Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Clay Pipes and Rodents: Part Two

So there we were digging down to the Earth’s core at the bottom of Test Pit 004, unearthing all sorts of priceless seventeenth century pipe fragments (and we really do mean priceless, because stuff like this wouldn’t bring a penny on the open market) when suddenly we struck clay.
Well, when I say ‘we’, obviously I’m referring to Chris, Dave and J.D. here. As site supervisor I’m not allowed to become emotionally attached to any manual work myself. Instead I’m left with the infinitely more difficult task of composing photographs of my minions at work, such as the one below.

I should point out, perhaps, that this wasn’t the natural base clay. If you’ve been following this excavation over the last few weeks (it’s difficult to pay close attention to these articles when you keep falling asleep, I know, but bear with me anyway) you’ll already be aware that the north end of our man-made platform rises over a metre above the natural lie of the land. All matters considered, the platform itself was probably constructed using the soil dug out of the ‘reservoir’ immediately east of it at the base of the hill.
What do you mean you didn’t understand that? All right, here’s a diagram/aerial photograph thing that should explain it better. Let’s hope it does, because it’s all you’re going to get. Time’s pressing here and we need to get on.

So, this freshly discovered clay (which was yellow and hard and rang when Chris’s trowel smacked into it…you can always tell you’ve hit something interesting when the trowel can be used as a tuning fork) was approximately 20 centimetres down. The 1640’s pipe bowl had been unturfed approximately 10 centimetres down. This means that, taking into account the natural build up of the soil and what-not, the yellow clay predated 1640 by some considerable margin, and had probably been thrown up onto the platform during its original construction.
All of which is fine and good, but there was more to this clay floor thing than at first met the eye.
You see, it wasn’t actually flat. Admittedly, there was a rabbit burrow near by (hence the ‘rodents’ in the title of this article), and rabbit warrens are notorious for rambling all over the shop. And, almost certainly, this explained the narrow tunnel running north/south through the clay in the test pit.
However, unless said rodent had been trained at the school of Pythagorean thought and later taken a course at the ‘Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen Academy of Interior Shelf Design’, it couldn’t explain the almost mathematically perfect, stepped, semi-circular impression that was starting to emerge.
Again, I can hear you muttering to yourself: “What on Earth is he waffling on about?”
Here’s a photograph of Test Pit 004, as shot from above:

I realise it doesn’t look that mathematically perfect, but when you consider the numerous centuries that must have elapsed between the mill being destroyed and the soil building up sufficiently for our 17th century pipe smoker to walk about on it without sinking, its hardly surprising that it's lost a bit of its original shape. The weather conditions around the Fylde and Wyre aren’t exactly clement at the best of times, so, all in all, we reckon it’s remarkably well defined.
Anyhow, what exactly created this depression?
Well, I haven’t got a clue, to be honest, although the fact that ‘we’ were digging extremely close to the edge of the platform (just behind the spot where the waterwheel would have been overhanging its pit, in fact) it’s a reasonable assumption to make that, originally, some of the inner workings of the mill would have been standing here.
One last photograph for now, showing J.D. wielding the photographic stick like the true professional he is.

Obviously, at the time of writing, we’ve still got a long way to go. We need to expand that test pit into a trench for a start, and then see what other intriguing depressions litter our clay floor. Even at this stage, however, the evidence produced proves that there was definitely something happening on the platform during the mediaeval period, so anybody who ever doubted us can stick that in their clay pipe and smoke it.


Andrew said...

Dumb question no doubt Brian, but can you tell me how or why ruins get buried?

Brian Hughes said...

Because it's the only proper Christian thing to do with 'em, Andrew.

Actually, what really happens is that, over the centuries, trees and grass and plants grow and then die, leaving a mulch behind that turns into soil, in which more trees and grass and plants grow and then they die and that leaves more mulch and soil and...well, eventually the buildings end up underground.

In the Grange Farm platform's case, the cows and their incessant defecation (which can be very off-putting when you're trying to dig a trench and they're emptying their bowels about three feet from your left ear) has helped increase the build up...albeit organically, of course.

John said...

A few questions, please.

Can you add other details to these photos, like those two stones you mentioned once framed the doorway, cause I can't remember now where the door was.

Two, could the semi circle you are digging up be a post hole of sorts? That was my first thought, even though this was a stone building. You mentioned the Mill's inner workings, and I thought of the time they dismantled my Grandfather's restaurant, and the floor was full of holes from plumbing, and also from where large ovens and things had been placed in the floor.

Three, can we guess, or dare assume, or hav eyou already implied or stated, that the Mill needed to be in this position so that it could work properly? I'm sure you mentioned a water source ran nearby. The point of my question is this: If they needed to build the Mill in this particular location, was the hard yellow clay placed there to 'level the field' as they say, to provide a flat foundation for said building? If so, why not use more stone, which is stronger?

i know, the robber's burrow probably contained such a large support stone. I think I'm getting confused with the details here.

I forgot my other question. I was going to joke about "what's a centimeter", but I'm sure y'all expect that from us Americans.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS Eagerly awaiting more!

Jayne said...

Perhaps the big shaft pole thingie that the waterwheel spins on sat in that depression?

Finally saw your Dr Alice Roberts wench on TT, Brian.
The Spouse likes your taste!

Brian Hughes said...


The two be honest, we're not sure if they were a doorway or not. I certainly wouldn't like to bet good money on ever finding out, let's put it that way. Besides, they were about halfway up the platform (round about the words 'hollow bit' on the aerial photograph in the posting) so they probably belonged to the other building (the mill would have stood at the bottom end on the aerial, the other building, which was possibly a barn/store house belonging to the mill but separate, would have been at the top).

The depressions in the clay seem a bit big for postholes...and a bit too complicated. The mill itself would also have been a bit old for plumbing. ("Lavatory? Certainly...just stick your bum out of the window like Chaucer's miller did.") Indoor plumbing wasn't really in vogue back in the early mediaeval period. I really should have had put up the diagram of the internal machinary of a water mill that J.D. sent me, because that depression did bear more than a passing resemblance to what you'd expect the cog wheels and shafts to make.

Now...the hard yellow clay, as you correctly suggest, was almost certainly added to the top of the platform to level it out. In fact, when we took our contour survey, despite the gradual downward trend of the platform itself, the final section was completely the lay brothers must have made a good job of it.

1 inch = 2.5 cm. (Don't worry...we old fogies in Blighty get confused as well.)


Big shaft pole thingie? would have been something like that. When we've dug up the rest, we'll probably draw up a diagram of some invented machinary that'll neatly fit the depression and everyone'll be convinced...whether it's actually right or not.

As for Alice Roberts, it's the natural maroon coloured hair what turns blokes' heads.

Andrew said...

Kewl, so planet Earth is getting bigger. And silly me was worried about its future.

John said...

by plumbing, I meant more from a Mill's pov, such as drains for runnoff, etc. I've actually explored a few old mills in my time, and to be honest they're sometimes built over the river... at least in these parts. I remember walkig across the beams of one place where the floor had long rotted out, and the river rushed below us.

Usually just the wheel, though, turns in the water, of course, but water would also have been used to cool, clean, or lubricate some of the mechanisms, eh? And that had to go somewhere.

Still, machinery would be a better bet, as I implied about me grandpa's place. Maybe the bigger stuff needed to be rooted in the ground to prevent vibration?

Anyhoo, I'm sure you'll have it sussed after a few more weeks of digging.

What you need is more volunteers what know their stuff, like the great folk you have now. another 40 like them, and you'll have the whoel place excavated by Christmas!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


I suppose it is when you think about it. Hardened sunlight...that's what our great big gobstopper of a planet is made from.


Actually one solitary person who might have a clue about the complicated workings of an early mediaeval watermill on our team would help...not to mention a weekend when it wasn't either blowing a force ten gale or bucketting down...or both. Any mediaeval watermill specialists out there reading this, please get in touch. (Although we are learning as go along...exactly what we're learning I'm still trying to figure out, but we must be learning something.)