Tag Archives: Archaeology

Spain’s Field has gone!

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We reached a huge milestone last Friday – work on Spain’s Field has finished until next summer’s archaeological excavation of the site. Following three years of careful recording work, the Team have moved 900 tonnes of stone, 50 tonnes of stone roof slates, 60 tonnes of rubble infill and 10 tonnes of timber over the last 17 weeks! This material will be used to carefully rebuild the farm at the museum as part of our Remaking Beamish project.

Next summer we will remove the final course of stone (which are acting as retaining walls) and lift the floor coverings that are protecting anything that might hidden underneath. We plan to conduct an archaeological investigation of the site to uncover if anything remains of an earlier farm building, as the land was occupied continuously from the mid-14th century.

The translocation of Spain’s Field has been a very exciting, long, and still ongoing journey for the team. Here are some of our best bits from the last few months.

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The daily grind at Spain’s Field

Paul and CosAs well as recording the buildings at Spain’s Field Farm, we’ve been recording us at work on the project. Here are a few of our favourite photos of life as we know it at Spain’s Field – in all weather!

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Work begins at Spain’s Field Farm

Work begins to take down Spain's Field Farm

Work begins to take down Spain’s Field Farm

Work has begun of taking down Spain’s Field Farm in Weardale. It will be moved stone by stone to Beamish in order to be rebuilt as part our our Remaking Beamish project. We will use the buildings to tell the story of uplands farming and rural life in County Durham. The farmhouse was gradually abandoned from 1957 onward when the three siblings who lived there (Elizabeth, George and Joseph Raine) were asked to return to their parents farm on the other side of the valley, following their mother suffering a stroke.

Like most early vernacular buildings, the farm would not have been designed by an architect or even planned, but would have grown gradually  depending on the needs and fortunes of the farmers living there. Therefore the farm buildings are a really wonderful jumble. They comprises of a late 18th century house that was extended during the second half of the 19th century so that the house conjoined with the adjacent byre. The earliest stonework of this Main Byre probably dates from the 1700s or even earlier, but was later remodelled in around the 19th century during the completion of a domestic extension to the older farm house. Next to this, is another smaller byre (the Cow Byre), built sometime during the early 19th century, along with a later extension to the south that houses another byre (the Stirk Byre). Along the north side of the range there are a series of lean-to buildings dating from the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century. There are other outbuildings including a pigsty, coal house and privy.

Recording of the farm has taken place over the last three years.

Recording of the farm has taken place over the last three years.

Since the farm was donated three years ago by the Jopling family (who now own the land it is situated on), the Buildings Team have been carefully recording the farm buildings in order to be able to accurately reconstruct them back at Beamish. This process has taken advantage of the various different skills that the members of the team have. The process started with John, who is a trained archaeologist, working with Clara and other members of the team to shovel through the layers of mud and sheep poo that had accumulated on the ground floor of the farm. Underneath, we discovered stone flags, which in places were covered with the original lino flooring. Additionally, mixed in with the mud and poo were lots of objects left by the family when the farm was abandoned. These were catalogued and sent to Beamish to be cleaned and recorded by Cassie and some of our volunteers. Clara, our buildings historian, then continued the process of recording by taking detailed notes and sketches of the farm buildings, looking for clues about the age of the various buildings and the stages in which they were constructed. During this initial period of recording, a LiDAR survey of the farm was undertaken by Geospatial Research, which created a 3D image of the farm buildings – you can view the survey by clicking here. More recently our in-house conservation architect Steve Elliot has conducted an architectural survey of the buildings and will be creating detailed drawings. We have also had rectified (or scaled) photographs taken by Peter Rickman from Kevin Doonan Architects, which will help us to accurately record the character of the masonry that makes up the walls of the farm.

Clara working with Mary Raine to collect her memories of the farm.

Clara working with Mary Raine to collect her memories of the farm.

When the farm is rebuilt at Beamish we will be returning it to how it looked in  the 1950s before it was abandoned. Therefore, as well as recording the standing structure, we need to find indications of what the building looked like before it began to decay. We have taken samples of the paint, wallpaper and flooring left at the farm, as well as looked at scars in the masonry and joinery which may suggest what is missing. The objects found at the farm will be crucial to helping us when we come to select objects from our collections to fill the farm with when it is rebuilt. However, most useful of all are the fantastic memories of Mary Raine (the younger sister of the three siblings who lived at Spain’s Field), who can remember how the farm looked in the 1950s. She has also inherited lots of the items that were originally in the building that her siblings took with them when they moved out. We will be working very closely with her to make sure we get the details right!

 

 

One of the early stages of the deconstruction is to strip the roofs of the buildings of their heavy stone slabs.

One of the early stages of the deconstruction is to strip the roofs of the buildings of their heavy stone slabs.

Over the last few weeks, Paul, and Cos (both of whom are experts in trans-locating buildings, having worked on the reconstruction of St Helen’s Church), have begun the exciting task of physically taking down the buildings. This began with deconstructing the pigsty and coal store that were outbuildings next to the main range of the farm. We needed to do this first as it was the only flat are on the hillside on which to situate our site compound! We then needed to remove internal joinery, such as the floorboards and remains of animals stalls in the byre in order to construct a scaffold inside and around the buildings. Next, with the help of contractors Sid Lee Ltd., we stripped the roof of its heavy stone slabs, to reveal the very crude timber roof structure – which seemed far too spindly to have ever supported the slabs! Throughout the next few months, the walls will be coming down course by course until we reach ground level. All the while John will be on hand to physically number key features such as the door lintels and window jambs, and to record the dumpy bags of stone that will be making their way to Beamish, so that we can keep track of the materials. Clara and Steve will also be helping with the continued process of recording the structure of the buildings. Keep following our blog for updates on our progress!

The recording work is one going at every stage of the deconstruction.

The recording work is one going at every stage of the deconstruction.

A key part of the process is physically numbering key features so that we can keep track of where they were on the building

A key part of the process is physically numbering key features so that we can keep track of where they were on the building

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Recreating Joe the Quilter’s Cottage: what has the excavation taught us?

Back in September John led an archaeological excavation of the site of Joe the Quilter’s cottage (you can learn more about Joe’s tragic story and the excavation of his house by clicking here) .  Our team of Beamish staff, local volunteers and archaeology students discovered the remains of the walls, flagstone floor and brick chimney breast of Joe’s little cottage.

Excavated Joe's Cottage foundations

The uncovered remains of Joe the Quilter’s Cottage

The clues revealed by the excavation have allowed Clara to piece together a more accurate interpretation of what Joe’s cottage originally looked like, which will form the basis of a recreation of the cottage at the Museum.

The initial interpretive plans of the cottage that Clara made, were based on contemporary images and descriptions that were made following Joe’s murder in 1826, as well as by using comparisons with other regional cottages of roughly the same age. One very significant plan and elevation printed by W. Davidson in January 1826 (shortly after Joe’s murder) of the cottage (which was intended to record grisly details such as where the body was found for the enthralment of the general public) gives an invaluable insight into the rough layout of the building. It suggests that internally the cottage was divided into a main domestic room and a storage room/animal shelter. The front (and only) door is shown as leading immediately into the main room, in which is depicted a recessed fireplace. This plan also gives additional details, including that the bed was located in the south west corner of the main room and that Joe kept his coals to the west of the chimney breast.

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A plan of Joe’s cottage, published by W. Davidson, shortly after Joe’s murder. 

Upon excavating the site, the lower two courses of the back wall and rear half of the two gable ends of the cottage were revealed. Unfortunately the front of the cottage has been lost due the disruption caused by the newer boundary wall of the field in which the cottage site sits. These sections of wall revealed that the length of the cottage was actually slightly larger than initially expected, being 30’ long. As the remains of the two gable walls are intersected by the boundary wall, their total length has to be estimated, based on other archaeological evidence; including information such as the positioning of what we believe are the remains of the chimney breast. This evidence has allowed us to reasonably interpret that the footprint of Joe’s cottage was approximately 30′ long by 20′ – still a very small dwelling for what was before the death of Joe’s wife, a family home.

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A composite of aerial photographs of the excavated site. The overlay in blue shows the initial scaled plan of the cottage and the overlay in red shows the revealed size of the rear and south gable walls. 

Other discoveries, were that of the flagstones in front what appear to be the remains of a chimney breast, built from hand-made bricks, and the charred remnants of what we think was a wattle and daub divide between Joe’s living and storage rooms. Crucially, all of this evidence helps us to imagine what Joe’s home looked like when he was living there.

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Clara’s interpretation of what the plan of the cottage looked like. The archaeological remains are shown in green. The locations of furniture shown is based on contemporary sources, including an sales notice that listed some of Joe’s possessions. 

However, unfortunately, archaeology can only take us so far in being able to understand what the cottage looked like. As only the lower courses of walls remained, we had no indication of the position of the doors and windows or what the roof structure was like. To gather this information, Clara had to return to looking at archive sources and other similar local buildings of an contemporary age to Joe’s cottage. For example, the etchings of Joe’s house that were made to be illustrate publications about his murder show that the cottage had a very shaggy thatched roof with a steep pitch. This led us to agree that the cottage must have been thatched with heather. Heather is often thatched in loose bundles and is left uncombed or trimmed, unlike straw or reed thatch, and therefore it requires a steeper pitch to through water and snow off of it. Additionally, due to its abundance and durability, heather was the most common form of roof covering on vernacular buildings in the North East until the early 19th century. Indeed the moor behind Joe’s house would have been full of heather!

The cottage

The elevation of Joe’s cottage that was published by W. Davidson in 1826.

As archival sources and oral histories record, heather was often thatch wet, with the roots intact, and left to form a semi-living roof of up to two foot thick. This of course would have been extremely heavy! Therefore the cottage’s roof structure would have had to have been very strong. It is unlikely that the cottage had a ‘king’ or ‘queen’ post that required advanced joinery skills, but it may have had a simple ‘A’ frame truss formed of two principle rafters and a tie beam. However, the combination of the need to support a heavy roof covering, with the requirement of a steep pitch, with the found nature of the cottage’s materials and its vernacular design, suggests that it may have had cruck trusses. Crucks are where the principle rafters of a truss are formed by the two halves of a split tree trunk. Often the natural curve of the trunks inevitably created a steep, almost Gothic arch, providing the sharp pitch needed for heather thatch. Recreating the cruck trusses and heather thatch roof will be a particularly exciting challenge, as both methods of construction have almost become lost skills. We are hoping that this is something that our team of volunteers from Warden (where the cottage is located) will help us with, by collecting heather and helping us to experiment with thatching techniques.

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Clara’s interpretation of the cottage in section, showing the wattle and daub room divide, the cruck trusses, and brick chimney breast

The next stage is for Beamish’s architect, Steve, to transform Clara’s initial interpretative drawings into plans that can be used to recreate the cottage as part of our planned Remaking Beamish project (learn more about Remaking Beamish by clicking here). Look out for more posts for updates about Joe’s humble home!

 

 

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Finding Joe the Quilter’s Cottage: Success!

We’ve been posting a reasonable amount about Joe the Quilter recently, and I won’t go over his story, our initial investigation last year, or the plans we have to replicate it (Clara also posted some pictures of initial progress of the excavation a few weeks ago), but we have managed to find Joe’s cottage!

Not only find it, but excavate it to the base of the walls and the sub-floor level, as well as dig the gardens at either end of the building. The image below shows three of the walls and some of the flagstone floor. The field-boundary cuts across the cottage at about two-thirds of it’s width – the front wall would have been right next to the road.

Excavated Joe's Cottage foundations

Most of the flagstones and walling stone had been robbed away, but enough remained for us to be able to work out the size of the building and something of the construction and destruction sequences. It turns out that the plan from 1826 is slightly misleading, and the building was actually a meter and a half longer than we’d initially thought. What is very exciting is that we’ve been able to find one side of the brick-built fireplace, as well as some evidence of the wooden partition between the main and ancillary rooms.

The remaining flagstones, with the brick wall of the fireplace in the centre of the image.

The remaining flagstones, with the brick wall of the fireplace in the centre of the image.

The spots of black that are in a line to the right of the flagstone, indicated the line of a burnt wooden partition between the main room with it's flagstone floor, and the ancillary room, which just had a packed earth floor.

The spots of black that are in a line to the right of the flagstone, indicated the line of a burnt wooden partition between the main room with it’s flagstone floor, and the ancillary room, which just had a packed earth floor.

We also found a number of really exciting finds! There were hundreds of pieces of pottery, dozens of iron nails, a handful of buttons (brass and bone ones), a 1690s silver 4d coin, and a copper alloy name badge belonging to a clergyman who knew – and on one occasion, saved Joe’s life!

This William and Mary Silver 4d dates from 1689-1694 and was issues as 'Maundy money' - how it came to be at Joe's cottage we've no idea!

This William and Mary Silver 4d dates from 1689-1694 and was issued as ‘Maundy money’ – how it came to be at Joe’s cottage we don’t know!

This name plate - we think it might be from a saddle, but we're not sure - belonged to 'Rev R. Clarke, Walwick - who, according to late accounts, battled through the snow in 1823 to save Joe, who was 'perishing of want'!

This name plate – we think it might be from a saddle, but we’re not sure – belonged to ‘Rev R. Clarke, Walwick – who, according to late accounts, battled through the snow in 1823 to save Joe, who was ‘perishing of want’!

We’re just in the final process of moving the numbered stones and bricks to the Museum, where they’ll be stored in advance of the cottage being built in several years’ time. In the intervening period we’ll be putting more information about these finds on here as we have research done on them, writing the excavation up for academic publication and having a shorter booklet about the cottage’s history and the excavation created for general interest. There will also be opportunities to be involved in further research and reconstruction of the cottage – so watch this space!

We’re really happy with the findings of the excavation and I’m very thankful to all those who’ve been involved – well done everyone!

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Finding Joe the Quilter’s Cottage: preparing for the dig!

This week we began excavating the site of Joe the Quilter’s Cottage (learn more about the project here), but before work could begin Cassie and Clara discovered that there was an important job to be done first. John (our resident archaeologist) explained that as excavations are dug in layers (with each change in the ground material or condition being a new layer) we would need to know how high above sea level the site is so that we can correctly record each layer. The purpose of digging in layers is to identify the context in which a find is discovered, which helps to understand and date it.

The nearest benchmark to the site is at a bridge about 2 miles away, so we had to work out the hight of the site using a dumpy level with the benchmark as our starting point. In reality this meant gradually walking up the hill towards the site with the dumpy level and a measuring staff, adding up as we went how high above sea level we were.

Initially we set out with great excitement…

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Before we realised quite how far we had to go…

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Soon boredom set in….

Soon boredom set in...

Followed by despair….

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But eventually we reached the site!

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The excavation will be continuing over the next two weeks, look out for more posts about what we discover!

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Finding Joe the Quilter’s Cottage: the excavation!

The remains of Joe the Quilter's Cottage being excavated by our fantastic team of volunteers.

The remains of Joe the Quilter’s Cottage being excavated by our fantastic team of volunteers.

This week we have begun our hunt to uncover the remains of the cottage in which the famously murder Joe the Quilter lived and died. You can learn more about Joe’s story by clicking here.

What seems to be one of the former walls of Joe's cottage has been uncovered.

What seems to be one of the former walls of Joe’s cottage has been uncovered.

With help from students from UCL and Newcastle University, as well as local volunteers, John has been leading the excavation of the site where Joseph Hedley’s cottage once stood. So far we have uncovered what appears to be the former back wall and gable end of the cottage, which is not only very exciting, but will help to inform our recreation of the cottage back at Beamish. We’ve also found lots of shards of pottery, stems of clay pipes, nails, pieces of glass and a couple of bone bottles that give hints about the former occupants of the cottage. We still don’t know yet whether these items belonged to Joe or to the family who lived in the cottage after his death. As we dig deeper, we will hopefully reveal more contextual evidence that will help to date the finds.

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Some of the finds! Including a the stem of a clay pipe with the maker’s name stamped on it, shards of pottery, iron nails and pieces of handmade brick.

There’s still a lot more to discover so look out for further posts!

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