The season is drawing to a close, we start assessing the year past and planning for the year to come. But we aren’t gone just yet, here is the last of our life in the day of a volunteer blog for this season. Its been fantastic having a great team of volunteers helping to make our visitor’s days even better, thank-you to all our volunteers, and this is just a snippet of what they get up to:

Sunday 6th October 

If you’ve ever wondered whether the blogger ever has a holiday, the time has at last come, and today was my last day at Basing House this year (although the site remains open until the end of October).  It was a fitting last day.  The weather was good, the attendance was good, and it was also good to see Alan Turton, the former curator and almost certainly the greatest expert on the House, here, leading a battlefield tour.

I now vanish on holiday, but with memories of spending a summer volunteering in a magnificent location, alongside some very nice people.  And those include the staff, other volunteers, the archaeologists and, of course, the visitors.  I’ll be looking forwards to next year.

And in the mean time, thanks to those who have read this.

Those who are carrying on still have the Halloween Ghost Walks – evening of 31/10/2013 to plan and run and the main website shows how to get tickets – http://www3.hants.gov.uk/hampshire-museums/basing-house/bh-eventsdetail?id=206386 

Saturday 5th October

One of our bigger weekends at the historic ruin with the English Civil War Society in attendance. They have brought living history displays with them, as well as demonstrating civil war period military drill, and staging a skirmish with pikes, muskets and even artillery in the afternoon.

Civil War Soliders

It keeps the staff and volunteers busy.  Not only does the society camp overnight on our overflow car park, but also with more visitors expected we have to supervise the parking and maintain vigilance around the site.

Sunday 29th October 

As the year wears on and the hot dry weather becomes a thing of mere memory our parch marks – marks on the grass which show where there used to be walls – are fading away or even have vanished completely.  Far and away the most visible one remaining is the mark left by the 1970s museum – a bit of on archaeological let down to those visitors who think they have spotted something new.

Saturday 28th September

I spent the day with the LEGO model of the House explaining to visitors the former glory of the ruins, their history and their demise, while also pointing out what they can still see.  Visitors also seem to be fascinated by the Tudor fireplace which was “found” during the construction of our future viewing gallery three months ago

The weather was not at its best, and if visiting on a “doubtful” day it is worth remembering to bring something in case it rains.  The visitors centre offers cover, but is some way from the ruins, where both the museum and the kiosk containing the LEGO offer cover.

One of our visitors was Simon, who has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair.  He writes a blog about his visits, and this is at http://www.wheelabouttown.co.uk/His entry for visiting the Basing House is below:

Today we visited Basing House, the site of a once magnificent Tudor castle and house, destroyed in its third siege during the civil war by the Parliamentarians against the Royalists defenders. In its heyday it was visited by many kings and queens, both British and foreign, namely Queen Elisabeth 1st, Henry 8th, and Philip of Spain.

The siege was intense, but only lasted 45 minutes. The damage was total, not helped by the besiegers ransacking whilst the castle and house went up in flames. Even at this point of destruction some of the walls were still standing. However the locals were encouraged to take bricks and stone to rebuild their village. That is why so much of the nearby village has fine ancient red bricks from the once grand buildings.

The site was further damaged in the 18th Century when part of the Basingstoke Canal was routed through the ruins with no care given to the archaeological importance of the site for future generations.

What remains is more about using your imagination along with the aid of the on-site museum which narrates a video story of the siege.

Access can be rough at times, but certainly possible. To make it too modern would spoil the whole atmosphere. Very friendly staff throughout the site giving us even more information etc. made it a very worthwhile visit.

Sunday 22nd September

It was one of those days when the weather looks “yucky” and you wonder just how many people will turn up.  But in the end quite a few did, among them some more repeat visitors.

Saturday 21st September 

It is always interesting to see what families do to make visits for their children happy ones.  Today we had a group of four who arrived clutching their sticks/swords.  One of the party was then deputed to carry them to the other end of the tunnel while the others went through.

This family showed us that passing through the tunnel is obviously not as scary as some think – they chose to go through without their weaponry.  They also reminded us just how much children enjoy and remember the tunnel as this group had already been through earlier in the year and had been to Tudor day.

Tuesday 17th September 

Received a nice email from the lady who ran Tudor Day, thanking me for my help.  It is nice to see that the “top brass” are pleased with the result and the work that we volunteers put in.

Sunday 15th September

One of the joys of being on car park duty on Saturday afternoon was that I didn’t have to tidy up around the visitors centre or at the historic ruin when the day ended – I was too busy waving goodbye.  But it was amazing how tidy it all was the morning after.  Given the weather everyone seemed quite happy with the number of people who came.  And my impression was that our visitors must have done a brilliant job in not leaving litter round the historic ruin.

We did have to thank heaven that Saturday had better weather than Sunday, but we did have some visitors who braved rain and high winds.

Saturday 14th September

Tudor Day was here; the day started bright but soon became overcast.  It drizzled as I left home but that was about it for rain for the day.  We volunteers arrived early and helped finish the setting up – while I opened the car park and raised the two flags on the site flag poles.  I was to spend the morning at the tunnel and the afternoon in the car park, so as soon as we were briefed I headed over to the historic ruin to do the safety inspection on the tunnel.  Blissfully it passed.

We fielded eleven volunteers.  Some ran the tunnel, including a lady in Tudor costume, others ran the car park.  Meanwhile others were spread round the site as information points and one ran the guided tours while another took pictures.

My morning was spent looking after the far end of the tunnel.  After a summer spent discussing the tunnel dragon I was made to smile by a small boy in a dragon suit who emerged. And he wasn’t alone as there was also a five week old baby in a slightly smaller version of the same outfit.  He didn’t go through the tunnel, though.

The afternoon was spent in the car park – where we had a short period of people coming and going before we settled down to steady outward flow.  It was lovely to see so many happy looking people, some of whom even thanked me for an enjoyable day.  I hope they all felt the same.

Thursday 12th September

Tudor Day preparations continued.  The visitors’ centre had to be moved around so there was room for Sarah Morris to sign copies of her book ‘Le Temps Viendra: a novel of Anne Boleyn’.  This meant the LEGO model of the barn had to move.  Being only too aware of how vulnerable the representation of the barn’s roof beams is, this took considerable care and tenderness.

The staff, meanwhile, were trying to work out a rota for the volunteers on Saturday.  On balance the weather forecast is looking better

Wednesday 11th September

A fairly miserable day from a weather point of view, made more so by the forecast for the weekend which seems to be worsening.

Tuesday 10th September

The weather forecast looked worse, but preparations continued.  In spite of having our minds set in the future, we still managed to open the tunnel for visitors.  We had a few thoughts on the Halloween Ghost Walk.

Monday 9th September 

Tudor Day, this coming Saturday, is now beginning to dominate our minds.  Last year we had a great success, with a beautiful September day and more visitors than we ever expected.  How well it works this year will depend greatly on her weather, and at the moment the forecast doesn’t look too bad.  But this is September in Britain….

Sunday 8th September

One of the volunteers had a shock when he managed to set off a burglar alarm! As the racket shook Old Basing it reminded us all that we do have site security systems and they do work!

Saturday 7th September 

We had the tunnel running.  Meanwhile some vital members of the Basing House team have asked for a mention, pointing out that they feel rather hard done by.  These are the walkie-talkies.  All the staff and volunteers have them, but they do suffer considerable hardships, getting left in strange places, thrown on hard floors, or left uncharged.  One particularly active member of this community survived a plunge most of the way down the tunnel staircase, and another spent a couple of hours stranded in the tunnel.  They also feel rather redundant when carried around all day without being switched on!

So, walkie-talkies, we thank you, and also the procurement man who chose ones that were so hardy.  I can assure visitors that they are treated with much more care and consideration.  The walkie-talkies also mean that we can do things like call up first aiders when the need arises.

Thursday 5th September

Again a day spent planning for Tudor Day with volunteers hard at work on a variety of tasks as diverse at checking that the flagpoles are actually capable of taking flags and cutting out all the Tudor Roses needed to decorate the visitor centre.

Wednesday 4th September

We walked round the historic ruins today looking for inspiration for the Halloween Ghost Walks that mark the end of the Basing House season (we close 1 November to 28th February), and also to hear the guided tour that will be given on Tudor Day.

Tuesday 3rd September

With the schools back, things are quiet again, but that does mean we can start thinking about Tudor day, one of the “red letter” days at the House, the others being the visits of the Sealed Knot (usually at Easter) and the English Civil War Society (usually in October).

Good weather can increase out attendance tenfold for Tudor Day, so we need more staff from the museums service as well as all the volunteers we can muster.  We also need to think about issues like car parking, which normally poses no problem.  Basing House does have an overflow car park – accessible through the usual car park – which can cope with these sorts of numbers.  Just follow the signs to Basing House.

Monday 2nd September

The last day of the school holidays – this year dominated by good weather and producing a steady flow of visitors.  It will be strange for the volunteers to revert to term time visitor numbers, especially as our numbers have grown during the summer.  At the same time the diary for the rest of the year is fairly full and getting ready will keep us out of mischief.


Here’s the summer instalment of our volunteer’s blog, lots of sunshine and visitors has resulted in an interesting month…..

Sunday 1st September

As the end of the school holidays draws nearer our thoughts are turning to Tudor Day (Saturday 14th September) and all that has to be put together to make it work.  The county museums staff, both at Basing House and in other parts of the county, are now working hard to get it all to work together.  Even for the volunteers it means that we are trying to field all twelve of us, rather than the two or three who are normally there.  Tudor Day is one of the biggest events of the Basing House Year.

Another one, the visit of the English Civil War Society is due for the weekend 5th/6th October.  This is the closest weekend to the fall of the House, and the society will be putting on their living history displays as well as a civil war skirmish. I’m sure there will be plenty of tasks for us volunteers to help out with this too…..!

Saturday 31st August

Today saw the last wedding of the season, with the walk from the car park to the Barn marked with signs tracking the progress of bride and groom from schooldays to wedding.

It also seemed to be the day when every child that went through the tunnel had to go through again and again.  Generally we find that children like Mum or Dad (although we do get brave grandparents) to go with them the first time but then are happy to go through alone and save Mum and Dad the effort. Which I’m sure is much appreciated as its much harder work for adults!

Monday 25th August

August Bank Holiday Monday – a busy day, with the numbers building up as the day went on.  One thing we have noticed during the holidays has been the visits from “wider” families.  Not just Granddad, Granny, Mum, Dad and Kids, but also those where Granddad and Granny are joined by their whole family in parties of up to 12.  On a fine day, Basing House is a lovely venue for this sort of outing, with much to interest the adults and plenty of play space for the kids.

One of the regular staff left today, and we were sad to see her go.  May her new job be her Wonderland…..

Sunday 24th August

A rarity this summer, a wet day.  But we still had a steady number of visitors and many of them opted to go through the tunnel.  Obviously it is dry in the tunnel, but we do have to think about not having mud and water trampled in, and about how slippery the steel steps at the exit are getting before we open it.

One thing we do every day is ensure that either a member of staff or a volunteer has been through before it is opened to the public.  We also never let anyone into the tunnel unless both ends of the tunnel are open, and for that to happen there has to be a volunteer at each end.

Saturday 23rd August

Well, the youngest person through the tunnel record fell today – to 18 months.  I’m not sure it can get any lower.

Thursday 21st August

One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy is the magpie rhyme.  Is there one for Jackdaws?  While walking to the tunnel today we saw fifteen…..

And once again there were many picnickers around the site on yet another glorious English summer day.

Tuesday 20th August

It was an interesting day. We had some rather lively children in today who I had to remind to look after themselves as well as the historic monument! Later we found that the garden around the Lego model of the Great Barn in the visitor centre looked as though it had been hit by a tornado…..

Monday 19th AugustGargoyle

I showed some visitors the gargoyles from the House that are built into the walls of the Bothy.  One of the mothers made the mistake of asking which gargoyle was most like mummy; the child picked this one……

Sunday 18th August

As an outdoor site we always have to think about what to do when it rains, or when rain is forecast.  While the visitor’s centre is under cover, the historic ruin obviously isn’t!  Over there, the entrance kiosk, which houses the wonderful LEGO model of the House in all its splendour, and the museum provide cover for visitors when rain threatens, and I also try to open the Bothy (the original site museum) to allow more shelter on a variable day.

But if there is rain about it is always worth remembering to be prepared – it is quite a long walk to the car park!

At the other end of the scale when it is hot and sunny hats, sunscreen and water are all advisable when visiting the historic ruin; there isn’t always much shade to be found.

Saturday 17th August

A wedding in the barn today, giving us another example of innovative thinking by the families as we developed a very comprehensive set of signs from the car park to the church and the barn.

There was a fair old wind today and it was amazing how it whistled through the Tudor tunnel.  This must be caused by some piece of physics far beyond me, as the side towards the wind is in quite a deep shaft that the wind could not go down. Presumably the wind blowing over at the other end produces some kind of suction….

Thursday 15th August

A steady trickle of visitors today.  Perhaps it is a reflection of the times that Grandparents bringing the grandchildren must be about as common as parents bringing their own children.

A visiting Granny gave a splendid demonstration to her grandchildren of how to roll down a slope!

Slowly but surely I am taking opportunities to rub down the gates to the walled garden so they can have a coat of paint before Tudor Day, even if this does mean that I tend to greet visitors from behind bars!

Wednesday 14th August

This morning a lovely letter came through the post from the lady whose young son was stung by a bee last week (5 August).  It is nice when people do that because it does make those who work at the historic ruin feel appreciated, and it’s also good to hear that all is well and he has recovered.

We had the tunnel open and had one pair of children who went through three times.  The tunnel also entertained some French visitors.

“Bat girl” was in action again….

 Tuesday 13th August

Minds are starting to turn towards Tudor Day on 14th September.  This is one of the biggest days in the Basing House calendar with a fun-filled day of Tudor activities, experiences and demonstrations.

– Falconry flying display
– Meet costumed members of Henry VIII’s court
– Tudor minstrels and dancing
– Tudor toys, games and hobby-horse jousting
– Traditional Tudor crafts and herb medicines
– Guided tours
– Take a trip down the Tudor Tunnel
– Explore the historic garden
– Geo-caching treasure hunt, hog roast, competitions and downloadable audio tour
– Archery range (extra charge applies)

These preparations bore fruit for four of today’s visitors who benefitted from private guided tours – we had the right volunteers here and they were just itching to do a tour.

Monday 12th August

The Basingstoke Gazette arrived on the doormat this morning, complete with an article about the archaeological dig.

Today is the start of the nostalgic games fortnight, with opportunities for visitors to play all sorts of board games, like ludo, shut the box, tiddley winks, solitaire, Chinese chequers, happy families and even snap.  In other words all the games that we played before the arrival of consoles and computers!

We also had a number of parties walking round with GPS devices on our latest Geo-caching trail, and of course, the tunnel was open!

Sunday 11th August

We have many bats on the site, with some bat boxes in and around the buildings, but it is very rare we ever see them.  Today however two put in appearances! One surprising a member of staff (and itself) when it fell from one of the huge barn doors as it was opened, and the other finding its way into the staff room.

I must discuss with the other volunteers whether the staff member who faced this problem should now be known as “Batgirl”……

One of the other volunteers showed us the draft of the new trail she has put together for the site.  As a mixture of “pirate map” and “treasure hunt” it should provide a new way of helping older children explore the historic ruin.

Saturday 10th August 

This was the last day with the archaeologists here and we will miss them.  Not only was it an additional attraction for visitors but also they introduced a “buzz” to the place.

 I’ve spent a long time this summer tending the tunnel, and on the vast majority of days have carried out the morning safety inspection.  Today though  I noticed something I’ve never seen before – there is a small, brick side channel from the tunnel that runs away for some distance.

mini tunnelStaff member in tunnel

Obviously another route in for water back in the days when it was a drain.

Thursday 8th August

Yesterday we had a lady who was far too well dressed for the tunnel but who wanted to go through.  To our amazement she came back today in her jeans and went through!

Obviously the tunnel is not the place to go dressed in your finery, and we have to advise strongly against open toed sandals and flip flops.  A major reason for this is that if they aren’t up to the task (and some people do end up on all-fours),and  it is a very long walk (or hop) back to the car park.

Wednesday 7th August 

The brickworks restoration took a step forward to day with one particular wall being pinned to stop it falling over.  The jackhammer being used created probably the most noise in the citadel since the House fell in 1645.

Tuesday 6th August

Three child minders and a horde of children from push chair age to about eight turned up at opening time today.  They were wonderful, a great reflection on both minders and parents.  Most of them went through the tunnel and it really was lovely to hear so many happy children’s voices echoing through.  I wonder if they will be back in sixty or so years’ time with their grandchildren?

Later the tunnel was subject to a mass invasion by the archaeology students; its an adventure for all ages!

Monday 5th August

One of those days when everything happens.

I had to call the first aider when a small boy managed to get stung by a bee. It was a bit upsetting for the boy, but the first aider calmed him down and looked after him; it was good to see how well the system worked. Hopefully they’ll come back again soon to enjoy a full day here.

Our second conundrum of the day was a very handsome, very tame pigeon which showed no signs of wanting to fly and was very happy letting humans get very close!  We watched it carefully but eventually one of the archaeologists decided it was a lost or injured racing pigeon and we arranged for the group that rescues such pigeons to come and rescue it.

We always try to open the tunnel on the days we say we will – usually only bad weather stops us.  But today was a day when we opened it although we hadn’t said we would…  Three of the people who went through were a mother and her two sons.  Mother had been sent by her mother who went through when she was a small girl.

Then, shock of shocks, it rained.

Sunday 4th August

The good weather continues and it was another day of keeping the tunnel running.

Usually the tunnel is dry and dusty but one of the oddities of the very hot weather has been that condensation forms inside, as obviously not much of the heat gets underground.  That said the tunnel remains one of the coolest places around, and I leave readers to decide on their definition of cool!

Saturday 3rd August

Another wedding in the Great Barn; and another different way of using it! As previous entries show I am always amazed at the variety in how people find different ways of making their special day special.


We volunteers again were mainly supervising the tunnel.  Those who go through now get tunnel explorer certificates! A special mention also to those lovely explorers who take their hats back to the start for us! We do have to warn people that some shoes, particularly those with open toes are not really suitable for the tunnel.

Thursday 1st August

Another wedding today, with the bride taking advantage of the rural situation and arriving on her pony! Backed by brilliant weather the Great Barn and its surroundings looked magnificent.

I had a quick update from the archaeologists who were telling me about the growing evidence of pre Norman occupation of the Basing House site.

Here is the second of Andrew’s volunteers’ diary posts. Hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday 31st July

A good day for visitors with many of them taking a trip through the tunnel.  We had the usual mix. These included high speed children, children who went through several times, adults who had been through as children and even the adults who spend their entire trip in fits of the giggles.

It looks as if it is going to be another heatwave day tomorrow, so it is a good time to remind visitors that Basing House is an outdoor site and that hats, sunscreen and plenty of water are necessities on hot days here.

 Tuesday 30th July 

Not a good weather day, but there was still much going on at Basing House with the brick restoration and the archaeology continuing, and with many of the volunteers in for health and safety training.

We have recently been joined by two new volunteers, both students.  They aren’t only gaining themselves experience that could help them with getting jobs in the future, but helping us out.  Visitor numbers, especially on weekdays, soar in the summer holidays.

It was my birthday and my wife and daughter Andrew's Birthday Cakemade me an “Historic Ruin” cake.  You can even see where the archaeologists are at work…..

 Monday 29th July

More and more “parch marks” are appearing around the historic ruins, with the marks of the recent 1970s museum now being joined by traces of walls and what could have been a gatehouse from much longer ago.

 Sunday 28th July

We have re-enactors at the historic ruins at the beginning and end of the season.  (The English Civil War Society is here on 5th and 6th October).

But today we had the ultimate – a three year old warrior princess, clutching her sword and vowing to kill the dragon in the tunnel.  She was the definite highlight of the day even if the dragon wasn’t in the tunnel, but roosting (or roasting?) in the nearby pine tree.

Tree Dragon

Around lunchtime I was hit by a raindrop or two!  I’d nearly forgotten what they were!

 Saturday 27th July

It was sports day and many local sports groups set up stalls and demonstrations around the Great Barn.  Meanwhile at the historic ruins the county council and the brickwork contractors had a display all about the work that is going on to renew and consolidate the brickwork that has suffered so much in recent winters.  Among other things this showed the detailed planning that is involved and allowed visitors to see examples of the old bricks and the new ones that are being used in their place.

Meanwhile, “Archaeology on the go” continued at the civil war earthworks.  It was interesting to see the people who look after the finds methodically marking each piece that had been found – even the ones that to my eye it looked like pieces of a 1960s tea service.

 Thursday 25th July

They always say that being a grandparent is fun because you can always enjoy your grandchild but give it back to its Mum and Dad when it gets difficult.  Today was one of those days when you feel the same as a volunteer. Running a museum involves a lot more than selling tickets and ice cream! Today we saw just some of the many tasks that the staff have to undertake as they dealt with all manner of enquiries and small issues that arose, at the same time as continuing their great front of house service to the visitors.

 Wednesday 24th July

With the start of the school holidays “Archaeology on the go” was on the go and I arrived to find a score of archaeologists being briefed.  In a nutshell they are repeating, with modern equipment a dig carried out over 50 years ago which found Roman pottery, 4th century coins and tiles. Perhaps they’ll find more signs of just how long people have lived on the Basing House site.Archaeologists at work

Meanwhile we volunteers have been running the tunnel, and greeting visitors to the historic ruin.

Sunday 21st July

We were letting visitors pass through the tunnel today, as we try to every Sunday, and we will also be doing so on many days in the school holidays (see website).

It is amazing how many families have at least one person who went through as a child, and is keen to go back again.  It does show how the tunnel lives on in the memory.  Many adults will insist that it was longer when they were a child, although we can categorically deny that this was the case!   Some will even say that it ran to St Mary’s Church (500m) or the Holy Ghost ruins north of Basingstoke Station (2500m).

 Saturday 20th July

Hot again, but with a steady trickle of visitors.  We also had our first sightings of the archaeologists from SouthamptonUniversity who are here preparing for the dig they will be carrying out between 24th June and 10th August.  Several of the days of the dig featured “family friendly” activities associated with archaeology.

One of the ways that long lost buildings can be discovered is through marks, on grass and among crops, that appear when the ground gets dry.  We have a good set at the moment although I believe that they only show the site of a relatively modern building.

 Sunday 14th July

It seemed to be all the “B”s this weekend.  Battle of Britain, Butterflies, Bumble Bees, Beetles, Bastille Day and (sun) Block.  The insects were really out in force and were all of the friendly variety.  We spent a long time watching what I think was a cockchafer/maybug, a fairly sizeable beetle.  It climbed blades of grass only to find it was too heavy for them and return to the ground with a bump.

The Basing House ruins aren’t just history.  They have an awful lot of nature around too.

Saturday 13th July

It seems to get ever hotter.  Most of today’s visitors turned up with their picnics and retreated into the shade, some in the new house and others under the trees at the edge of what was the Norman bailey.  The sheer size of the grounds mean that there is lots of space for families to spread out over.

The Battle of Britain memorial flight put in an appearance mid afternoon, announced by the distinctive roar of six Merlin engines.  I suspect they were performing for the benefit of RAF Odiham, not Basing House, but one can always imagine…

Brickwork restorationBrickwork restorationCowbyre interior Cowbyre interior

Top: Brickwork conservation and restoration in the Citadel

Bottom: The Cowbyre at Basing Grange, interior refurbishment

This is the first of what we hope will be come an occasional series of postings from the team of volunteers who provide invaluable support at Basing House. 

If you want to join the team then please come along to the visitor centre and ask for details, or contact us via the Friends and Volunteers  page on our website.

Thanks to Andrew H for providing these diary entries from recent days spent helping out on site. 

Sunday 7th July

With the best of summer weather here the visitor centre seems to have developed a new role, with many people dropping in to buy an ice cream, cold drink or coffee while having a leisurely stroll through the village of Old Basing or along the banks of the crystal clear River Loddon.  They can also sit and have a rest in the shade.  I always hope that those who walk through the village remember that all those nice Tudor bricks that so dominate the scene come from Basing House.

It is easy to think that the tunnel is only for children.  We had an adult couple in today who seemed to giggle all the way through! 

And congratulations to Andy Murray!!  When I got home I wasn’t allowed to watch by my superstitious daughter as he’d won two sets while I was at Basing House.  She eventually let me in at three Championship points before sending me away again when he lost two of them….

 Saturday 6th July

Today we had a wedding in the cart shed – another of the buildings around the Great Barn.  Again it was interesting to see how different families can use the buildings to their best effect.  The expanse of grass around the cart shed and barn made for a lovely “English Countryside” event on one of the best days of the summer. 

 Wednesday 3rd July

Lego model - photo courtesy of TripAdvisor

I dropped in at the visitor centre on my way through the village and found a fellow volunteer and his daughter there having just been over the road taking photos from inside the LEGO model of the House. This is part of a guide they are planning where images of the LEGO can be used to illustrate what the House used to look like.

Many of the other volunteers have projects that they are working on behind the scenes.  Two have been working on tours, and another on display panels and now the picture guide.  Another has been putting together more trails for our younger visitors.  On Saturday I am meeting a potential new volunteer who got in touch with me through the Friends of Basing House.

We volunteers have also been persuaded to find our artistic sides and the results are on display in the visitor centre.

 Sunday 30th June

The summer seemed to be truly here with the sun shining all day.   It is important for volunteers and visitors to remember Basing House is an outdoor site and to remember their sun hats and sun block.

Young tunnellerWe had the tunnel open today.  In reality it is a 100 yard long Tudor drain just over a metre high.  One girl so liked it that she went through three times – a seasonal record!  The other record is shared by two girls of only 21 months who went through a couple of weeks ago.  The odd thing about the tunnel is that the shorter you are, the quicker you can go through, so most children scuttle through leaving their parents to struggle with the practicalities of actually fitting in.  The tunnel has basic lighting, and is dark enough to be fun, but light enough to be safe.Newly discovered Tudor fireplace

We also took the opportunity to have a good look at the Tudor fireplace recently unearthed by the brickworks restoration team.

Natural history was in evidence as well.  There are tiny wild strawberries growing in the enclosure at the Lodge/Museum end of the tunnel.

Saturday 29th June

I spent the afternoon in the sun over at the house ruins, while the strains of the Basingstoke Amateur Operatic Society’s performance of the Mikado floated across the road.  This showed yet another way the Great Barn can be used.  Before the performance many of the audience and the performers came over the road to see the ruins while others had picnics on the grass around the barn.

Tuesday 25th June

I didn’t go to Basing House today, but was woken up by Radio 2’s Moira Stewart telling the world of the death of Time Team’s Professor Mick Aston.  He, of course, led the Time Team dig at Basing House in 1998 which “found” the Duke’s hunting lodge.  He dealt with questions at the end of the dig with Tony Robinson (I was there) and even answered a question from my then 6 year old son.  Oddly, I dealt with him in my day job (he complained about Severn Bridge Tolls) and even then he struck me as a lovely man.  We must never forget that he opened the eyes of many people to our heritage and to archaeology.  A great loss to us all.

Sunday 23rd June

Another quiet day due to the weather.  We opened the tunnel, as we try to every Sunday, in spite of there being only one boy who wanted to go through. Spending the day in the citadel let me see how the brickwork restoration is proceeding – I have to say “very well” although it may well not be completed until the end of the season.  Work on the new viewing gallery is also progressing, while our ranger has recently cut back all the undergrowth.  This means that there is much more detail to be seen now than at other times of year.

As the afternoon passed, fellow volunteers joined me in trying to understand just what all the walls mean.  The difficulty is that every time you look you find something new, and ruin theories you had built in the past.

Saturday 22nd June

The weather let us down today, so we had few visitors.  A wedding in the Great Barn meant a 20% lower admission fee applied.  Over at the house ruins the entrance kiosk (which houses the wonderful LEGO model of the House in all its splendour) and the museum provide cover for visitors when rain threatens.  I also opened the Bothy (the original site museum) to allow more shelter on what was a variable day.  Wedding in Great Barn

It is interesting to see how different  families can find different ways of arranging and decorating the barn for weddings, while still leaving it looking absolutely stunning. 

Sunday 16th June

Fathers’ Day at Basing House.  A quiet start but after everyone had eaten their barbecues over at the Great Barn things became busier.  We supervised  the tunnel while 40 people went through, ranging in age from two toddlers to someone who could remember the house ruins back in the forties and fifties. 

Woodworking demo

The Father’s Day activities over at the Great Barn included a barbecue and brick -making demonstration, while over at the historic ruin we had a display of traditional wood turning.

Sunday 2nd June 2013

 The ruins of Basing House aren’t just about history.  They sit in the Hampshire countryside, and have their fair share of wildlife.  (As well being a Scheduled Ancient Monument Basing house is also on English Heritage’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.)   

I was welcomed to the house ruins by a huge massing of crows – presumably because the local red kites had put in an appearance.  And later, while sitting at the exit from the tunnel eating my lunch a deer, travelling at full tilt, came up from the walled garden, round in front of the gun and then charged away from the ruins and into the undergrowth around Redbridge Lane!  And there were lots of butterflies in attendance, too. 

 Saturday 1st June 2013

An idyllic day at Basing House.  Sun shining (and I remembered my hat), flowers blooming (especially the horse chestnut tree) and a steady trickle of visitors.

A wedding reception was held in the Great Barn.  With the marriage itself at St Mary’s church the guests walked in the sun for 500 yards through the village.  An unusual touch, but with a very pretty walk.  I wonder how many of the congregation knew that many of the bricks that make Old Basing so attractive, actually started life in Basing House. 

(And, on a personal note, one of the visitors was someone I worked with in the seventies, who came to my wedding in ’88 and who I hadn’t seen for probably 20 years.  Lovely to meet you again, Keith!)


Dave Allen, Keeper of Archaeology at Hampshire Museums service writes…

A current project at Basing House is the provision of a ‘viewing platform’ on the crest of the Norman ringwork and during a recent visit to look at the foundation pits for the platform supports I was ‘presented’ with a splendid example of a Palaeolithic handaxe, found in the associated service trench. 

When the works project manager called me to say it was a good time to take a look he mentioned that one of his team had found a flint handaxe.  As lumps of flint are common at Basing and handaxes are rare in northern Hampshire I had my doubts, but it turned out to be an absolute peach of an example (see photo). It’s a roughly hand-sized tool about 13cms long and the working edge, around most of the circumference, is still very fresh. The whole axe has a white ‘patina’ from being buried in chalky soil but the flint would originally have been grey in colour.


Handaxes like these belong, of course, in the Old Stone Age or Palaeolithic.  They were the multi-purpose tools of our earliest ancestors and can date back as much as half a million years.  There have been a few Middle Stone Age flint finds at Basing before, but they go back only 10,000 years, so this new discovery is a fantastic reminder of a time when small groups of humans roamed the landscape hunting woolly mammoth, wild horses, reindeer and aurochs.

 And then….

A couple of weeks after the handaxe discovery at Basing House, the call came through that another unusual find had been made at the site.  Those familiar with the place will know that what is missing at Basing is the ‘House’.  When Oliver Cromwell and his forces took Basing in a final assault in October 1645, and trashed what had once been ‘the greatest of any subject’s house in England, yea larger than most of the King’s palaces’ Parliament compounded the episode by declaring that anybody could take away brick and stone from the ruins ‘and keep it for their pains’.  This invitation to treat the site as a quarry was taken up with gusto, and only the Great Barn survived intact.

Most of the foundations remained, however, and many of these were revealed during the excavations of the 1880s to carved stone head1910.  In exploring floor levels and cellars, Lord Bolton’s gardeners found numerous architectural fragments, some of which – like the stone corbels featuring sculpted human heads  (see photo) – were actually built into the walls of the ’Bothy’, the small house constructed at the time as the site museum.  No detailed study of these fragments has yet taken place, although it is hoped that this omission will be remedied soon.  

Tudor fireplace

The news that an in situ fireplace had come to light was therefore of considerable interest.  Brickwork conservation is a constant theme at Basing and the ravages of the two hard winters we’ve experienced recently have required a good deal of remedial work.  This particular section of loose brickwork was near to the location of the viewing platform and it had clearly been built against an interior wall – a plastered wall – although it’s difficult to be certain just when.  Some modifications took place during the life of the building, some at the death, when the defences were strengthened, some after the Restoration, when the area was probably turned into a garden, and some following the excavations a century ago.  The fact that the wall removed was very ‘rough and ready’ make it a candidate for the most recent of those potential episodes, but it is built on firmer foundations that may well be of 17th century date.  Be that as it may, the fireplace is undoubtedly of 16th origin, probably of Caen stone.  We will be looking through the fragments we have in store to see if there is anything to compare.

Another mystery is just what did the fireplace serve?  The perimeter wall, the plastered wall, has quite definite returns to both east and west (putting the fireplace at the centre).  It also has a series of fixing holes suggesting that it was originally covered with oak panelling, but there is no clear indication of how far the room extended into the interior.  We may well be able to investigate the area in a little more detail during the summer.  If any of the floor level associated with the hearth remains in situ, then perhaps a basic sequence can be established.

Forthcoming Excavations

From 22nd July to 11th August the University of Southampton Archaeology Department, working alongside Hampshire County Council Museums Service and volunteers from the Basingstoke Archaeology and History Society,  will be running a training excavation at Basing House for undergraduate and postgraduate Archaeology students.  The team will be expanding on a recent geophysical survey of the grounds, as well as re-excavating trenches not investigated since 1962  and carrying out an extensive building survey of the remains of the Old House.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons during the excavation, the archaeologists will be running free drop-in sessions (normal admission charge applies) including: An Introduction to Osteo-archaeology, Geophysics for Beginners, and New Recording Techniques for Archaeology, and lots more! Why not come along and see how the dig is going, and try your hand at archaeology?

For more information about the work of  University of Southampton Archaeology Department at Basing House see their blog.

Phase 2 Works at Basing House are going well, although sadly it has become clear that yet more of the remains of William Paulet’s house  have suffered damage over the recent winter, which means additional work for our expert bricklayers.  

Work on the ‘Cow Byre’ at Basing Grange is particularly well-advanced: the new roof has been completed, and inside a new suspended floor has been inserted above the original cobbles, which have been restored. So that the cobble floor can still be seen a trap door has been built into the new suspended floor.  Intriguingly,  features uncovered  during the work suggest that, despite its name, the building was used as a stable rather than a cow shed, at least for some of  its working life.  

Construction of the Viewing Platform is about to begin in earnest now that the foundation holes for its supporting posts have been dug out.

Cow Byre - roof repairs

Re-tiling the Cow Byre roof

Conservation work on a Tudor brick oven

Conservation work on a Tudor brick oven

Viewing Platform under construction (view to the west)

Viewing Platform under construction (view to the west)

Visitors to Basing House on weekdays* can see the works in progress, as long as they stay behind the safety barriers  (and be careful not to get in the way of course!) 


*but remember that we are closed on Fridays 🙂