Hanwell Park Project
OCTOBER 2013 - Oxford Beckons
The change in the weather
certainly affected work at Hanwell but then so did the start of the new
academic year at Oxford. Trips down for a variety of induction meetings
and a round of very valuable introductions have taken up several days.
Work has continued in an off and on fashion down on the second sluice
with the usual stalwarts turning out to shift rubble. This process is
gradually defining structures although precious little of it is looking
The team all looking remarkably hale and hearty.
Work on the lake-side sluice is nearly finished. Plans and elevations
of the stonework are pretty well complete although there is still lots
of section drawing to do. The plan is the produce a first interim
report on the archaeological work at Hanwell and have it in print
A slight rise in water levels has enabled us to return to the House of
Diversion, again lots of drawing being done. Christopher was kind enough
to help clear some more of the unwanted growth and in particular
use his chain-sawing skills to edit out an especially troublesome
The flight of 'fairy steps' on the north side of Sir Anthony's Bath,
can they really be steps? Christopher helps us discover with a little
Find of the Month
funny how a single stroke of the trowel can push the story of a
location back several thousand years. These two flint blades found
amongst the topsoil around the second sluice are from the neolithic or
even possibly the Mesolithic periods which could make them up to 10,000 years old. They are clearly redeposited and may have eroded down from the valley side to the north.
The first blade, trapezoidal in section, was struck from a very glassy
fine black flint, almost obsidian like. Interestingly it has the
beginnings of a creamy patina but then bears evidence of later breakage
or even possibly reworking, at either end and along one edge.
The second blade is a derived from a large brown flint
pebble, the other face is the outer surface of the pebble. Secondary
working has been used to create a transverse cutting edge at one end
As the trees became progressively more spectacular and autumn got
well bedded in our prospects for successful navigation round the Lake
improved enormously with the arrival of the good ship Zodiac, a bigger,
better inflatable with a rigid base and vastly improved stability. It
is a vessel that one can actually work from rather than just survive
in. Many, many thanks to the friends of Christopher and Rowena who
donated it to the cause.
Despite our best efforts it became clear that the fill of Sir
Bath was not only a single deposit but it was almost entirely devoid of
finds. Looking around I noticed a block we had first seen on our
initial visit to the island parked by the northern edge. It is a
perfect fit for the existing space where the sump is. I think the
conclusion must be that the whole bath was dug our fairly recently and
this block removed from the bottom, probably to improve drainage.
Although there is still some work to do along the western
where the surviving rubble core is quite unstable we can begin to
record a few observations and venture on one rather unsettling
suggestion. The first point to make is that there is a significant
difference in the character and quality of the basal stonework compared
to the walls. Whilst the walling is made of ashlar it is not
particularly regular and the whole thing, even allowing for root
disturbance, looks slipshod, and the steps are, of course, a joke. The
flagstones represent a much more solid kind of construction. Then we
have the question of alignment. The coursing of the floor is out of
line with the east wall by around 5 degrees. This could be
carelessness, but the flagstones are fairly consistent in
width at around 36 cm. If the ones which are just peeping out
from beneath the side wall are of a similar size there is an awful of
of stone wasted, similarly at the ends. In fact the whole thing
looks as if we have the side walls simply dropped down onto an earlier
Now here's a further disturbing observation. The flagstones are bedded
down onto a thick layer of blue/grey clay. We have already noted the
presence, at about the same level, of an area of broken stone slabs
which surrounds the island. These too are bedded in the same kind of
clay. Could it be that in the seventeenth century the level of the
water in the lake was significantly lower and these flagstones are in
fact the original paved surface associated with the House of Diversion?
This would suggest that the bath is a later construction founded on and
perhaps built from the ruins of the seventeenth century marvel. This
could all add up to a powerful argument for draining the Lake next
year to enable further investigations to take place.
It's a huge contrast to shift from sloshing about in mud to sloshing
about in manuscripts but that is kind of where I'm at at the moment. It
was clear from the outset that the archaeology would only make sense
with back-up from some heavy duty history. This effectively began with
what feels like an archetypal Oxford experience. Thanks to the good
offices of Rowena I was fixed up with an appointment to meet the near
legendary figure of Cliff Davies, Wadham College's archivist since
1963... just pause for a moment to take that in.
Why Wadham? Well there are a few intriguing connections. First
we have a newly appointed warden of Wadham, John Wilkins who took up
his post in 1648. The following year sees Sir Anthony Cope arriving at
Oriel College and it seems probable that a family connection
would have been recognised. Wilkin's grandfather was John Dod the
puritan cleric who was appointed to the living at Hanwell in 1585 by
Anthony's great grandfather, the first baronet. Now one of the features
of Wilkin's wardenship that he is famed for was his development of the
gardens at the college. Given that part of the Civil war defences of
Oxford passed through the college grounds one suspects that it would
all have been a bit of a mess but Wilkins not only takes on the
construction of a fashionable garden he also fills it with mechanical
contrivances reflecting his own interests in natural philosophy.
Surely Sir Anthony would have seen some of this work in train and
perhaps have been inspired to at least contemplate developing his own
gardens along similar lines. Then, of course, we have the famous
concert given in the warden's lodging in 1658 or 59 by Thomas Baltzar
and a final possible connection, could Wilkin's have shared his
interest in cryptography in a clandestine sort of way with Richard
This is why I shall be immersing myself in the Wadham College archive,
a process that involves steep twisting wooden stairs and chambers
tucked away under the eaves of the west range of the Front Quad. Who
knows I may turn up Christopher Wren's bar bills.
Wilkin's garden is to the left of the Front Quad.
Well C. Wren's bar bill wasn't terribly much in evidence but in 1652 he
is recorded as being 5 shillings in appears with a payment to college.
One might assume that every document in Oxford must have been studied
to death yet those accounts referring to garden work at Wadham do not
seem to have been published before.
Despite having a lot on in Oxford we did manage to get a little more
done as the month wore on. Returning after a couple of days of quite
heavy rain the name Sir Anthony's Bath' gained a small degree of
plausibility as it had accumulated 15 centimetres or so of water. Once
bailed out we were able to shift the matted roots from the last
remaining unexcavated corner revealing the full extent of the northern
Work also continued down the valley on the second sluice. We spent
some time examining an area of crushed rubble which almost looked like
a kind of hard standing, perhaps of a yard, but didn't quite make it.
Despite some very nice seventeenth-century slipware and other bone and
pottery fragments lying on the surface it still didn't add up to a floo
Not a sight seen very often at Hanwell, a traditional line of
and the fruit of the their labours: pottery and bone.
... and then it all fell apart,
sort of. The thing was we decided to check up on the theory about the
wider extent of the flagstones underneath the island as a whole. In
order to do this we put a mere wide trench down outside the wall to the
east and we went down and down and down until we hit thick blue grey
clay which went down and down for at least another half a metre, we
augered it, no flagstones. So back to the thinking step on this one.
Isobel looks concerned while Peter checks to see if he's on over-time
And here's the finished trench with blue/grey clay at the bottom.
Before closing down for the winter on the island we cleaned up,
took some further detailed sets of photographs and completed drawing up
the plan, elevations and sections.