Category Archives: Test Pits
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Kyle Pattinson, Kat Maddison, Peter Owen, Cameron Gormill, Muriel Hardman, Mick James, Greg Ford, Nigel Harper-Scott, Philip Dean, Ursula Croft, David Croft, Will Roberts, Will Elkington
Weather: frosty, cold and sunny, with frost lingering throughout the day in shady spots
We have a slight surplus of people today, with only two trenches open. In retrospect, I should have reined in Chris and Ken yesterday, as the speed with which they dug may have caused finds to be missed. This has been brought home to me by two things: firstly, there has been none of the post-medieval material that I would have expected to find on former agricultural land, secondly, some small pieces of what may be Romano-British ceramics have been turning up at 3 Caslon Way that would not have been spotted without slow trowelling.
The potential Romano-British ceramics resemble eggshell ware with a cream slip (or, on a few fragments, a red slip). However, none of the sherds is noticeably curved and there are some large inclusions (< 1 mm), which gives the paste a rather coarser appearance than I would associate with eggshell wares. I’m worried that it may be a painted render of twentieth-century date, although none of the properties on this part of The Grange estate is so rendered.
The name Caslon Way reflects the history of the street. It was developed not by Letchworth Urban District Council, First Garden City Ltd or the Howard Cottage Society, but by the Garden City Press for its workers. Caslon was the font they used by default in their books! I understand that the company still owns most of the properties on the street that have not been bought by private residents or transferred to council (now North Herts Homes) ownership.
Both trenches are going slowly and that at 3 Caslon Way is still in topsoil. Trench II at number 10 is slightly deeper and I am hopeful that the subsoil will be removed by mid-morning. At number 3, where fewer of the diggers have any experience, it is unlikely that we will get into the subsoil before lunch, if at all.
There is still a lack of general post-medieval pottery, which I find very curious. Where are all the transfer-printed wares, the local earthenwares, the slip wares that would normally characterise a plough soil (and it certainly was arable at the time of the Inclosure Award in 1796).
Well, it’s always dangerous to predict how things are going to go. Almost as soon as I’d written my gloomy prediction about the trench at 3 Caslon Way, they hit a yellowish subsoil, which is identical to the deposit in Trench II at number 10. By lunchtime, both trenches were digging through virtually sterile material.
Kyle had to go home before lunchtime as he had developed a bad headache (he’d been digging without a hat and I suspect that the cold had got to him). Peter also had to leave before lunch for a pre-arranged meeting with friends, while Cameron left at two o’clock to go to the gym. This meant that when the members of the Young Archaeologists’ Club (both called Will!) arrived, there was room for them. Shortly after lunch, genuinely Roman pottery turned up in the lower part of the subsoil at 10 Caslon Way. It appears to be the darker version of Much Hadham greywares, although I am slightly concerned that two base sherds appear to be from a baggy base, which is something I tend to associate with medieval ceramics (I am prepared to be wrong and accept that there may be saggy-based Romano-British products, too). Another sherd appears to be from the neck of an orange flagon and is clearly a Roman form, not medieval. This made me feel very relieved, as I had been getting concerned that we did not have any definitely Roman material despite the discoveries in 1953.
Around 2.30, one of the Young Archaeologists found definitely Romano-British pottery at 3 Caslon Way. It has trituration grits on the inside, which means that it is from a mortarium, a type of grinding bowl used in Roman cooking. We now have Roman material from both sides of the road, suggesting that the site may have been relatively extensive (unless one of the scatters derives from manuring).
Shortly before they were due to backfill, the diggers in Trench II at Caslon Way came down on to a new deposit. There was not time to expose it across the whole trench, but a quick slot along two edges of the trench confirmed that it probably does cover it. It appears to be a mixture of small chalk pebbles and clay, which I have seen used for Roman surfaces in North Hertfordshire, so we may have a former yard surface (or even interior floor) here. Looking back at the bottom of Trench I, what I identified then as ‘natural’ is probably not such at all and is a similar (or even the same) surface!
Having started the day feeling somewhat despondent that we wouldn’t find evidence for Romano-British activity, we have indeed located the “Romans”!
Friday 15 February
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Ken Bird, Chris Hobbs, Frankie Saxton, Tony Driscoll, Nigel Harper-Scott, Kat Maddison, Mick James, Muriel Hardman, Cameron Gormill, Peter Owen, Kyle Pattinson
Weather: cold, mostly overcast, dry
We have started two trenches in the garden of 10 Caslon Way, one close to the house, the other further east along the garden. At 3 Caslon Way, on the opposite (western) side of the road, we have a single trench. This gives us a reasonable spread around the known discoveries.
Councillor Nigel Agar called in early on, having been confused earlier in the week by an email from the archaeological society that didn’t make explicit who was doing the work. I had emailed him back to explain that it was all part of the Norton Community Archaeology Group’s activities and to invite him along. He contacted councillor David Kearns, who lives nearby and who also dropped in. It’s good to see our elected members taking such an interest.
All three trenches are turning out to be very different from each other. The sole trench at 3 Caslon Way has a very clayey topsoil, which is relatively shallow. Trench I at 10 Caslon Way (that nearest the house) has a fairly thick sandy topsoil containing a great deal of recent builders’ débris overlying a virtually sterile clayey deposit with chalk flecks of similar thickness to the topsoil. It produced a few small pieces of very abraded ceramic building material that may have been intrusive and, towards the base, a piece of almost dissolved poorly fired ceramic. This lay above natural clay with a sand-filled root hollow an a collection of chalk pebbles that at first appeared to be structural components. Trench II, by contrast, has a rather humic loamy topsoil, overlying a more yellowy deposit, resembling that beneath the topsoil at 3 Caslon Way.
The photographer from The Comet turned up around 2 p.m. He photographed the trench at 3 Caslon Way with the schoolchildren and Kat, which will give the story greater human interest. It is also good evidence to use in the Lottery application to show our community outreach as a group.
By 2.45, it had become clear that Trench I at 10 Caslon Way contained no archaeological deposits, so it can now be backfilled. That leaves the other two trenches, where progress has not been as rapid and where there may be a better chance of recovering archaeological material (even if no deposits remain in situ).
At the time, I thought the material in the bottom of Trench 1 at 10 Caslon Way was natural, but now I suspect it may be a surface similar to that found in Trench II to the east.