Basing House West Gatehouse Excavation 2009 - Interim Report
Excavation of the West Gatehouse approach to the Bailey took place between 11-29 May, 2009. Twenty-five volunteers working with their usual enthusiasm, contributed a total of 105 days, in the driest and sunniest season for a number of years. The purpose of the operation was to lay bare the plan of the bridge and gate as a prelude to the construction of a new footbridge to facilitate disabled access.
An area encompassing 26m x 15m was opened, incorporating the known remains of the four-tower gatehouse on the inner (bailey) side and the slightly less apparent footings of the bridge abutment on the outer.
Photographic evidence exists showing that the area was dug into in 1904. The technique employed was to follow the course of the walls with trenches, the spoil being heaped up in immediately adjacent areas.
These trenches were readily identifiable, as were the roots of the two small trees visible in the picture. The evidence suggests, however that considerable clearance also took place in the 1970s, soon after the County Council acquired the site. This included the smoothly sculpted area surrounding the southern tower bases and the equally all-embracing exposure of the northern, work presumably deliberately dated by a 1977 2p coin found at the centre of the northeast feature.
The gate passage was far less disturbed, and had been covered by a 200mm depth of stone-free soil which gave the central area a mounded appearance. With this removed, the underlying layers, including spreads of mortar, crushed brick, and small pebbles, were all considered to be road metalling or make-up still in situ.
Perhaps the best clue to the original Tudor/Stuart ground level was a small patch of flint cobble adjacent to the southeast tower. This is presumed to be the survivor of a much larger spread and had evidence for wheel ruts tracking into the gateway.
The purpose of the four buttresses, at the inner corners of the towers was not clear. None survived above the assumed Tudor ground level and the southeast feature had clearly been tracked across by heavy traffic. A trench had been dug between the western examples – searching for a link wall that wasn’t there, but this at least allowed a view of the cross-section of road make up and metalling. A compact surface of mixed flint cobble and pebble metalling was revealed in plan and this was also examined between the approach walls to the missing bridge.
Wheel ruts, or drainage channels, were visible in this material also. Cleaning of the slope down into the ditch revealed that an earlier road level existed at a depth of 400mm. This was composed mainly of small flint pebble metalling, covered with distinctive light brown silt. Much of the makeup between the lower and upper surfaces was freshly quarried chalk.
The sequence suggests that this lower road surface also existed between the brick flanking walls, but the disturbance of 1904 did not help in the clarification of this point. At the foot of the slope the brick ‘springers’ for the bridge were traced across the full width of the abutment.
Fig 3. Bird’s-eye-view of the excavation from the east. The southern tower bases are the best preserved.They sit in a shallow ‘dish’ which most probably represents a 1970s attempt to make them more visible. The same programme of improvement resulted in the clearance of the chalk and brick footings to the north, which survive at a lower level. The gate passage is in situ material and clear layers of metalling and road make-up are visible. Large flint cobble is present beside the southeast tower base (lower left) and on the far side (between the two central figures. No in situ subsoil (chalk, clay with flints) was encountered during the excavation. To the left of the central figure the course of the flanking wall can be seen heading uphill as a parch mark and low bank. It then turns to head for the garden wall visible beyond. There is a break in this stretch where the path continues on its way.
Fig 5 The western bridge abutment
On the west side of the ditch the flanking walls had again been pursued by Edwardian excavation trenches but the Tudor/Stuart surface in between was well preserved. It consisted of flint cobbles, with wheel ruts and or drainage runnels in evidence. The main route was clearly downhill to the north but parch marks and other indications suggested that the path also continued uphill to the south, probably through a gateway.
The cobbles had been covered with a substantial layer of silt. Removal of this material revealed a horseshoe, various nails and a square-framed buckle (Fig 6). A fine example of a Tudor copper alloy thimble also came from this area. Other finds were few. There was a smattering of potsherds and clay pipe fragments, but the generally disturbed nature of things (the Edwardian and 1970s work) meant that nearly all of this was redeposited. A small copper alloy buckle plate of 14th century date and other metal objects were subsequently recovered from the spoil tip.
Many, many thanks to all who contributed so enthusiastically.
David Allen, Mark Peryer, Alan Turton.
Hampshire County Council Museums Service
Basingstoke Archaeological & Historical Society.
Fig 1. Excavations 2009
Fig 2. Excavations 1904
Fig 4. Plan of the excavations
Fig 6. Horseshoe and other items from the cobbled area of the western abutment