Domesday pottery location excavated in Gloucestershire

Investigations revealed finds spanning the Mesolithic through to the modern period, with the majority of the remains relating to a medieval farmstead

Excavations at Quedgeley East, north-west of Haresfield in Gloucestershire, have revealed the possible location of one of three pottery production sites mentioned in Domesday Book.

Photo: Cotswold Archaeology

Over the course of six months in 2019, investigations by Cotswold Archaeology revealed finds spanning the Mesolithic through to the modern period, with the majority of the remains relating to a medieval farmstead with associated enclosures and trackways (pictured above). Post-excavation work, including radiocarbon dating and pottery analysis, has since revealed that the site was probably in use between c.AD 1000 and 1150/1200, making it one of only a few medieval farmsteads with pre-Conquest origins to be excavated in Britain.

From the onset, there was significant interest in the project because of its links with Domesday Book, with the Haresfield entry recording five potters who were present there, paying 44d, probably in rent. It is one of only three sites in the compendium to note the presence of potters. This does not mean that potters were rare, rather that this craft was not relevant to the surveyors who were there to appraise landholdings. The few records of potters seem to reflect the whim of individual surveyors.

Because of this entry, the precise location of these potters has long been sought, with some suggesting nearby Crockers Hill, south-east of Haresfield, as a possibility (‘croc’ being associated with potters). Certainly, the clay there is consistent with that used in Gloucester TF41B pottery, a type found in Gloucester and elsewhere in the region that is thought to have been produced at Haresfield. It now seems probable, though – based on the new evidence from this project – that at least one of these potters was located on the clay vale north-west of the village, at the Quedgeley East site. This is because, over the course of the excavations, the Cotswold Archaeology team discovered more than 4,500 medieval sherds, almost all in the TF41B fabric and predominantly lacking soot or other residue that would have accumulated during use, suggesting that these were ‘wasters’ (pictured below) – poorly fired pots discarded after firing. Several large dumps of such wasters were found, including sherds from misshaped pots. This is the largest assemblage of TF41B sherds yet found, suggesting that the farmers who occupied this site supplemented their income by selling pottery, probably at the nearby market at Gloucester.

Photo: Cotswold Archaeology

No kilns were discovered, but this is probably because the pots were fired in clamp kilns, which are above-ground temporary structures akin to bonfires that would have left little direct trace. In fact, many of the sherds varied in colour, which would be expected on pots fired in such kilns, where control of oxygen ingress is poor. Potting was probably a side business for these farmers, and they would have paid a clay rent to their lord, regardless of where they obtained the clay. Their main living was farming, probably of cattle for meat and dairy on the wood-pasture of the vale clays, with sheep and arable on the nearby Cotswold hills.

At the end of its use, in the mid- to late 12th century, the farmstead appears to have been deliberately demolished and replaced with open fields and a moated windmill. This seemingly abrupt end may be linked to the wider reorganisation of the surrounding landscape around this time, which also saw the construction of a moated manor house, church, and deer park. But whether the destruction of the former Saxon farm represents compulsion by Anglo-Norman lords, vacancy following death without an heir, or a dynamic peasant selling the property before moving to pursue another venture elsewhere, perhaps in Gloucester’s burgeoning centre, is a matter lost to time.

The full results of the project can be found at https://reports.cotswold (report CR0297_1) and will be the subject of an article in Medieval Archaeology.