Raisbeck Mediaeval Village
Excavation of an earthwork at Townhead Farm, Raisbeck 2017
In August 2017 we returned to Townhead Farm to excavate a rectangular feature identified from the LIDAR images.
The field behind the current 17th century house at Town Head contains low banks and earthworks, none of which have been investigated or properly surveyed. One earthwork of particular interest is rectangular and apparently comprises two `cells’ . At 51 x 14.5m it is far too large to be a building. Other earthworks at Town Head Farm include a deep hollow running west across the fields. At enclosure (1777), a small tranche of land to the north of the existing road and south of the existing houses was allocated to landowners, suggesting that it was part of the commons at this time, and the present road was laid out. It is possible that this hollow, which runs close to the feature investigated, is the original line of the road.
Lunesdale Archaeology Society (LAS) undertook a small excavation across the celled rectangular feature which is visible on the ground as a broad low bank and identifiable on LiDAR. The excavation took place over four days in August 2017.
The single trench was placed over the junction between one of the long sides of the feature and a second bank which divides it in two. The aim was to attempt to determine the structure of the banks, and the nature of any ground surface within the enclosure on both sides of the dividing bank. Both banks proved to be of stone, extensively robbed out, and the dividing bank was on top of, and therefore later than, the bank forming the exterior of the feature. Finds included pottery from medieval through to Victorian periods, along with both early and modern glass. Small amounts of coal and coke, and items of casual loss, including clay pipe and a button, were recovered. Pottery has not been identified with respect to type, but was dated by comparison with an assemblage from a previous small excavation at Ivy Hall, 500 m away, and characterised by Jeremy Bradley from Oxford Archaeology North. The oldest pottery shard appears to be 12-14th century, confirming the long history of occupation of the village, whose earliest documentary mention is in a charter of 1310.
There was a degree of mixing of older and more recent finds, although generally there was a higher proportion of older material in the lower context. This is attributed to agricultural activity on the site. The presence of small amounts of burnt limestone, coal and charcoal probably indicates soil improvement by liming.
The natural ground surface was reached at a depth of 40 cm, and no evidence of a floor surface was seen on either side of the dividing bank. The function of the enclosure could not be defined, but it is suggested that it is an early croft.
Future work will include a full survey of the earthworks, and hopefully further excavation either at targeted sites or as a series of test pits in an attempt to located the sites of the original houses and barns in the area.
A full report is available HERE: Townhead excavation report
Photo Steve King August 2017
Excavations at Town Head Farm 2015
Following a resistivity survey of the front field at Town Head Farm earlier this year we returned to excavate some of the features identified. Below is a plot of the geophysics:
Four trenches were opened in two main areas as shown on the close-up below:
The excavations in the front field at Townhead Farm targeted two areas: (1) an area of high resistance identified on the geophysics (Trenches 2 and 3) and (2) a line of three large stones showing above the grass which appeared to be foundations (Trench 1).
(1) The high resistance area is situated on a rise above a line of very low resistance extending diagonally across the field. We wanted to know whether the signal arose from geology or wall/building debris. A 2 x 1 trench (Trench 2) was put in on one edge but absolutely nothing except very good topsoil was found. A second trench (Trench 3) was put in further onto the rise, with the same result. Just a couple of small sherds of 19th century pot. A sondage was put into one corner of both trenches and at ½ metre depth there was still nothing. One further trench (Trench 4) was put in the other side of the farm track, again on an area of high resistivity. This trench also yielded nothing other than good topsoil. All of these trenches were back filled and we have no idea what the high resistance signifies. Interestingly, the high resistance signal excavated at Ivy Hall in 2013 also yielded nothing in terms of structure or geology. The trench did, however, produce quite a lot of pot, the earliest of which has been dated to late 13-early 14th century. No such goodies at Townhead, unfortunately
(2)We hoped to find some dating evidence for the foundations and possibly an indication of the function of the building. Only one trench site was possible as the visible stones are close to a fence, the other side of which is dominated by a large tree and a dump of rubble and building stone, known to have come from another building. When the 2×4 trench (Trench 1) was deturfed and cleaned back we had an obvious very thick robbed out wall with a massive cornerstone and a return. There was a lot of small random stones suggesting a rough cobbled surface along one outer wall surface. Two stones set on edge were seen protruding from an area inside the building foundations (just by the string on the photos) – a cist? Skara Brae type dresser? Removal of the subsoil confirmed the massive wall, and yielded one piece of flint (squarish, possibly a broken gunflint?) and bits of 19th century pot. Alas, the “cist” stones fell over and were lifted out, leaving a very shallow trench, and removal of some of the wall stones and cobbles just took us down to natural, with no further finds. No real date, and we still can’t say whether the building is domestic or agricultural. However, given that the present farmhouse is no later than 17th century, and may have older roots, it is like that the foundations belonged to a barn. Their substantial nature suggest a large building (probably more than one story in height), but they are very close to an existing large bank barn.
Thanks to all who turned out – the daytime weather stayed kind, and Graham’s event shelter stood up to the overnight gale and lashing rain. And many thanks to Graham and Michelle for letting us poke about in their field and invade their downstairs loo.
Jan Hicks, July 2015 (with thanks to Bob Abram for overlaying geophys on GoogleEarth)
Excavation 2013 at Ivy Hall
Geophys survey and LIDAR images seemed to show the outline of a typical mediaeval village layout at Raisbeck. We excavated some trenches, under the supervision of archaeologist Janice Heward, to examine interesting areas identified from the resistivity survey conducted by Joe Ridley. The dig yielded a line of rubbly stone in the big field, where we thought there might be an original croft boundary. We couldn’t say exactly what the stone was, but it’s in the right place! It might have been a wall or the base of a bank and hedge. The other trench was put in over an area of high resistance on the geophysics survey, but we found no reason for the signal. The trench did yield lots of pottery fragments, much of which is Victorian, but some looks quite early and one piece at least is likely to be mediaeval. There were also a couple of flints and a musket ball. Jan is writing a report, which will be circulated. Extensive researches in the Records Office in Kendal continue to provide interesting information about the early history of Raisbeck.
Jan Hicks 2013
Survey 2014 at Town Head farm
The field behind Town Head farm has a lot of intiguing and prominent lumps and bumps. Over 3 days, in beautiful weather, we mapped them and also carried out a resitivity survey.
Results are shown below. We are still trying to make sense of it! Some is clearly upcast from the installation of the septic tank, and other features are natural. We plan to return in October 2015 to investigate further through excavation.
Jackie. Photos Steve.