweet raspberries, there for the taking,

Bluebell seeds, July 2013 Stuart King image (2) Bluebell seeds, July 2013 Stuart King image Colmans Wood-Wild Raspberys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing Speckled Woods

This has been a fantastic year for the Speckled Wood butterfly. There has been fierce competition for the shafts of sunlight that our 2013 summer has provided in abundance.

Speckled Wood butterfly in Colemans Wood, Stuart King image, July 2013

Speckled Wood Butterfly, Stuart King image, Aug 2013 (2)

 

Speckled Wood,Butterfly, Stuart King

 

 

 

 

Speckled Wood Butterfly, Stuart King image, Aug 2013 (2)

 

 

 

 

I never tire of watching these fast movers in seemingly aerial combat although in reality they are performing a form of mating ritual. I have tried to capture this frantic dancing on camera but only with limited success as you can see below.      Speckled Wood butterflies dancing  in Colemans Wood, Stuart King image, July 2013

The Speckled Wood   Written after observing a pair of these butterflies flirting in a sunbeam 

Just as in those hot childhood summers long forgotten in the woodland glade that times begotten,

A piecing sunbeam strikes the wildwood floor,

A glowing beacon through the canopy of oak and ash and beech,

A magnet to the speckled Wood,

A spotlight where the amorous beseech liaisons that for some are out of reach,

These shy eternal acrobats do tease each other as they flit and flirt, and tumble to excess,

They do it to impress, to find a mate and while the sun is shining,

Before it is too late. 

Stuart King May 2013

 

Hidden Wildwood Camera

In one corner of the Wildwood is a pheasant feeder, this distributes grain in the hope of attracting these colourful birds from neighbouring estates to take up residency and so add to the already rich and abundant flora and fauna.Muntjack Deer

To monitor the effectiveness I acquired an infrared motion activated camera to observe what really happens both in the daytime and at night, and I have been delighted with the first two 24 hour sequences. Amongst the visitors were Badgers, Muntjack Deer, Fox, Squirrels, a Rabbit, a Rook and a Jay, but, no pheasants!

Fox chasing a Squirrel

I am so pleased with these preliminary results that I shall be setting the camera up in various positions during the following weeks, in the mean time you can watch my early results here.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWZtkMPzvLg

Mary Rose Comb

Back in Time, Mary Rose visit  Mary Rose Comb by Stuart King 2013 (9)

Henry the Eighth must have been gutted when on the 19 July 1545 at the Battle of the Solent, His flagship the Mary Rose sank because it was top heavy while leading the attack on the French invasion fleet. Five hundred sailors perished watched by a horrified King Henry from the shore.

Between 1979 -1982 the ship’s contents are excavated by divers and more than 19,000 artefacts were brought to the surface. The wreck of the hull was raised in 1982 and now after years of pioneering conservation work the whole story of the Mary Rose, her crew and much of Tudor life is set out in a brand new, state of the art Museum.

It is calculated that it would have taken about 16 hectares (40 acres) of woodland, more than 600 large oak trees to construct the great ship, but in many ways it is the small, sometimes tiny and personal items that really enthralls. Rosary beads, fine toothed nit combs, wooden bowls, pomanders and eating spoons, the preservation of all these artifacts is truly amazing.

I recently visited the new Mary Rose museum at Portsmouth. What a fantastic job they have done. I was so taken by the sailor’s boxwood hair combs that it was straight to the workshop, I just had to make a couple, one a basic Jack Tar example and another that I envisaged Henry commissioning for him self.Mary Rose Comb by Stuart King 2013 (3)

Making these combs using onlMary Rose Comb by Stuart King  July 2013 (3)Mary Rose Comb by Stuart King  July 2013y hand tools is the only way that a craftsman can have an insight into the skill of the Tudor and earlier specialist artisan.Mary Rose Comb by Stuart King  July 2013 (10)

Henry, your loss is our gain,Mary Rose Boxwood combs by Stuart King, July 2013

 

 

Spirit of the Wildwood

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,   (4)

The green and the blue

The Wildwood is a nature photographer’s paradise and I never visit without my camera. Recently I experimented by taking some ‘art’ pictures, the bluebells were at their best and provided a magical splash of blue amongst the green.

My images were achieved by moving my camera whilst taking the picture, deliberate’ camera-shake’. The object was to take many images, retain the best and then manipulate each one the computer. These are not spirits of the woodland ancestors but the contemporary sprits of today, not every body’s cup of tea, but a different ‘take’, enjoy.

PS: The Register of Professional Turners has a new website which you can use to find a turner near you, or who specialises in particular styles of woodturning. You can even see all their members displayed on a map of the UK.

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,   (11)

Golden light of eve

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,   (13)

Light accending

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,   (8)

Reflected spirits

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,   (6)

Blue belles dreaming

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,   (12)

Spin of the breaze

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,   (10)

Evaporating light

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,   (9)

Spring awakening

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,   (5)

A different light

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,   (3)

Warmth

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,   (2)

Ash, still here!

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,

Half openened eyes

Wildwood Spirit, Stuart King image, 2013,   (7)

Impending eve

 

 

 

Wildwood flowers

The tree fellers have gone, but not without doing considerable harm to the sensitive ecology and shallow archaeology in my opinion, I think that the Forestry Commission needs to be more aware of this threat to ancient and historic woodland when drawing up felling plans and major work. The oak below was 157 years old. Wildwood  - Stuart King- image March 2013

The long awaited spring warmth has been very slow to materialise but the Wildwood is now populated with a variety of specialist Chiltern woodland plants and flowers, some areas are completely transformed. This is especially so with the ‘sea of blue’ created by our bluebells, the Chiltern woodlands contains 20% of the worlds population of bluebells, and as yet there is no sign of the dreaded Spanish variety! Below is an example of a white mutation, whitebells. WildWood ,Blue and Whitbells

It only this time of year that the casual walker will be aware of just how many wild cherry trees we have in our local woodlands. These cherries grow tall and so their plumes of white blossom contrasts to the many shades of green within the high canopy and are best admired from a distance beyond the woodlands boundary. WildWood, Wild Cherry in full bloom,Stuart King image

The flowers of Yellow Archangel come into bloom just as the Bluebells are fading, replacing the blue carpet of spring woodland with patches of yellow. An indicator plant of ancient woodlands and hedgerows, Yellow Archangels common name is dead or dummy nettle from its virtue of not stinging. WildWood, Wild Cherry in full bloom,Stuart King image (2)

Dog’s mercury is coming up on the woodland floor. It is a flower, but only just. It has tiny insignificant green blossoms that one hardly notices among the thrusting, bright green leaves. But it is a welcome plant, because it begins to give the woods a green appearance long before the leaves break on the trees. It can spread right across the dark layer of leaf mould on the ground. Wildwood,Dogs Mercury, Stuart King

Wood sorrel goes by many names in Britain, including Cuckoo’s Meat, Fairy Bells and Wood Sour.  The wood sorrel is a member of the Oxalis family, it has shy qualities and for that reason it is said to be a favourite of fairies and other wood sprites. It likes shady places and grows well in woodland along with bluebells, wood anemones and others. It is the most delicate and shy of flowers and many folk will go through life without ever making its’ acquaintance.

Neither the flowers nor the leaves have a smell although the leaves taste pleasantly acidic. They and the flowers can be added to salads, although you shouldn’t add too many leaves as they contain oxalic acid, so people suffering from gout should avoid this plant.  If you use it in a salad there is no need to add vinegar to a dressing, just use olive oil. Wildwood, Wood Sorrel- Oxalis-Stuart King

All the beech trees that grow in the Wildwood are self seeded; self regeneration was a major part of woodland management in the Chilterns, felling was carried out using the selection system and only rarely was replanting undertaken.  At this time of year small two leaved beech seedlings are emerging from the rich leaf mould, some of these will eventually replace the mature trees that were felled in February. WildWood beech seedling, Stuart King WildWood-wood spurge - Euphorbia amygdaloides-Stuart king (2)

There is one area of ash where wood spurge (Euphorbia Amygdaloidal) pops up and lords it over the shorter plants in the vicinity. It is interesting how certain plants like this colonize just a small area. The rare Green Hellebore is another that occupies a tiny spot, just four square metres, and is often an indicator of charcoal rich areas.  Much is claimed for this plant; Mr. Google tells us that, “It is used in magic for healing of mental/emotional afflictions and for banishing and exorcisms. It has been used also for increasing intelligence and for protection and invisibility spells. Apparently the plant was dried and powdered and scattered around the person to be made invisible. Ancient magicians also used hellebore to change the nature of other plants, this is a baneful herb which should never be ingested and you should wear gloves when handling it”. Mind how you go!WildWood-wood spurge - Euphorbia amygdaloides-Stuart king

 

 

 

The Wildwood Blog

 Muntjac deer

The Wildwood Muntjac deer are often seen in daytime or heard close by barking loudly to others

 I have been acquainted with this secluded 42 acres since a teenager but it has only been the last few years that I have dug deep into it’s past as a armature woodland archaeologist and local historian.  Bluebelles

Foxgloves

Foxgloves apear in abundance for a couple of years after tree thinning having lain dormant for decades

Everywhere is to be seen the humps and bumps left by earlier inhabitants and I have set myself the task of making some sense of them.

 Wildwood

The Wildwood edge is defind by a medieval ‘woodbank’ and ditch

It is not just the visible landscape changes that bring me into contact with the ‘lost tribes’ of the Wildwood, but the tantalising artefacts lying on the woodland floor awaiting a keen eye to rediscover them. These objects range from fossils, Stone Age tools and discarded pottery sherds, discarded some thousands of years ago with no thought that someone far in the future would show even the slightest interest in them.

It will be my pleasure as the months roll by to share some of my discoveries with you, and you will be surprised at what has survived from the lives our enigmatic ancestors.

Tree Felling in the Wildwood

The woodmen are coming

Wildwood  - Stuart King- image March 2013 (3)

Good oak butts awaiting collection from the old drovers lane

Wildwood  - Stuart King- image March 2013 (2)

Firewood grade ash, the per ton value is measured by the loaded lorry

It is time to thin the trees, to bring down some of the giant oaks, beech and more recent ash to allow those that are left more elbow room. Continue reading

Mystery dells

Dell -- Chilterns Woodland

Dell- Chilterns Woodland

Dell – Chilterns Woodland

Dell - Chilterns Woodland -

Dell – Chilterns Woodland

A feature of many of the Chiltern ancient woodlands are the mysterious dells. These dells, often referred to as chalk pits vary in size but many are huge excavations, but what was the purpose of them? I have heard many people say that they were dug for flint, flint for incorporating in the vernacular cottages and farms that populate the landscape, and also for metaling the tracks and local roads. In fact flint was just a by-product of the digging the dells, some of which served a local need but more was extracted than there was a use for. This is evidenced by the disarded flint in and close to the many dells that I have explored. Continue reading

Snow time

Wildwood snow-    -Stuart King- image

Wildwood snow, only the holly now has leaves

Wildwood snow-old hornbeam layered hedge    -Stuart King- image

snow-old hornbeam layered hedge

The winter of 2012/13 has been wet, cold and snowy, and the Wildwood is sleeping, but not for too much longer. The roar of chain saws will soon be heard and the workman like growl of diesel engined timber extraction vehicles will soon echo through the woodland. Yes, the tree fellers are coming. Continue reading

Stuart King on TV 2012

Alan Titchmarsh Show ITV

Stuart King on Alan Titchmarsh's ShowIt is good to see the media seemingly taking more interest in traditional crafts these days, let us hope this is a continuing trend.

I was asked to contribute my expertise to three very different programmes in 2012; the first was the Alan Titchmarsh Show.  Being studio based meant an early morning trip to London to give the show host a lesson in woodturning on a power lathe. Continue reading

Drovers Road

Holmer Green - Sheep in King Street lane - Stuart King - image (4) - CopyIn my village of Holmer Green we have a number of old track ways that through history, from time to time would have been used for droving animals, particularly sheep. There are historical references to sheep still; Penfold Lane, Sheepcote Dell, the Sheep Wash pond and Mutton Bottom, all echoing the importance of these animals. Continue reading

Wassail

                TV-TimeTeam-Stuart King with Phil Harding and that two gallon Wassail bowl-Sutton Courtney -

Wassailing is an ancient English tradition that is said to go back as far as Saxon and Viking times. The word ‘wassail’ comes from the Old English “Waes hael” meaning “Good Health”, to which the response would be “Drinc hael, and drinking was at the heart of wassailing. The tradition has always varied from manor to manor, from monastery to guild and street to street where wassailing latter became part of house to house carolling during Christmas tide. Continue reading

Wizardry in Wood, London Oct 2012

 Stuart King using his reconstruction of Leonardo da Vinci’s lathe  C1480.

Wizardry in Wood-2012 London-Dennis Hales image (4)

As a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Turners it was my privilege to be in involved with organising the recent Wizardry in Wood exhibition at the Carpenters Hall, London.This event is held every four years and showcases the very best of British craftsmanship, historical, traditional and contemporary.

 

 

 

 

 

Wizardry in Wood 2012-Carpenters Hall-London (317)

Continue reading

Little Missenden, Threatened by High Speed Rail (HS2)

woodland looking towards Little Missenden Jan 2008Little Missenden is just down the lane from my house. It is a pretty Chiltern Hills brick and flint village, recorded  in the Domesday Book of 1086 with a Saxon church already old at the time.

 A half hour walk down muddy King Street lane, through the ancient beech woods and across open farm land takes me into the village and the front door of the old Red Lion pub, still family owned and retaining that almost home from home atmosphere.The Mill pond Little Misenden-HS2 Continue reading

Pann Mill is now the only working water mill on the river Wye, High Wycombe

Pann Mill is now the only working water mill on the river Wye. The first recorded mill on this High Wycombe site is in the Domesday census of 1086.

Pann Mill is now under the gardianship of the High Wycombe Society and is open to the public on ‘Milling days’ several times a year. The stone ground flour from this mill makes the best apple crumble ever.

Edwardian Farm cherry ladders and fruit picking

Stuart King’s home village of Holmer Green, high in the Chiltern Hills of Bucks, has a fruit growing tradition that goes back several centuries. In 2010 Stuart took part in an episode of the popular TV series Edwardian Farm where the Chiltern tradition was compared with that of the West Country in the Tama Valley.