I have always been fascinated by the science of archaeology. Many years ago I even participated in a dig, in the city of Chichester. To be more precise, I spent some weeks in the Summer of 1974 and the Spring of 1975 helping with the excavation of the Roman baths in Tower Street, with an old school friend. As volunteers, we received the princely sum of 1 per day and shared communal accommodation in a house in nearby Crane Street, which also served as the nerve centre for the whole operation.
As short term participants, we weren’t allowed to do anything terribly exciting, which was quite understandable in the circumstances- though a little bit disappointing! At the time, the Tower Street excavations were heralded as the largest ever to take place in Chichester, involving the removal of some 1,300 cubic metres of soil by hand to reveal the several layers of occupation down to the Roman level. This was a classified ‘Rescue Excavation’ in advance of the ultimate development of the site as a multi-storey car park. It is interesting to observe, however, that the proposed development has still not materialised, and, hopefully, never will as the intrusion of the motor car is at last being resisted, especially in town centre locations.
My first job on the Tower Street excavation was certainly a memorable one – two of us had the task of digging out an old Victorian cesspit! My fellow worker on this occasion was a senior police officer who appeared to spend all his available free time on archaeological digs. What we found was fairly mundane and uninteresting: broken pottery, plenty of oval shaped soda water bottles, the odd Victorian ‘Bun’ penny, all discarded rubbish from long ago. We kept the old bottles which came from a local firm and were of value to bottle collectors. Once the cesspit was cleared of its detritus, we dismantled the internal walls to enable further excavation below (no doubt to some of the more interesting parts!)
Looking back to those days, there is little doubt that the site director, Alec Down was one of those rare people with an innate ability to inspire and motivate. He was a no-nonsense professional, completely dedicated to the job but able and willing to share his knowledge with all of us. On rainy days, he would alleviate the boredom of washing finds in the pottery room with an illuminating talk on the Roman occupation, often interspersed with some of the many anecdotes of a colourful and eventful life. When I recently rediscovered the notes he sent to all prospective volunteers, the following comments exemplify the man I remember: “Please DON’T volunteer if you are a dillentante type who thinks that archaeology consists of tickling a mosaic with a small brush and looking dedicated and /or hairy. It isn’t like that at all – except perhaps on television.”
It certainly wasn’t anything like it, for most of the time we were carrying heavy buckets to a conveyor belt which removed the soil off site. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile experience, and I still remember the excitement of finding a Roman coin; such finds are an important way of dating the different layers. What was particularly fascinating about the Tower Street dig, despite the fact that the site was riddled with Medieval and Victorian cesspits, was how the several layers of occupation were all investigated down to the Roman level. In other words, the purpose of the excavation wasn’t simply to discover the Roman baths, but to record the totality of human activity on the site for over 2000 years. The northern part of the site had been occupied by a pub called ‘The Fighting Cocks’ from at least 1808, and before that it had been used as a Poor House for the Parish of St Peter the Great. The site had also accommodated the Royal Lancastrian School from 1811, which was finally demolished in 1974. The area east of the school building was the playground, with a number of 19th century cesspits below. During the excavations, several scholars’ slates were recovered, many with their owner’s name scratched upon them.
As for the Roman Baths, without going into any detail, it is estimated that they covered some 5,500 square metres. Unfortunately, since large quantities of the building stone were robbed during the Norman and medieval periods, interpretation of the evidence has been difficult. But three main periods of construction and alteration have been recognised: Period A (Flavian):
Period A (Flavian): Comprising a number of hot rooms, which were fired from the north end, there was another room (still lying beneath Tower Street), which was probably fired from the west side. Period B (Mid to late 2nd century):
Period B (Mid to late 2nd century): During this period there were a number of alterations and additions. A number of tepid rooms appear to have been converted to cold rooms – certainly the hypocausts were filled in and a mosaic and tesselated floors were laid on substantial foundations. Period C:
Period C: Considerable alterations appear to have taken place, but problems of interpretation have arisen from the presence of medieval bell founding pits and other disturbances of the site. Nevertheless, there are indications of a possible change of function. Municipal baths were not immune from changes in bathing fashion, and no doubt alterations of the existing premises would have been carried out to accomodate other types of bathing.
When did the baths cease to function? The coin series ends during the last quarter of the 4th century, but the systematic robbing of the building during the post Roman period effectively destroyed all floor levels. Therefore there is no firm evidence to answer this question. In all probability, the run down was quite slow, in keeping with the gradual decline in town life generally. The major robbing most likely occurred during the late 11th and early 12th century when the Norman Cathedral was being built a few yards away.
But I digress; the main reason for writing this article is to reveal two interesting archaeological finds which were made on land belonging, firstly, to my grandfather, Arthur Linfield and secondly, to my uncle, Jim Linfield. In the early Thirties, my grandfather moved with his family from Worthing to live in Thakeham, West Sussex, presumably to be close to the nurseries there which were being expanded as the old Worthing nurseries were gradually sold off for building development. They were living at South Hill Farm, and it was whilst digging a private swimming pool in the grounds, that some exciting discoveries were made. The excavation revealed Saxon pottery (probably sixth to eighth century), as well as fragments of Roman tiles, which suggested to the archaeologist who visited the site, Eliot Curwen, that they had found the site of a Saxon cottage. A partly polished flint axe was also retrieved. Soon after his visit, he sent the following letter to my grandfather:
16th March 1934 1 ST. AUBYN ST, HOVE
Dear Mr Linfield,
My son and I have examined the pottery and taken British Museum opinion on it, and the result of your excavations and our enquiries turns out very prettily. The black pottery proves to be Saxon, and there is no doubt that you have excavated over the site of a Saxon dwelling. Whether the Roman tiles were brought from Hardham for use in the Saxon building or not, one cannot be certain, but their overlying the Saxon pottery at least carries this suggestion. The pottery of a lighter colour from a higher level is early medieval.
In connection with your discovery it is interesting to note that the word Thakeham means ‘Thatched Homestead’, and it is a pleasing conceit to think that you have hit upon the homestead that gave its name to your village. Indeed, what pleasanter site could have been chosen?
Now as to the axe. This is an instrument of peculiar interest. In the first place it appears to be made from chert which comes from a place called Broom, which is on the River Axe, down west. In shape and some characteristics it is typical of what we call the mesolithic period, the period which immediately preceded the neolithic. The polish is, however, a characteristic of neolithic work, and is not normally found earlier. The combination of the mesolithic shape and characteristics with the neolithic polish makes it not only of interest but of value from the point of view of the inference to which it gives rise, helping us to realise the overlapping between these two important periods.
We shall hope to bring all your objects over to you one Saturday in the near future, and then I am going to ask you to be kind enough to allow some of the black pottery and this axe to find a place in the County Archaeological Museum at Lewes, where they will be open to examination by the student. (Annotated ‘Yes’ in the margin).
We would like, with your permission, to write a description of the site and the finds for publication in “The Antiquaries Journal” of London. (Annotated ‘Yes’ in the margin).
Would you please let me know the width of the excavation, that is to say, the north-to-south measurement? (Annotated ’12ft’ in the margin).
With kind regards, and many thanks for letting us see these interesting objects and your excavation, Believe me, Yours sincerely, Eliot Curwen.
Now to the other interesting discovery. Towards the end of the Second World War, my uncle Jim and a partner bought Hillbarn Nurseries in the parish of Sompting, near Worthing. It was subsequently purchased by the main family business and put over to mushroom production. However, during excavation for foundations in October 1946, a hoard of bronzes was unearthed by a mechanical excavator at a depth of some 5 feet in a valley bottom.The following is taken from the official report by E. Cecil Curwen.
The hoard consisted of:
1. The greater part of a bronze cauldron.
2. Sheets of bronze apparently derived from one or more larger cauldrons.
3. A ‘phalera’ or boss-shaped object of sheet bronze.
4. Seventeen socketed axes.
1. Unfortunately, the cauldron was badly damaged by the grab, although it was undoubtedly in poor condition prior to its discovery. Nevertheless, by measuring the surviving pieces, it was possible to produce a fairly accurate reconstruction. The external diameter of the rim was some 12.5 inches, and the internal diameter of the brim between 8 and 9 inches. The greatest diameter of the body of the cauldron was about 17 inches, and its height around 10 inches. This gives it an estimated capacity of just under 5 gallons. As for its construction, it consisted of seven overlapping strips or plates held together by rivets. There were also signs of repair work. The uppermost pair of plates were folded back to form the brim, whilst the rim was formed by rolling sheets of bronze into tubular beadings. Two ring handles (about 3.3 inches in diameter) were attached by means of staples of cast bronze fixed to the upper surface of the brim.
2. Apart from the fragments of the cauldron described above were some sheets of bronze from another source. There were five pieces from the basal plate of another much larger cauldron. The fact that one edge was pierced with rivet holes, some with rivets still in place, shows that the plate was derived from the destruction of an old cauldron. Another piece of sheet bronze, with most of the rivets still in place along one edge, had originally formed part of a plate from the widest part of the body of a large cauldron. Various cuts indicated that the owner had been using it to make repairs.
3. The boss shaped object had been hammered out from a thin single sheet of bronze. From a basal flange, it rose steeply to another bead, and then more gently in a steepening cone to a height of 4 inches from the base. The apex had been torn off. The author had seen nothing like it before, and could not commit himself to any serious guesses. However, he did make a comparison to the ‘breast discs’ found in the Llynfawr hoard, although they were much smaller. It has also been suggested that this phalera was a trapping for the forehead and breast of horses.
4. The highlight of the find was undoubtedly the 17 socketed axes. These all had a single loop, were rectangular in shape and appeared to have come from twelve moulds. Some were rough castings, with the blade widening only slightly to a straight but very blunt cutting edge. The rest had been sharpened to varying degrees by hammering, the effect being to flatten out the edge so that it resembled a curved arc.
My uncle presented the bulk of the hoard to Worthing Museum, where it may still be viewed today.
Among Curwen’s conclusions, the following is of interest:
“The hoard evidently represents the stock of a bronze-smith, which includes several rough-castings of axes from the same moulds, as well as odd pieces of sheet bronze derived from worn-out cauldrons. The complete cauldron may have been likewise destined for scrap, or it is possible that it may have been temporarily in the possession of the bronze-smith for the purpose of repair.
A date in the second half of the Late Bronze Age (say 750-500 BC) is suggested for the hoard by the wing-decoration on two of the socketed axes, and this relatively late date would be in keeping with the developed character of the handle-fittings of the cauldron, according to Leeds’s typology . . . “
Although this article digresses somewhat from the strict confines of ‘family history’, I hope it may be of interest. Incidentally, many of you reading this may actually be descended from the bronze smith above! I wonder why all these pieces were discarded at the time – we will never know.
West Sussex Gazette April 18 1974 Chichester Excavations 3 by Alec Down (Phillimore, 1978).
Roman Chichester by Alec Down (Phillimore, 1988).
‘A Saxon hut-site at Thakeham, Sussex’ from The Antiquaries Journal (Being the Journal of the Society of Antiquaries of London) October 1934 (Vol. XIV, No. 4).
‘A Bronze Cauldron from Sompting, Sussex’ by E. Cecil Curwen from The Antiquaries Journal (Vol. XXVIII July-October 1948 Nos. 3,4).
Worthing Museum Publications No. 2 ‘A Guide to the Bronze Age Collection’ by AE Wilson, D. Litt., FSA.