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  • David Quick

Stroud village Big Dig - Day 4

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

Those four days off between dig sessions seemed to go very quickly and, having arrived home at 2.00 a.m. from a trip to Nottinghamshire, it was a shock to the system when the alarm clock went off at 7.00 this morning. However, everyone arrived at New Buildings Farm, a few new faces were evident as well as the regulars, and we split up again into four teams - three doing digging, and Carl's doing geophys at Myrtle Farm. Last weekend Ellis and Pam had shown us the 1830s tithe maps of what is now Myrtle Farm, and they had suggested that long before the current building there had been a much older and smaller house, set further back from the road in what is now the garden. I understand that Carl's resistivity plot does suggest a rectangular shape in roughly the right place.

In the meantime one of the hardy dig teams agreed to check out a new location - in the garden of Andi Trenchard at one of the houses at New Buildings Farm, next to the long straight hedge we thought might be on the line of a Roman road. They found a few pieces of pottery and small bits of CBM (ceramic building material, i.e. brick or tile) but frustratingly they quite quickly hit the 'natural' surface without digging very deep, so we decided to close that test pit and focus resources on Finchmead Lane.

At Jim's house in Finchmead the team led by Chris Wilkins had dug quite deep but were still hitting disturbed soil - bits of modern tinfoil and barbecue charcoal some distance below the surface. At that point Ellis came round and told us that in the 1970s that house had been owned by the Department of Transport because they intended to re-route and straighten the A272 to run through the garden! (Thank goodness this plan never went ahead). The house and garden had been neglected and then purchased by a property developer in the 1980s, who had resorted to clearing the overgrown garden using earth-moving equipment. This explained why the soil had been completely disturbed and we decided, after finding very little archaeology, to close that test pit down too. To my delight Arthur was finally able to solve the question of the mysterious metal lump he found with his metal detector; sadly it is brass and fairly modern.

However, things were getting exciting just along Finchmead Lane where Lyn's team were at work. As their test pit got below about 70cm deep they started finding lots of Roman CBM (floor and roof tiles) and pottery too. For me this was probably one of the more exciting finds; a large piece of pot rim from a big Romano-British pot or bowl, almost certainly made in the Roman kilns at nearby Alice Holt:

The test pit got deeper and deeper and continued to yield nice pieces until we finally reached the 1-metre depth, including these metal lumps found all grouped together as if they had originally been one piece. I believe Barry was able to confirm it was iron.

The teams led by Chris Wilkins and Lyn are now working in two other adjoining gardens in Finchmead, on a very similar alignment to this productive test pit. Barry has already found a large lump of lead in the garden Chris Wilkins' team is tackling. The other team that came back from Andi's house has already started in Marian and John's garden on the Winchester Road, with its back garden quite close to those on Finchmead Lane. It seems to me that if there was other settlement around the Roman villa, the evidence to date suggests it was just to the north of the villa and south of the A272.

Tomorrow, the priority is to carry on in Finchmead Lane and the Winchester Road. I would also like to start work by Carl's team at the two properties where we have permission to explore down Ramsdean Road but realise this may not be possible until Sunday, because tomorrow afternoon we also have to set up our display stall at the Stroud Revels where we will have some of the original villa finds from the Bedales School and Winchester Museum collections. Photos of the latter can be seen by clicking here.

I am delighted that we are still being approached by more residents interested in having a test pit in their garden or field - more now than we can cope with on this Dig. So next we need to discuss whether another Big Dig weekend might be possible this summer, or whether we will have to combine it with our proposed Stroud field-walk, geophys and dig sessions next summer, when we aim to explore the other exciting areas where we have found clusters of CBM locally. No chicken photos today, but 'Sally the Dig Dog' has enjoyed seeing lots of visitors and having her tummy tickled:

Finally, Arthur Mills has excelled himself; not only has he done us some more photos from today, but also he has produced a short video clip with some scenes from last weekend:

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