Tag Archives: Excavation

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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Investigating a murder!

The cottage

Front side of card recording Joes’ Cottage in 1826. Published by W Davidson, Alnwick, Drawn by R Donkin, Warden 10th January 1826. Image held in the Beamish Museum Collection (Acc. No 30802).

As part of our future expansion of the 1820s area at Beamish, the Buildings Team  are hoping to recreate the lost cottage of a Georgian quilter. This involves  investigating the scene of an unsolved crime from nearly 200 years ago!

On the 3rd of January 1826, an elderly, widowed quilter, Joseph Hedley, was  brutally murdered in his isolated cottage in Northumberland. Joe  was a kindly soul, who offered shelter to travellers and passers-by in his humble home. It was alleged that the killers were looking for his imagined wealth,  but his murder was never solved, despite making national news, and a substantial  reward being posted. In the wake of this tragic event Joe’s cottage was recorded in both plan and elevation sketches, which provide an extremely rare insight into the size, style and use of such a small, vernacular building.

Joe the Quilters Card Reverse

Reverse side of card recording Joes’ Cottage in 1826

The cottage was demolished in 1872, although it is shown on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey map, and Joe’s story is further recorded in a chronicle of folklore published in 1887 (see p221-225 of The Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend, July 1887), its exact location was unknown.

In order to prove whether the plans were accurate, the Beamish Buildings Team set out to locate and excavate the remains of the cottage. We found a clue to the building’s location from some bricks and tiles included in a field boundary wall in the area, and with the kind permission of the land-owners Mr and Mrs Straker, began our search.

DSCF1560

Some bricks and tiles in the nearby wall

We started by removing the heavy field stones and thick vegetation that covered the site before scrapping layers of soil off to see what was below. Thanks to some precision excavation from Beamish’s Track and Plant Team – Darren and Mark – we managed to uncover a spread of mortar which shows us we were in the right area.

Darren and Mark taking a break

Darren and Mark taking a well-earned break

A bit more digging showed some ‘linear concentrations’ of the mortar which we think represent the location of the walls.

John and his trusty trowel do some closer investigation

John and his trusty trowel do some closer investigation

There was also an area of ash signifying a fire, although this is probably associated with the building’s destruction rather than its occupation.

We recovered a few finds, most excitingly a few fragments of blue and white Scottish Spongeware which we think dates from the same period as Joe was living in the house. We’re not sure if the plate would have belonged to Joe or the people who lived in the house after him, but it is a tantalising glimpse of the cottage’s past.

The excavated area highlighting the walls (Red) and ash deposit (Green)

The excavated area highlighting the walls (Red) and ash deposit (Green)

Clara and John diligently obeying Jim’s instruction to ‘look excited’ about the pottery

Clara and John diligently obeying Jim’s instruction to ‘look excited’ about the pottery

After our brief investigation we’ve now covered the site over for the winter, and plan to come back to do a full investigation of the site next year. Having identified where the cottage was, we’re hopeful that we may even find the floor where Joe breathed his last – a bit gruesome, but a real help for us in telling the story of the life, work and death of Joe and other ordinary people of the Georgian North East.

A better look at the Scottish Spongeware fragments

A better look at the Scottish Spongeware fragments

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