Rob Hedge from the Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service has written this report detailing the activity and finds from their involvement in the Medieval Abberley Revealed project to date:
The first phase of fieldwork by the Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service, working in
liaison with local volunteers for the Medieval Abberley Revealed project, was targeted on a meadow to the north of the Norman church of St Michael, in the heart of the historic village. Documentary evidence and historic maps suggested that this might be the location of a watermill that was known to have existed in Abberley. The meadow drops steeply away to the north to a stream that rises to the south of the village and flows eastwards to join Dick Brook. A geophysical survey in the east of the meadow suggested some possible targets, so we began by opening three test pits, each a metre square, over the surveyed area.
Finds from the test pits suggested we were digging close to the site of domestic occupation, with lots of 17th, 18th and early 19th century household pottery and domestic artefacts, including lots of roof tiles and bricks. One very small fragment of a medieval cooking pot was also discovered through careful sieving of all of the excavated soil.
As we excavated deeper, we came down onto a ‘clean’ layer of soil with few finds, which had been washed down the hillside over many years of gradual erosion. We shifted the focus of the digging to the west, around the location of several small buildings and a pond depicted on the 1841 Tithe map. Here, we discovered a lot of loose demolition rubble and more pottery, clay pipe and glass vessels of 18th and early 19th century date.
Within one test pit a substantial brick-built drain capped with large stone blocks was discovered, carrying water down the hill and into the stream, probably around the side of one of the buildings shown on the tithe map. A second, later drain, probably of mid-19th century date, had been constructed alongside it; water could still be heard flowing through the cylindrical ceramic pipe sections!
At the eastern edge of the dam we uncovered a retaining wall that had been constructed to dam the pond, from which the water fell about 1.5m before racing east past our test pits. A trowel, probably left over from attempts to repair the dam, was found still perched on the brickwork!
So, have we found a mill? Not conclusively, but we have found evidence that people were managing the flow of water at this point along the stream, and that there were buildings on the site which appear to have been demolished or abandoned in the mid-19th century. Mills are often built and rebuilt on the same site, and so it may be that, although our evidence mostly points to 18th and 19th century occupation, there might have been earlier activity on the site, as hinted at by that tantalising piece of medieval cooking pot. Hopefully, more documentary analysis will help to shed light on the story of Abberley’s mill.
The next step was to carry out a fieldwalking survey on a site to the southwest of the village centre. For this, we divided the area up into 20m squares, with each square assigned a separate code. The project volunteers then walked over each square systematically, collecting any man-made objects they could see on the surface of the field and placing them in marked bags.
Prehistoric Flint Scraper
The finds include some of the oldest evidence we have of Abberley’s past: a tiny, beautifully-worked flint scraper more than 3500 years old, which would have been used for working organic materials such as hides or wood.
Pieces of a type of brightly-glazed pottery made in the Malvern area from the 13th–17th centuries were found, as well as a handle from a 15th–16th century mug, and lots of domestic artefacts which would have been a vital part of the household utensils for Abberley’s residents in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
Another archaeological dig and a fieldwalk will be taking place in Spring 2015. We need plenty of volunteers! If you would like to get involved then please contact us.