Reprinted from Newsletter 117, dated 2005 November–December

Bove Town dig confirms prehistoric human settlement in Glastonbury

Charles and Nancy Hollinrake

A garden, mid-excavation. The ground is bare dirt, and it is clear from steep edges that it has been excavated to a metre or so below normal ground level. Several holes and trenches descend further, scattered around the space. Several people are at work excavating: digging and investigating. Tools such as wheelbarrows and shovels and boxes are scattered around. Some thin ropes are stretched across the area. In the background a hedge runs along the edge of the garden in the left side of the photo, and after a few bushes a fence continues marking the edge, behind which are some trees. Beyond the hedge the roofs of some houses can be seen.

The archaeological team at work — in September, before the rains began — on what was the tennis courts at The Hollies, Nº 1 Bove Town. The mound at top right is hundreds of years of garden soil. Stretching diagonally from it to the bottom of the photo is evidence of a boundary ditch that lasted from as early as AD1000 until the 19th century, when the present big house was built and the Bove Town cottages were demolished. Wells Road is behind the hedge at top.

We first investigated by means of a series of evaluation trenches in 2004. These revealed that the site contained not only evidence for medieval occupation, including boundary ditches, but also features and finds dating to the late Anglo-Saxon period — broadly the 10th and 11th centuries.

The survival of archaeology from the 10th or 11th century in medieval towns is rare, so the county council recommended a full archaeological excavation of the development area. This we did during the summer of 2005.

The finds are still being processed, and the phasing of the site is still to be completed, but this article outlines the main finds and occupation periods.

A very large number of archaeological features were recorded on this site, predominantly boundary and drainage ditches, gullies, rubbish pits and post-holes. The sheer density attests to continuous occupation from at least the 10th century.

The earliest feature was a pit from the Late Bronze Age, probably from around 1200 to 1000BC. A few features seem to contain Late Iron Age pottery shards (the features themselves may be of later date). Roman pottery shards were discovered, as residual finds in Anglo-Saxon and medieval features.

Anglo-Saxon occupation on the site has been proved beyond doubt. Property ditches and drainage gullies indicate that pre-Norman settlement was probably contained within regular, laid-out plots running off the west end of Bove Town. The Anglo-Saxon property alignments seem to share orientations slightly different from those of the 12th-century and later planned town.

We did not find Anglo-Saxon buildings. They probably stood on the Bove Town frontage, not investigated during the excavation, and they were probably more-or-less destroyed when the end of the road was widened during the 20th century. Anglo-Saxon finds include a considerable quantity of pottery shards, an iron-link chain and an iron or steel pruning sickle used for harvesting grapes.

Medieval occupation seems to have continued through to at least the 16th century. Notable finds include a 10th-12th-century stone lamp, a late-12th-century silver coin of King Roger II of Sicily (found in a 14th-century layer) and a number of very large pits whose backfill included many fragments of pottery kiln waste and rejected pottery shards — kiln wasters. These indicate the presence of a pottery kiln in the vicinity, although not within the excavation area: it operated from at least the 13th century through to at least the 15th century. This is the first unequivocal proof of medieval pottery production in Glastonbury.

No medieval building foundations were seen during the excavations. Again, these probably lay above the Anglo-Saxon buildings on the Bove Town frontage. During the 16th or 17th century, most of the property reverted to a deeply cultivated garden, although it was still divided into long, medieval, burgage plots with buildings standing on the street front. These buildings were demolished in the second half of the 19th century, when the area was landscaped and an orchard planted.

The medieval pottery shards appear to contain a high proportion of elaborately decorated glazed wares, possibly indicating that the site was occupied by well-to-do inhabitants.

Dr Lynn Marston, in her PhD thesis [Leicester University, 2003] on the town, covering the years 1086 to 1400, suggested that this part of Bove Town, and this particular plot, may once have been occupied by hereditary abbey servants or customary tenants from the Anglo-Saxon period onwards. She further suggested that this area might once have formed the eastern end of the pre-Norman High Street area.

The 2004 excavations offer strong support to her theory: finds such as the Anglo-Saxon sickle and the Sicilian coin. The plots themselves also seem to reflect the same orientation as those on the High Street.

The Bronze Age pit is the first known prehistoric feature found within the town (about 1000BC). Along with the ditch from the late Neolithic period (2200BC) found at the Chalice Well in 1999, this pit does indicate that prehistoric occupation features are present and can be found in Glastonbury.

Hollies refurbishment was Dr Pinniger’s surger

John Brunsdon

[From Chairman’s Notes]

At last the Grade 2 listed building known as The Hollies has had an overdue redecoration inside and out. This significant late-Georgian house was until recently used by Millfield school as a boarding house.

It stands on an important site at the bottom of Bovetown, which was the medieval route to Wells. Archaeologists found evidence that confirms human settlement at Glastonbury in prehistoric times. They also found Anglo-Saxon features of a sort that can give radiocarbon dates — which is actually quite rare.

Dr Tom Pinniger lived here in the 1950s and 1960s and ran his surgery from the premises in the days before the health centre. Dr Pinniger was a slightly built man with a glass eye. This commanded great respect from children, since he could “look” in two directions at once!

He began practice on a motorbike and retired driving a large Humber saloon. Once he slipped and broke his thigh on the lias-slab floor. He nevertheless completed the surgery and then called an ambulance.