Excavations in Church Oakal Field

Farnborough Park,  Warwickshire

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1. Summary 2. Location3. Background
4. Aims and Objectives5. Methodology6. Church Oakal B Site
7. Church Oakal A Site8. Finds9. Conclusion
10. Archive11. Acknowledgments12. Bibliography

Fig. 1 The site, general view from south-west.


        1.0 Summary

1.1 As part of  a long term project to survey and analyse the landscape associated with Farnborough Hall and its Georgian park two trenches were opened in a field known as Church Oakal immediately to the south of St Botolph's Church. An earthwork survey in 2011 had revealed the presence of building platforms and a possible moated site and the excavations were undertaken to investigate the character of the sites and their archaeological potential.


1.2 Church Oakal B site was a 2 by 4 metre trench across the edge of a platform on the top of the hill adjacent to the church yard.  Work uncovered a spread of destruction rubble with associated pottery from the first half of the eighteenth century. The collapsed remains of the rubble core of a large stone building, probably agricultural in nature, contained redeposited early medieval pottery potentially associated with Saxon settlement close to the church. A small portion of a metalled yard was uncovered to the east of the wall.

1.3 Church Oakal A site involved a 2 by 6 metre trench across the edge of the platform and down into the moat situated in the valley below the church.  A low sleeper wall for a timber-framed building was discovered with an associated revetment to the moat.  The limited number of finds indicate a medieval date for these features.  Large quantities of brick rubble had been used to partially fill in the moat in the post-medieval period. In addition a number of residual Mesolithic microliths were recovered.


Fig.2 Topography and location map


2.0 Location

2.1 The sites investigated lie to the south of St. Botolph's Church in the village of Farnborough in south Warwickshire, close to the border with Oxfordshire and just over  9 kilometres north of Banbury (Fig. 3).


2.2 The village lies on a northern outlier of the Cotswolds: a southern tilting mass made up of early Jurassic marine shales, limestones and sands of the lias group. The most prominent part of these deposits is a marlstone bed, which is a calcareous, sandy ironstone and due to its relative hardness, forms an elevated ridge (Williams 1975). Because of this the initial fall of the scarp is quite steep with an overall height of around 40 metres.  The rusty brown ironstone has been widely used locally for building (Radley 2003: 209).


2.3 The scarp, running north-west to south-east, is dissected by a number of streams which come together to the south-west of the hall forming a re-entrant angle of low ground, sheltered by heights to the north and east (Fig. 2).  The lower slopes consist of hill-wash and eroded material derived from the underlying marlstone, whilst the flatter plain to the south-east is composed of alluvial deposits of silt, clay and gravel, of periglacial origin. There are several springs in the area, mainly clustered between the 145 and 160 metre contour. Some of these exist as depressions in the face of the hill-side from which water seeps, whilst others have been given some additional structure as at St. BotolphÕs Well (Fig. 2).


2.4 As both sites were in unimproved pasture it was necessary to obtain a derogation from Natural England to cover the disturbance and re-instatement of the turf (Fig. 4).



Fig. 4 Church Oakal Field looking north


Fig. 5 Earthworks in Church Oakal Field

3.0 Background

3.1 The presence of earthworks in the field marked as Church Oakal on an estate map of 1772 (Linnell 1772) is recorded in the Warwickshire HER: 'The possible site of a deserted settlement. A hollow way and several house platforms are visible as earthworks. The settlement may have been deserted during the Medieval period or alternatively, as late as the Imperial period. It is situated south of the church, Farnborough' ( record 618).

3.2 A detailed survey of the earthworks was carried out in the spring of 2011. Church Oakal lies to the south of St. Botolph's Church and to the east of the current hall and park being separated from them by the Banbury road. The shape of the field in the eighteenth century was rectangular, aligned east - west and roughly 400 yards (370 metres) by 180 yards (160 metres). There was a narrow projection to the south which overall created an 'L' shaped plan.  Topographically the field occupies the north side and bottom of a shallow valley which lies between two hills; Oakal Hill  to the south and Church Hill to the north (Fig. 5). The water discharges to the west currently through a stone lined drain which passes below the foot way which runs underneath the Banbury road by means of a well made ironstone tunnel/bridge. Some of the field today is occupied by the remains of the early nineteenth-century walled kitchen garden. Most of the earthworks are along the western margin of the field and can be clearly seen from the road, in addition there is access to the land via a footpaths which run close to or through the sites.


3.3 Church Oakal B Site. 

From the outset the empty field adjacent to the hilltop church seemed anomalous and so it was not surprising to find a series of well defined platforms indicating the presence of buildings (Fig. 6). Four distinct platforms exist which were tentatively identified as a farmstead with the main house on the crest of the hill on the western side of the complex, a larger building, possibly a barn to the east and smaller ancillary buildings to the north. This area is bounded on the north by the wall of the churchyard which acts as a revetment to the higher ground around the church. The wall appears to cut at least one platform. To the west of the platform complex is a clearly defined holloway which runs down the hillside from a point to the east of the church to the Banbury road where if curves round to match the existing roadway. On the other side of the park wall is St. Botolph's Well and it seems likely that the route linked the church to the holy well and perhaps additionally this part of the settlement to the road to Banbury. East of the holloway in a separate paddock are three low terraces with broad leveled tops and steep, low, well defined slopes. These are probably garden terraces and may relate to a later phase of occupation on the site. The middle terrace has earthwork traces of a possible set of steps or a ramp connecting it with the lower terrace. These earthworks could be associated with Mount Farm to the east or the rectory to the north.

Fig. 6 Earthworks at Church Oakal B Site   

3.4 Church Oakal A Site

The valley bottom is occupied by a complex series of earthworks in varying states of preservation (Fig. 7). On the ground the most prominent feature is an earth bank running roughly east - west parallel to and a little upslope from the valley bottom. The bank merges into the valley side at its east end and is cut towards this end by two deep channels. The bank has been 'pushed over' towards its west end and terminates above a marshy area a few metres short of the Banbury road.  Some stone work is eroding out from the southern margin of the bank towards its western end which may represent a revetment of some kind or possibly a wall foundation. The valley bottom itself is occupied by a rectangular platform with a raised rim and surrounded by what appears to be a shallow moat. Beyond this to the north west the moat broadens out into a low level area which may mark the site of an attached fishpond. Other low banks and terraces suggest the possibility of ancillary structures to what appears to be a typical medieval homestead site. Equally a number of earthworks sites, initially identified as medieval moats have subsequently been shown to be later garden features, typically of the late sixteenth, early seventeenth centuries (Aston 1985: 60).


Fig. 7 Earthworks at Church Oakal A Site


3.5 Church Oakal C Site 

The outline of the field in the 1772 estate map included this projection to the south. This boundary is still respected today although the fencing is modern. The irregular nature of these earthworks suggests quarrying and it may well be that the land was set aside from the adjacent arable either because of its continuing use as a quarry or perhaps more likely because of the difficulty of cultivating such broken ground. However, detailed survey of the  remains indicates a degree of regularity to some parts of the site which may indicate other occupation (Fig. 5).

4.0 Aims and Objectives

4.1 The general objectives were as set out in the document, Further Investigations around Farnborough Park, Warwickshire Proposals for small scale excavations.

Further specific objectives were:


4.2 Church Oakal B Site

From surface indications earthworks had been interpreted as house platforms. There was a need to confirm the domestic and/or agricultural character of the site and in particular identify the point at which the buildings were demolished. Possibilities ranged from medieval abandonment to clearance at the time of early seventeenth-century enclosure or removal as part of the eighteenth-century landscaping process. Whatever the case work here was intended to clarify this important point in the development of both the village and the park.


4.3 Church Oakal A site

Earthworks here were originally interpreted as a moated site with associated fishpond and channels possibly linked to the earlier medieval manor. However, further examination and reflection suggested an alternate explanation: the earthworks could have represented garden features associated with the Jacobean hall. Excavation was intended to determine which of these possibilities was the most likely and recover some dating material.



5.0 Methodology

5.1 Work was undertaken in line with procedures set out in ,  Further Investigations around Farnborough Park, Warwickshire Proposals for small scale excavations.


5.2 On both sites all work was undertaken by hand. The turf was removed and stacked on plastic sheeting alongside the remaining topsoil as it was removed. The upper surface of the rubble spreads uncovered in each trench were recorded and then the destruction material carefully removed until structural elements became clear. In some cases due to the depth of destruction layers and recent material used for leveling  one metre square test pits were excavated down through this material to a depth of around 50 centimetres in order to identify further archaeologically significant layers. A metal detector was used both on site and on the spoil heaps to identify  metal based small finds.  In both cases the trenches were open for less than a week and were back-filled and the turf re-instated within three days. The drains which were removed from COA for photography were carefully re-instated.

5.3 There were no deposits deemed suitable for environmental sampling.


5.4 Degrees of confidence. Both excavations were carried out under optimum conditions, fine, sunny and largely dry. Only one really wet day was experienced and work able to continue under a temporary cover. Whilst the two supervisors were widely experienced the other four diggers, whilst very able student volunteers, worked under close supervision.



6.0 Church Oakal B Site


6.1 Results

The surface profile showed a distinct ridge running north to south across the centre of the area for excavation. Removal of turf and topsoil (001) revealed an overall spread of ironstone rubble set in a matrix of friable reddish brown loamy clay (002) which also had a pronounced central ridge which was interpreted as the core of a collapsed or partially robbed wall.  Removal of 002 clarified this situation and a more densely packed area of larger pieces of ironstone rubble in a matrix of reddish brown silty loam (005) was identified as the wall's core. Further removal of 002 was organised so as to leave the south-east quadrant untouched as there seemed to be evidence of some additional structure in this area, specifically what appeared to be a setting of larger stones (010) marking out a quarter circle round a slightly sunken area  (Fig. 8).

Plan            Plan

Fig. 8 Church Oakal B Site, Plan of trench                                                                                                                  Fig. 9 Church Oakal B Site, Plan of trench, context 006






Fig. 10 Church Oakal B Site, view looking west after removal of turf and topsoil (VW)


Fig. 110 Church Oakal B Site, sections


6.2 In other parts of the site 002 proved to be a deposit of up to 40 cm in depth which contained large quantities of rubble together with broken pieces of faced stones, several bent iron nails (Fig.21) and pottery from the first half of the eighteenth century together with four pieces of clay pipe stem. To the east of the wall only the northern half of 002 was excavated down to a well laid metalled surface consisting of packed pieces of the harder grey form of local ironstone (006). In order to determine the relationship between this metalled surface and the wall a portion of the core 005 was removed indicating that at this point at least the wall was built on top of the metalling.  Some early medieval pottery (Fig. 20) was recovered from the collapsed core of the wall. A possible post hole was identified in the surface of 006 (008/009). There were few finds associated with 006 except for a piece of iron (Fig. 21), possibly a fragment of a horseshoe or patten and a single bovine phalanx (Fig. 9).


6.3 To the west of the wall the northern half of 002 was excavated. At a depth of around 50 cm this merged with  a deposit containing rather less rubble but similar in composition (003). This change coincided with a shallow step in the west face of the wall core (007). Excavation of 003 was halted at a depth of 65 cm.

Trench              trench

Fig. 12 Church Oakal B site, general view looking west (VW)                     Fig. 13 Church Oakal B site, general view looking east (VW)

6.4 Discussion

A large stone building was demolished here in the first half of the eighteenth century, a date in accordance with the suggestion that the structures were removed during the development of the Georgian park to improve the view of the church from the game larder. That the demolition was systematic is evidenced by the presence of a few damaged facing blocks discarded amongst the rubble and the number of bent iron nails typical of sites where timberwork has been dismantled.


6.5 Less clear is the function and layout of the building. Given the collapse of the core it is difficult to give a definite dimension but it must have been around a metre thick. By comparison with other similarly constructed buildings in the location this suggests  a large agricultural building such as a barn or a major domestic structure such as a manor house. Further interpretation is made difficult by the paucity of finds. To the west excavation was halted at a level still within  the general build up of destruction material.


6.6 To the east the relationship between a metalled surface and the wall remained unclear. The character of the surface indicated either an outside yard or possibly an indoors hard-standing for livestock rather than domestic use. The finds reinforced this impression. However, what was remarkable is that the  collapsed wall material bedded down directly onto this surface with little evidence of occupation layers between. This could indicate that the building was taken down very shortly after the surface was laid or possibly that deposits of manure had been removed prior to demolition. The possible post-setting on the surface of the metalling could indicate the presence of a timber partition. The stratigraphic relationship between the wall and the metalling remains puzzling and it may be that what was identified as intact core material was in fact slumped down from an intact core further to the west.


6.7 The most remarkable find was a collection of early medieval pottery spread throughout the rubble above the yard surface (Fig. 20). This must be derived from the material that was scraped together to form the core of the wall. The sherds are not heavily abraded  and it seems likely that they were dug up in the vicinity, perhaps coming from any foundation work that was undertaken for the building. Although no precise parallel has been found for them in the Warwickshire type series they certainly resemble Saxon material from the nearby excavations at Burton Dassett and so offer the first archaeological evidence for early settlement at Farnborough.

7.0 Church Oakal A Site


7.1 Results

The trench was situated so as to take in the southern scarp slope to the central platform of the moat and the surface profile reflects this. Underneath the turf and topsoil (001) was a layer of rubble which on cleaning was resolved into a perimeter wall or revetment to the moat (007) and smaller wall at right angles to this (006) surrounded by other discrete areas of rubble. A thin layer of gravel spread into the trench from the north below the top soil but above 006 and associated rubble levels.


7.2 The perimeter wall or revetment appeared as a spread of rubble pressed into the face of the scarp (Fig. 17). It was composed or both the more common brown ironstone rubble but with significant quantities of the harder grey type much of which lay flat on the face of the bank. Additional cleaning of 007 showed that there was a distinct edge of laid blocks on the west side of the northern section (015). The uppermost blocks of this walling exhibited well rounded tops evidence of erosion probably whilst exposed on the surface of the ground.

The internal wall 006 was composed of ironstone rubble laid in two or three irregular courses and roughly 40 centimetres wide.  The character of this wall is strongly suggestive of a sleeper wall to carry a base plate for a timber framed building (Fig. 16).


7.3 Layers of redeposited material to the east and west of 006 were differentiated largely on the basis of varying concentrations of rubble with 003 lying partially below 008 to the east and 009 below 004 to the west. These layers seem to represent different phases of demolition and deposition after the site was abandoned. A small amount of medieval pottery and two microliths were recovered from these deposits. No occupation levels were reached associated with either wall.


7.4 Beyond the revetment in the area of the moat was  layer of rubble representing material (Fig. 19) eroded or thrown down from the bank (002) above two layers containing large quantities of brick rubble (010 and 013). These were cut by a narrow trench ( 011/012) for a run of large ceramic drain pipes (014).


Fig. 14 Church Oakal A Site, Plan of trench


Fig. 15 Church Oakal A Site, sections 


7.5 Discussion

The key question  to be addressed in exploring the nature of these earthworks is whether they represent the site of medieval occupation or are later garden features, although of course they could be both. Some medieval material was recovered from the site, although not in the quantities that would be expected from domestic use. This together with the extent walling suggest an ancillary building, perhaps agricultural in nature but part of a larger manorial complex. Although several fragments of burnt stone were recovered there was insufficient material to suggest the presence of a hearth nearby or that any structures had been damaged or destroyed by fire. The lack of finds which could plausibly be related to the building becoming derelict suggests the site may have been cleared systematically, indeed  given the eroded nature of some of the surviving  walling the site could have been left open post-abandonment and livestock introduced to the area.  Probably in conjunction with the construction of the walled garden in the early nineteenth century a gravel, path was laid just to the north of the excavated area.

Dig                Dig

Fig. 16 Church Oakal A Site, platform looking south-east (VW)                       Fig. 17 Church Oakal A Site, revetment looking east (VW)


7.6 Given the preponderance of brick fragments it seems likely that the moat was  partially filled and leveled during the early nineteenth century when access was required across the area to take produce from the walled garden through the tunnel to the west and round to the kitchens. A ceramic land drain was laid to further improve drainage of the moat probably some time in the middle of the century (Fig. 18).


7.7 Three microliths were found amongst the spreads of rubble. They are typical of material from the Mesolithic in south Warwickshire and indicate something of the settlement potential of the area (Fig. 21).

         Fig. 18 Church Oakal A Site, moat drainage looking south (VW)



Fig. 19 Church Oakal A Site, general view looking north (VW)

8.0 Finds

8.1 Church Oakal B site



8.2 Church Oakal A Site 




Pottery References – Soden and Ratkai 1998



Fig. 21 Selected other finds

9. Conclusions

9.1 the presence of three confirmed and two possible Mesolithic flints in a comparatively small area indicates a hitherto unknown locus for early occupation. Field walking in the field immediately to the south could clarify this.


9.2 Settlement, next to the church (Church Oakal B Site) around at least one stone building has been demonstrated with a time span from the early medieval period through to the first half of the eighteenth century. Further work on the pottery could establish  a closer date for the early medieval material.


9.3 The indications are that the earthworks in the valley bottom (Church Oakal A Site) represent a medieval homestead moat possibly associated with the original manor. There was no late or post-medieval material associated with occupation on the site suggesting an early date for the relocation of the hall to its existing location further west.


9.4 Improvement to the estate during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is evidenced by the demolition of the building on top of the hill, the on-going measures to drain, fill and consolidate the former moat and the laying of a path between the hall and kitchen garden.


9.5 From a preservation point of view there are clearly very significant archaeological remains close to the surface in a number of locations. Although under no immediate threat consideration need to be given to the grazing regime employed as there is clearly some damage to the earthworks from cattle including one point where walling is being eroded out from a bank and destroyed (Fig. 22).


9.6 The network of footpaths across the field is very well used by walkers, both local people and those who have come from further afield. An interpretive panel situated perhaps in the car park adjacent to the church, where there is a good view of the earthworks, could do much to enhance the community's appreciation and understanding of the sites.



Fig. 22 Stonework eroding out of bank to south of COA (CM)

10. Archive

10.1 the finds will remain in the estate office at Farnborough Hall pending a decision on whether they are to be deposited with the Warwickshire County Museum Service or be retained by the National Trust.


10.2 All original drawings, context sheets and other notes will be deposited with the National Trust.


10.3 Copies of this report will be deposited with the National Trust,  the Warwickshire Historic Environment Record, The Warwickshire Information and Library Service, Banbury Museum and the Oxfordshire Library Service.




11. Acknowledgments

11.1 Many thanks to Janine Young and Richard White of the National Trust for facilitating the work. Thanks to Verna Wass for supervision and photography (VW) and to Chris Mitchell (CM) for photography. Thanks to the team of volunteers who helped with the original survey work: Peter Braybrook, Stephen and Brenda Day, Bob Ewing, Chris Miller and Geoff Parratt. Very special thanks to our enthusiastic team of diggers: Samuel Phipps, Isobel and Naomi Smith, and Kathryn Stone. Thanks to Cathy Coutts and staff at Warwickshire HER for help with finds.



12. Bibliography

Aston, M. 1985. Interpreting the Landscape, Landscape Archaeology in Local Studies,  London: Batsford


Linnell, E. 1772. Farnborough Estate Survey, Warwickshire County Records Office  Ref. z 403 (u)


Soden, I and Ratkai, S. 1998. Warwickshire Medieval and Post-medieval Pottery Type Series, Northants Archaeology for Warwickshire Museum


Williams, B. J. 1975. Geology of the Country Around Stratford-upon-Avon and Evesham: Explanation of 1: 50,000 Geological Sheet 200, New Series (Geological Memoirs & Sheet Explanations (England & Wales)), London: Geological Sciences Institute


Radley, J. D.  2003. Warwickshire's Jurassic geology: past, present and future, Mercian Geologist, Volume 15, number 4, pages 209 to 218




Appendix 1 List of Contexts

Church Oakal B Site


Church Oakal A Site