Howard Williams Invites You to his Tudor Manor

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My friend Howard Williams teaches archaeology at the University of Exeter, England. He’s joined me in Sweden three times so far, once for a rural bike trip, twice for co-directed excavations, and he’s soon returning for yet another jaunt around the country’s sites, museums and archaeology departments. Attend his lectures there if you can!

Here’s a guest entry by Howard about his fieldwork during the past summer. I would have been there too but for my paternal duties.

Stokenham Fieldwork, July 2007
By Dr Howard Williams

This summer I led the third season of fieldwork exploring the Medieval and Tudor manor house at Stokenham in Devon.

The principal focus of this year’s fieldwork was ‘Manor Field’ east of the parish church. Until its abandonment in the 1580s this was the site of the manor of Stokenham. It has been a field ever since. Geophysical, topographical and fieldwalking surveys suggested where the manor house might be, and we opened two trenches to explore the surviving remains.

Trench 1 consisted of a 25 by 5 m intervention placed to investigate the largest terraced platform in the Manor Field. This terrace had produced the highest concentration of Medieval building material and finds in the 2005 fieldwalking survey. We revealed the remains of one of the rooms of the manor house with the substantial foundations of walls suggesting a building of at least two storeys and a fireplace with the burned remains of logs still in place!

Over half a metre of rubble contained clues to how the building was constructed. It was a lordly dwelling of the 15th and 16th centuries. The roof was of slate with decorated ceramic ridge tiles. The walls were partly mortared, lined with plaster internally and lime-washed externally. The floor included flagstones and decorated tiles with a fish-design (perhaps from the manor’s chapel). Mortared drains were also revealed. One wall was found collapsed and contained sculpted sandstone window-pieces, further evidence of a high-status building.

Finds included a large animal bone assemblage including cattle, sheep, pig and possibly also deer, horse and dog. There were also large numbers of fish bones and oyster shells. Artefacts included iron nails (parts of the timber superstructure of the building), iron tools and horseshoes, fish hooks, belt-buckles, brooches, pins, a thimble, a bronze finger-ring and bronze and silver coins. Among the finds indicative of a high-status building was an iron key with a heart-shaped handle. All this evidence serves to suggest that Trench 1 had correctly located the site of the abandoned and lost manor house of Stokenham.

Nearby we opened a 10 by 3 m intervention – Trench 2. Here we found another building foundation and a midden stuffed full of finds including animal bones, oyster shells and artefacts including bronze pins and metalworking evidence. We also found a road surface made of slates lain on-end and framed by quartz blocks: the road leading into the manorial complex.

The results are to be studied at the University of Exeter and published in a suitably scholarly journal. It is one of only a handful of Medieval and Tudor manorial sites investigated by archaeologists in the South-West of England. Stokenham promises to provide valuable information on the life of the minor nobility to complement the work done on castles and palace sites.

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