Category Archives: Ancient History

Portsmouth on Time Team tomorrow night, Channel 4

Domus Dei church.

Garrison Church (Image via Wikipedia)

Tomorrow night’s episode of Time Team on Channel 4 comes from Portsmouth.

Last year the arachaeology programme carried out a dig in Old Portsmouth, on the Governors Green area. The existing Garrison Church used to be part of a larger Governors House, and prior to that it used to be part of a much larger complex – the Domus Dei, or Gods House. Domus Dei acted as a hospital and travel lodge.

I’ve had a bit of secondhand inside knowledge on what happened on the dig, but I’ll let you all watch the programme and make what you will of it before I spoil it with my gossip!

Time Team at Governors Green is on Channel 4 tommorrow night (Sunday 24th October) at 5.30pm

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Filed under Ancient History, Local History, On TV

Saxon event at Portsmouth City Museum this Saturday

No, not the heavy metal band (sadly!), but a Saxon log boat excavated from Langstone Harbour goes on display for the first time this weekend at Portsmouth City Museum. The boat is over 1,500 years old and is the oldest known watercraft to have been retrieved from the Solent!

There will also be a chance to see Saxon artefacts from Portsdown and Horndean, including jewellery, spear heads and shield bosses. Speak to costumed interpreters to discover what a Saxon warrior carried with him on the battlefield and the clothes and jewellery a fashionable Saxon woman would have worn. Members of the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology will be on site with their Maritime Bus, packed with interactive displays, models, games and hands-on activities.

10.30am to 4.30pm, Saturday 23 October. For more info click here

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Portsmouth Paper #1 – Portchester Castle by Barry Cunliffe

Over 80 Portsmouth Papers have been published since their inception in 1967. Although the rate of publication has slowed somewhat, they remain an amazing resource for the local historian, and make Portsmouth one of the most written-about cities for its size in Britain. I know they came in handy when I writing my dissertation. Over the coming weeks I will be bringing you a summary of some of the best numbers in the series.

One of the most ironic things about the first ever Portsmouth Paper, is that its subject is not in Portsmouth at all. Yet Portchester Castle was one of the earliest and most important factors in human activity in the Portsmouth area, so the cross-boundary activity can surely be forgiven!

In 1967 Barry Cunliffe was already one of Britain’s most foremost Archaeologists. Now, 43 years later, Sir Barry Cunliffe is retired, after a career that culminated as Professor of International Archaeology at the University of Oxford. He has also served as the President of the British Council for Archaeology, a Governor of the Museum of London, the interim chair of English Heritage, and he is currently the Chair of the Friends of the British Museum. Professor Cunliffe is even one of the references on Mick Aston’s CV!

Excavations began at Portchester Castle in 1961. The first three years were spent excavating the Roman walls. Focus then shifted to the inner bailey of the Castle, with digging beginning in the South West quarter.

The first traces of occupation at Portchester date from the First Century AD, in the form of small amounts of pottery and a few post-holes. It is known that in AD 43 the Roman Fleet was stationed in Britain, and a system of Roman forts and fleets remained on the south and east coasts for several centuries. Coins found in the walls at Portchester date their construction to some time after AD 268. The walls were a significant feature, being 10 feet thick and up to 20 feet high. 24,000 cubic yards of flint and mortar were used. Cuniffe gives us a vivid picture of how the walls were built, and includes a fascinatng picture showing the join between the work of two Roman building gangs. Outside of this main wall projected a number of D-shaped Bastions.

Gates are always bound to be a weak point in any fortification. At Portchester the two gates are found on the ‘Land’ and ‘Water’ sides. Both of these sections of the castle have been heavily modified and rebuilt over the centuries, and detailed illustrations show the various stages of rebuiding. Aside from the gates, evidence of Roman buildings has been found in the inner bailey, such as latrines. The rubbish deposits found in the Castle give us a very full picture of Garrison life in the Castle – animal bones, for instance.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the site was not occupied militarily. However, it is likely that people used the Castle as shelter. Ancient Anglo-Saxon chronicles tell us that in AD 501 a man named Port landed at Portsmouth and killed a noble man. Excavations at Portchester have found evidence of Saxon activity at the Castle, however there is no link to the mysterious Port. However Portchester is extremely significant, as so few examples of Saxon settlement remain. From the 10th Century documentary sources relating to Portchester are much more common, and it is clear that parts of the Watergate in particular are of late-Saxon origin.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066 the Castle found a new lease of life. The Domesday Book tells us that the Castle had a hall, and excavations in 1965 and 1966 uncovered its location. It seems that the 11th Century Castle contained a manorial hall, and other associated buildings, possibly of pre-Norman origin. By the early part of the twelfth century the Castle was in Royal hands. A programme of military and domestic works took place, including the rebuilding of both gates. An inner bailey was constructed, as a residential area and an inner stronghold. According to Cunliffe, the Norman builders even robbed several feet from the thickness of the outer Roman walls. The large keep remains the most impressive building in the Castle complex.

The mid twelfth to mid thirteenth centuries saw numerous modifications. the Keep was increased in height, and a number of smaller buildings were built inside the inner bailey – halls, kitchens and living rooms. Kings frequently used the Castle while hunting game in the Forest of Bere, or as a stopping point before sailing to France. Although the Royal retinue would have inhabited the inner bailey, the outer bailey would have been occupied by many people. Shortly after 1133 an Augustinian Priory was built in the south-east quarter, however twenty years later the monks left for Southwick! The Priory buildings continued to be used as St Mary’s Church.

The importance of Portchester gradually receded, due to the growing importance of Portsmouth. However Richard II continued to use the Castle as a residential retreat, and the subsequent buildings can adequately be described as a Palace.

This is a masterful Paper indeed. Eloquently written by THE authority on archaeology, it is informative, well illustrated with graphics and photographs – including some great archaeological drawings. Perhaps it is not as well referenced as other Papers, but it is after all an archaeological report, and not a pure work of history. Over 40 years old, the first Portsmouth Paper also remains one of the best.

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Filed under Ancient History, Architecture, Local History, Medieval history, Roman, Uncategorized

Portchester Castle #1 – the outer bailey

Portchester Castle lies at the top of Portsmouth Harbour. And, luckily, just over a mile from my house! Originally built by the Romans, and subsequently inhabited by the Saxons and Medieval Kings, today the Castle is open to visitors.

It’s unknown exactly when the first work on the site was carried out. The Romans called the area Portus Adurni, are thought to have built the first fort at Portchester in the 3rd Century AD. Goodall suggests a date of between 285 and 290 AD, while Cunliffe has written about evidence of a small settlement prior to this date. The outer Bailey is the main remaining part of the Roman Castle. It is easily recognisable, constructed from flint and mortar, and remarkably well preserved. There is ample evidence of the different occupiers of the Castle in its stonework. Roman flint, Norman and Medieval stone blocks, and later Georgian and Victorian repairs carried out in red brick. The Roman works in particular were an incredible achievement, with none of the machinery modern builders would rely on. That they are still standing now is testament to their skill.

The Flint Wall of Portchester Castle

The Flint Wall of Portchester Castle

The original walls were some five feet thick and twenty feet high, and include features such as crenellations and fire steps.

Crenellations

Crenellations

There are also large circular bastions in each corner. The Castle also has substantial outer defences – one two sides it faces the sea, and a system of moats on the landward sides. There is an excellent plan of the Castle here.

The Castle’s location is extremely important. Located in the middle of the South Coast, opposite France, and at the top of a well defended harbour, it was an ideal base for travelling to the continent, for defending the local coastine, and assembling armies. The English Armies that sailed to Crecy and Agincourt were assembled at Portchester. As time passed by the top of Portsmouth Harbour silted up, and Portchester was eclipsed by Portsmouth. But in the middle ages, Portchester was a crucial settlement. And naturally, a village soon grew up near the Castle, along the approach road.

After the fall of the Roman Empire the castle was probably taken over by the indigenous english. The area received its current name around the 6th Century AD. Ancient chronicles describe how a Saxon Warrior landed and captured the fort. For the next 4 centuries the Castle was in Saxon hands, and the current Watergate is largely of Saxon origin.

Watergate

Watergate

Over time extra bastions have been added, as well as latrine chutes and several gates. In particular, latrine chutes can be seen on the south wall, where the old Priory once stood.

Latrines

Latrines

On the north side we can also see a nasty looking archway, where the defenders would have been able to pour boiling hot oil onto any attackers attempting to scale the walls.

Arch

Arch

After the Norman Conquest the Castle was handed over to one one of William’s trusted Lieutenants. The Domesday Book shows William Mauduit as being the owner of the Castle. This was part of William’s policy of handing Castle and manors to trusted Frenchmen, in order to control the english population.

The large Keep was constructed in the early 12th Century. It now stands at over 100 feet high, after various phases of construction. The Keep was the main stronghold of the castle, surrounded by the inner bailey and then the outer bailey (more on the inner bailey at a later date).

The Keep

The Keep

Located close to the Forest of Bere, a prime hunting area, the Castle was also used by many English Kings as a hunting lodge. Nowadays the Castle is surrounded by trees and other buildings. But for many years it would have been by far the biggest building for miles around, a powerful status symbol of the local lord, and by definition the King. The building of the Round and Square Towers at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour in the 15th Century, and later Southsea Castle in 1544, largely made Portchester obsolete. Redundant as a fortress, it served as a storehouse and a Prison over the following centuries.

My next post will look in detail at the inside of the Castle – in particular the Church, the Inner Bailey, and the Keep.

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Filed under Ancient History, Architecture, Local History, Medieval history, out and about, Uncategorized

Time Team

(l-r) Tony Robinson, Phil Harding, Mick Aston

(l-r) Tony Robinson, Phil Harding, Mick Aston

Unless you’ve lived on a different planet for the past 15 years, you can’t fail but to have seen the hugely popular archaeology TV show, Time Team. It can be seen on Channel 4, and repeats on the Discovery Channel.

First broadcast in 1994, it showcases a team of archaeologists and associated experts as they go about investigating archaeological sites. The real crux of the programme is that they supposedly have only three days to carry out the dig. In fact much of the work is done before and after the three days. They have investigated everything from Paleolithic, Neolithic, Roman, Saxon, Medieval and Industrial Revolution through to second world war sites. They have also produced programmes on excavations in America and the Carribean.

The show is presented by Tony Robinson, of Blackadder fame. As well as an acomplished actor, he’s also got an enthusiasm for archaeology. The main expert is Professor Mick Aston, a nutty professor if ever there was one, with shocks of clown-like hair and day-glo stripey jumpers. Historian Robin Bush used to cover the research side of things, and proved to be unlike many archivists in that he actually had a personality. The show also uses some fascinating geophysical survey technology.

The real gem of the series has to be Phil Harding. Like something out of a Thomas Hardy novel and with the broad wessex accent to match, he is a dirt archaeologist and is always getting involved in the re-enactments and reconstructions. With long hair and short shorts, hes quite a character.

Time Team usually get involved with the local community. I have to admit to being a bit disappointed, however, when earlier this summer they carried out an excavation in Portsmouth and cosied up with Portsmouth Grammar School. Why not invite some less privileged young people who might not normally get that kind of opportunity?

Time Team has made a lasting impact on British archaeology. The archaeologists involved with Time Team have published more scientific papers on excavations carried out in the series than all British university archaeology departments put together over the same period.

A lot of the establishment figures have never been to happy about Time Team, reasoning that it dumbs down archaeology, and no doubt they dont like anything that interests normal people. As someone who thinks that it is the right of anyone and everyone to be interested in history, this smacks of elitism. If these authority figures really loved their subject, then they would be glad that people find an interest in it.

If you dont like people being enthusiastic about history, go and work in a factory.

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Filed under Ancient History, Architecture, debate, Industrial Revolution, Local History, Medieval history, Museums, On TV, social history

£13m for UK’s Heritage

The Heritage Lottery Fund today announced £13m worth of grants for four Heritage projects around the UK.

Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes is the historic site of secret British code breaking activities during World War Two and birthplace of the modern computer. It has been awarded HLF development funding of £460,500 towards a further potential application of £4.1million. Proposals include: repairing key buildings to highlight the crucial part the site played in the World War Two code breaking story; improving visitor facilities; and expanding the site’s educational programmes.

HLF’s £3.3million grant will fund the transformation of the redundant 19th-century All Souls Church in Bolton into a state-of-the-art facility providing training, education, youth activities, health and welfare services to the local community. Plans include taking out the existing pews and replacing them with a community centre, made up of two ‘pods’ that will sit within the church building.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich will also benefit. Thanks to HLF’s £5million grant, an elegant and inviting entrance will be created directly from Greenwich Park and much more of the collection and archive will be displayed in the new library, archive facilities and special exhibitions gallery.

The Vindolanda Trust has some of the most important collections of ‘real life’ from the Roman world. Their museums are situated on the extensive remains of two Roman forts and civilian settlements on Hadrian’s Wall – England’s largest World Heritage Site. The HLF’s £4million grant will link the two sites and the proposed new gallery space and education centre have been designed to inspire the next generation of young archaeologists. A significant element of Vindolanda’s collection currently in storage will be on show for the first time.

Stowe Landscape Gardens in Buckinghamshire was created by some of the 18th century’s leading architects, sculptors and gardeners, including Capability Brown, John Vanbrugh and William Kent. Thanks to a grant of £1.5million, the original entrance to the Garden will be reinstated. By transforming the visitor experience, people will enjoy a greater understanding of what it would have been like to visit Stowe in its heyday.

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported more than 28,800 projects, allocating over £4.3billion across the UK.

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History… Heavy Metal style!

Iron Maiden - biggest selling Historians?

Iron Maiden - biggest selling Historians?

I was listening to some CD’s earlier, and it occured to me that actually, quite a lot of heavy metal bands take a lot of influence from History. Some take it a lot further. When you take a look at Iron Maiden’s tracklisting, most of the songs are about some historical figure or event!

Just take a look at a few…

…Aces High, Alexander the Great, Flight of Icarus, Fortunes of War, Genghis Khan, Mother Russia, Montesgur, Paschendaele, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Run to the Hills, Tailgunner, Longest Day, The Trooper, Where Eagles Dare, These colours dont run…

…what a panteon of history that tracklisting is!

Aces High and Tailgunner are clearly about the Battle of Britain and WW2 Bomber crews, The Longest Day is taken from Cornelius Ryan’s Book about D-Day and the subsequent film, Alexander the Great is about the ancient Greek Emperor, Flight of Icarus is about the tale of Icarus and Daedelus, Paschendaele is a very fitting tribute to the WW1 battle on the Ypres Salient, Run to the Hills is about the plight of the American Native Indians in the 19th Century, The Trooper is the charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War, and Where Eagles Dare is based on the classic WW2 novel.

The most impressive one for me, however, has to be Montsegur. Its a very little known siege during the 14th Century, when Christian Forces attempted to put down a Protestant rebellion in the French town of Montesgur. The lyrics are really focussed, Bruce Dickinson had obviously done some serious reading on the subject.

Nor is History the confines of Iron Maiden. Saxon have Lionheart, about Richard the Lionheart, and even Metallica wrote Creeping Death about plague in Ancient Egypt. And who can forget Motorhead’s Lancaster Bomber? I think its quite possible that a lot of people out there have learnt more about History from listening to music than they ever will in a History lesson. And good for them, whatever works, is good. Its just a different medium for expressing yourself and informing people. Its got to be better than people listening to Slipknot, thats for sure… and when you factor in how many millions of albums they’ve all sold, its a hell of a lot more than any popular Historian!

So in essence, if you dont like reading books and want to find out about History, listen to those well known Historians, Bruce Dickinson, Steve Harris, Nicko McBrain, Jannick Gers, Dave Murray, and Adrian Smith!

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Filed under Ancient History, Medieval history, Music, Royal Air Force, World War One, World War Two