Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Berkeley Castle Archives: an interview with David Smith part 2.

Following on from our blog post yesterday, students Tatchiana and Hattie discussed conservation issues facing Mr Smith as an archivist and his other interests.

What do you personally consider to be the most interesting research that has been conducted using anything from the archives? Is there anything which stands out as particularly significant?

There have been several pieces of research that I’ve been really impressed by. The doctoral theses really are the tops because people have the time to really get into the documents in depth, and also read around them and compare them with documents in other repositories. The study of the development of the estate in the eighteenth century based on the Manor of Ham is a brilliant piece of work. He hasn’t quite finished writing it, but it will be brilliant, and he’s made a couple of presentations at Berkeley on what he’s discovered. And the medieval studies have been 
marvellous. [Bridget Wells-Furby] wrote an economic study of the Berkeley estate from 1281 to 1470, and she’s also edited the Great Cartulary of Berkeley Castle, which came out a couple of years ago.

What are the current conservation issues that you face as an archivist? 

Well, a lot of the documents were stored in poor conditions centuries ago, and what we’re trying to do is, as we’re cataloguing them in more or less chronological order - or at least by periods in slabs of chronology - we’re doing the conservation in the same way. But conservation is expensive because it’s a very 
skillful business. The castle conservator has been working here since 1989, and she comes about three times a year, so what I’m trying to do is to work systematically through the documents now, dealing with the oldest ones that need conservation through to more modern ones. I don’t stick rigidly to that because some of the bindings of the estate rentals and so forth are pretty poor and need rebinding. When you repair a document you can never improve it; as far as a document is concerned, you can only stabilise its conditions make sure no more text is lost, and that’s what we’re trying to do. So the issue of conservation really is one of resources - there’s a lot more to do and the estate doesn’t have the resources to get on with it as fast as it would like. 

The Muniment room.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to become an archivist?

If people really want to get into archives, I would say go and visit as many as you can within your range of travel, because most archivists will gladly spend an hour or so with you showing you round and talking to you, and it’s only that way that you can get a genuine appreciation of what a
rchives really mean. I would have to show you, or have you as a sort of work experience person for a day to get a better idea of it, so the best thing to do is to go and find other archives - as many different sorts as you can - and talk to the people to find out what they do and how they do it, and then you’ll know whether it’s the job for you or not. 

What are your other interests outside of the archives?

Well, I like walking in the countryside, I wish I knew more about how to read a landscape. I read widely, I read English literature in the broad sense, and I also read a lot of rubbish because it’s lightweight and undemanding, and it’s quite enjoyable. But a lot of the things I do are actually archives related. I do adult education part time, only three or four courses a year. I do one weekend for Oxford University every year, one or two day schools for the Society of Genealogists in London, and occasionally others as requested. These are things like learning to read old handwriting, understanding manorial records, that sort of stuff. I like to keep them fresh. I give talks, maybe ten or twelve a year, not tremendous. I have about sixteen talk titles that I would give, they’re all accessible on the internet, and half of them are about Berkeley Castle or Berkeley-related subjects while the other half are other topics that I’ve worked on over the years.

Oh, and I go to the theatre, film, concerts, West End musicals when I can find the time, or there’s one to go to, because they’re mostly reruns these days. I’ve got grandchildren in London who I go and see as much as I can. 
David Smith’s workshops with the Society of Genealogists in London can be booked at 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Berkeley Castle Archives: an interview with David Smith part 1.

David Smith is the archivist of Berkeley Castle, keeper of over 20,000 documents relating to the upkeep and lives of those connected to the Castle. Mr. Smith began his career as a trainee archivist working in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, under Dr. Richard Hunt after which he spent 35 years as a local authority archivist in Ipswich, Coventry, Lancashire and Gloucestershire. While working as a county archivist in Gloucestershire Mr. Smith aided the current Mr Berkeley by cataloguing the vast archives of the Castle and has since taken a position exclusively working with the Berkeley Castle archives. The Castle archives house a collection of historic documents and books from the Berkeley estates spanning the entire history of the castle from the twelfth to the twentieth century. The Muniment room, which currently houses the archive, was established by the 8th Earl of Berkeley in 1925 and contains a number of historically significant documents. The earliest document in the entire archive was created shortly before Easter in 1154 and there is a large collection of medieval rolls which date from 1300 up to the early 15th century while the oldest printed book in the Berkeley Castle archives was published in 1519. Older documents are stored in a strong room, where temperature and humidity are monitored to conserve and protect them from damage. Some of the most astonishing discoveries include an unpublished Ben Jonson poem, a Vivaldi manuscript, a 1st edition Oxford English Dictionary, and a complete record of the employees of Edward IV’s household in 1474. Mr Smith has spent a considerable amount of time identifying, documenting and recording these documents into both a digital and hard copy catalogue. The archives have now been catalogued for the whole of the medieval period and Mr Smith is currently working through the Tudor documents. Students Tatchiana and Hattie interviewed David Smith about the archives and his role in their preservation.
Archival storage boxes in the Muniment room.

What makes the Berkeley Castle archives unique?

What makes it unique is that the castle, the documents and the family all originated at the same time - the family, actually, is older. A lot of families claim rightly or wrongly that their ancestors came over with William the Conqueror but Mr Berkeley’s ancestor was here first. He can trace his descent directly and certainly, not speculatively, from a Saxon noble called Eadnoth the Staller who gained William the Conqueror’s confidence. Are the archives classed as private or nationally owned? The archive is privately owned. It is entirely at the discretion of the family whether people can come and see them, but they are very generous about this, and they encourage publication from the documents here. Half a dozen or so books have been published purely as editions of documents here or as monographs discussing the development of the estate by people who have come in here to look at things. All the archives that the Berkeley family own are now here – some were on loan to record offices but they have all been brought back. What do you consider to be the most historically significant document in the archives? One that most people connected with the castle remember is the Vivaldi manuscript; that was quite unusual. There was a pile of rather dusty manuscripts up on a top shelf and I knew there was a book of manuscript music in there, but I hadn’t done anything about it. When we came to reorganise the library, I wrote to the Department of Western Music at the British Library who put me on to a lady at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music called Faun Tanenbaum Tiedge. I sent her an email explaining that this book existed here and asking if she could tell me something about it, and I got [a copy] couriered over to San Francisco. Her supervisor was Professor Michael Talbot of Liverpool Hope University. Between the two of them they found out that it was written in the autumn of 1717 and includes eleven tunes by Vivaldi, of which six are unique to that manuscript. With Vivaldi that’s not surprising, because he was a very prolific composer and when his music went out of fashion it did so quite suddenly, after which a lot of it was just scrapped, so Vivaldi’s stuff is scattered all over the place. I got the book out for the professor and he put his head down and he didn’t look up for two hours. He looked up at me after about two hours and he said;
“In any antiquarian music shop in Northwest Europe, you could see a volume that looks like this from the outside, but you’ll never find one that when you open it it’s got this in.”
So that was quite something. He wrote it all up and in 2004, I think it was, we got the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to come down here and play some of the tunes, with Italian sopranos, and I was invited along to display the manuscript during the interval. It’s not the kind of thing you expect to find here, so that was special. What is the most recent item in the archive? In this room, we have a file of the 8th Earl’s correspondence with his agent where he was scouring architectural recycling firms all over Europe to put appropriate pieces into the castle where bits of the original castle needed changing. For example, the clock tower that’s here now was brought over stone by stone and re-erected by him. So we have the whole of his correspondence showing how much he spent, where he got things from including all the furniture, the tapestries, everything, and that goes up to 1931. Oh, and we have some sales particulars for 1944 as well, but most of the really modern things are in a different store elsewhere in the castle.
Keep an eye out for part two of the interview, where Mr Smith answers our questions on conservation issues and research carried out through use of the archives!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Humans of the Trench

At the heart of the dig here at Berkeley are the students; for 3 weeks, every Monday to Friday over 60 students gather outside Senate house at 8.45am to get on a coach in the name of archaeology. We arrive knowing the days finds are as unpredictable as the weather, and we arm ourselves with a bucket, trowel, shovel and gloves before descending into the trench. Each student has their own story of how they came to archaeology and here are just a few of Berkeley's students.


Amy is a second year student who was first drawn to archaeology because of the people she met in the field. She enjoys the open community archaeologists thrive in, and likes their (literal) down-to-earth nature. She appreciates that it is an active discipline, including lots of outside work but remains an academic discipline. Amy grew up watching Time Team and has always loved that archaeology can provide an honest narrative of history.


James is a first year student who has had an interest in early history from a young age. His favourite part of archaeology is the act of excavating, where there is always the chance you can find something that hasn't been touched in hundreds (or thousands) of years; something that was lost, discarded or forgotten. He enjoys that anthropology and archaeology cover such a wide range of subjects and that each unit he's taken this year has explored different cultures and periods of time.


Mia's a second year student who originally applied for straight anthropology. It was only after receiving an offer from the University and sitting in on a lecture by Dr Lucy Cramp that inspired her to switch to the archaeology and anthropology degree. She thinks that when she was younger she may have been subconsciously influenced by the adventures of Indiana Jones. History was her original passion and she explored a range of other disciplines before circling back around to history and subsequently archaeology.


Ed, a third year, discovered archaeology when he started looking to apply for universities and courses. He's always loved history and stumbled upon archaeology as it is the more physical side of history. He never wanted to do a desk job, and he finds archaeology suits him as he's able to track the progress, and see the results of his hard work in the trench. Before starting the degree he took part in the excavation of a Roman Villa; which, although interesting, didn't offer the variation of finds from different time periods that Berkeley does. Ed feels that Berkeley is the place where he learnt how to be an archaeologist.


Hannah has already graduated and is back with us this year due to her love of archaeology and her fond memories of the dig when she was an undergraduate herself. Hannah has known she wanted to be an archaeologist since she was 5 years old, when she can remember thinking she would love to find artefacts similar to those she saw in museums. When reflecting on her time at Berkeley she said she loved meeting fellow archaeologist students outside of her year. The strongest friendships she made at uni were the ones she formed in the trench. Berkeley will always be one of Hannah's favourite digs.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why we wash mud: environmental sampling.

Archaeologists spend a huge amount of time unearthing and recording artefacts recovered during the excavation process. However some of the most important clues to past lives is not found in the stone and metal work of structures and material culture, but in the microscopic remains of organic material.

Samples are laid out in trays, ready for processing.
To understand the bigger picture of the past we use environmental analysis to uncover past landscapes of an archaeological site. Environmental sampling is an important aspect of archaeology as humans interact within their environments, which in turn have shaped human activity and behaviours (Dincauze 2008). Human life is heavily influenced by the presence of plants, animals and climates creating a relationship interdependent between all aspects of life.

Detail of a sample.
As climates and activities continuously change they produce a record left behind in the micro organic remains of plants and animals. Usually these remains get missed during the process of excavation, which focuses on picking up macro biological remains, material artefacts, and uncovering structures. We collect many buckets of mud and soil on-site to wash and sieve. We then separate micro organic artefacts into different categories for further microscopic analysis.

Microscopes in the laboratory.
The micro biological remains that get recovered from site contexts are rich in archaeological information about human relationships within their landscapes (Jones 2011). This process of environmental sampling enables reconstruction and the interpretation of past settlements, resource economies, and local ecology.

Part-processed finds (wet-sieving)
Further analysis of the plant and animal remains can answer some important questions about daily lives of individuals who occupied the site in the past, such as;

  • What flora and fauna were present within an environment at a certain time and how would this have changed over time influenced by climate, human presence and natural processes?
  • The temporality of occupation; was a site used seasonally, temporarily or permanently?
  • Did the site have single usage or multiple occupations, including the span of usage?
  • What were human daily activities, including food production and past diets, material manufacturing processes and ritual actions?
  • Can any economic and social status be identified through traded artefacts (as this can give an indication as to whom they might have had social networks with)?

Water pours through sieves to process finds.
Natural and cultural processes alter environments. These alterations can be interpreted by analysing preserved organic material using environmental sampling methods (Jones 2011). This analysis records small remains that are sometimes invisible to the human eye without a microscope. The remains are sorted into categories by type, such as charcoal, pollen, spores, molluscs, phyloliths, insects and wood (Campbell et al. 2015).

When the material is initially collected from the archaeological site, it is sorted by hand where appropriate. Other key techniques employed are wet-sieving and floatation. Both are low-tech methods that require simple set ups and plentiful water supplies.

Students hand wash artefacts and pass samples through sieves.
Samples are usually collected from all deposits and contexts to provide a representative sample. These samples can either be selected at random or systematically but usually a mixture of both is collected (Campbell et al. 2015). Steps are taken to avoid cross contamination. It is also essential that samples are recorded and labelled to create an organised database for further research.

Campbell, G, Moffett, L and Straker, V (2015) A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Methods, from Sampling and Recovery to Post-excavation (Historic England)
Dincauze, D F (2008) Environmental Archaeology: Principles and Practice (Cambridge University Press)
Jones, D M (2011) Environmental Archaeology: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Methods, from Sampling and Recovery to Post-excavation (English Heritage)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A fine finial

On the first day of the second week at Berkeley, we uncovered a fragment of a decorative finial. Its decorative style and the location of the find suggest that it belonged to the period between the 13th and 14th century. It resembles the Perpendicular Gothic style seen in churches, where bold straight lines and elaborate designs were widely used.

Figure 1. Finial with scale
Surviving finials with similar designs can also be found today, and quite nearby too! The arch of the Berkeley burial chapel in the neighbouring church of St Mary features a row of finials. This chapel was constructed by James I. Berkeley c.1450, which places it firmly in the period when the Perpendicular Gothic style was popular.

Figure 2. The Tomb of King Edward II (photo credit:

Another example with a similar style can be found in Gloucester Cathedral, decorating the tomb of King Edward II, who was also murdered at Berkeley Castle. This tomb dates to the early 14th century.

We have a few possible explanations for the presence of the finial in the pit. It may once have been a part of the d├ęcor of St Mary Church until it was damaged and then discarded. The current decoration we can see today may be a reconstruction of the original. Another explanation is that there might have been an additional chamber for two tombs, which can currently be found in the nave of the church, that later would have been demolished. This finial might have been included in its decoration and, with the destruction of this chamber, it ended up in the pit, forgotten until today. Or it might have been a part featured in a tomb decoration and was snapped off during the moving of this tomb and was discarded.

Berkeley Castle Finial by bristoldigberkeley on Sketchfab
Authors: Alex Birkett and Rose Britton.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Update from the trench: alignment's not just for the stars.

Previous excavations in Berkeley Castle’s butterfly garden (2005 - 2006) and The Berkeley Arms pub (2009) uncovered archaeological evidence for what is believed to be enclosure ditches that mark the outer limits of the Anglo-Saxon Minster precinct. Artefacts such as pottery sherds and several coins from the tenth century assisted in dating the construction of the ditches. These outer enclosure ditches were aligned at 010° from the north and are shown on Figure 1 as the outer blue line.

However, during further excavations of Trench 8 in 2015, a structure dating to the ninth century was excavated in the south east section of the trench, and found to have an alignment of 356
° from north. Constructed of robbed Roman masonry, Professor Mark Horton explains that the building was dated to the eighth or early ninth century through the excavation of three coins from the reign of Coenwulf, the King of Mercia (796 - 821 CE).

Figure 1. A map showing the excavated wall and building, and the possible outer and inner precinct boundaries. (Author: Alex Birkett. Map sourced: OpenStreetMap 2017)

During this season a wall has been excavated to the west end of Trench 8 that is constructed from robbed Roman masonry similar to the aforementioned structure. This wall was visible during previous years but is being excavated this season as we have reached the context in which it was built.

Over the past few days the feature has been drawn and half-sectioned, and students have taken soil samples which will be used for wet sieving to identify environmental specimens such as charcoal and oyster shell fragments, as well as smaller artefacts that may have been missed during excavation.

The wall feature excavated this season is of the same alignment (356°) as the ninth century structure and the Church of St Mary's, situated roughly 55 metres to the east, which follows the original contour of the hill on which they are situated. Professor Mark Horton believes this similarity in alignment links it to the origins of the Church. Although construction of the Medieval church began in 1225, aspects of the structure are believed to predate this, with an original construction date in the Anglo-Saxon period. The later Church structure includes reused stones with carvings and the foundations of a tower from the Anglo-Saxon period.
The current interpretation of this new wall feature is that it forms an inner precinct wall, see Figure 1, enclosing the previously excavated building and the earlier Anglo-Saxon church, which would likely have been much smaller than the current church. The wall appears to end just before the northern section of the trench and it is thought that this may represent an entrance through the wall into the inner precinct. As excavation progresses though the date and function of this wall will become clearer and so we are looking forward to finding out more information throughout the next few days.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Back in Berkeley - Stuart Prior returns

The last eighteen months were challenging for co-Director Stuart Prior. Last year, he was struck by a serious infection that attacked his brain and hospitilised him for an extended period. After operations, physio-therapy sessions, and bucket loads of determination, he was finally able to rejoin the project once more this season.

On the first day of the project, he lead our new students on a tour of the Castle and grounds, explaining why he is so fascinated by Berkeley.

Stuart spoke with the Engagement Team about his recent health challenges:
I was diagnosed with ADEM – swelling of the brain – it’s quite rare. I didn’t realise how bad I was, nobody told me at the time how rare it was. They don’t want to tell you these things, so I didn’t know if I would survive, I didn’t know if I could go back to work. 
At one point, they said that I might basically be permanently disabled, I might never be able to drive again, I might never be able to speak again. At one point I couldn’t even feed myself. So it was pretty scary. 
Today is a milestone for me. I’m actually back at work and back at Berkeley so it means a lot to me.
All our staff and students were delighted to welcome Stuart back to site. He is an inspiration to the whole team!

More about Dr Stuart Prior
Senior Teaching Fellow in Archaeological Practice
Stuart's research focuses primarily on Early Medieval and Medieval Archaeology and Castle Studies, whilst his teaching focuses mainly on Archaeological Practice and Landscape Archaeology. He also has research interests in Ancient Technology, Warfare and Experimental Archaeology, and a professional interest in Archaeological Health and Safety and Professional Practice.
Find out more: 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Romans in South West Britain.

The Roman conquest of Britain began under the Emperor Claudius in AD 43. The Roman Army had reached the South West by AD 45-47 under Aulus Plautius (Hornblower and Spawforth, 1998). Until the end of Roman occupation of Britain the South West was a centre of wealth, trade and farming, although as a whole South West Romano-Britain is under researched.

It has long been thought that the South West offered a strong resistance to ‘Romanisation’, particularly past the Tamar Valley which separates Devon and Cornwall, and that Cornwall remained largely out of Roman hands throughout the Romano-British period (InfoBritain, 2009). Recent research has refuted this interpretation and remains of Roman settlements have been found throughout the further South West, suggesting that Roman influence extended much further than previously thought. One of the sites which this re-evaluation of the evidence is at Ipplepen, in Devon, where a small settlement found in 2011 along with a coin hoard redrew the known borders of Roman influence in the South West. These borders have continued to shift as more discoveries come to light (Ord, 2011).

Figure 1. The distribution of Roman sites in Britain (Smith, 2015)

Parts of the South West including Bristol, Bath and Gloucestershire feature some of the largest and most abundant Romano-British structures and settlements in Britain (see fig. 1). 122 Romano-British Villas are known in the South West, concentrated in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, and at least 30% of these were built on earlier Iron Age settlements, showing the continuity of occupation at these sites (Smith, 2015). The South West would also have been well connected to other parts of the country as the Roman road known as Fosse Way ran from Exeter to Leicester, and would have run close to Berkeley Castle (Bishop, 2014).

Figure 2. The Roman wall discovered in the trench, highlighted in red.
The area around Berkeley is rich in evidence of the Roman period in the form of roads, villas and town houses, and many Roman structures and artefacts have also been excavated over the course of our thirteen seasons digging at Berkeley. Roman occupation is known at Berkeley from archaeological remains; a courtyard surface which were previously interpreted as a Roman road and the wall of an as yet unidentified Roman building is present on the site under the remains of a Tudor Pub (see fig. 2). The courtyard and building may be associated with an industrial metal working structure.

Figure 3. The Roman brooch excavated in 2016.
Roman small finds at Berkeley include a coin, roman cloaks pins and large amounts of Roman pottery found over the years. Last year Roman brooch of the Polden Hill type was found (see fig. 3) that dates back to the first or second century AD but was actually found in a later fifth century context. There is evidence of Roman copper and iron working in the Jenner garden, a Roman trackway with visible cart wheel marks and even suggestions that there may be a Roman temple somewhere on the site. As we begin our thirteenth season at Berkeley Castle new discoveries will hopefully expand our knowledge of Roman occupation and life around Berkeley and in the South West in general.

Bishop, M.C. 2014. The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain: And their Impact on Military History. Barnsley: Pen and Sword.
Collingwood, R. G. and Myres, J. N. L. 1936. Roman Britain and the English Settlements. Cheshire: Biblo & Tannen Publishers
Hornblower, S. and Spawforth, A. 1998. The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
InfoBritain. 2009. South Western England. InfoBritain. Accessed 16/05/17. Available at:
Ord, L. 2011. England’s Western-Most Roman Town Uncovered. BBC. Accessed 16/05/17. Available at:
Smith, A. 2015. The Rural Settlement of Roman England: Settlement Morphology And Regional Diversity: Establishing A New Model. The Rural Settlement of Roman England: From Regional Perspectives To National Synthesis, Reading. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Find of the Day - John Legg Clay Pipe

Our find of the day, the first of the 2017 season, is a fragment of clay tobacco pipe. Fortunately, the bulb end is intact and we can easily read the maker's mark "John Legg". With this clue, we consulted the National Pipe Archive and dated the artefact to sometime between 1700 and 1800.
Second year student Tess Kaye made the discovery.
John Legg pipes were produced in the small town of Brosley [Broseley], Shropshire. Coal and clay were the town's primary natural resources exploited during the Industrial Revolution. In the eighteenth century, the pipeworks were one of the largest international exporters of clay pipes in Britain. Today, Broseley Pipeworks form part of a World Heritage Site celebrating this period.
The marker's mark is legible on the flattened base (pedestal).
While some pipes of the eighteenth century were decorated, this is plain apart from milling marks below the bowl.
The dotted pattern along the edge of the bowl was caused by the milling marks.
The broken underside of the pipe with scale.
Second year student, Tess Kaye, had this to say:
"I was just really surprised to discover such an interesting find on the first day. It brightened up the morning!"


The National Pipe Archive (2016) list extracted from: Oswald, A. (1975) "Clay Pipes for the Archaeologist, British" Archaeological Reports, British Series 14, Oxford, 207pp.

Ironbridge Birthplace of Industry (2017)

Cambridge Archaeology Field Group November (2012) "Evolution of clay tobacco pipes in" England