Voyages to the House of Diversion 
Seventeenth-Century Water Gardens and the Birth of Modern Science

2023 - The Easter Dig, Down in the Jungle Where...

Back to Introduction and Contents

Yes, it's spring, daffodils nodding at the lake-side

After a long lay-off largely because I needed to re-organise my doctoral thesis to satisfy my examiners, to say nothing of getting it published through Oxbow Books/ Windgather Press, work resumed at Hanwell over Easter 2023. The main site, centred on the House of Diversion, was too wet (see below) to do much with so we extended our investigations further down the valley in line with our published plan for future excavations, the jungle awaited, although fortunately not too overgrown... yet:

Easter23     Easter23
This is 'too wet', nevertheless we established base camp.plenty of seating available, and headed further down the valley.

Hanwell 2023 Potential Locations for Further Investigation

Tasks in a rough order of priority.

FINDS. Inevitably our focus needs to shift towards identifying, recording and cataloguing the extraordinary wealth of finds accumulated, particularly from with on the site of the House of Diversion. This is likely to be an IT intense process and we are proposing to set up a small marquee close to the Coach House where we will have a source of power and ready access to water. It is possible that finds will continue to emerge and so we will also maintain a finds washing and processing base close to the present storage sheds.

TASK 1. The perimeter of the octagonal island has now been completely excavated to a distance out from the wall of on average 2m. The only exception to this is along the NW side where from an early stage a spoil heap was located
PROPOSAL. Use a machine to pull back the spoil and remove the upper silt layers to a depth of around 700mm the con duct an open area excavation across a space roughly 4m by 2m.
REASON. To complete the recovery of all debris associated with the destruction of the site so that a complete record and a fuller record of finds can be made

TASK 2. At various points ceramic drains have been identified as emptying into the streams that surround the location of Pond C.
PROPOSAL. To systematically search the stream beds and map the locations of such pipes and then by selective test pitting establish their direction and distribution.
REASON. To better understand later use and drainage of the site

TASK 3. During the winter months a low mound was noted east of the dam above Pond D. This appears larger than the mound initially seen in Pond C although it is not quite as clear in the LiDAR coverage.
PROPOSAL. An initial trench 1m by 4m across the edge of the mound.
REASON.To explore the idea that there may been further complex winter features including an island in one of the lower ponds.

TASK 4. There is a large area of broken ground to the north east of Pond C that potentially lines up with the former channel from Pond B and has the potential to mask a feature of interest, possibly the mill site.
PROPOSAL To dig a series of 3 or 4 1m test pits across the area to assess the possibility that archaeological deposits are located here.
REASON. To attempt to confirm the location of the remaining key element in the landscape whose position remains unknown.

TASK 5. It has long been thought that the square field that ‘intrudes’ into the valley from the north may be the site of some special feature, possibly a walled garden.
PROPOSAL. To clear undergrowth from the surviving upstanding walling at the south east corner and possibly excavate further to expose surviving walling and footings.
REASON. To better understand the nature of this anomalous patch of ground.

TASK 6. During a visit in February it appeared that an area of ground next to the stream in the base of pond D had been subject to excavation. This may have been associated with the repair to a footbridge over the stream by OCC. Whatever the case the remains of a low wall appear to have been uncovered.
PROPOSAL. To clean up and record this unofficial excavation and possibly extend it upstream.
REASON. To clarify the nature and purpose of this hitherto unknown section of walling.

TASK 7. In the nineteenth century a deep cut was made right through the dam between ponds D and E, this is arguably the highest freestanding dam in the valley.
PROPOSAL. To clean the face of this cut to record the materials and methods used in the construction of this feature.
REASON. At present we have no data on how the dams at hanwell were engineered. Establishing the methods behind their construction will give us data to comp[are with dams of the period, as at Packwood for example.

TASKS 8. and 9. General ideas about the layout on the garden suggest that the House of Diversion was probably approached from the west and/or the south.
PROPOSAL. To clear and examine the faces of the bank  and if necessary undertake test-pitting at appropriate locations.
REASON. To recover evidence of any possible bridges and further enhance our knowledge of the layout of the seventeenth-century garden.

TASK 10. In 2021 a start was made  on a trench across one of the curious finger-like depressions below the dam to Pond B that had been suggested to be earlier, possibly medieval fishponds.
PROPOSAL. To complete the examination of this trench.
REASON. To confirm the nature of the earthworks in the area below the dam to Pond B known as Mesopotamia.

TASK 11. A small mound above the narrow valley south of Pond C was examined and found to consist of large lumps of concrete and redeposited clay, however, it stands next to a terraced area that could be significant plus there may be in the area the site of a structure that constituted a spring head that may have had an associated structure.
PROPOSAL. Undertake a systematic search of the banks of the small ravine searching for structural remains. layout a trench 4m by 1m across the terrace.
REASON. To further understand the landscaping associated with an important water source.

TASK 12. It has been assumed that water was fed from the upper lake (Pond B) to the waterworks in the House of Diversion but the route remains uncertain.
PROPOSAL. To undertake careful visual examination of the face of the dam to search for traces of an outgoing water supply.
REASON. To confirm possible arrangements for supplying the waterworks as described by Plot.

TASK 13. The meadow to the south of the main valley shows a number of interesting features on the LiDAR including boundary artworks, ridge and furrow, possible rabbit warrens and a curious semi-circular earthwork.
PROPOSAL To further investigate the nature of and relationship between these features with a series of targeted test pits.
REASON The nature and phasing of these features have to potential to to provide information as the development band phasing of features within the park and garden.

TASK 14. A number of features have been noted in passing in the steam beds that presently drain the valley, however, no systematic attempt had been made to examine and record these features including for example the partially boarded bed to the stream in the bottom of pond E.
PROPOSAL. Walk, search and map the various stream beds and where features of note are identified map them and possibly conduct further examinations to clarify their nature
REASON. To better understand the layout of the drainage of the valley and potentially identify significant earlier features

The whole valley as already  been subject to a metal detecting survey with very limited results. Being aware of how results can vary considerably depending on ground conditions we are proposing to repeat this exercise with a special interest in identifying the site of the remarkable mill that Plot writes about. Geophysics have been tried out on a limited scale but there are issues in working in woodland, however, that’s not to say that there wouldn’t be other locations in the park where geophysics could be productive. We would be particularly interested in hearing from anyone with expertise in this field.

The results were as follows:

Finds. A small number of finds remaining from last season were processed and during re-examination, great excitement, our first potter's mark, we think it's a thistle, on one of the garden urns. Good progress was also made on the stone catalogue ( thanks Alan and Joe) which needs completing before we move onto the pots.

Finds are cleaned and preparations made to catalogue those stones.

Easter23     Easter23
The discovery! The finds department triumph again... we think it's a thistle. Anyone seen anything like anywhere before?

Easter23     Easter23
After the builders, John and Chris cleaning up and it turned out to be a wall of two distinct phases.

Unexpected Task. Some  investigations had been done by our friendly neighbourhood builders searching for decent facing stone. Little was found but we came along later and cleaned it all up for photography and it turned out to be quite an interesting, allbeit ruined, stretch of wall.

Task 3. A trench was opened up across the mound on the site of pond D and initially dug to a depth of around 40cm with no results, that's right, no results at all... are we down-hearted? Well just a bit, but we may return.

Peter and Alan get on with some fruitless labour.

Task 6. A trench left behind by OCC footpath improvers was tidied up and a quite well built but low wall examined. Beyond that was an iron fence, a gravel path and a rough stone revetment to the stream bank. All of it probably twentieth century but still all part of the garden's story. Huge thanks to Joe for helping polish this off.

Cleaning up the stream-side revetment

     Easter23     Easter23
Here it all is ready for photographing and drawing.

Task 5. Yes. I know, I said the order was a rough one. A session of archaeological weeding on a section of walling adjacent to the public footpath, not especially impressive but we need to record it and perhaps investigate more.

Ian and Peter pull ivy.

Task 4. A section was dug across a possible channel associated with broken ground to the east of the footpath on the north side of the valley and it started to look quite interesting until the rain started... we will return. That about wrapped it up for week one but our attention had already shifted up towards a small valley to the south we dubbed the Fairy Glen...

A new trench just before it poured down and turned everything slippy.

Task 11. The cut for the terracing plus the view to the north across much of the garden always suggested that this was an area of some significance. An earlier trench had revealed little except a pile of clay but extending our excavations to the west paid dividends as we encountered cobbles, cobbles and more cobbles of different sizes and textures and in layers. A simple longitudinal trench turned into an 'L' shaped trench and then to an open area excavation of around 20 square metres. We had to continually dodge showers and occasionally brave fierce winds but a couple of well anchored gazebos kept us going to the end of week two.

Here's the view from the terrace looking north east across to the site of the House of Diversion.

Easter23     Easter23
Our first trench is started and then we go round the bend and the rain starts up again.

Easter23     Easter23
Joe bravely struggles to make sense of an old gazebo we managed to excavate from the Piggery and soon everyone is, if not happy, at least reasonably dry.

Easter23     Easter23
We continue expanding the area under excavation and the sun comes out... eventually.

It's inevitable that, as one digs, one searches for explanations as to what the features uncovered could actually mean. What is without a doubt is that we have unearthed substantial cobbled surfaces that vary in their nature across the site. What is absent, apart from a few cow bones, a couple of large iron nails and two small pieces of tin-glazed earthenware, is anything much in the way of diagnostic finds so, in the absence of any better ideas, I got to thinking about Sir Anthony's famed mill as described by Robert Plot:

At Hanwell in the Park, there its also a Mill erected by the ingenious Sir Anthony Cope, of wonderful contrivance, where-with that great Virtuoso did not only grind the Corn for his House, but with the same motion turned a very large Engine for cutting the hardest Stone, after the manner of Lapidaries; and another for boaring of Guns: and there, as in the Mill at Tusmore, either severally or all together, at pleasure.

... and then I thought about all the mills I had visited in Estonia and Romania... hmmm...

Easter23     Easter23     Easter23
Small scale mills, some with cobbles from Eastern Europe.