Archive for the ‘Artefacts’ Category

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…


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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.

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The Battle of Basing

Saturday 28 to Monday 30 August

From 10am-5pm

Join us to celebrate the reopening of Basing House with an exciting event, bringing our Civil War history to life for all ages.

More details on our website: www.basinghouse.org.uk


Civil War Soldiers (members of the Sealed Knot) clash in battle
Civil War Soldiers (members of the Sealed Knot) clash in battle

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You may remember our last conservation-themed post where the Conservator (Archaeology) for Hampshire County Council very kindly provided us with information about the conservation work that had been done on a beautiful jug that was being prepared for inclusion in the museum here at Basing House. The museum is currently being refurbished and this has provided an excellent opportunity to look at the object collection for Basing House and to do some work on the conservation of some of these objects.

The Conservator (Archaeology) has provided the following post:

Dust, dirt, and the cleaning of a Civil War armour backplate

The dangers of over-cleaning in conservation are often underlined, but it is necessary at times to remove particulate (termed ‘particulate’ because it is carried as tiny particles in the atmosphere) dirt from museum objects before it becomes bonded – sometimes chemically – with the surfaces or past restorations/adhesives of an object. It will then be much harder to remove and may result in more invasive methods of cleaning such as wet or solvent cleaning, and as with all conservation, the less you have to do to the object the better!

Good object housekeeping is important. Dirt can attract and hold moisture, creating a harbour and a food source for pests, in turn attracting further dirt or causing damage to the object. Before any dirt is removed though, a conservator must examine it and identify whether it consists of loose or bonded particulates, whether is actually a coating, or perhaps a historic surface. Sometimes the dirt is an important part of the object – traces of food inside a vessel for instance. This is why conservation cleaning is carried out by trained staff and professional conservators, using appropriate analytical equipment to determine what, if anything, is to be removed.

Conserving the Iron Backplate

This iron backplate is one of the many objects that came into the lab for routine surface cleaning before redisplay. It had been on display at Basing Lodge Museum for a number of years, and a substantial amount of particulate and bonded dust and dirt had built up on the surface.

Backplate before treatment.

Backplate before treatment.

Initially, loose particulate dirt was removed from using a soft brush and a museum vacuum cleaner. Bonded dirt was then removed using a specially modified rubber ‘molecular trap’ – a sticky substance which will lift dirt without leaving any residue. It takes a long time to roll a small ball of the trap over just a small part of the surface, but it can be a very effective method of dry cleaning.

Cleaning with modified rubber molecular trap.

Cleaning with modified rubber molecular trap.

It became more evident during this stage that in fact the old protective coating beneath the dirt – apparently a type of resinous material – had become aged and yellowed. It was also cracking in places where thickly applied, and was scratched through in others. Aged and deteriorated adhesives, resins and coatings carry their own problems – they also attract dirt and pests, and as they deteriorate they too can become difficult to remove. It was decided to remove this particular coating since it was so damaged, and thought not to be of antiquity. This was achieved with wet solvent cleaning, using cotton swabs. Where thick, the softened coating was removed mechanically with a very sharp scalpel.

Solvent removal of coating from backplate.

Solvent removal of coating from backplate.

The coating was particularly crusty around areas where there are actually little fragments of original leather strap remaining – since leather dries out rapidly in the presence of certain solvents, care had to be taken to use one that would not shrink and crack these fragile remnants.

Particulate dirt around leather strap on backplate.

Particulate dirt around leather strap on backplate.

Remnants of leather strap after cleaning.

Remnants of leather strap after cleaning.

With the old coating removed, the appearance of the armour was much improved. A new coating of conservation grade microcrystalline wax was applied to the outer surface, replacing the protection afforded by the old coating, as well as enhancing the patina. To further reduce the risk of future damage, our new showcases have compartments for silica gel desiccant – giving us the option to lower the relative humidity of cases containing ironwork and slow the corrosion rate. We will also be keeping a close eye on objects to make sure the dust doesn’t build up again!

Backplate after cleaning - view 1.

Backplate after cleaning - view 1.

Backplate after cleaning - view 2.

Backplate after cleaning - view 2.

The armour will be returned to the Museum at Basing House displays when they re-open later this year.

Thank-you to Claire Chope, Conservator (Archaeology), for this post!

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Objects being Conserved for the new Basing House Museum

The preparation of hundreds of objects for the new, redeveloped museum at Basing House is an ongoing task for the Hampshire County Council Archaeology Conservator, based at the Museums Service headquarters in Winchester.

Some of the objects in preparation will be new to the display, and may have only recently been discovered during the last season of excavation. Other items may have been kept in our in stores for many years. In addition to new objects, all of the material removed from the old museum – much of which will be returned to the display – will be thoroughly checked, documented, surface cleaned and conserved where necessary.

Bartmann Jug

The Archaeology Conservator for the Museums Service has recently reconstructed a Frechen salt-glazed stoneware ‘Bartmann’ jug, from the first half of the 17th century.

Sherds that make up a Bartmann jug.

Sherds of the Bartmann jug before the Archaeology Conservator begins to reconstruct the vessel.

The treatment of this jug highlights a situation which can arise with the treatment of any object – that in which elements of restoration form part of a conservation treatment. From a conservation angle, no intervention was needed on the 15 fragments discovered from this stoneware jug. In storage they were perfectly safe, and in no danger of deteriorating. The fragments were accessible for research, and identification of the jug was possible. However, the redevelopment of Basing House Museum provided us with the welcome opportunity to expand access to our collections and put new objects, including this pottery, on display.
Bartmann jug - with sherds in place

Bartmann jug - with sherds in place

When planning any conservation treatment it is important to know what the intended outcome is for that object – what will it be used for, where, and why? The outcome here was to display the objects in the newly refurbished museum, yet to have simply placed those 15 sherds into a showcase (though it may have given an impression of enabling access) would have significantly limited their potential for interpretation and appreciation. In cases such as this, where the usual rule of ‘miminum intervention’ may not seem appropriate, it is often justifiable to undertake reconstructive conservation or restoration in order to facilitate access and interpretation for a wider audience.

Although it is unethical for a conservator to deliberately ‘disguise’ damage, it is considered acceptable to minimise the detracting effect of damage. Anything added must be reversible, detectable, not cover up or harm any of the original material, and be fully documented. Full reconstruction was only attempted due to the evidence retained in the fragments – although half of the jug was missing, these included the handle, the base, the neck, rim, and decorative features such as the bearded face and most of the medallion. Nothing was added which was not known to have existed.

The Bartmann jug with the smoothed plaster infill added.

The Bartmann jug with the smoothed plaster infill added.

The aim with this particular treatment was to enable an immediate appreciation and understanding of the pot as a whole, as it once would have appeared. Close inspection, however, will reveal the non-original areas.
The completed Bartmann jug, with the painted plaster infills.

The completed Bartmann jug, with the painted plaster infills.

The jug will be a new addition to the museum displays when Basing House reopens in late summer 2010.

The images and text for this post were kindly provided by Claire Chope, Archaeology Conservator for Hampshire County Council Museums Service. Thanks for this fascinating insight into the huge amount of work that goes into preparing an object for display in a museum space.

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So what’s next at Basing House?

With less than a year to go before we open next summer the team are already feeling the pressure and are busy working on a number of things that need sorting out soon.

For example interior designs, catering, events planning, finalising the scripts for information panels and audio guides, designing the new museum, tourist road signs, teaching resources, recruiting new staff and volunteers, and yet more fundraising.

Watch out for our next update!

Just for fun:

In the meantime, here are some images of just a few of the fascinating objects found at Basing House:

Charles I Sixpence

Charles I Sixpence

Tudor Rose Floor Tile

Tudor Rose Floor Tile

Stoneware Bottle

Stoneware Bottle

Carved Stone Head

Carved Stone Head

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