Archive for the ‘Development Project’ Category

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.


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Brickwork restorationBrickwork restorationCowbyre interior Cowbyre interior

Top: Brickwork conservation and restoration in the Citadel

Bottom: The Cowbyre at Basing Grange, interior refurbishment

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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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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 🙂

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Hampshire County Council is delighted to announce that following the award of a new grant of £630,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund it is now able to embark on Phase 2 of its development and conservation project.   This new project will continue to build on the original master plan to ensure that Basing House is developed to support the ambitions for conserving the historic buildings for future generations and encouraging more people to visit or get involved with researching or looking after the  site.

This blog will keep you up to date with the works as they progress over the next few months.

The main aims of the Phase 2 Project  

Aim 1

The ‘Cow Byre’ building in the Basing GrangeThe Cow Byre complex of former farm buildings (around the  Great Barn)  received structural repairs in Phase 1  to prevent further weakening. It will now be refurbished to complete the transformation of Basing Grange as a key part of the visitor and learning experience and as a home for community activities.  

The Cow Byre will be fitted out to support practical and hands-on activities related to the ongoing research into Basing House’s history and archaeology, and the nurturing and development of skills – past, present and future – that both created Basing House and will be required to support the ongoing investigation and conservation of the site. 

The byre will be available for use by community groups, for example by the Friends of Basing House or the Basingstoke Archaeology & History Society, using it as a base for their activities on the site. Groups would be encouraged to create their own exhibitions and provide workshops to support public understanding of the site, its history and conservation.  

Basing House will also facilitate the use of this space by partners (like Basingtoke Technology College and the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust) to support the development and teaching of heritage and conservation skills.

 Aim 2

To improve the understanding of the complex remains of Basing House by both restoring access to the cellars of the William Paulet’s Tudor house and installing a high-level viewing platform which will provide a birds-eye view of the remains of the Norman castle, the Tudor house, the Civil War defensive earthworks, and Basingstoke Common (site of the Oliver Cromwell’s main siege camp) and Old Basing village. Basing House is a key site in the county council’s ‘Learning Outside the Classroom’ programme and this platform will become an important part of the experience for schools visiting the site as well as the general public.

Viewing platform (illustration)

Viewing platform (illustration)

Click here to see the  Viewing Platform location on a site plan.

Aim 3

To undertake a comprehensive conservation programme on the brickwork remains in order to prevent further loss of the important Tudor architectural features of the first Basing House in the ‘Citadel’ area of the site, and also ensure safe public access.

The brickwork remains are always vulnerable to severe weather conditons, as was proved in January 2010 when many consecutive nights of very hard frost and heavy snowfall caused the worst damage in living memory. Further damage occurred in the November that year. The proposed repair and conservation programme will be comprehensive and designed to provide long-term protection

January 2010

January 2010

Frost damage

An example of frost damage

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Basing House has won the 2012 Conservation Award at the SCALA Civic Building of the Year Awards – the most prestigious building design awards in the public sector.
The awards presented by SCALA – the Society of Chief Architects of Local Authorities – were announced at the Civic Building of the Year & Presidential Dinner 2012 in Manchester.
The judges said of the Hampshire County Council Property Services’ project: “Subtle adaptations and alterations have been carefully introduced to give a new purpose to this magnificent collection of historic buildings. The skills of all concerned with this beautiful piece of work deserve high recognition and reward.”
Basing House conservation project, funded with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, was praised for the clear research, care and attention given to preserving and restoring the historic detail of the site.
The capital works were led by Hampshire County Council’s award-winning conservation architects team.  

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New arrivals at Basing Grange.

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