Sherds CA 405

Christopher Catling, Contributing Editor for CA, delves into the eccentricities of the heritage world.

Tim Tatton-Brown has drawn Sherds’ attention to the obituaries that were published in several newspapers last month for the late Trev (Treleven) Haysom (1942-2023), who was, says Tim, ‘a great mentor of mine’. Tim helped Trev obtain planning permission from Dorset County Council to extract Purbeck marble that has since been used in a number of high-profile building conservation projects, including the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at Westminster Abbey and for the repair of the abbey’s Cosmatesque pavements (see CA 359).

Opening a new quarry in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is difficult, if not impossible, but it helped that 11 generations of Trev’s family had been working Purbeck stone in an unbroken line dating back to 1698. Walter Haysom, Trev’s father, replaced all the 12th-century Purbeck marble columns at the Temple Church in London and renovated the tombs of the Knights Templar after they had suffered in the Blitz. As his father’s apprentice, young Trev helped to restore the medieval screen at Chichester Cathedral. His son, Mark Haysom, now continues the business, which has grown to include five active Purbeck quarries.

In 2020, Trev published the definitive book on the subject: Purbeck Stone (Dovecote Press), based on a lifetime spent talking to older generations of Purbeck masons and researching all aspects of the industry. He explains that Purbeck marble, so highly prized by medieval masons, is not marble at all – it is a limestone composed of billions of tiny, fossilised snails.

Like true marble, it can be polished up to a fine sheen. He quotes St Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln (1140-1200), who described the stone as ‘flecked with glittering stars… marble of a most noble nature. Of this are formed those slender columns which stand around the giant pillars, even as a bevy of maidens stand marshalled for a dance.’

Trev was also an accomplished sculptor: in 1976, he carved a cross for the church of St Nicholas in Studland, Dorset, with early medieval interlace motifs on three sides and a DNA double helix on the fourth. That suggests a scientific bent, but when Trev was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Technology from Bournemouth University in 2014, his family joked that it had to be for medieval technology, because Trev did not own a watch, a bank card, or a mobile phone, and could not even turn on a computer.

He did, though, have a small museum, known locally as ‘Trev’s Shed’, where he displayed the fossils that he had found while quarrying. In gratitude for his discoveries, palaeontologists named Dorsetodon haysomi, an extinct mammal, in his honour.

Coming from generations of Purbeck quarrymen, Trev Haysom’s father, Walter, replaced all the 12th century Purbeck marble columns at the Temple Church in London after they were damaged in the Blitz. Image: Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.0

Roman masonry recycled

Staying with the subject of stone, Sherds enjoyed a lecture given in Chichester in September as part of the British Archaeological Association’s annual conference by geologist David Bone on the medieval reuse of Roman stone. It is often said that medieval churches, houses, and the city walls were built of recycled Roman stone, but David wanted to know whether this could be proved. Sherds has often asked himself a similar question when walking round his hometown, where the massive and continuous wall that surrounds Cirencester Mansion, along with many an old boundary wall, appears to be constructed from blocks of stone that are similar in size to those encountered in excavations of the town’s Roman buildings.

But similarity does not amount to evidence, so David painstakingly measured the heights and widths of hundreds of individual buildings’ stones of known Roman and medieval provenance and fed them into a statistical programme called a Convex Hull Plot, which measures the degree of similarity or difference between two sets of data and how dispersed the data are in relation to the mean.

Lo and behold, the programme showed beyond doubt that there were two quite distinct groups with no overlap, and that the stone from medieval churches said to have been constructed with reused Roman material did indeed map on to the Roman cluster, not the medieval. Maybe Sherds should use the same methods to examine stones in Cirencester. On reflection, perhaps not, because Sherds lacks the necessary computational skill: David Bone said that he would not have been able to complete his research without the help of his daughter, who happens to be a professional statistician.

Bronze Age steel

At the risk of straying into the territory of our sister-magazine Current World Archaeology, it is worth mentioning another stone-related story: the evidence that steel tools were in use in Portugal in the late Bronze Age, c.900 BC. The discovery began when a research team led by Dr Ralph Araque Gonzalez from the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Freiburg undertook geochemical analyses of an ancient Iberian carved stone. This proved to be made of silicated quartz sandstone, an extremely hard rock that cannot be worked with bronze or stone tools, as the researchers demonstrated by asking a professional stonemason to work a similar stone using chisels made of different materials. Only the chisel made of tempered steel was able to engrave the stone.

This led the research team to analyse a late Bronze Age chisel found in Rocha do Vigio, Portugal, only to discover that it was made of just the kind of carbon-rich steel needed to work the sandstone. Until now, it had been assumed that suitable steel did not exist until the early Iron Age, and that neither iron nor steel became abundant until around 500 BC. The researchers argue that this precocious production and tempering of steel must have been an indigenous development, too early to result from the influence of later colonisation, but that it is unclear why steelmaking did not then spread from this region of Iberia to other parts of Europe.

Using geochemical analyses, the researchers were able to prove that stone stelae on the Iberian peninsula that date back to the Bronze Age feature complex engravings that could only have been done using tempered steel. This was backed up by metallographic analyses of an iron chisel from the same period and region that showed the necessary carbon content to be proper steel. Images: Ferreiro Mählmann (A), Bastian Asmus (B), Ralph Araque Gonzalez (C-E)

Submarine hunt

In CA 399, Sherds reported that two Winchester University experts – Simon Roffey, Reader in Archaeology, and David Ashby, who manages the university’s Soil Laboratory – were using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to try to locate a First World War submarine believed to have been buried when the creation of Dartmouth’s Coronation Park in 1937 filled in land that had previously consisted of mud flats and riverside wharves. Simon now tells Sherds that they have not only found the outline of what could be the submarine, but the GPR plot also shows another shape lying at right angles to the sub, which could be that of a German First World War torpedo boat.

The position of the two vessels corresponds to an aerial image of Dartmouth in the 1920s, which shows the submarine and another craft sitting on the mud flats, being used as breakwaters. Simon and David plan to return to Dartmouth to investigate with magnetometry equipment, which is sensitive to detecting buried metal.

Poetry in signage

And David Gill has followed up on another story from the past. The ‘Odd Socs’ column in CA 392 drew attention to the Ministry of Works Signage Appreciation Society and the unintended poetry in some early Ministry of Works signs. David is an avid member of that Society and has drawn Sherds’ attention to the fact that English Heritage is now deliberately using strategically placed signs to encourage mindfulness when visiting their sites. Rather than signs prohibiting climbing on the walls or warning of the dangers of open medieval culverts, visitors might now see a sign saying: ‘Stand where history happened’. A sign at Mount Grace Priory says, ‘This view will live long in the memory’, drawing attention to the prospect through the Chris Beardshaw-designed garden to the site’s manor house.

The well-named Samantha Stones, Senior Properties Curator at English Heritage, told The Guardian newspaper, that ‘we’re trying to evoke the same experiences that people who were there in the past would have had’, hence the encouragement of visitors to imagine the sound of footsteps on the gravel paths at Down House where Charles Darwin took his daily walk, or to feel the wind at Hadrian’s Wall and imagine being a Roman sentry far from home. Samantha adds: ‘We’re suggesting that people might want to have a deeper connection with the past than reading information on a panel or looking at your phone. We want people to have a sensory experience.’