Land at Whelp’s Place, Wraxall

Resistivity survey

May 2008

Prepared for NEAT by Vince Russett, North Somerset County Archaeologist

NEAT 2008.03

North Somerset HER 00572

NAILSEA ENVIRONMENTAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL TEAM


Contents

3        Abstract

4        Acknowledgements

5        Introduction

6        Site location

7        Land use and geology

8        Historical & archaeological context

9        Survey objectives

10      Methodology

11      Previous archaeological work

16      Results

21      Recommendations for further work

22      References

23      Appendices

          Appendix 1   EH Scheduling document

          Appendix 2   Original Avon SMR entry for Whelp’s place

          Appendix 3   Suggested revised HER text

          Appendix 4   Air photographs

         


Abstract

Whelp’s Place is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (AV22840) in the parish of Wraxall, in North Somerset, approximately 9km to the west of Bristol. Resistivity survey was carried out by the Nailsea Environmental and Archaeological Team (NEAT) during 2006, to further elucidate a number of features revealed during earthwork survey, including what was interpreted as the remains of a water mill and its water management features, a string of fishponds, and a number of walled enclosures, along with a number of other minor features. Many of these were confirmed by the survey, and the remains of other features, such as a circular stone building base overlying some of the earlier features and not visible in the earthwork survey, were also revealed. A suggested replacement text for the North Somerset HER is provided.


Acknowledgements

This survey could not have been carried out without the willing permission of the landowner, Mr Lucas. The compiler of the report (VR) is again grateful for the sterling work put into the survey by the members of NEAT.
Introduction

Whelp’s Place is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (AV22840) in the parish of Wraxall, in North Somerset, approximately 9km to the west of Bristol. Archaeological work at the site in the past has not been published and the archives have been lost.

The Nailsea Environmental and Archaeological Team (NEAT) is one of a number of Community Archaeology teams across North Somerset, supported by the North Somerset Council Strategic Projects Group, whose purpose is to carry out archaeological fieldwork, for the purpose of recording, and the better understanding  and stewardship of, the heritage of North Somerset.


Site location

Fig 1: Location of the site

The site lies immediately north-east of the town of Nailsea, in the parish of Wraxall, in the Unitary Authority of North Somerset (formerly Woodspring District Council). The centre of the site lies at ST48767137, some 9 km west of Bristol. The site can be seen from a public footpath which crosses the site, but it is privately owned, and permission should be sought from the landowner before leaving the path.


Land use and geology

Fig 2: Geology of the area immediately around Whelp’s Place

The site lies immediately to the north of the flood plain of the natural course of the Land Yeo, represented by the band of alluvial material (hatched buff in above), which lies along the boundary between the Coal Measures of Nailsea to the south-west (stripes of grey and olive in the above), and the Head Deposits and marls of the foot of the Failand Ridge. The site itself sits on the marl, a soft, red geology, which breaks down into a bright red loamy soil (f6; soft orange in above). The course of the Land Yeo no longer occupies its natural course, having been re-routed on several occasions. In rainy periods, the site becomes very wet, with standing water in some of the earthworks, perhaps giving a clue as to their nature.


Historical & archaeological context

Previous work at the site appears to have been extensive, although sadly, no archive of the work has been located, and no academic account published. A newspaper account in 1965 simply stated that a Mr C M Sykes had excavated at the site, and that an L-shaped building had been uncovered. Pottery from the site had been showed to Mr Philip Rahtz (now Professor Rahtz) who had pronounced it medieval (Pers comm K Gardner, 2006). Some of the mounds on the site may well be Sykes’ spoil heaps, and the resistivity survey has almost certainly re-located the site of his excavations (below).

The site was sketch-surveyed by H. Quinnell in 1962, and his sketch appears to be the basis for the depiction of the earthworks on the modern OS digital data.

The site was also discussed by Gardner in his Who made the Land Yeo? (Gardner 1998). Gardner re-interpreted the site as that of one of a sequence of mills on the Land Yeo at this point, and as the description of the current work indicates (below) this is probably part of the truth.

A limited field walking exercise in the ploughed field immediately surrounding the site in 2000 revealed a thin spread of Roman pottery, along with high status pottery of 12th century date, and other finds from 13th century to date (Russett pers comm 2008).

A systematic earthwork survey was carried out in 2005-6 by NEAT (NEAT 2008.1), and a suggested interpretation for the earthworks made, to be tested by the resistivity survey reported on in this document.

Very little documentary work has been carried out at this site. Master (1900) suggested that this might be the site of a Berkeley manor house, and it was he who identified the site as Whelp’s Place. Unfortunately, much of the historic archives of Wraxall are inaccessible in the private archive of the Gibbs family who used to reside at Tyntesfield, and until these are available, probably little further productive documentary work is possible.


Survey objectives

The survey had several objectives.

Following the earthwork survey, suggestions for the site of Sykes’ ‘L-shaped building’ were made, and part of the purpose of this resistivity survey was to attempt to clarify which (if any) of these is the site. This seems to have been successfully done, with a candidate building identified.

The survey was also intended to further elucidate the nature of the earthworks at the site, and to record any features no longer visible as earthworks at the surface: again, some degree of success was obtained.

The survey was also used for training purposes by NEAT.


Methodology

The survey was carried out by teams from NEAT over several months in the years 2005 and 2006, care being taken to only work at times when the state of growth of the grass permitted a clear view of the site. Most work was undertaken in 2006.

The survey was carried out using a TR systems resistivity meter, with 1m separation probes. The site was surveyed at a resolution of 1.0m in 20m grids in zig-zag style. Data was downloaded in the field from the TR systems data logger to a laptop using TR Systems Resistivity software, and further processed using DW systems Archaeosurveyor 2 software. The exported files were then added as a raster layer to OS data using the North Somerset OS data and MapInfo 6.5 software. The report was written in Microsoft Word 2003. Photographs were taken by, and remain copyright of, Vince Russett.



Previous archaeological work at the site

For archaeological work carried out before 2005, see NEAT 2008.1. No new information about earlier work has come to light since this was published.

The 2005-6 survey (Appendix 4  of NEAT 2008.1) above

The site at Whelp’s place has always been described as a ‘deserted (medieval) settlement’ and the rather confused entry in the North Somerset HER, originally derived from the Avon SMR entry (Appendix 1) reflects this.

Both English Heritage (1993) and Gardner (1998) have, however, suggested a different analysis, with the earthworks largely representing the remains of a watermill, intermediate in sequence between one to the south of Wraxall House (ST48337148: HER43925), and that to the west of Wraxall House (ST48377157; HER02169), only demolished for road widening in the 20th century. This hypothesis would appear to have some support from the earthwork survey.

The full analysis of the earthwork survey is contained in NEAT 2008.1. The main survey is reproduced above: the rectangle marked represents the area of the geophysical survey.


The resistivity survey

Raw data 

An area of 100m x 80m over the central area of the site was surveyed, in which most of the earthworks that looked like structures were located.

The clarity of the response was superb, with the stoney features contrasting well with the underlying alluvium and marls.

Fig 3: Raw geophysical data, Whelp’s Place


Fig 4: General interpretation of geophysical data, Whelp’s Place


Fig 5: Detailed interpretation of geophysical data, Whelp’s Place

1     A rectangular structure, with clearly defined positive edges, visible in places as stone walls, a minimum of 24m x 14m in size, consisting of an apparent unit at the northern end some 10m by 3m, with two walls running off at right angles. These two walls have signs about half-way down their length of possible gaps or door / gateways. There are the remains of other potential right angular positive features to the north of the structure, and another to its east, the latter obscured by an apparent tip. The clarity of this feature, the lack of a stone rubble spread over it, the potential spoil heap to the east, a second possible spoil heap to the north, seen in the earthwork survey but not in the geophysics, and most importantly, the ‘L’ shape of the main structure, all make it highly likely that this is the site of Sykes’ L-shaped building of 1959. Given all the other structures at the site (features 6 and 7, potentially a mill-pond and service leat), this site is likely to have been a water-mill, one of sequence that have been constructed on the Land Yeo around this site. Indeed, it is even possible that the negative feature running away from the structure to its south forms the wheel-pit and tail race of the potential mill. These points could only really be tested further by excavation. It is noticeable that the parch-marks seen in the 1991 air photograph (appendix 4) also strongly hint at this L-shaped building, although it was not really apparent in the earthwork survey.

2     A square structure, outlined by substantial and strong positive readings, roughly 17m square. The feature is visible as a rectangular structure in the earthwork survey. While this is most likely to be a small walled enclosure (? a walled garden), it should be borne in mind as a possible candidate for the high-status medieval building (Whelp’s Place) supposedly at the site, although it need not be of the same phase of the site as Structure 1.

3     A circular positive feature, 8 – 10m across, and with ‘walls’ apparently around 1m thick. While not entirely clear, the wall does seem to overly the existing banked and ditched enclosure. The English Heritage Scheduling document mentions a ‘windmill mound c 10m across and c 1m high’. This geophysical anomaly does seem to coincide with the site suggested for a windmill by EH, although curiously, it was not visible as an earthwork in 2005-6.

4     This linear feature (like most of the other linear positive features on the site) appears to be a stoney bank, probably the remains of either robbed-out walls or banks with stoney cores, forming the elements of a group of small enclosures. It has been exposed in several places by cattle tracks, and consists of a thin line of stones, possibly a bank core. All the linear positive and linear negative features showed up as banks and ditches on the earthwork survey.

5     An elliptical mound, up to 12m long and up to 5 wide, and apparently with a high concentration of stones, seems to be a tip, and probably the best interpretation of this is as a spoil heap resulting from the 1959 excavation, implying that the excavation trench for the building may not have been completely backfilled at the time (hence the clarity of its geophysical response).

6     A central triangular depression, still wet most of the time even today, around 23m on a north-south axis, and up to 19m wide on the southern wider end (although the northern end is obscured by tip 5, and may be wider beneath, something which the 1946 air photograph is not detailed enough to clarify). This is likely to be (given the interpretation of structure 1 as a probable water mill and associated structures) a mill pond, fed by ?leat 7 from a point some way east along the course of the Land Yeo.

7     A double line of positive features running from the direction of the Land Yeo, joining up with feature 6. It is possible to interpret the remains in two ways. The two positive anomalies are around 10m apart (which seems quite wide for a leat, unless it contained the full flow of the Land Yeo). If it is the full width (and the earthwork survey suggests that it is), then the large mound in the centre is probably another tip. The other possibility is that the two negative anomalies may be that of a leat and spillway.

8     The negative anomaly along this line is a foul water pipeline of mid-20th century date, identifiable by its accompanying inspection chambers with their cast-iron lids.

The earthwork survey and resistivity survey are complementary, with some features only seen in one survey, some in the other. In particular, structure 1 shows up well in the resistivity survey, although it cannot really be seen without the eye of faith as an earthwork.

The whole site, then, seems to fit into place as one of a sequence of water-mills, along with its accompanying leat, race and other water management earthworks, constructed during the medieval period on the various engineered courses of the Land Yeo. The pottery found in 1959 would seem to date it to the 14th century, and means that this may be the middle of a sequence. This begins with a mill associated with the natural course of the Land Yeo and an existing pond some 400m east of this site, in the grounds of what is today Wraxall house, and ends with the current course of the Land Yeo, and the mill demolished during road widening in the 1960s, of which fragments still stand close to the entrance to Wraxall House.

Structure 2 is also intriguing. High status medieval pottery, such as fragments of 12th century glazed ‘Pill-type’ Ham Green jugs have been found in field walking immediately to the north of the site, and it is just possible that the structure is the remains of a high-status stone-built dwelling of that age suggested for the site by Master (1900), although the interpretation as a small walled enclosure is perhaps more likely.
Recommendations for further work

The availability of pseudo-sectioning equipment for the TR Systems resistivity meter may offer the potential for some useful sections of the various structures on the site, perhaps giving some confidence (or otherwise!) to the current interpretation of the site as largely that of a water-mill.

A useful area of further work would be the compilation of an Archaeological Management Plan (AMP). This has been a very successful way of informing landowners of issues around the future management of such sites, and in the balancing of the archaeological requirements of the site with others, such as biodiversity and access.


References

Gardner, K.S.  1998

Who made the Land Yeo? Nailsea and District Local History Society, Nailsea

Master, Rev G.S.  1900

Collections for a parochial history of Wraxall.  Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (northern branch), Bristol

NEAT 2008.1

Land at Whelp’s Place, Wraxall

Earthwork survey, February 2008  Nailsea Environmental and Archaeological Team, Nailsea


Appendix 1

EH Scheduling document

SCHEDULE ENTRY COPY

ENTRY IN THE SCHEDULE OF MONUMENTS COMPILED AND MAINTAINED BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE UNDER SECTION 1 OF THE ANCIENT MONUMENTS AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL AREAS ACT 1979 AS AMENDED.

MONUMENT:                             Deserted medieval settlement 300m ESE of Wraxall House

PARISH:                                    WRAXALL

DISTRICT:                                WOODSPRING

NATIONAL MONUMENT NO:       22840

NATIONAL GRID REFERENCE:    ST48757137

DESCRIPTION OF THE MONUMENT

The monument includes a deserted medieval settlement situated on low-lying ground adjacent to the river Yeo, 330m ESE of Wraxall House.

The monument is defined by the present extent of earthworks which represent the remains of structures including houses, enclosures and an associated irrigation system. The earthworks survive to a maximum height of 1.6m.

Among the earthwork remains at least two large building platforms can be identified, to the north and at the centre of the site. The northern example is 30m long and 10m wide and the central example 20m long and 8m wide. In the north-eastern area of the site there is a windmill mound c 10m across and c 1m high. Linking these features, and connecting with the river Yeo, is a network of water channels, now dry, surviving up to 1.2m wide. These suggest that the site may have had an industrial function, possibly including a watermill, a further and possible later example of which is located beyond the monument c 300m downstream.

Partial excavation of the site in 1959 confirmed the medieval date of the monument and also identified a structure of ‘L’ shaped plan which dated to the 13th century AD. Finds of pottery dating to the 14th century suggest that the site was occupied over an extended period.

Excluded from the scheduling are the field gate and all fence posts relating to field boundaries although the ground beneath all these features is included

ASSESSMENT OF IMPORTANCE

This site 300m ESE of Wraxall House is one of a number of medieval settlements known in the area of the Levels to the north-west of the Mendip Hills. This area became more intensively occupied during the medieval period when large areas were drained for the first time. The site has an unusual form with earthworks suggesting the use of the adjacent watercourse to run a watermill. The site survives well as earthworks, and partial excavation has demonstrated the survival of buried archaeological remains and environmental evidence relating to the monument, its occupants, their economy and the landscape in which they lived. The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract outlined in black and highlighted in red.

SCHEDULING HISTORY

Monument included in the Schedule on 13th December 1977 as:

COUNTY/NUMBER: Avon 173

NAME: Deserted medieval village site E of Wraxall House

The reference of this monument is now:

NATIONAL MONUMENT NUMBER:           22840

NAME:  Deserted medieval settlement 300m ESE of Wraxall House

SCHEDULING REVISED ON 27TH January 1994

SIGNED BY:      I. Newton

On behalf of the Secretary of State for National Heritage

Appendix 2

Original Avon SMR entry for Whelp’s place

AVON SITES AND MONUMENTS RECORD

Site No.         572

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

District  Woodspring             

Parish  Wraxall                                                               

6" Map  ST47SE                      25" Map                                   

NGR     ST487713A                                ST     487     713   A       

SAM No.  173   HBMC  22840            

Height    15 m  Area         ha

Site Name Deserted Medieval Village site E of Wraxall House         

Place  Wraxall                             

Description:

Medieval house platforms and other evidence of a depopulated site, below     

Wraxall village and by the side of the River Yeo, led to excavation by       

CM Sykes and others in 1959. P Rahtz has identified the sherds as C13. A     

house nearby is on the site of a C14 house.<1>

The earthworks, centred at  ST48727136, consist of a number of irregular enclosures and platforms from 0.1m high to 0.6m high and all bounded on the N and E by field ways 0.5m deep. The only clearly distinguishable building site is ST48747142.<2>

Site under pasture (wet ground, more suitable for fishponds than houses), well          

preserved. The house mentioned in <1>, presumably the "Kennels" (ST48877127) which is ruinous, looks C19 with farm buildings, surrounded by a high wall.<3>

Clearly visible earthworks in a field of permanent pasture. On low ground

in a bend of a small stream or drainage ditch.<4>

ST487714, L - shaped building excavated by Sykes.<8>

Well-preserved earthworks with rectangular house platforms 18"-2" high, and a series of sunken ways 3-4' deep. In field used for pasture.<9> NE corner of SAM is in arable field and is ploughed most years (i.e. to the NE of footpath shown on scheduling maplet crossing field diagonally from N-E).<10>                                                    

Period general  Medieval                     Site Type  Settlement            

Period specific               Site Type specific                Form

Medieval                          Settlement-deserted                Earthworks     

Survival  3   Condition  C

Land Classification, on site - date

Grassland2-1982,1987   Cultivated land4-1987   

                 

Land classification, around site - date

Grassland2-1982           Cultivated4-1982

                      

Site status  SAM                           

Archaeological History

Event Survey-full               Name Quinnell N-OS                Date 1962   

      Excav-part                     Sykes                             1960   

Visit Dennison E-ACC          Date 6.1.1982  

      Rees S-IAM                   2.1977    

      Williams SMW-FMW             13.10.1982

      Williams SMW-FMW             30.7.1987 

Sources

Type        Corres               

Collection  OS                                                                

Author  Sykes C                                                  Date 1960    

Other   ST47SE13                                                  Ref. No.  1 

Type        Desc text            

Collection  OS                                                                

Author  Quinnell N                                               Date 1962    

Other   ST47NE13                                                  Ref. No.  2 

Type        Desc text            

Collection  ACC                                                               

Author  Iles R                                                   Date 1976    

Other   Site visit SMR, ST4871                                    Ref. No.  3 

Type        Desc text            

Collection  HBMC                                                              

Author  Williams S                                               Date 1982    

Other   SMR, ST4871                                               Ref. No.  4 

Type        AP                   

Collection  WAP                                                               

Title   34490                                                                  

Other   SMR, ST4871                                               Ref. No.  5 

Type        AP                   

Collection  ACC                                                               

Author  -                                                        Date 1976.7  

Other   5, 330                                                    Ref. No.  6 

Date of compiling, Updating  BJW   11  1983    DKP   11  1989

                             DRE   10  1994           


Appendix 3

Suggested revised text for North Somerset HER

The monument is defined by the present extent of earthworks which represent the remains of structures including houses, enclosures and an associated water management system. The earthworks survive to a maximum height of 1.6m.

Among the earthwork remains at least two large building platforms can be identified, to the north and at the centre of the site. The northern example is 30m long and 10m wide and the central example 20m long and 8m wide. In the north-eastern area of the site there is a windmill mound c 10m across and c 1m high. Linking these features, and connecting with the river Yeo, is a network of water channels, now dry. These suggest that the site may have had an industrial function, possibly including a watermill, a further and possible later example of which is located beyond the monument c 300m downstream.

Partial excavation of the site in 1959 confirmed the medieval date of the monument and also identified a structure of ‘L’ shaped plan which dated to the 13th century AD. Finds of pottery dating to the 14th century suggest that the site was occupied over an extended period. (1)

Earthwork and resistivity survey in 2005-7 by Nailsea Environmental and Archaeological Team confirmed and clarified the above, identifying the site of the 1959 building and the various elements of the mill and water management features, one of a sequence of three in the area (2). The windmill mound was identified as a resistivity feature. A series of fishponds, along an old course of the Land Yeo was also identified within the Scheduled area. (3) (4)

Field walking finds, from a CBA training day in 2000, and from local detectorists, indicate a Roman presence at the site, as well as the presence of high status pottery of 12th century date (5)

1 English Heritage 1974

NATIONAL MONUMENT NUMBER: 22840

Deserted medieval settlement 300m ESE of Wraxall House English Heritage, London

2 Gardner, K.S.  1998

Who made the Land Yeo? Nailsea and District Local History Society, Nailsea

3 NEAT 2008.1

Land at Whelp’s Place, Wraxall

Earthwork survey, February 2008  Nailsea Environmental and Archaeological Team, Nailsea

4 NEAT 2008.3

Land at Whelp’s Place, Wraxall

Resistivity survey, May 2008  Nailsea Environmental and Archaeological Team, Nailsea

5 Pers Comm

V. Russett May 2008


Appendix 4

Air photograph 1946

© Crown copyright 1946


Air photograph 1991

© Copyrights North Somerset Council 1991 (air photograph) and © Crown copyright reserved. Unauthorised reproduction infringes crown copyright and may lead to prosecution. North Somerset LA licence no. 100023397 (mapping)


The air photographs reveal further aspects of the site. The 1946 photograph shows clearly that the earthworks once extended outside of the currently Scheduled area (a clear illustration of the benefits of adding sites to the Schedule of Ancient Monuments!). Otherwise, the visible features tally well with the 2005-6 survey.

The 1991 air photograph, taken at a time when the weather was very dry, shows extensive parching of the grass, which, while not clear enough to permit plotting of buried features, at least indicates the potential for the forthcoming resistivity survey. At the suggested area for a building (Fig 4:3) there appears to be a rectangular crop mark, perhaps even the indication of walls: in other area, parch marks surrounding earthwork platforms may indicate walling.