The Old Smithy


Report on Test Pit 2 Front Garden of 3 Nether Street.

August 2014

This test pit was dug on the edge of the lawned area to the front of the house, next to the driveaway, on the right as you enter through the double gates. The area is soon to undergo landscape work, so this was an opportune time to investigate. Previous research had shown a building on the site, abutting the rear of the Drennans garage [formerly part of the old Black Horse Inn], next door, and it was hoped that the siting of the test pit may hit the wall of this structure.

The pit was dug in spits of 20cm

Between context 1, [the surface] and context 2 , [20cmdepth]. As one would expect the soil was essentially worked brown topsoil. However even at this early stage there was a visible difference noticed over the square metre. The westerly [between markers 3 and 4] part, roughly a third of the total was more sandy and the soil consequentially gritty. By far the majority of the large brick and stone pieces were retrieved from this area and this followed down through the contexts. A large number of bricks, half bricks and large limestone pieces [photo1] were recovered including a half brick with ‘CE Whittlesey ‘ stamped on it [photo2].Across the whole context there was a large number of post med pottery sherds [essentially C20th], a few bits of charcoal, glass,  2 clay pipe pieces, 1 piece of wall plaster, 1 piece of lime mortar, and 3 pieces of generic ‘midland purple’ or pancheon ware. There was also some pieces of concrete, remnants of the concrete path which Liz remembers being there.

The pottery, well worn and blunted, in particular suggests a domestic area.

Down to context 3, 40cm on the eastern side and 35cm on the western side. A similar picture to context 2, but with an increase in broken bricks, but still seeing the larger brick and stone pieces coming from the western third of the pit. Pottery sherds are similar to context 2 but maybe slightly thicker with a preponderance of plain white or traditional and common blue and white. It is generally mid quality day pots – not your finest china – and probably from the 20’s and 30’s. The soil is now becoming grittier, sandier, with some patches of clay material, but the western end remains even sandier. Finds are a progression from context 2, 4 pieces of clay pipe, glass, an increase in charcoal bits, and an increase in wall plaster.

Continuing down to context 4 at 60cm depth @ point 1 and 48cm @ point 4, and the first sign of an interesting level having been reached.  In the centre a cavity was noticed, and it was quickly realised that there was a series of very large stone ‘slabs’ emerging over the level [photos 3+4] [see context record form]. They were too uniform and laid out to be random so formed a significant find – they had clearly been lain to cover something or provide a base for a structure – the cavity suggested the former. The finds from this sandy, griity context showed a marked difference from the previous two. Only a very small number of post med pottery sherds, less brick but all small smashed pieces, some small pieces of stine roofing tile, some large teeth[animal unknown as yet], pieces of animal bone, two sherds of as yet unidentified but ostensibly older pottery, and a very large quantity of wall plaster and limestone mortar.  The were plenty of smaller stones, some well worn cobbles and many smaller pieces of limestione. I would suggest that this is once again as we saw in TP1 evidence of a destruction level, or maybe reused rubble as the infill to a long gone wall.

It was decided to take off these slabs to create context 4a. What they revealed was a superb carefully constructed stone lined conduit or drain. Running almost north-south across the full test pit, and rodded to confirm it carried on for some distance in the direction of the road. Its ‘floor’ seemed to be hard packed earth, there was no indication of a continuous bottom stone lining, but the sides were cleanly lain stone forming an approximately 7” channel [photos 5,6,7]. The eastern side was made up of a single stone depth wall behind which was a clay surface, the western end uniformly a double stone depth wall, behind which was an infill of sandy, gritty material and small stones.  The very few pieces of pottery found include one that needs further investigation but initially looks medieval, there was one small piece of clay pipe, but a large quantity of various animal bones within the channel. These bones show no sign of either butchering or animal bite marks, suggesting that they come from a human domestic situation rather than a butchers premises, but its interesting to find so many in a small area.

After full recording, this structure was removed to access context 5 down to a level of 75 – 80cms at the eastern edge and 65 – 70cm at the western edge. It revealed an earth context roughly where the conduit had been, [photo8] hard clay to the eastern side of the conduits line and a sandy stony level to the western side [photo 9]No further finds were recovered and it was decided to stop at this point [photo10]. 

So what does the test pit tell us?

Much like TP1 the top contexts are made up of refuse – this time clearly domestic as opposed to garden. Once again we seem to have a context associated with destruction, whether of a building on this site or rubble brought in from elsewhere. But at the bottom we have a previously unknown structure. The animal bones within suggest a drain rather than supply, and I feel that the rubble on one side is the remains of a building wall, along which the drain ran. If this is a wall, its direction does not tie in with either the Black horse outbuilding to the rear, or the structure noted on C19th mapping – its angle is more in keeping with the Black Horse itself, and so may be parallel with it. The possibility arises that this is the remains of a much earlier building fronting onto what is now Nether Street. There is apparently a drain in the Black Horse outbuilding [a function room?] to which our drain roughly points – only further investigation would prove if the two are one and the same.

Note the unidentified pieces of pottery from the lower levels have now been identified as late medieval ware.

A good dig, posing some new questions.