Dorset’s Archaeology in 250 Words: Dorchester’s Neolithic Flagstones Enclosure under Thomas Hardy’s house

With the remaining section hidden under the grounds of Thomas Hardy’s house, Max Gate (in Dorchester), the Flagstones interrupted ditch enclosure is a little known site from Neolithic Dorset.

The site was partially excavated in 1987-8 prior to works on the Dorchester by-pass. Found under the demolished Flagstones House were mid-4th millennium BC pits containing animal bone, pottery and flints – some of these pits may have been the setting for standing stones.

In the later 4th millennium BC a circular enclosure of irregularly spaced pits was constructed. The chalk walls of some of the pit/ditch segments featured engraved designs, probably cut with flint. An adult cremation and two child inhumations were found at the bottom of ditch sections, each beneath a slab of sandstone or sarsen. Carbon dating of the remains put the building of the enclosure at around 3486–2886 BC.

A crouched burial was found in a later Early Bronze Age mound in the centre of the enclosure. The central mound demonstrated a large amount of flint-knapping activity.

The Neolithic enclosure does not meet the typical definition of a causewayed enclosure notably in terms of its almost perfect circle shape, a lack of the sort of placed deposits which are found at many such sites, and particularly its later date. Comparisons have been made instead with the first phase of Stonehenge.

The large henge enclosure of Mount Pleasant (see previous blog post) henge lies around 500 metres to the east, whereas Maumbury Rings lie about 1500 metres to the west.





Festival of Archaeology 2016 in Dorset: Family Days Out

The Festival of Archaeology will kick off the summer holidays from 16-31 July 2016. Events in Dorset range from excavation open days, behind-the-scenes tours and workshops, to guided walks, talks and finds identifications, family fun days, and more.

Below is the pick of the family events in Dorset:

Kicking us off on Saturday 16th July is Iron Age antics at Bearwood Primary School near Poole. Along with Poole Museum, the school has recently build an Iron Age roundhouse in its grounds. On the day there will be “demonstrations of Iron Age cooking and textiles. Children can take part in making some Iron Age style pots and even have a go at daubing the house.” This free event will run from 11am to 3pm.

Bearwood Roundhouse


The following weekend, Saturday 23rd July, the fantastic Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne is running Earth Detectives where there will be “archaeology activities, arts and crafts for all the family. Besides the event activities, the museum itself is worth a visit! Entry is £2.50 per person and runs from 10am to 4.30pm.

The same weekend, 23rd and 24th July, Dorset County Museum in Dorchester witnesses a Viking Invasion! with activities including hand to hand combat, visit craftspeople to find out how chain mail and fishing nets were made, watch Norse cooking demonstrations, mint a Viking coin and listen to exciting Viking sagas full of adventure.” Standard museum entry fees apply and the event runs from 11am to 4pm on both days.


A week later, Saturday 30th July, Dorset County Museum is running a Family Archaeology Day with “activities throughout the day suitable for younger visitors. Hands on activities and trails, and meet some archaeologists! Find out about bones and how archaeologists use new technology. Displays and mini-talks for the family.” Standard museum entry fees apply and the event runs from 11am to 4pm.

Dorset County Museum

For more Festival of Archaeology details and events, visit:


Dorset’s Archaeology in 150 Words #11: Knowlton Church



An iconic medieval ruin set in a Neolithic henge monument (to be discussed in a future post), Knowlton Church is a small flint and stone built 12th century church which ceased to be used from the 17th century onwards.

Norman architecture is plentiful with a Romanesque chancel arch, and the rounded arches of the arcading of the north aisle. The west tower is 15th century and clearly demonstrates where the church roof once resided on its eastern side. A lady chapel at the east end and a porch on the southern nave wall are in remains of wall footings only.

The church was in use in 1550 but gone out of use by the middle of the 17th century. In 1659 an attempt was made to demolish it but churchwardens prevented this from taking place. Later in the 18th century the roof fell in and the church was abandoned.

The site is now in the guardianship of English Heritage:

Dorset’s Archaeology in 150 Words #10: The Iron Age Trading Site of Hengistbury Head

Around 700BC, a settlement was established at Hengistbury Head; a headland dominating the southern side of Christchurch Harbour.

The Double Dykes, a pair of banks and ditches, were constructed to provide defence to the settlement. Through excavations and investigations on the site, lead, copper and silver working is evident. It is also likely that gold was worked here. Pre-Roman bronze coins, many of the Durotriges tribe, have been uncovered in their thousands close to hearths and smelting remains suggesting the site was a mint.

Hengistbury Head became a significant Late Iron Age port which tradied worked metal of iron, silver, and bronze from the sites large-scale metal industry in return for goods such as wine, glass, tools and other ‘exotic’ goods. Finds of Armorican coins and pottery demonstrate links to Brittany. Amphorae used for the transportation of North Italian wine have been found in higher quantities than any other comparable site in southern England.

Dorset’s Archaeology in 250 Words #9: Wheeler’s ‘War Cemetery’ at Maiden Castle

In what has become one of the most famous excavations in British Archaeology, Sir Mortimer Wheeler spent four summers between 1934 and 1937 excavating at Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, Dorset.

Wheeler uncovered a late Iron Age cemetery of more than 52 burials with some male skeletons exhibiting horrific injuries. Wheeler believed this was a ‘war cemetery’ and clear evidence evidence for a Roman attack on the hillfort as part of Vespasian’s campaign through this part of southern England.

Wheeler was convinced the skeletons were direct evidence of this campaign and used evocative words to describe one skeleton in his ‘war cemetery’ near the inner bank of the eastern entrance:

one skull showed the square piercing of a quadrangular Roman ballista-bolt, whilst another skeleton – most vivid relic of all – had an iron arrow-head embedded deeply in a vertebra. This last unhappy warrior, as he lay grievously wounded, had been finished off by a cut to the head.

Over time, ideas about the cemetery have changed. Only a proportion of the individuals had actually died of violent injuries and the selection of grave goods (personal jewellery; pottery; joints of meat) suggests careful burial, in some cases of high-status individuals, in a cemetery over a period of time rather than a quickly dug mass grave.

However, it is certain, from further study of the human remains that the people living at Maiden Castle during the late Iron Age suffered a violent life. 75% of those buried around the site, adults and young of both sexes, had suffered from violence – a proportion not seen in any other Iron Age community in Dorset.

Despite a large amount of study at Maiden Castle it remains uncertain how many of these people perished fighting the Romans, rather than one another.






*Note: The word count for this series of posts has been increased to 250 words- there’s too much to cover*

The Historical Evidence for Gotowre-Super-Mare

The historical evidence for Gotowre-Super-Mare comes in a variety of forms, some of which describes the foundation of the new borough upon which this research is based, whilst some detail the wider area from which information about the foundation and failure of Gotowre-Super-Mare can be gleamed.

The first date to which we know about Gotowre comes from the charters granted in 1286. In the first borough charter, from January 1286, Edward I appointed two men, Richard de Bosco and Walter de Marisco to:

“Lay out with sufficient streets and lanes, and adequate sites for a market and church and plots for merchants and others, a new town with a harbour in a place called Gotowre Super Mare, in the parish of Stodlaunde [Studland].”

(Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1286)

Five months later, in May 1286, Edward granted “to the burgesses of Nova Villa…of all the liberties granted to the citizens of London as set forth in the Charter to Melcombe.” Also granted was permission to hold “weekly markets at their borough on Tuesday and Friday in each week, and of a yearly fair there on St. Lawrence tide.” (Calendar of Charter Rolls, 1286)

From this evidence it is clear that Edward I had intended that the new town should be built in the parish of Studland, and was given generous privileges so that the town would become quickly occupied and thus provide him with financial gain through the market business and the import and exports through the newly built harbour which would serve the busy Purbeck marble trade which was reaching its peak at this time. The foundation charter suggests that a number of features would have been planned to be constructed at the earliest stage of the towns’ development. These are:

  • Streets and lanes
  • Market place
  • Church
  • Burgage plots
  • Harbour

As there is no mention of the town at the Assize of 1288, just two years after its foundation charter was granted, the next date that anything is known from Gotowre, is that in 1326, in the Rent of Assize, 28s 6d is paid by the hands of the burgesses, to Corfe, at Pentecost, Lammas and Michaelmas in equal portions. On top of this, 9d is paid by the burgesses at Newton for laying out nets. The sums here, although not massive, do suggest that there was at least some settlement at Newton forty years after its foundation. It also shows that Gotowre had taken the name Newton at an early stage. The laying of nets may represent those required for fishing, or as at Middlebere, may have been used to catch wild fowl on the king’s land, in either case it is not considered a typical urban activity (Hinton, 2002). On the basis of this limited evidence it could be suggested therefore that the settlement may have either grown or gone into decline by 1326, or indeed had never grown into anything more than a small hamlet or village in the first instance.

The Dorset Lay Subsidies of 1327 and 1332 do not contain separate entries for Gotowre-super-Mare or indeed to Newton as it is referred to in the 1326 Assizes.  Whilst it is acknowledged that “1327 county roll survives only in a mutilated condition”, this should not affect any potential entry for Newton as it is believed that only the Knowlton Hundred and the tithings of Symondsbury and Stockland are missing. Ower, or Owre, paid a sum of 2s. 8d.  whilst Corfe paid 24s. 7d. There is nothing to state that any money came from Newton or that it was included with any other entries.  Much the same can be seen in the Lay Subsidy of 1332 where Ower, or Ere, paid 3s. and Corfe paid 30s. 3d. Once again there is no entry for Newton.

It is curious to note, from Anne Horsfall’s work on the woodland in medieval Dorset, in “1282…ninety-two pieces of timber coming from Hampshire, landing the same at Ore [Ower], and carrying them to Corfe…”(Horsfall, 1997: 119). From this it is possible to suggest that just four years before the foundation charter for Gotowre, Ower, just a mile to the north west of Newton Farm, is a major quay serving Corfe Castle. Horsfall also notes that in “1362…eighty oaks…and six others…procured at Beuleu…there to Ower…and to Corfe…” (Horsfall, 1997: 119). Therefore, 76 years after Gotowre’s foundation date, it is clear that the new town had not totally replaced the quay at Ower as the main port for Corfe. This does not rule out the possibility of two quays functioning close by.

The Dorset Tudor Subsidies of 1525, 1544 and 1594  tell the same story as the Lay Subsidies  of two centuries earlier. Whilst Ower, Studland and Corfe all have entries it is noticeable that Newton is not mentioned and it must be suggested that if there was any properties at Newton during the sixteenth century then any tax was minimal and paid under another entry. Perhaps it is curious that the surname Hayward, or Haywarde, is mentioned in each of these years in the entries for Studland. From 1492 the Hayward family owned Newton Farm with John Hayward holding a tenement at Newton in 1586 and therefore it is possible that any income from Newton may have been included with the Hayward’s sums in the Studland entry.

An examination of the Dorset Tudor Muster Rolls once again says nothing of Newton. In the 1569 roll nine names are recorded from Ower and Rollington and a further ten from Studland. It is again possible that any people living at Newton may have been recorded under a different entry.

In summary, the historical evidence of settlement at Gotowre-Super-Mare or Newton suggests only a small rural settlement existed forty years after the foundation of the town was sanctioned by Edward I. It may be that this settlement continued on the site and was considered part of another administrative centre in taxation records from this point onwards. From the research above there is clearly no evidence suggesting that between 1286 and 1326 that any substantial settlement was laid out, grew and was deserted. Further research is to try and establish whether any ground-works took place or any buildings were constructed, though the exact site of these remain difficult to establish with certainty.

Newton Farm Mar08 (1)
Newton Farm, Studland

Dorset’s Archaeology in 150 Words #8: Fort Henry – A WW2 Observation Post in Studland

On the cliff top overlooking Studland Bay and the entrance to Poole Harbour stands the concrete remains of Fort Henry. An observation post for the D-Day practice bombardments and beach assaults of Exercise Smash, carried out on 18 April 1944, the bunker is 30m long with 1m thick concrete walls. Allowing onlookers, including Winston Churchill, Dwight D Eisenhower and King George VI, to view the exercise is a 20cm high slit running the length of the north facing wall. The bunker is split into two adjacent rooms with a small corridor allowing access between the two. The bunker was built in 1943 by Canadian Engineers for this purpose.

Several metres south of the bunker’s western end, on higher ground, is a 4″ defensive gun emplacement built in 1940. 

The site is easily reached on foot from Studland village and National Trust’s Middle Beach and South Beach car parks.


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