CA 396 Letters – February

Your views on issues raised in CA.

Dobunni defences

I was very interested to read (in issue 388) the article ‘What are hillforts?’, especially the mention of chevaux de frise. Our local hillfort is Worlebury Camp, built on a promontory above Weston-super-Mare. It is a multivallate fort with ten valla including three from the Bronze Age and seven from the Iron Age on the eastern side, which are all scheduled. The site has been cleared of undergrowth by a local community archaeology group, and on the northern slopes of the hillfort they have found stones and rocks that are not in a natural position and appear to have been placed by hand. These lie immediately below the north-west-facing fortifications and above the cliffs, reaching down to the sea facing the Welsh coast, which was occupied at that time by the Silures, a warlike tribe. It seems that this may be an example of chevaux de frise being used by one tribe, the Dobunni, against another.

Heather Morrisey
Archaeology Secretary, Weston-super-Mare Archaeological and Natural History Society

IMAGE: Ethan Doyle White, CC-BY SA 2.0

Celebrating Coleham Pumping Station

Eagerly opening CA 394 when it arrived, my eyebrows were raised at the statement that Papplewick Pumping Station is ‘England’s only pumping station to still have all its original features’, as I had understood that my local Coleham Pumping Station was distinguished to the same extent, even including the ventilator on its ridge:

Doubtless there are degrees of ‘all’ and ‘original’, but I felt compelled to point this out. The original station was designed by John Taylor & Sons and opened c.1900. And 75 years later I joined them! The station today is owned by Shropshire Council and operated by the volunteers of the Shrewsbury Steam Trust. Sewage is still pumped from it, albeit by electric pumps since 1970.

Jonathan Davies
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

IMAGE: Andy Dingley

Debating dodecahedrons

I’ve been a subscriber for several decades, and always enjoy each issue. There was a fascinating book review in issue 395 about those enigmatic Scottish Neolithic carved stone balls. I wonder if you would like a fresh take on the equally enigmatic Roman bronze dodecahedrons? Theories for their purpose abound, including the much-admired glove-making one, but I think we may need to be closer to another part of human anatomy. Sphagnum moss has been used as toilet paper for millennia: it is soft, strong, long-lasting after collection, and highly water-absorbent. I think these objects could be portable holders for the moss, and served a highly valuable function when sponges on sticks weren’t available. That would also account for the unusual finds distribution in northern Europe, where the moss is plentiful, but not in southern Europe where it is too warm for the moss to grow. Conversely, sponges would have been more readily available at more Mediterranean latitudes, of course. Also, could the absence of any mentions in contemporary literature then be related to their lowly (sic) function?

David Lloyd
Newbury, West Berkshire

In CA 393 (exhibition review), we wrote that the Tudor nun Elizabeth Barton bears the dubious honour of being the first woman in history to have her body parts displayed on Tower Bridge following her execution for treason. Given that Tower Bridge was not built until the late 19th century, this should, of course, have read ‘London Bridge’ (whose history you can read more about in CA 391) – thank you to our eagle-eyed readers who pointed out the error.