Letters from CA November 2020/December 2020

Cruck construction at Hilderstone?

Members of Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeology Society were especially interested to read CA’s recent article on cruck construction (CA 365), as we have just seen it from an archaeological perspective.

In 2019, we excavated a site at Hilderstone, Staffordshire, marked on old maps as Old Hall, where a stone chimney had stood within living memory.

Plentiful domestic and agricultural finds showed occupation throughout the 17th-19th centuries, but the discovered building was a puzzle, as there was no sign of any foundations. A layer of small plaster fragments marked the final demolition of the building, and the straight lines picked out by its distribution were the only evidence of the walls it once clad.

We uncovered a line of stones that may once have supported a timber wall plate at the front face of a timber-framed building. As we then exposed four distinctive flat stone slabs at the corners of the outline of our foundation-less building, it was suggested that it could be a cruck construction, with the prefabricated crucks raised on the stone pads. As the weight of a cruck building is carried on its timber frame, the side walls can be light- weight screens without substantial foundations.

We expect to continue excavating post-COVID – and all volunteers will be very welcome: http://stokearchaeologysociety.org.uk/Hilderstone/html/Hilderstone2019.html.

Keith Ryan
Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeology Society

Wessex Archaeology, Keith Ryan.

Pronunciation problems?

Many thanks for a very interesting magazine, which I always look forward to receiving! CA 365 was especially interesting, as it contained articles on two subjects that particularly fascinate me – namely, the Cerne Giant (within sight of which my wife and I spent part of our honeymoon some 41 years ago!) and crucks. When I first came across the word ‘cruck’ in a guidebook, my immediate thought was how to pronounce it. It looked as if it were closely related to the word ‘crook’, with the shape of the piece of wood it referred to seeming to confirm this, so was it simply an old and/or inaccurate spelling of that word? A feature of the English language is, of course, that many words aren’t pronounced the way they’re spelt, so perhaps ‘crook’ was the correct pronunciation?

In the years since then, most of my involvement with things past has been as an ‘armchair archaeologist/historian’, so I’ve gained most of my knowledge through reading. However, on the few occasions that I’ve heard the word ‘cruck’ pronounced, for example on the late, lamented Time Team, it was pronounced the way it is written, and so I’ve reluctantly adopted that pronunciation myself. But recently it occurred to me that possible evidence to the contrary was almost on my doorstep. Here in Sussex, there’s a village named ‘Cuckfield’ and, by local custom, that name is always pronounced ‘Cookfield’. The same is true of ‘the Cuckmere’, a river which flows through Sussex (though, strangely, it goes nowhere near Cuckfield). And then, of course, there’s that harbinger of spring: the cuckoo. So perhaps ‘crook’ is  a valid pronunciation for ‘cruck’. What do others think?

All I have to do now is to convince myself that the word ‘cist’ – which in other contexts I’ve always heard pronounced ‘sist’ – should, when used archeologically, be pronounced ‘kist’!

Richard Davis

More plaster ceilings in Bath?

IMAGEs: Wessex Archaeology; Keith Ryan

After reading Chris Hambleton’s article (in CA 366), I dug out my ancient Pevsner (1958) to see whether he had anything to say about Bath plaster ceilings. Either Westgate Street has been renumbered or there are two plaster ceilings in adjacent houses: ‘No.15 [Westgate Street] contains on the first floor the oldest remaining plasterwork of Bath, a ribbed ceiling of Jacobean type, but datable to the third quarter of the c17’ (p.119, Pevsner North Somerset and Bristol). Perhaps on another chip trip this could be investigated?

Jane Bradshaw
Thornbury, Gloucestershire

Double-headed doubts

I have doubts that the double-headed eagle on the escutcheon in The Grapes at Bath (CA 366) relates to the Holy Roman Empire (HRE). If you check in Papworth’s Ordinary, you will find more than two dozen English families bearing a double eagle displayed on an undivided shield; what you illustrate looks perfectly fine for an English family’s achievement. No likely match, though, obtrudes from the two 17th-century ‘Visitations of Somerset’, but Bath, even then, was a cosmopolitan sort of place, and the arms might have belonged to a non-local family.

The HRE, at the date suggested, bore for arms a  double eagle displayed sable crowned proper, on its chest an escutcheon of Austria. Having written up the ‘Country Houses of Derbyshire’ many years ago, I have yet to encounter in that county any motif on an early 17th-century plaster ceiling that did not have some kind of relevance to the family that ordered it to be created. I suspect there is more work to do to identify the culprit at The Grapes, but the problem should not be beyond solution, as long as someone has a bit of time to spend on it – and, these days, that’s always the catch!

Max Craven

Norwich Castle

I was interested to read about Clare Butler’s feelings of oppression when visiting the Alderney concentration camp (‘Letters’, CA 365) and wonder how many other readers and archaeologists have experienced this. In the 1980s, I visited Norwich to stay with an aunt and explore the city where my family have lived for centuries, and this included a trip to Norwich Castle – a fascinating place, until we came to the dungeons where I was suddenly and unexpectedly overcome with such feelings of horror I had to leave rather than descend any further. Our guide had not previously told us of the terrible conditions and treatment of the prisoners, so I was not prepared for what was a spooky, but unforgettable experience.

Margaret Williams
Melbourne, Australia

Edible Archaeology

In May 2019, the 3D Archaeological Society went on our annual long weekend away. This time it was to Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland.

Following that trip, in September each year, I make a Christmas cake for our Christmas dinner in December, maturing it with a regular feed of whisky! I theme it on one of the places we have visited on our annual trip, but keep the subject matter secret from the members until the dinner.

This year they were surprised to find that all 14 of us who went on the trip were the subject of the cake! I had taken a panoramic photograph of them as they each sat on one of the stones that form the lovely stone circle at Torhousekie, near Wigtown (also known as Torhouse Stones and King Gauldus’s Tomb) and I used that photograph to make a 6cm caricature of each of them, which they took home with them.

The cake went down well, as did the trip. Dumfries and Galloway is well worth a visit, with interesting sites from prehistory through medieval to the recent times.

Robert Morgan

What you shared with us this month

We were very excited to hear that one of our YAC members from #Basingstoke had their baking featured in @CurrentArchaeo recently. Molly baked a cake of Sycamore Gap along Hadrian’s Wall. We hope she will take part in the #FestivalOfArchaeology baking activity ‘Waste Not, Want Not’.

Joe Flatman @joeflatman
Absolutely delighted that @CurrentArchaeo 369 is now out. It’s a minor milestone for me, featuring my 50th column for the magazine, this month digging deep into #Derbyshire, including picture-perfect @PeakDistrictNT

FIshbourne Roman Palace @romanpalace
Just dug out all of our Roman tile fragments with (possible) cat paw prints on them for @ProfNaomiSykes to have a look at. Not convinced about all of them, but some are so convincing they’re almost purring!

SPBetteridge @BetteridgeSp
Further evidence that even in the face of a military superpower, cats do what they want!

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