This site requires a modern browser with javascript enabled for full functionality

For the best experience, please use the latest version of one of these browsers:


Bartlemas Blog

See photographs on Flickr     

Click here to read project volunteer and artist Nick Hedges observations on Bartlemas Chapel.


3 November

Well, that’s me finished; I’ve got things to do so I’m having to miss out on the last two days of the dig – let’s hope someone will pick up where I leave off.

The last two days have been pretty frantic, rushing to finish off paperwork and drawings. We also had the film unit from Oxford University on Tuesday, they were interviewing everyone in sight! I have a horrible suspicion that some bits might turn up on the website.
A lot of digging still going on, I think, but I have been doing the section (a scaled - 1:10 - elevation) of the side of my section of the trench around the chapel. While I’ve been doing the drawing Christopher has been tidying up the rest of our bit; inevitably as he has done so we realised that we’d got it all wrong - what we thought of as part of the footings were in fact just rubble covering up a continuation of the arch we had uncovered earlier on. So, literally back to the drawing board! Much rubbing out and redrawing in order.
We finished just in time to do the write ups of our section of the footings, by which time it was getting so dark that we could hardly see to tidy up. So that rounded off my part in the dig at Bartelmas Chapel; it has been a fascinating experience – a lot of hard work, a lot of learning, a lot of new friends and meeting up with old ones. Now comes the follow-up work; pulling all the paperwork and drawings together, cleaning and analysing the finds, separating and filtering the environmental samples (of which there are almost literally a shedload) – all indoor work to be done over the winter. At the end of all of that we hopefully will have a tale to tell – we know we’ll have a lot more questions to ask!
Visitors to the site often ask us if we found any “treasure”. We haven’t but we do have lots of invaluable information. We have just two coins, a quarter of a medieval silver penny which can be dated by an expert and a Victorian penny which appears to have taken a hit from a bullet! Someone’s lucky coin … We also have a “Nuremberg Jetton” which is a coin-like 16-17th century token (widely imported at that time) and used for counting or as a gaming chip.  We have found evidence of several layers of earlier foundations round the chapel, some very well built, some patched up. In the big trench there is evidence of walls and floors from various periods with some pieces of pottery we believe to be Saxon as well as some medieval pieces. The dig ends this week and the post-excavation work starts trying to piece together the story of the site.

29 October - End of a wonderful week

We had an excellent day - originally meant to be the last day of the dig but with so much exciting stuff showing up, we have extended for another week.  A lovely autumn day (an improvement on soggy Thursday). The digger driver who was in to dig a pipe trench for the chapel drainage said he had never been on an archaeological site which was producing so much interest! (he has been on a few apparently). Last wednesday a group of archaeological scientists from the Oxford Research Lab for Archaeology came to visit the site and will be returning next wednesday to take samples for radiocarbon dating etc.  Superb work by the volunteers was celebrated with a drink of finest English ale in the Magdalen Arms after work. Well done folks!



28th October

We really know the dig is almost over now as the mini-digger comes in and backfills Trench 3; nothing there but a flat area of tamped-down soil! Strange.
Trench 2 keeps on coming up with the ghosts of past structures which are all on a different alignment to the Chapel – could they be lined up with the rood ( the land which was gifted for the construction) of the chapel? This could explain why the rood bears no relationship with the chapel i.e. it is not East-West.
I’m now drawing sections of my slot in Trench 1; scale drawings of the sides of the pit and also one of the whole of the sector the pit is in (sector D; we have split up Trench1, the trench around the chapel into separate sectors, one between each set of buttresses) showing the foundations of the walls. Then I’ll do a scale plan of the sector; I’m looking forward to seeing all the plans put together as it is quite difficult to get an idea of how the older footings line up with each other because of the buttresses which disrupt the view.
Though I’m tied up with drawing, all lot of the other guys seem to still be digging so there are doubtless more things yet to come to light!


22nd-23rd October

Strange feel to the dig now as we start to close down; parts are still scenes of feverish activity as we try to wring the last bit of evidence from the soil while other areas are oddly quiet as the decision has been made to stop work and record what we’ve done.

First where we have stopped working; Trench 3 (Nathalie’s), South of the chapel, where the footings for a small structure were found and the end of a possible grave, or more strictly a grave-lining, has now been recorded after the guys digging there got down to the natural (i.e. the undisturbed underlying soil which shows no evidence of human activity). Also in the slot where I have been working – after all the excitement of finding an arch in the foundations – I also got down to the natural, so all theories (aka wild guesses!) about crypts or more prosaically, culverted streams, went out of the window. We now reckon it must have been something to do with spreading the load of the wall above. But no more digging there as I’m now working in Trench 2.
Trench 2 continues to surprise; we have now found traces of buildings on a different alignment to the current ones which take their cue from the chapel, which is built on an East-West axis, like all Christian churches. These are at about 45 degrees to that, South-West to North-East and from the pottery we’ve found (Saxon!) predates the chapel. Jane has just found the cut of an old ditch and I seem to be coming down on a cut too; but it’s still too early to say what it means in my case.
From now on in, the emphasis is going to shift to drawing plans and sections (the sides of the trenches, slots etc) before we backfill trenches 2 & 3 on Friday, and of course speculating on what it is we’ve uncovered!

20th and 21st October Yay! After a bout of illness I am back on site! I have really missed being away but it is great to be back with the team and to see what they have uncovered. As you have been reading in the previous blog posts, they have been working really hard and there have been a lot of developments since I was last on site - too many for me to mention in full here. The most noticeable change when you arrive is the evidence of earlier structures both at the base of the existing chapel and in trenches two and three. For the past two days I have been working in trench two trying to get a clearer idea of the position of one of these structures. The ground has been quite tough to work on as it's quite compact but all of the elbow grease has been worth it so far - it's been exciting and intriguing to uncover it piece by piece (or should I say stone by stone). Alongside the structural evidence there were a few finds- a few sherds of pottery, some glass and what could be some floor tile. As Leigh mentioned, alongside the physical digging side of the work there is the practical paper based side too. So each day, I log what I have found in the trench file on the relevant sheet (each sector of the trench has a unique number and a record to correspond with it). Today I also assisted Leigh with the logging, bagging and labelling of a small find - an iron object which was found by Steve towards the end of the day. It was a good test for my memory after being away for a while but between us we dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's and handed the find to Gill who has been doing a grand job as Finds Supervisor. All in all, it's like I've never been away (with the exception of the change in weather, no ice cream runs this week!) and it's been great. I am back again tomorrow, so until then... 



Saturday 15 Oct 2011

Another day where everyone is just getter a better definition of what is (or was) happening. Surfaces in trench 2 are becoming clearer as we concentrate on smaller areas.
Sarah has found what looks like an earlier entrance where she is digging next to the chapel. The edge footings of the earlier building get much shallower and closer to the existing wall – though if it was a door it was nowhere near the existing one.
I spent most of the afternoon doing levels (working out the height of things) and co-ordinates (Eastings and Northings; like O.S. co-ordinates). Everything we do has to be plotted in 3 dimensions – and has to be checked and double-checked; I’m not alone in needing my maths being given the once over!  I got a real insight into what a nightmare it would be later on when the dig was finished, to discover that some vital measurement or detail was missing. At least when I was doing it I could go and ask people what was what – a bit difficult after the event. It is all too easy to concentrate on the digging and to forget it doesn’t mean a thing if it isn’t all recorded.

Friday 14 October

Beautiful weather for digging. More medieval pottery being discovered now and further evidence for buildings preceeding the present Chapel and the use of land around the Chapel. The digging and finds team are continuing to do an excellent job and their hard work is being rewarded by exciting finds. Rosie the apple-eating dog helps us by digging litttle holes in the rough near the trenches.

Don't forget we are digging both days this weekend and Tuesday-Friday next week.



Well, what a week it has been - my first week at the Bartlemas excavations. When I arrived on Tuesday, there was just a large open area with lots of people milling about - could not really see many recognisable features in it - there was a cobbled surface and for the rest lots of what looked liked a massive dump of stones.
Upon arrival, Trench 2 had a slot cut out along the whole length of the trench some 11 meters long and 1 meter wide. Now after three days of mattocking what must have been the hardest sun-baked surface ever, the slot is a bit deeper, but there is more understanding of what has happened in the past.
There are many different different stages: the most recent one, a cobbled surface - was this a farm yard building from the 19th century? What lies underneath, what happened before? There are also, some visible remains of what may have been substantial walls in the past - as yet, not datable at all.
Even over the short distance from one end of the trench to the other end, there are remarkable differences to be seen, limestone surface, clay area, possible wall, base of floor area, another possible wall - it is a real puzzle.
The finds are equally interesting, pottery sherds from early medieval to the last century; lots of clay pipe stems and some bowls – datable to the 1700s. Another of my interesting finds was the quarter silver coin  – it just happened to jump out at me. It has not yet been dated as most of the information is not there, but still….
At least today was a slightly easier day, a lot of paperwork to be done, making sure context sheets were completed, levels taken, drawing, allocating new context numbers, taking photographs – never a dull moment and lots of variety.
Hopefully the next week will give us some definite answers……
This week, the photographer from the Oxford Mail and Times came to take more pictures. He carefully noted all our names but that was about the only thing the captions got right – talk about typos! Of course, the picture with the musket ball won out. We had hoped that the featured volunteer’s son (Charlie Cooper instead of Marcus) would be selected for fame but no. I was quite grateful because I was also in the photos as Charlie showed me the fine mediaeval green glazed roof tile he had dug up.

The digging goes on, new finds coming in (a cluster of large animal bones on the north side of the chapel among others) but no new revelations today.



Thursday 13 October 

Carrying on from yesterday; a slightly disjointed one as I only did the morning and Gill was there for the afternoon, but here goes --
We’ve been finding post holes all round the chapel (next to the buttresses) and the current theory is that they are where they put the scaffolding for rebuilding the roof after the Civil War – we know it was rebuilt then so it seems plausible.
Roelie has found a hard floor in Trench 2 – Jane reckons it’s mortared limestone cobbles.  Steve is digging a ‘sondage’ (a small sounding, 0.5 x 0.5m trench) to see how deep the archaeology goes; his head has disappeared and he has just found a tile and a sheep’s tooth, so we’ve got a way to go.
The older foundations are showing up clearly in the north side of the chapel – they go under the 14th century chapel. The buttress seems to have very solid footings.  We’ve also found evidence of an extension from the east end of chapel on the 1830 map which corresponds to the mortar floor in Graham’s sector, although he’s digging to the side of the floor at the moment.  I’m just going further down, bits of medievall pottery and nails, while Gill has collected lots of finds which she has to sort out and decide which are going to storage tomorrow...
Wednesday 12 October
First, a big Get Well from all of us to Louise, your former Blogger, who is feeling poorly - she is sorely missed by all.
A lot of ‘going down’ today - nothing really new coming up but we are defining things a bit more clearly. The one new development was on the north side of the chapel by the door where we seem to have found a continuation of the broader footings found towards the east end of the chapel - could this be the foundations of the earlier chapel?
Some of us are taking envoronmental samples now. We fill a box with soil, label it (absolutely everything is recorded - a lot of it in triplicate!), and put it aside. It then gets put in a ‘flotation tank’ - the soil sinks and all the organic stuff floats. This then gets separated according to size by sieving & then the hard work begins! The residue consists of things like seeds, insect skeletons, tiny snails, etc. - if you are expert enough to identify all this you can build up a picture of what the surrounding area was like when that bit of soil was exposed - was it woodland or open fields, marshy or dry?
We also found the old Bench Mark (a mark on a wall indicating that the Ordnance Survey or O.S. have measured the height above sea level) that was shown on the 1880 O.S. map; it was on the South West buttress of the chapel. It was really lucky to get it - the stone on that buttress is pretty badly eroded & less than half of the mark is left (they chisel the mark into the stone, so it should last). As Paula was doing some other work with the GPS we took a reading; it turned out to be less than 5 inches out; 226’ 4” as opposed to 226’ 9” on the map (I’m using the units that were shown on the 1880 map, so purists needn’t object) - not too bad really, especially as the bench mark is no longer listed, so it hasn’t been verified recently.
We are all hoping that the weather forecasts are right - it’s just about right for digging now so hopefully we’ll have more to report in future!
Finds are turning up thick and fast. We have plenty of evidence of the Civil War period - lots of clay pipes, pieces of drinking jugs (some very handsome stamped ware) and musket balls. You can just picture them sitting near the chapel with the lead roof of the chapel being turned into those same musket balls. We also have lots of animal bone, some of which may date from that period as well.
I have become fascinated by the finds & have been made ‘Finds Supervisor’. This means I organise the storage of them, the washing of appropriate finds (not iron, lead, charcoal or slag and often not glass). After the finds are cleaned and that context (layer) has been completed (in other words, they are now digging below it), the reporting starts.
We have devised a form which lists all the types of finds (of which more another time), the percentage of each type and the range of sizes. Next is a section for the condition of the finds and then one on their character. Do the animal bones show signs of cutting or sawing? Is there mortar on the floor tiles? Lastly is a section for any other comments in which I include the weight of items that we don’t keep such as bits which are obviously “CBM” (Ceramic Building Material) but not identifiable as anything in particular. The discarded CBM will either go back into the ground where it came from or to Nick Hedges, our artist, who is going to use some in his art projects (see Paula’s Blog for Nick’s website).   

Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 October - Open Days

The weekend of our open days remained dry, if not a little blustery, and it was pleasing to see so many visitors pass through the little wooden gate that leads to the chapel. At least 150 people visited the site over the two days, looking in the trenches and chatting to our enthusiastic team of excavators, keen to learn more about the site.

We are now turning up evidence for the known civil war activity around the chapel, with musket balls, clay smoking pipes, and the remains of Bellarmine jugs dating from that period, being discovered daily. A number of these finds were on display in the chapel. We also had a poster display prepared by volunteer Graham Jones. If you were unable to visit the site, or would like to read them again they are now available by clicking on the links below.

Bartlemas - A Rare and Precious Survival

Looking after Lepers

St Bartholomew's Legend

Thank you to the team and to all our visitors for helping to make the days such a success.

Just as we were closing the dig for the day Pam, who was excavating in the north of the chapel spotted a piece of worked stone lembedded within the limestone rubble around the chapel, probably a decorative moulding from an earlier phase of the building.  We are now beginning to uncover more information about the construction of the foundations of the chapel which is raising a number of interesting questions.



Thursday 29 September

Day three of my time at the Bartlemas dig and today I was working in the trench located around the base of the chapel. It was extremely warm and I was grateful to be sheltered somewhat by the apple trees to the side of the chapel, some of my fellow volunteers were doing great work in the direct heat so regular breaks were the order of the day - there was even a well deserved ice-cream break in the afternoon! Today included a visit from Radio Oxford who were doing an outside broadcast from the site and interviewed many of those involved. Yours truly developed a case of mic fright and decided against it but there were plenty braver than me, if you want to have a listen and find out more about the project you can click on the following link during the next 7 days:  After a relatively quiet day 'find' wise in my little section, in the last 30 minutes I came across my first big (well, technically small) find - a complete clay pipe. It was a very nice way to end the day and, after being helped to fill in the special paperwork by the very patient Natalie, I left the site very warm but with a smile on my face! Let's see what tomorrow brings... Louise
What a great crew! A broiling day, concrete soil and an outside broadcast with Radio Oxford going on all afternoon. Ice creams and gentle strolls in the shade very necessary. But still everyone was toiling away good humouredly, recording stuff (hurrah) and giving interviews, while other visiting interviewees wandered around. Very impressed with how information is being shared, too. I can't believe we've only been going four days as everything is running smoothly and you've uncovered so much already. Thank you.
Tuesday 27th September
Today was my second day at the Bartlemas site, I did the afternoon 'shift' on what turned out to be a beautifully warm day.
I spent my time working on the trench around the Chapel which was nice as I got to follow on the work that was done on my 'Digger Watch' day.
The trench has been divided into different 'sectors' and there were a few volunteers each working on their own sectors. My main job of the afternoon was to get the paperwork on each of these sectors started. As anyone who has volunteered or worked on a dig before will tell you, paperwork is a very important part of the process. It provides a written record of what is a very physical process and enables the information/detail recovered to be accessed/reviewed after the dig is over and the trench has been refilled. This information can in turn be used, amongst other things, to build up a reference of archaeological sites and help us to understand the history of an area (which is especially pertinent to the East Oxford Archaeology Project).
Some of my fellow volunteers had never filled in the trench paperwork before so we worked together, using the comprehensive manual that had been put together for us, and talked through the various elements you need to write about. These include details such as texture and composition of the soil, soil colour, soil contamination (roots etc.) and size of the sector. Being fairly new to this paperwork thing myself it was useful for me to have other people to talk it through with as well as the manual and some sample sheets. It is especially important on a site like this, which is manned mostly by volunteers, to keep on top of the paperwork as the volunteers are not always able to be there on consecutive days and information could get lost with the changeover. 
The dig is going well and there is some interesting looking evidence of an earlier structure (diligently and capably worked on by volunteer, Sarah) at the base of one side of the chapel.
All in all, this afternoon went well (I think!) and, as usual on a dig with Archeox, I learnt something new! I look forward to my next day on site where this is more to do and learn.
Thursday 22 September - Digger Watch
This is the first of what will be many attempts at blogging for the East Oxford Archaeology Project, so please bear with me! On Thursday 22nd of September I took part in day one of 'Digger watching' at Bartlemas Chapel, this was the first time I had ever been involved in this stage of an archaeological project and I was very excited at the prospect of learning something new.  I arrived on site at roughly 10am to discover that Jane and my fellow volunteer, Leigh had already made the exciting discovery of some older foundations at the base of the existing chapel, along with some sizable pieces of glazed medieval pottery. Pretty good going for the first hour of the day!  Jane then briefed me on what to look out for and the process of stopping the digger if necessary; making sure to make eye contact with the operator before exploring in the trench & communicating with him if I found anything etc. Then; armed with a hard hat, high visibility waistcoat and a trowel - I was formally on digger watch duty. (I have to confess I was rather excited at my new found safety accessories, possibly more excited than any person should be!) I profess I was a little unsure of myself when I first started but after not very long, I knew what I was looking out for and it became much easier to spot any finds or changes in the ground. The guys who we working alongside were very patient with me and incredibly helpful so it made the whole process a lot easier and I, of course, had Jane on hand should I have needed any further help or guidance. Well, it was a very exciting and productive morning. Each side of the chapel (which had their own sector references) revealed something new and gave us some great finds. Among them were: further evidence of an earlier foundation, sherds of medieval pottery, animal bone, fine coloured glass (some with leading still attached), iron objects, floor tiles and clay pipe. And that was just the morning.  Alongside the digger watching Leigh and Gill were looking through the spoil where they found some of the aforementioned items. 
After lunch Leigh took over the digger watching reigns while Gill and I helped Jane lay out one of the trenches in preparation for next week. Fortunately for me, Jane did the maths and we plotted out the L Shaped trench paying close attention to the geophysics that Paula had collected. I have to admit, after being used to the 1x1m test pits, the trench we marked out seemed huge!
All in all, I had a very informative, invigorating and enjoyable day. I learnt a lot and I was sad to hang up my hard hat but all I can say is that, if today is anything to go by – I can’t wait for the next three weeks!
Wednesday 21 September 2011

We have been busy shopping for supplies and moving kit in preparation for the excavation, which starts fully on Monday. This evening we had our preparation meeting at the Ark T centre for all our volunteers, and it was really good to see so many enthusiastic people, who are just as excited as we are about the excavation.