Wildwood Archaeology 2014

Wildwood 2014 

Holly Clearance

Holly Clearance

The Wildwood is still giving up it’s secrets, albeit slowly. Exploration started rather late due to a wet spring but continued well into the autumn with each carefully dug and recorded trench revealing a little more of life from prehistory to the medieval period.

Wildwood,  T40-T41 RB entrance trenches Compilation

From the very first time I surveyed the Romano British enclosure I had indicated where I thought the entrance would be although the evidence on the ground was tentative due to the surrounding ditch being in-filled on abandonment c100AD. After several years of digging to define the general enclosure this was the year that I decided to establish the existence of an entrance.

Call it sixth sense or luck, but with my two helpers, Phillip and Barrie we came directly over the butt ends of both terminating ditches. The infill conformed to the previous trenches dug across the periphery ditches of the RB site in that much of the bottom section consisted of large flints dumped without soil followed by a variety of clay/loam/flints/ashes and much blue/grey burnt flint. Interspersed amongst this infill is a large amount of broken pottery with the majority having clean un-abraded edges. Dating has shown that the time span of this pottery is in excess of 100 years containing as it does late Iron Age to early Roman pottery c 100AD creating the mystery of where all this pot material originally came from.

 

Enclosure entrance looking East from inside enclosure
Enclosure entrance looking East from inside enclosure

 

The mystery is compounded by the fact that this pottery infill is not stratified chronologically as would be normal with a gradual build-up of discarded waste over a period of time. Roman material can be found at the bottom (up to 1m-30) whilst Iron Age pot can be recovered from close to the surface. Although the enclosing bank is clearly discernible there is no outward indication of the accompanying ditch at ground level. All the evidence points to an un-hurried systematic levelling of the ditches on the eventual abandonment of the site c100 AD. The ditches may well have been cleaned out prior to this infilling as in no case during the excavations has there been any evidence of early primary deposits.

NW corner alinement trenches

NW corner alinement trenches

Generally speaking the soil PH is such that bone does no survive the acidic soil; the exception to this is where bone has been trapped within the dry cavities between the dry flints whilst being dumped in the ditches, I have some well persevered animal bone plus some snail shells. Identification of the snail shells could give an indication of the environment at the time of the ditch filling (snail experts please get in touch). Two interesting finds either side of the entrance were a small coin of the Celtic English King Cunobelin who ruled from the late first century BC until the 40s AD, the other was a simple late Iron Age pin brooch.

Late Iron Age and early Roman pottery

Late Iron Age and early Roman pottery

There are two distinct enclosures in the Wildwood and they are adjacent to each other, ‘enclosure one’ is very different from the aforementioned enclosure two (RB) and is over 1000 years younger being dated 12th/13 century. There is still some speculation as to what this small moated site represents and recent finds may force a revision of my original thoughts that is was an animal enclosure. Excavation has ceased at the moment due to excessive wet weather but I still spend about 3 days a week with my two helpers Barrie and Phillip clearing bramble and the invasive holly from the areas close to the known archaeology.  The best of the holly is stacked to season slowly as it will be used for woodturning, it is the whitest wood ever with a very fine grain.

Iron chain and earl pottery

Iron chain and earl pottery

One of these cleared areas is close to the medieval enclosure and clearing has allowed a metal detector survey to be undertaken. As is typical of the Wildwood most of the archaeology is on the surface due to lack of historical land disturbance or subsequent soil build up or deposition, this means that metal artefacts are recovered from just below the leaf-mould cover without damage being done to any sub soil archaeology.

'Medieval-tools-and-artefacts'

‘Medieval-tools-and-artefacts’

2014 finds from this area are intriguing ranging as they do from a suspected brass inlaid dagger or sword quillon to medieval horse and ox shoes and horse-shoe nails to woodworking tools. These include a twybill/mortise axe used in making mortise joints in timber framed buildings and some substantial woodworking chisels, and a lot of yet unidentified iron objects that only x-raying will sort out.  We do have evidence of iron smelting in the immediate vicinity and dumps of iron slag in the Wildwood itself, so one of the questions is whether iron working was carried out here also. Were these medieval men not only producing iron by smelting but forging and working it up into tools, chain (we have a lot of chain) and other useful items of the time? If so, were they producing these goods for their own/local consumption or to trade further afield? The woodworking tools could have been part of a craft industry or they could indicate that they were used to construct a building/s on site.

Worked flint tools are still found, mostly as random surface finds. As the weather improves during 2015 work will continue on the two RB enclosure corners and later in the summer a very careful examination of the undisturbed wide entrance area between the two entrance ditches, I consider that this area is possibly the most important of the whole site.

Stuart King toasting lunch time crumpets
Stuart King toasting lunch time crumpets

Stuart King

 

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

 

 

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

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

Khokhloma Ware: Folk art for the masses

Kohkhloma painted ladleVirtually no visitor returns from Russia without a painted wooden souvenir reflecting the traditional ‘Khokhloma’ folk art. Khokhloma ware has a very long tradition and can be traced back to both the monastic and peasant culture of the seventeenth century. The predominant materiel used in making these various decorated containers and tableware is Birch, Lime and Maple. Continue reading

The Caversham Village Sign: carved by Stuart King

In some parts of England there is a tradition of carved wooden signs depicting the unique qualities of the area and often erected on the village green. Usually created by a local craftsman, they instill a sense of identity and pride, and are rivaled only by the English pub sign for originality. They are part of our folk art heritage.

Some time ago I received a commission from the Caversham Residents Association, supported by Reading Borough Council, to design, carve and paint a sign to represent the history of the village. Continue reading

Making Gypsy Flowers

A gypsy flower made from ElderToday’s flower arrangers are spoilt for choice. Wonderful natural material is available from around the globe, all the year round. Fifty years ago one had to rely on what was grown in season in one’s own garden or the limited range stocked by the local florist whose main business was supplying weddings and funerals.

It’s the same with artificial flowers. Remember those awful plastic examples from Hong Kong, heavily molded lurid reds and greens that fooled no one? Today, artificial flowers and foliage can be unbelievably life like, but until very recent times there was only another source of artificial flowers for the ordinary home: from the Romanies or Gypsies. Continue reading

German Toy Town

German wooden toysForget Lapland and Father Christmas, cease searching for Gusepie’s fictional workshop where Pinocchio was created. The real ‘toy-land’ is alive and well in old Saxony, This beautifully rural East German region encompasses the Erzgebirge mountains that shares a border with the Czech Republic. This whole area is dotted with small medieval towns and villages with half-timbered buildings that would be quite at home in any European fairytale. In fact when I reached my destination, the toy-making village of Seiffen, I had to suspend belief that this little community was part of a Disney film set. Continue reading

Marrakesh is so Moorish

Having ‘done’ much of Europe including some of it’s least visited areas, tasted the US and experienced Hong Kong and China, choices of reasonably priced but exotic destinations were diminishing. My wife Joan and I wanted a complete change of culture, somewhere exotic and maybe just a little challenging, definitely not just sun, sea and sand.

The Square in Marrakesh

We had never visited an Arab country before and the thought of exciting Souks in a walled Medina, the Kasbah, carpets, spices and Camels, this had to be our next holiday. Morocco beckoned, to be precise our destination was to be Marrakech. Flight time from Gatwick was just over three hours, and with a ten-minute transfer to our hotel everything was very relaxed. The hotel (El Andalous) is situated two kilometres from the old city centre, half an hours stroll or a cheep taxi ride.

Two types of taxi operate in Marrakech, the’ taxi petit’ or the ‘taxi grand’. The petit is all you would normally need within and around the old or new city, being the smallest they are also the cheapest, ten-twenty Dirhams (60p-£1-20p) will take you to most places during the day, prices rise during the evening slightly. A ‘taxi grand’ will cost a little more, and being mostly Mercedes have extra room for larger parties, they are also uniquely allowed to travel outside the city boundaries and so are available for longer sightseeing journeys. Always agree a taxi fare before you start your journey.

As usual we were keen to leave the confines of our hotel and eager to explore. We headed on foot towards the highest landmark in all of Marrakech, the imposing tower of the Koutoubia mosque (C1184-1189) still resplendent in it’s rather refined Moorish style. This led us to the old walled city (Medina) and into a world unlike any we had previously experienced, only a visit to Goa a few years ago came close. Standing in ‘Place Djemaa el–Fna’, referred to in general as ‘la place’ in French or ‘the square’ in English, we were presented with a 360 degree panoramic spectacle such as one might find in an Arabian storybook.

With the large Koutoubia mosque behind us we surveyed a frenetic scene of minor commerce. Wizened old men wearily pulling handcarts laden with all manner of merchandise, colourfull carpets piled high, new made chairs and mysterious boxes. Other goods, building rubble and the detritus of everyday living were being conveyed in carts pulled by sad looking donkeys, their drivers giving them an occasional prod with a stick to remind them of whose boss. Green horse drawn carriages conveying newly arrived tourists added some serenity to an otherwise frenetic scene. Entertainers were in the Square en-mass, all trying to extract some loose change from our pockets, usually in exchange for a ‘photo opportunity’.

Kaftaned-attired dancers with their shell lined, tassel swirling hats and bells were complimented by an assortment of other ethnic musicians. Burka wearing women were doing good business decorating arms, hands and faces with traditional henna designs, others were squatted beneath parasols in readiness to tell ones fortune. Storytellers and elder educators attracted large crowds of locals, as did the ‘medicine men’ with their stalls laid out complete with jars of mysterious remedies and skins of long deceased animals.

There were no western hippie groups muscling in on the entertainment act, as is the case in most European countries, the entertainment was purely indigenous, and very colourful. The brightly dressed ‘water carriers’, with their Day-Glo ‘lampshade’ hats, shiny brass drinking cups and bells would have been prime contenders for a leading role in any British pantomime. I found the snake charmers less than charming, but there were still many who could not resist having the ‘snake around the neck’ photo to take back home. I do have to admit though, that the wailing of the snake men’s trumpets and the beat of the drums certainly added to the atmosphere.

Again, we were not enamoured at all by the men with their captive monkeys forced to endure an alien environment in the pursuit of tourist cash. Towards the periphery of the square were stalls selling spices and local fruit, I have never seen so many dates, and strung-up figs piled high tempting passers by. Enclosing all this are numerous cafes and restaurants encouraging the visitor to relax and do some people watching.

The best advantage points for an over-view of the Square is from one of the terraced roof top restaurants with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice or a glass of the local sweet mint tea, or maybe a coffee with a plate of petit pours. Any time of day is good for this relaxing and entertaining experience but late afternoon in March with the sun low in the sky is particularly evocative of the Eastern spirit.

This is when the square prepares it’s-self for the nightly feasting of it’s inhabitants. Food stalls illuminated by gas lamp and light bulbs push the daytime entertainers to the margins as cooking stoves and copper tea urns smoke, steam and hiss into the ever-glowing skyline. Customers seated around the bustling stalls can indulge in various delights such as boiled sheep’s head, snails served hot in china dishes seeped in snail liqueur or hard boiled eggs stuffed into a large bread roll.

The ‘Place Djemaa el-Fna’ was just the start of this Moroccan adventure, just a fraction of the old city). There were still fine monuments to discover such as the utterly unmissible Bahia Palace decorated in rich arabesque splendour with its painted ceilings and stucco carvings. The Ben Youssef Medrassa is another must-see masterpiece for those interested in historic architecture. It was founded in the fifteenth century as a university for the study of the Koran. Once it housed nine hundred students, or so we were informed by a weasely old man dressed all in white, who immediately latched on to as a (unofficial) guide and who became more irritating by the minuet, hoping for a tip.

It is common to be pestered by locals offering to take you some where, usually places you don’t want to go like their brothers carpet shop or the tannery where they will receive a small payment from the proprietors. On the other hand you may well be lost as we were at one time. We were pleased to pay the young boy who offered to guide us back to the main square, for his trouble. I imagine he regularly tops up his pocket money this way! The Medina is a large and confusing place and unless you have plenty of time to explore at your own pace it would be worth hiring an official guide for a day (about £30). A guide will also help you deal with the thousands of shopkeepers in the souks and the Kasbah.

The Souk and Kasbah are the two main areas of commerce, made up of alleyways, winding streets and small shops fronting the thoroughfares, and the proprietor of each will insistently ask you to look at his goods as you are passing in the hope of a sale. You learn quickly to politely ignore them, unless of course the amazing array goods on offer tempt you. If you are tempted, bargaining is the order of the day or you will pay severely over the odds! If something is offered for 500 Dirhams, the vendor will probably, after a bit of haggling accept 50! Good buys are clothes, carpets, inlayed wooden items, leather goods and metal work. Lanterns hang everywhere and like much of what is seen for sale will have been made just a few streets away.

If you have the time, seek out some of these artisans. I wanted to find some traditional woodturners using medieval type bow lathes and was successful. Marrakech is a microcosm of pre industrial revolution technology, it’s all there; metal bashing, tanning, ceramics, textiles and all the wood-working trades.

Marrakech can be very tiring on the feet, but in my view is best seen on foot, but hiring a horse drawn carriage will introduce you to many of the sites and experiences at a more leisurely pace. Depending on your bartering skills this will cost between £5-£10 per hour. We took to a carriage to visit the Majorelle gardens, a welcome oasis of peace and bird song just outside the city wall. This was the perfect antidote to shopping in the Souk and dodging the ubiquitous mopeds that form the main means of personal transport, and seemed some times to come from nowhere.

If you tire of the old Medina there is always the new city to explore with its upmarket shops and restaurants, but we decided it was not for us. As a break and an opportunity to see some more of morocco we booked a long excursion through the High Atlas Mountains to the old city of Ouarzazate. This proved to be a good choice. We boarded our minibus at 7am and travelled from the plains of Marrakech to the lush valleys of the Berbers, whose pink hued mud brick homes clung precariously to the steep hillsides. Access to these was often only by way of a rickety rope bridge across a ravine. There were opportunities for those who collect stones and fossils to make some worth while purchases as momentos of the region. After a couple of hours we reached the snow-line becoming unexpectedly stuck behind other vehicles that were having difficulty driving on the ice. This added to the excitement of being more than 3000 metres above sea level. The views were stunning, especially looking back to the winding hairpin roads we had just travelled on.

Once over the summit the landscape slowly changed though snowy white to green, and then to a more desolate but warm rust-red semi moon like landscape so beloved of epic filmmakers. Indeed, Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator were both filmed here. After stopping to admire a hilltop Kasbah and visiting a ‘typical’ Berber home we reached the small town of Ouarzazate. After lunch it was time to retrace our steps for the long journey back to Marrakech.

Our visit to North Africa was full of the sights, sounds, and aromas, characters and colour that I was promised by all the guidebooks with one exception. Even the tour operator dose not recommend Morocco to vegetarians. We are both vegetarians and experienced no problems at all, either at our hotel of eating out, so go and enjoy!

Bow lathe turner in Marrakesh

The use of bow lathes has a long tradition. The first recorded example is an illustration on an Egyptian tomb circa 350 BC. Its actual usage almost certainly goes back much further than that. In Marakesh these lathes are used to produce small items such as chess pieces.

Like Father Like Son

Fifty years ago my father Ted king was commissioned to create some new church furniture for Christ Church, Holmer Green. These heavy oak pieces were built in the living room of our house in Watchet Lane in the mid 1950s. Apart from his quire stools, this work remains in general use to this day.

I was commissioned in 2006 by Holmer Green Methodist Church to create an altar-piece with a carved cross. This was to replace the old pine panelling that had seen better days and to match the pulpit I had revamped a few years previously.

Ted King's lectern Ted King's pulpit

The church has undergone a complete refit to make it more compatible for today’s needs complete with a multi-coloured pastel-painted ceiling reflecting the gentle light of the stained glass windows.

Stuart King's altarpiece Stuart King's pulpit