Recent Research at West Heath
Last month HADAS held its first symposium, in order to provide a progress report for members on the results and implications, so far, of the West Heath dig. Below HELEN O’BRIEN describes the proceedings:
The West Heath Symposium took place at the Bigwood House, Hampstead Garden Suburb, on 15 October, shared by the Director of the dig, Desmond Collins. He warned us that, although progress reports on the last two years’ excavations were about to be given, any conclusions, especially regarding the 1977 material, must be provisional.
He showed slides of both the Pond and Spring sites (the former dug in 1976 and 1977, the latter trial-trenched in 1976 and dug this year). At the Spring site a large area had been exposed by a Hymac mechanical digger, in order to obtain the longest possible sequence of environmental samples. Only two worked flakes and the core were recovered from this site: not true evidence of occupation.
Comparing the successive digs at the Pond site, Mr Collins said that the number of tools found in 1977 was as high as in 1976, but was concentrated in a rich area of half the size, on the east of the site.
HADAS member Alec Jeakins then described his discovery of the Pond site in 1973, and showed the exact spot where the first worked flint was found.
Evidence of Pollen
Richard Hubbard (Institute of Archaeology) next reported on the pollen spectrum from the Pond site. He explained the difficulty of recovering pollen from soil, as compared with doing so from the well-stratified peat deposits of the Spring site. He stressed that although the present acidic podsol at West Heath is entirely free of earthworms, there had been disturbance by worm action in the past. Partly for these reasons he described the analysis of 27 samples taken at 2 cm intervals from modern ground surface downwards as “disappointing and not of vast antiquity” — probably dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages. The pollen indicates an open landscape with 20% grasses and a slightly higher percentage of heather, from which acidic root secretion has formed the present podsol. Birch, lime and alder were also represented.
Maureen Girling (Department of Environment) then reported on her work at the Spring site, and on that of her colleague, James Greig (Birmingham University). Samples had been taken at 5 cm intervals to a depth of 130 cm. She explained the difficulties of dating these until James Greig’s pollen analysis established the zone of elm decline. It was then possible to attribute material below this level to the Mesolithic. Miss Girling described last year’s investigations — now published in Nature — which have established the Neolithic-to-Iron Age environments at West Heath. The combined pollen and entomological evidence for the Mesolithic deposits show “a mature forest, compact but not close, dominated by deciduous trees – lime, oak but also some pine and holly.” There were few grasses, but marshy areas occurred which probably provided water for Mesolithic man.
Dr Joyce Roberts, botanist and keen HADAS bigger, next spoke of the environmental evidence, which is recovered today from the pond site trenches. Because of the acid soil, organic decay is rapid; only charcoal survives over a long period, other finds are relatively modern. Entomological material includes root galls of the Cynipid Wasp and clay “pots” of the hairy solitary bee.
One of the provisions laid down, at the request of various environmental groups, when HADAS was given permission to dig out West Heath was that the Society should provide surveys of modern insect and botanical life on the Heath. As a part of this work, Raymond Lowe showed a number of beautiful slides which he has taken of butterflies. The symposium adjourned after this for a delicious tea, organised by Dorothy Newbury, Betty Clinch and Irene Frauchiger.
The conference resumed with Brigid Grafton Green’s description of recording possible postholes. These usually appear as pale circles 5-10 cm across, at about 15 cm below modern ground surface. 56 appeared during the first season, but only 33 were considered worth casting — the remainder were probably due to root or animal action. There seem to be two areas of concentration, distinct from the areas where burnt material is found. A point has now been reached in this year’s dig where possible postholes are again beginning to appear.
Myfanwy Stewart then outlined her investigation of burnt material. By experiment and consultation with the Fire Research Council she and Alec Gouldsmith have been able to determine the visible effects of heat on stone and flint in the kind of open fire which could have been used by Mesolithic man: at 250-300°C the material reddens, at about 500°C it becomes calcined. Five stages of burning may be recognised. Charts showing the concentrations of 1976 burnt material have been compiled.
Describing the typology of West Heath, Desmond Collins said it most closely resembled the Maglemosian material from Broxbourne, dated by C14 dating to the first quarter of the Mesolithic — 8000-7500 BC. Summarising the tool types recovered over both seasons he said the highest percentage were of oblique and dorsal backed points. Geometric forms, characteristic of the later Mesolithic, were minimal.
Loretta Gevell and Margaret Maher showed that serious research can go hand-in-hand with a light-hearted approach. They presented the results of their work on cores — including study of the quality of the material, methods of working, number of striking platforms, etc — with wit and humour, concluding with the intriguing suggestion that it may be possible to determine areas of good and poor quality knapping from the variable appearance of their cores.
An account by Daphne Lorimer followed of her investigations into flint wear patterns. Recent work by Lawrence Keeley and Mark Newcomer has shown it is possible to relate wear patterns to use when flint is examined microscopically. Following preliminary experiments by HADAS members on cutting meat, vegetable, bone, etc, Mrs. Lorimer has continued to experiment by shaping birch and pinewood — such as may have been used in the West Heath postholes. Photographs of the flint were taken before and after use, and it is hoped that for the work will establish a reference framework for wear patterns.
Sheila Woodward then explained the significance at a Mesolithic site of “manuports,” the travelling range of prehistoric man. Unfortunately, despite promising material, she was advised by the Geological Museum that all the 1976 “manuports” were pebble gravels and local to the Heath. Fragmentary ochre is also appearing in the trenches and although this is known to originate in the nearby stream, it may prove of some significance in the final interpretation.
Christine Arnott gave an account of studies at the British Museum by a group of HADAS members, peering West Heath material without from Broxbourne and High Beech. Broxbourne is closer to typologically and also has evidence of fires and calcined flint. High Beech, discovered by Hazeldine Warren in 1913, has never been published. Unlike West Heath, this assemblage includes an axe and fabricators.
Barrie Martin then briefly described the equipment and methods of surveying used at West Heath; and Dave King rounded things off with an exposition, on slide, on the theme of site-hut simplicity. He showed us his easy-to-erect “executive” hut, where processing is done, and the “bivouac” for keeping equipment dry — two invaluable additions which he has made this year to HADAS’s equipment.
In conclusion Desmond Collins spoke of future plans: possibly two further seasons’ digging within the fenced area. As total excavation is currently fashionable, however, investigations beyond the pale could continue into the 1980s!
Tues, Nov. 1. HADAS lecture at Central Library, The Burroughs, nw4 at 8 pm. Dr. Michael Fulford on Roman Silchester.
Sat. Nov. 5. Please note that the surveying session for this date will not now take place as Barrie Martin cannot make it. The session will be re-arranged later, and members will be informed of the new date.
Weekends of Nov. 11/12 and 18/19. processing at the Teahouse, North Way, Hampstead Garden suburb, from 10.00a.m.-5.00p.m. each day. All volunteers welcome. In addition, on Sunday 19 November, between 2.00 and 4.30p.m. this winter’s research projects will be discussed fully with all who wish to take part. And there will be a good tea!
Wed. Dec. 7. ELIZABETHAN BANQUET AT HATFIELD HOUSE. Will members who have booked for this event please remit the balance of £6.80 per person by 15 November at latest, as payment has to be made by the Society three weeks in advance?
It is most important that you feeling your chosen departure point on the form attached to this Newsletter and return it as soon as possible. There are ten places left if any member still wishes to book.
DURING NOVEMBER on Wednesdays and at the weekends of November 5/6, 26/7 — if weather permits. Members can check the position about digging with either Daphne Lorimer or Brigid
Conference Of Local Historians
This annual conference, sponsored by the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, will be held this year for the first time at the Museum of London on Saturday 19 November. Doors open at 1.30 and the conference begins at 2.30.
Colin Sorensen, Keeper of the Museum’s Modern Department, will describe the problems of creating his part of the new Museum; after tea the Conference will discuss Oral History and tape-recording. Various local societies, including HADAS will mount exhibitions.
Tickets (£0.80 including tea) are obtainable from the LAMAS Local History Committee.
Additions to the Bookbox
(References on left are to categories and numbers on the Hon. Librarian’s master list)
Anthrop 4 Ramapithecus (rep from Scientific American May 1977 Elwyn L. Simmons
5 Archaeology of Early man. J.M. Coles & E.S. Higgs
6 Fossil man Frank E. Poirier
7 Evolution of man J. Jelinek
Arch.Gen. 16 Pleisticene Geology & Biology R.G. West
19 Old Stone Age Frances Bordes
21 Palaeolithic Cave Art Peter Ucko & Andree Rosenfeld
171 Background to Archaeology —
Britain in its European setting Desmond Collins
172 Penguin Dictionary of Archaeology Richard Bray & David Trump
Rom. Brit. 146 Vindolanda Robin Birley
147 Roman Folkestone S.E. Wimbolt
148 Excavations – The Chessalls, Kingscote, Glos
Misc. 151 Evolution of the peasant house in 17th. C.
(JBAA, vol XXXIII 1970) J.T. Smith
152 Lost Roads of Wessex C. Cochrane
153 “The Engineer” – highlights of 120 Years
The above have been presented by various members, to whom HADAS is most grateful: John Enderby, Peter Fauvel-Clinh, Brigid Grafton Green, Betty Low (for Jini Ring), Miss A.H. Ningo and Brian Wibberley.
Final Word from the Hon. Treasurer
Members’ subscriptions for the current year became due on 1 April.
Each November the Hon. Secretary and I go through the members list and removed from it the names of those whose subscription is in arrears. We assume that those who have not paid after eight months probably do not wish to continue as members but have forgotten to notify me of the fact.
This means that if your subscription is not up-to-date you will not receive any further Newsletters. If you want to continue as a member, please send me your subscription:
full member – £2.00; under-18 – £1.00; over-60 – £1.00; family membership, first member – £2, others £1 each.
The latest HADAS of fund-raising effort, organised by Christine Arnott, took place on 22 October: a book sale, that the HGS Teahouse, Northway, NW11.
It was successful from all points of view: a pleasant occasion both for buyers and sellers, and financially rewarding, adding £180 odd to the HADAS Kitty. This is urgently needed for the purchase of next major piece of equipment, a”Dumpy”-type surveying level — an expensive item. It will also help towards continually increasing bill for publication.
By Bill Firth.
The entry in the dictionary of national biography (vol LIII, 1898)) opens with these bare bones of information about a Hendon personality of the last century, Sir Francis Pettit Smith:
“Born Hythe (Kent) 9 December 1808, son of Charles Smith, postmaster, of Hythe and Sarah, daughter of Francis Pettit of Hythe. Educated at private school in Ashford, Kent. Began life as a grazing farmer on Romney Marsh, later moving to Hendon (Middlesex).”
In boyhood Francis Pettit Smith was skilled in model boat-making and ingenious in contriving methods of propulsion for them. In 1835 he developed a model, propelled by a screw activated by a Spring, which was so successful that he became convinced of the superiority of screw propulsion over the paddle wheel.
Unaware of proposals of others or of contemporary work of the Swede, John Ericcson, Smith abandoned farming and in 1836 built a superior model which he demonstrated first two friends “on a pond in Hendon” (other evidence suggests that this was done on his own farm pond). Later he demonstrated it publicly at the Adelaide Gallery in London. A patent was taken out in 31 May, 1836 and in November that year a 10-ton boat with wooden screw of two turns was demonstrated. An accident to the propeller led to the use of a shortened screw, and in 1837 a single screw was fitted. In October, 1839 the 237 ton Archimedes, built by John Rennie, the first screw-propelled ship, achieved a speed of 10 knots, when the Admiralty would have been satisfied with 5 knots.
Smith acted as advisor to the Admiralty until 1850 but was poorly remunerated. When his patent expired in 1856 (an extension had been granted) he retired to farm in Guernsey. Despite a £200 pension in 1855, and a National Testimonial in 1857 which gave him a service of plate and £3,000, lack of money compelled him to accept the post of curator of the Patent Office at South Kensington.
Knighted in 1871, he died at South Kensington on 12 December, 1874. He was an associate of the Institute of Civil Engineers, a member of the Institute of Naval Architects and a member of the Royal Society of Arts of Scotland. He had been married twice — first to Ann, daughter of William Buck of Folkestone, in 1830, and they had two sons; and then, in 1866, to Susannah, daughter of John Wallis of Bexley, Kent.
On the Introduction and Progress of the Screw Propeller, 1856 (biographical notices of Smith published in various journals in 1855).
Origin and Progress of the Steam Navigation, B. WoodCroft, 1848 (appeared later as a paper inTrans.Soc.Arts, 1852). WoodCroft (1803-1879) was Clerk to Commissioners of Patents.
Treatise On the screw Propeller, Bourne.
Smile’s Industrial Biography — Men of the Reign.
Obituaries, Illustrated London News and the Times Sunday 17th February, 1874.
If any member of HADAS has further information about Sir Francis or his descendants, Bill Firth would be delighted to hear of it.
Start of the New Lecture Season
A report by Nell Penny.
Perhaps some of the 120 HADAS members as the first meeting of the 1977-78 season were as uninformed as I was about the early history of the church in Iona. Vague legends floated in my mind — St. Patrick rowing of from Wales to Ireland; St. Columba at rowing from Ireland to Iona; and the dramatic scene as the court of Northumbria where the Roman Church triumphed over the Celtic missionaries. Dr Richard Reece gave me facts, not legend, in his racy, informal yet very informative talk. He set Iona in its geographical and meteorological frame.
His early slides were of a mound where a stone cross-socket and a broken wall were adequate data for postulating a monastic village consisting of a wooden church and wooden huts. Was this where Columba first lived, in a 563?
Dr Reece took us to an area below the mound where he believes there was a flourishing community of 300 until 800 AD. There are broken crosses and documentary evidence to support his thesis. He was prepared to argue that to the Book of Kells, a magnificent manuscript found that Kells, in Ireland, was in fact written in Iona, the centre of the Celtic church. The most spectacular evidence was the excavation of a clay mould stamped with an interlacing pattern repeated on the crosses and in the manuscript. The flowing lines and the variety of Celtic decoration made me wonder what splendidly different mediaeval churches there might have been if Iona had vanquished Rome.
We were shown an interesting slide of a soil profile in the area below the foundations of the twelfth century Benedictine monastery. Disturbed soil at these lower levels was capped by a layer of burnt soil. Dr Reece thought this proof of a hiatus of more than three centuries between the two communities.
Dr Reece is versed in rescue archaeology, but he must have found it trying to be involved in three rush digs because of the indecision of the site owner about building a new guest house. One dig revealed an apparently random collection of postholes. Diagrammatic plotting suggests these outline a semi-circular building.
As usual the midden produced a great deal of evidence about the monks’ diet — beef and venison (prime cuts, too!) and some lamb and pork. Barley probably made their daily bread.
Visitors to Iona today see the 20th century restoration of the Medieval Church and the lines of the monastic buildings. For us Dr Reece opened a window through which we could see a bustling, vigorous Celtic community Flourishing in the Dark Ages of Western Europe.
News from Other Societies
From Camden. Enclosed with this Newsletter is an order form and list of Camden History Society publications. Camden’s latest booklet — Camden History Review No. 5 — has also just been published and still costs only £0.75 (plus postage). It can be ordered on the same form.
We commend their adventurous publishing programme to you and hope you will give it every support.
From Enfield. Enfield Archaeological Society will be showing, from now until the end of December, at Forty Hall, Enfield, an exhibition of finds from their Roman site at Lincoln Road. Open from 10.00a.m.-6.00p.m. each day except Mondays.
The Historical Association NW London Branch extends a cordial invitation to HADAS members to their lectures, held monthly at 8.00p.m. at Westfield College, Kidderpore Avenue, NW3, and particularly to the talk by Professor H.R. Loyn on Thursday, 9 March next on the Sutton Hoo ship burial.