FINDS FROM A HOLE IN THE GROUND

AT No 3 STERT STREET, ABINGDON,

 OXFORDSHIRE

Roman, medieval, through to the 20th Century

 

In January 1998 a soakaway (a large hole in the ground) seven feet deep was constructed to improve local drainage. Both the builders and the owners of the house took great care to examine all that was removed .  Each barrowload was individually checked before it was tipped into a lorry for removal.  Some 400 items were found although many of them were tiny fragments. The key items, which cover from Roman times to the 20th Century, are listed below.

 

 

Old rubbish tip or a previous soakaway?

The pit, which was excavated to create the soakaway, seems to have cut through the eastern half of a nineteenth century rubbish tip, of which probably half remains still buried under the flower bed at the top of the steps, to the west of the brick paving which covers the new pit containing the soakaway. When the excavation of the pit was finished, ready for the soakaway to be installed, many objects could still be seen in its western wall (predominantly tiles). The builders thought that what they had uncovered was a previous soakaway rather than a rubbish tip, because  most of the finds were broken china and pottery together with rubble and tiles. This would also account for the curious fact that much of the china was superficially similar but turned out on close inspection to be fragments of many different pieces of the same design - eg several willow pattern plates, but not from the same set; several self-striped creamware pots, but with minor differences; several incomplete but very similar earthenware cooking or chamber pots.

This does not look like the detritus of a normal household.. On the other hand, the animal bones and odd items like the doll certainly suggest domestic origin. The disparity in age between the earthenware pots (mid-eighteenth century) and some of the blue-and-white china (late nineteenth) makes it less likely that this was a soakaway; it certainly seems unlikely that any commercial source of broken second-hand crocks sold for the purposes of drainage would have stock dating back over a century (to the mid-eighteenth century).

Previous disturbance?

The finds are listed roughly at the levels at which they were found, although this is unlikely to be significant because the appearance of pieces from the same objects scattered throughout all the levels suggests that the whole thing had been turned over. We are grateful to Bob Eales and Roger Ainslie of the Abingdon Archaeological Society, who identified the collection as the contents of a rubbish tip and dated the finds.

The Finds

The Top Eight Inches

Rock with fossils (they seem to be marine, which might be because Abingdon was at one time under an inland sea). A few other fossils were found elsewhere.

Victorian gas bracket.

Small china doll's body, marked 'NIPPON', together with one arm and two legs with painted socks and shoes. The face is European and the head has a hole where presumably a wig was fixed. Dated by a doll specialist to the years between the world wars, probably 1920s.

Two small pottery shards with green slipware stripes on the outside. 1750. Earthenware floor tile from something like an outside lavatory, possibly the lavatory which was demolished in 1969/70.

Thirty Inches Deep

Stonefield roofing slate, with peg hole. 17th or 18th century.

Medieval ridge/coping tile.

Skull with jawbones of a dog; also vertebrae, possibly from the same animal.

Pieces of blue and white china: some quite well painted Chinese-type, remains of a jug, base of a jug (?) with a maker's mark. All nineteenth century, probably latter half.

Forty Inches Deep

Several bowls of clay pipes, dating between 1680 and 1750. S

Several decorated pipe bowls, 19th century.

Two shards of medieval cooking pot, scorched.

One piece of grey Roman stoneware (see later).

Shards of post-1500 pottery, green glaze inside, possibly as late as 1800.

Large piece of slightly ridged earthenware, glazed red inside, about 1850.

Two shards of black shiny glazed ware (see later).

Fifty Inches Deep

Green glass egg-shaped bottom of a bottle (would have stood in an osier base) for carbonated water, with remains of inscription (probably MINERAL WATER and maker).

Two pieces of a 'Chinese' tea-bowl of good quality, 1730s.

Many creamware shards including the base of a pot, probably 1780s (see later also).

Fluted 19th century clay pipe bowl.

Seventy Two inches Deep

Two perfect stoneware jars, 19th or early 20th century, used for common household substances such as ink.

Piece of clay Roman roof tile.

Base and stems of two wineglasses. 17th or 18th century, possibly (the rough break from the parent glass to be found underneath the base is a clue). Prettily coloured, but glass is affected this way by chemicals in the soil.

More creamware, as found at fifty inches. Two pieces show the bottom of moulded, leaf-shaped handles. There is a slight green tinge about the glaze, which reflects the imperfect attempt to imitate the white china which had been imported from China. 1830-40.

Several pieces of grey Roman stoneware, as found also at forty inches.

Patterned bone knife-handle, stuck by local clay to a pottery shard. Probably 1750. Iron mattock head? about 9 inches long, heavily encrusted with rust and clay (later thrown away).

Two pieces of Mochaware with 'trees' design, 19th century (could be early or late).

Two pieces of a pearl-ware beaker, blue design on light blue ground, 1780s.

Three pieces of English delft tin-glaze plate (1600-1770).

Two pieces of creamware, blue design on cream, 1780s.

Broken top of a mottled salt-glazed brown bellarmine jar.

Two pieces of slipware, glazed reddish brown inside with yellow and green slip stripes (one piece had been mended). Probably 1750 plus or minus 20 years.

Several big pieces of earthenware cooking and/or chamber pots, including part of a handle. Some scorched by the cooking fire. Glazed inside in various shades of brown. Despite appearances, none of these is complete (the rest of them may still be in the ground) - they come from as many as eight or ten different items. Could be of any date between 1650 and 1850, but probably 1750.

Several pieces of stoneware with a brown glaze on the outside and inside, the outside bearing an incised pattern. 1780s. (More of this appeared at forty inches' depth.)

One small piece of Roman Oxfordshire ware with decorative whorl, 300 AD roughly.

Base of cream teapot with spout, probably 19th century. Top of stoneware, thick and heavy flagon glazed dark brown on the outside and pale green with a pattern inside (why? it would not be seen). For wine, oil etc. Inscribed JOHN LIDDIARD. GROCER. .....INGFORD. Mid 19th century.

Two pieces of creamware with brown and white stripes with leaf-moulded handles as creamware above. 1830-40.

Two pieces of a very shiny black pot with relief flowers, as also found at forty inches' depth; possibly Jackfield ware, in which case 1740-80.

Three pieces of pearl enamel, dingy cream colour, possibly mottled by fire. 1840s.

Piece of earthenware found containing pieces of charcoal - the range had collapsed. Mid 19th century. The incised design on the outside of the fragment is of the same type as the "brown glaze outside and in" shards found earlier at this level.

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A large clay part-glazed curved shard, with what appeared to be a brown painted stripe, was set aside as rubbish and only later identified; consequently its level was not noted. It is 14th or 15th century, more likely 14th because of its thickness. It may be part of a large storage pot. Animal bones from cow, chicken etc appeared at all levels, as did clay pipe stems (which we have not dated).

 

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References to earlier digs at 3 Stert Street

CBA9 Newsletter No 2, 1972 (18C and small finds & covered well)

OXCMS:1991.98.I OXCMS.1983.68.SH (pottery/iron/bargehook etc)

CBA Newletter No 1 Feb 1971 (bone flute & pottery)

Berkshire Arch. Journal Vol 58-61 1960-61 (description of property)

North Berks Herald 13 Feb 1969 & 21 May 1970 (Restoration story)

Unpublished report on history of the house by Mieneke Cox 18 June 1970

 

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