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Archaeological Investigations

Other Polyolbion Projects     Stowe Archaeological Investigations 2019,   and 2021


Wednesday January 8th.
After the Christmas break it was back to complete the initial examination of the cascade. This involved back-filling our original trench opening up a second closer to the cascade and examining the stonework adjacent to the pier next to the water fall. We were expecting some continuation of the walling as illustrated  in the 1780s but nothing emerged.

Friday January 10th.
A further day was entirely given over to recording and back-filling. (We actually popped back during lock down on May 20th. to complete the ground plan for the ruins above the cascade before producing the final report.)

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Back-filling of trench A complete, what a tidy piece of work.                                                                 Rubble revetment next to the cascade exposed and ready to record        

Friday January 10th. A further day was entirely given over to recording and back-filling. (We actually popped back during lock down on May 20th. to complete the ground plan for the ruins above the cascade before producing the final report.)     Friday January 10th. A further day was entirely given over to recording and back-filling. (We actually popped back during lock down on May 20th. to complete the ground plan for the ruins above the cascade before producing the final report.)     Stowe
I really do want one of these... not sure what I would do with it but here it is at Stowe clearing clumps of rushes from the south west corner of the Octagon Lake

Ready for publication, an annotated photo of trench A showing the different deposits, or contexts as we call them, labelled

The site plan compiled with post-lock down measurements


Thursday February 20th.

Back for a final session at the Doric Arch, the statues of the muses were in place and looking rather better than I had expected but the task to hand was a watching brief as the topsoil was removed in order to lay a new path that followed the arc of the new statues various traces of former paths appeared.

Friday February 21st.
More following of the path round and cleaning up after the digger to uncover the limits of various features.

Monday February 24th.
The final act, a wet day of measuring, drawing a recording before the metalling went in to complete the path.

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Here they are, nine muses awaiting their Apollo. The blue lines mark the area to be dug out for the new path

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The new path being dug out and revealing traces of earlier paths and stone edging.

The master plan showing all the areas examined over the last twelve months.

.. and our interpretation showing the two different positions  that the statues had been located in.


Work resumed at Stowe in November during a second lock-down during which non-essential work was allowed to continue. With the closure of the golf course contractors moved in to eliminate the physical traces, although I can't help feeling that a specimen bunker or two could have been left as a monument to this curious twenty-first century pastime. As part of the work to return part of the park to its mid-nineteenth century appearance we were charged with examining the area around the Rotunda and former Queen's Theatre, as illustrated below in a coloured version of one of Rigaud's famous views from the mid-eighteenth century.

View looking east past Vanbrugh's Rotunda along Bridgeman's canal to the Queen's Theatre he also designed

Monday November 9th. to Thursday November 12th.
A slightly damp start when after extensive consultations we put down the first of ten, yes ten, trenches adjacent to the Rotunda. These were designed to attempt to understand the routes and characters of the various pathways that had approached the area especially from the south-west and north. The situation was enormously complicated by later landscaping, especially for the golf course, and consisted primarily of trying to disentangle a variety of gravel spreads of differing colours and textures. Finds were few although some interesting architectural fragments did turn up in one of the trenches.

Not a very appealing view on a grey day, looking west from the Queen's Theatre along the line of Bridgeman's canal to the Rotunda

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Monday morning, the first trench is cut (with endless thanks to Billy for his patience) and by the end of the day it's starting to look like a war zone

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Early highlights include this spectacular section cut through the current path and an appealing band of fine, sharp gravel in orange sand, the eighteenth-century pathway... perhaps?

Things always look better when the sun is shining, Tuesday and our survey is underway.

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Our longest trench, not surprisingly called Trench A with a puzzling band of grey clay, right where a path should be plus lunches hidden modestly out of sight of visitors behind... well you can see and the last trench of the day on Tuesday cutting down from the Rotunda

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Back on Thursday, mainly to do recording, and I took the opportunity to have a look at the cascade at the far end of the Eleven Acre Lake whilst the water was turned off.

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At the Rotunda, a sneak peek at the foundations and an interesting spread of rubble to the south west (see below)

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By the end of Thursday everything filled back in, you'd scarcely know we had been there, and still the sun shone and that enabled me to get the finds washed and dried leaving me with some intriguing architectural fragments to explain, previously known as 'interesting rubble'

Back in the office plenty of paperwork to do as well as starting to get the plans and sections traced out to say nothing of interpreting the results.

... and whilst we're on the subject of paths here's a charming illustration from 1769  looking north towards the house but notice the man, horse and roller maintaining the gravel path.

Monday November 16th. and Tuesday 17th.
For the second week of this phase of operations attention shifted to the opposite end of the area, first off to examine the terracing associated with the Queen's Theatre and then to put a section through the side of Bridgeman's canal. Whilst at the top of the slope we also opened by hand a small trench to test the suggestion that this was the original position of Queen Caroline's monument.  Apart from a hint of a gravel pathway  there were few traces of the former layout of the Queen's Theatre, it looks as if  the terracing was removed  and the slope graded down. However, at the bottom of the slope plenty of puddled clay marking the bottom of the former canal. the section went on to reveal how carefully the base of the canal had been laid down with a deposit of gravel capped by sand below a decent depth of puddled clay. Unfortunately this also suggested that the whole area had been lowered at some point thus removing any trace of a perimeter wall to the pool.

Here's a view from 1769 after the outline of Bridgeman's canal had been softened a little by rounding the ends, note the gravel path that runs along the line of shepherds and shepherdesses

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... and the same view today with Billy and his digger cutting a long, long trench with the clay bottom to the pond being uncovered down at the far end.

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Meanwhile up top, what a location to dig a trench, the search for the original base to Queen Caroline's Monument reveals a suggestive spread of rubble and mortar.

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Here she is in her current location on the far side of the park with a similarly ropy set of foundations.

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Further work in both trenches revealed  the sand and gravel base on which the clay bottom to the canal had been puddled.

The excavation of a clay bank at the far end of the lower section tells us how little we know about earlier landscapes within the park.

Monday December 14th. and Tuesday 15th.
Back for a further look at the area to the north of the site of Bridgeman's Canal and the Queen's Theatre, this time to observe something like forty tree pits being dug. These were quite substantial excavations being generally around 80cm square and 50cm deep. Amazingly on the Monday, a wet day as it happened, we started on the terraced area north of the canal site and, no two pits were the same.This will make the writing up quite challenging. There is clearly a lot going on here, as shown by the geophysics, but making sense of this 'keyhole' archaeology will not be easy. The following day, sunny as it happened, we moved up on to the terraces of the Queen's Theatre, again, a surprising amount of variation, the key features being evidence of quite deeply buried graveled terracing and a further extension of the pool to the south east. We also began work on a couple of trenches south of the Doric Arch on the eternal quest for foot paths.

Monday morning, not as early as it looks, starting the first pit.

Trenches 1468 (showing make up for a golf tee), 1476 (showing highly significant puddled clay over a bed of sand) and 1487(Showing the top of a gravel terrace)

The complete kit for recording tree pits...

... and a whole load of section drawings.

Tuesday morning, what a contrast weather wise, just starting the first pit at the extreme northern end of the Queen's Theatre.

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... and at the end of the day trenches south of the Doric Arch reveal... a gravel path... perhaps?

There are many compensations for working at Stowe but the view as I was packing up the jeep at the end of day on Tuesday was quite special.

Monday December 21st.
Paul had machine dug four lengthy trenches the previous week continuing the search south of the Doric Arch for footpaths by stripping away turf and topsoil. Unfortunately the weekend was a wet one and Monday morning saw some trenches partially flooded whilst in the others the archaeology was the consistency of cake mix. Even so we managed to clarify and record evidence for a couple of paths in trenches 1500 and 1501 as well as extending 1503 in an attempt to understand what was happening with a spread of what looks very much like puddled clay, what on earth is it doing there? In addition to that we have further traces of a red sandy gravel path with some significant finds of pot, bone and clay pipe accumulating along its edge. Lots to think about but it will all have to wait... until 2021!

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Trench 1500 awash, trench 1501 slightly sticky but with red gravel showing through and trench 1503 with its spread of clay.