Archive for the ‘earthwork’ Category

In an effort to adjust back to life in Blighty I’ve looked for similarities between life in Valencia, Spain and Tamworth, UK to little success. I’ve had to delve into the history books again to see if I could find anything similar and woe betold, there was a(sort of) bull ring in Tamworth just like back in Valencia close to my old home.

arrow pointing in direction of my old home, just out of range of the smell of bullshit, no pun intended

Bull baiting was a popular pastime in English town life from the middle ages up until the late 18th century(even later in the West Midlands) and Tamworth was no exception. It consisted basically of tying the bull to a stake in a central square and setting dogs on the animal, pretty unsavoury stuff but in its time it was actually unlawful  to slaughter the bull before being baited. Apparently it gave the bull meat more taste and the fines would have probably been a source of income for local authorities.

bull baiting scene above

This can all be testified in Tamworth, where Charles Ferrers in his resourceful Tamworth  book tells us that the book rolls of the town show us that persons had been fined for killing the animals before being  baited.He goes on to say that the ring (probably at most consisting of railings which together with stake and rope were regularly mended) was at the junction of Bolebridge street with  Coleshill and George Street with the last bull baits happening in the 17th century . George Street he later states  was actually called Bullstake street in reference to the stake used to tie the bull, before being renamed George Street in the 19th century. In looking for more details on the bull baiting I got all excited when I came across the book the history of signboards where it stated that bullrunning was practiced in Tamworth and Stamford. Yes just like the famous Pamplona bull running. This was a double discovery as bull running in England was a new one for me and that it had happened at Tamworth!!! Alas it was too good to be true, the book had mistaken Tutbury with Tamworth where a bull run was indeed practiced. Still the fact that bull running existed in England in towns like nearby Tutbury and Stamford is a great novelty fact to bring up in the conversation or maybe to think about when running like a demon down the slippery streets of Pamplona, Spain.

Getting all misty eyed and nostalgic about Valencia I went to look at the site of the old  bull ring in Tamworth, with the resulting furtively taken photo below:

Incredibly and by accident the bull ring echoed through into the present in the form of the circular brick flooring and the metal posting nearby in the modern day crossroads. Ok maybe I’m reading too much into it and it’s true if you’re  looking for coincidences you’ll find them sooner or later. Whatever though enough of mundane explanations for me it opened up the thought that ancient sites maybe could echo through to the present day through modern architectural accidents. Almost like an unconscious effort on the part of the building developers to pay tribute to old places. Former sites bending the will of modern building developments to produce phantom echos of the past. Ok there’s the idea now more proof in the Tamworth Timehikes area of what I’m thinking about:

Well how about Copes drive written about in this previous post.It’s highly botched pot holed surface with  pebbles showing through isn’t the result of an impasse between local authorities and residents, no  it’s because it’s ancientness is shining through the cracks, being  one of the oldest routes in the Leyfields housing estate.

Below in an attempt to photograph the slight dip in the ground by a house next to the ladybank, Tamworth with the river in front of it. This dip just happens to roughly correspond to the Anglo Saxon ditch surrounding the town(see previous post). Coincidence, or an echo from the past?

Anymore examples out there?

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Victorian railway ruin

Close to the wreck of Ashlands farm in a landscape of wrecks is another wreck, stuck for close to centuries on a curve  of the river Anker, an overgrown mound with a blue brick ruin of one half of a Victorian railway bridge beneath it´s  overgrowth. It´s the most prominent remain of a stretch of railway which crossed over the river Anker and through the Warwickshire Moor connecting the  Birmingham and Derby railway to the London and North Western railway.

There´s scarcely any info out there on the internet, I thought I might have a bit of luck with the ever faithful ebooks, but no luck, not even from  the book  Midlands counties railway travel book printed in 1840. Descriptions full of praise though for other railway architecture such as the still existing 18 arch viaduct in Tamworth with some great illustrations  to boot.

Getting up close

Taking a leaf out of the Preumbalations of Barkfoot´s blog´s explorations. I´ll try to get across the idea of discovering the place photo by photo back in Summer 2010. I think it´s an interesting way to involve the reader in the act  of discovery and the excitement that it entails. It´s just that I need better photos!

Even up close it´s hard to get a sense of what the place was, until you see a glimpse of an arch through the undergrowth,let the adventure begin.

Climbing up the slippery clay bank using any branches to hold onto you´ll come up to flat ridge with an overgrown path along it, it´s more overgrown than I remember as a kid and less well trodden, are kids messing around in the countryside less than they used to?  At least in the central clearing on the ridge there´s signs of recent activity of lighting fires, and ritual drinking activities.    This central clearing owes it´s lack of vegetation to the fact that you´re standing on an impressive arch. Looking over the edge you can make out the brick  buttresses flanking the bridge. The next photo was taken from the vantage point indicated by  orange footprints indicate(my feet really are that big)

Below is the blurry picture taken from the aforementioned vantage point. It´s an impressive blue brick arch rising roughly to about 8 metres(a very rough estimate tinged with the  exageration of memory!) Didn´t manage to get to the base of the arch when taking photo but remember it as an atmospheric place, looks more overgrown than ever down there. The abundant vegetation makes it look like  a  sort of Victorian take on a mayan ruin!

Continuing with my blurry photo series. This is a photo from the river facing front of the bridge.  Consisting of a sheer indented brick cliff face marking a dangerous end to the path along the ridge.

It´s history through maps

I´m going to attempt to tell the little I found out about the place through maps, I´ll hopefully be adding anything I find out later so keep a watch out on this space.


The only reference I found out about the now demolished connection line is the construction date of june 1847  gleaned from the Warwickshire Railways site, a really well put together and endearing site. That date places it in that first wave of railway building.

The above 1884 ordnance map(click to enlarge), taken from  Old maps.co.uk shows the connection. The section which actually spans the river corresponds to the width of the railway line, making me imagine it was an iron viaduct, maybe something like this:(insert picture when have better connection)

Revealingly there´s no railway track along the route unlike the adjacent Birmingham Derby line. Had the railway already packed it in after less than 40 years of service? More to the point what´s the story behind the relatively short lived railway line? Anyone out there there in the ether  got any clues to it´s story…

In the above 1902 Ordnance map taken from  Old-Maps.co.uk the words dismantled run alongside the connection. From now on it´s sit back time, watch the plantlife grow, wars come and go, or speed up in Time Machine style to the year 1962.

The next info I´ve got is from the Tamworth castle dateline page which states that the bridge was blown up by the territorial army in 1962, I´m assuming this was the only bridge blown up in this stretch of the river. It´s destruction is consecrated in the above 1977 ordnance map taken from  old maps.co.uk

Above is a satellite image from flash earth showing what´s left to see now. I´ve marked on the image a few points where possible evidence of the railway line might lie  some of it checked other conjectured or dimly remembered from years back.

1. Flash earth shows up field markings quite clearly. The lighter shaded earth in the field corresponds well to the outline of the demolished connection, what´s going on there?  Next to the current railway is a bulge in the sidings the only reminder of the embankment connecting to the Birmingham Derby railway

2. The surviving section of the bridge, main subject of the post.

3. corresponds to any remains left in the river or on it´s banks. I remember seeing rows of bricks on both banks, no photos, sorry.  Anything lie on the river bed below where the bridge spanned. What happened to that iron viaduct, was it blown up, sold for scrap metal, or lies rusting on river Anker´s bed?

4. The stretch along the Warwickshire moor side has now been replaced wood and scrubland, nature reclaiming the land with renewed energy, a carbon copy in foliage of the old railway route. Are there any remains among the undergrowth?

5. The railway went over a stream near here, I dimly remember a brick bridge, the info my mind stores makes me wonder sometimes!

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Offlow continued……..

Got some info to add to the post on the Offlow tumulus on the borders of Tamworth Timehikes. Staffordshire County Council HER(Historic Environment Record) kindly sent me the report on the site. Most of the info is from the early 20th century, here it is below:

Well can solve the mystery of its dissappearance. Like so many sites, repeated ploughing has all but defaced the mound.” Bedford is recorded as visiting the site in 1934 and collecting a piece of Roman roof tile, he was accompanied by Reverend E. Denesh who suggested the mound may have a Roman origin”.

Again quoting the HER report ” In 1938 Offlow was recorded as a low mound, 30 yards in diameter and not more than 2 feet high, but evidently much spread.” Interestly it was remarked that the barrow was placed so that it would have been in view of both Wall and Tamworth.

Tragically in 1948 the barrow is recorded as demolished explaining it´s dissappearance on maps and the map marker of ´site of´ In 1958 it was recorded as ” a ploughed down barrow 0.5 metres high of indefinite outline but roughly 20 metres in diameter with no possible ditch” In 1976 the site was under plough with no remains visible and no surface finds.

The report apart from confirming its demise adds to the mystery of Offlow. Could be seen from Wall and Tamworth? Roman roof tiles? intriguing place.

Post Changes

This added information together with the ´too long for me´ previous post confirms that I´m going to try another approach to long posts. The more I focus  or tunnel down on a place the more information, thoughts and questions come up this has got to be reflected by the posts growing and correcting  from time to time, so keep a look out on older posts. That’s the great thing about posts over the printed word, they can be changed, cut and add when I want and I aim to make full use of that.

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Ok back in business and straight into the heart of the metropolis of Tamworth, or at least round the edges of the centre to have a look at the Anglo-Saxon to medieval defences that once surrounded Tamworth.

Witness the Fitness, Abe and Ernst are back in training

This post is riding the wave of Anglo-Saxon popularity of which Tamworth of course is in the premier  in this field. The defences compared to other subjects in Timehikes have had  considerable time and research, internet space dedicated to them so below I´m going to review the work done by archaeologists, historians, witnesses, map makers before going on to suggest a few ways of promoting the elusive defences.

Below I´ve outlined the course of the defences in green

This was a pointless exercise  as Ordnance survey have done it already, below

The defences, known variably as King´s ditch, Offa´s dyke and Walferlong are connected with the very origins of the name Tamworth, they add the worth bit in the name, meaning enclosure, Tamworth = enclosure by the river tame( that´s one translation). That the defences are very ancient  is testified by evidence of even older defences going back to at least the 8th century but more of that later.

The defences consisting of a broad ditch and bank are no longer visible, at least without scraping away the dirt. Back in the 19th century though they formed a very visible reminder of Tamworth´s ancient past.  Below is a description from Victoria County History Vol 1, 1904:

This is an excellent collection of previous accounts. From 350 years ago when the ditch was clearly visible on the 3 sides to descriptions in 1884 of the north-west corner of the defence line.

The story of the defences is one of gradual to quick disappearance to partial  rediscovery by archaeologists.  Falling out of use between the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV, they were still very present as the ´kings ditch´ in the 1600´s( see above, Dugdales account) although filled up in places.  In the 1839 map below, they are  marked on the eastern side of the town as King´s Ditch, so they were at least still present on the eastern and western sides.

1839 map with kings ditch marked on it

The above ( Victoria county) accounts from 1884 and the map below from 1885 give a privileged snapshot of the state of the defences in that time. The eastern side had disappeared and the western portion was at it´s most prominent in the north-western corner. Again quoting Victoria county history it mainly consisted of an ´earth tump´. In the 1884 map below the rounded corner is prominently marked. It runs alongside the very saxon sounding Walferlong, another name for the defences(now the less epic sounding Orchard Street)

1885 ordnance map

At some point between the 1886-1900 the visible North-western portion was built on and the northwestern course was followed roughly by terraced housing. In the 1901 ordnance map they are marked as ´remains of´ in the vicinity of the aforementioned terraced houses and along Hospital Street. ´Remains of´  could be inferred as that there was still evidence of the Defence line at the turn of the 20th century.

1901 ordnance map

At some point  before 1938 they become ´site of´ , which could be taken as that there were no longer remains and have become a ´memory´ commemorated by the nearby Offa street.

1938 ordnance map

Parallel to it´s dissappearance and it´s conversion to memory and then history, archaeologists appear in the scene in the 1960´s-1980´s. A  number of small excavations are carried out in response to building work. Below I´ll outline some of their discoveries.


This is a bit of mish mash of reports and is quite difficult to outline so sorry to misquote but it gives an idea of the conclusions of the excavations.Many of the excavations were carried out by Gould in the 60´s and 70´s, his excavations on brewery lane revealed possible different phases. There´s the hypothesis that the defences correspond to King Aethelfaed´s action in 913 written in the Market charter´He went with all the Mercians to Tamworth and built the burgh there in the early summer´. The construction of fortified burhs during this period marks an important transition in the development of towns, Tamworth being a significant example.   The ditch with a turf built rampart , with frontal timber revetments and wooden strapping found at the brewery lane site was ascribed to this Aethelfaed period. Gould also found evidence though of earlier pre-Aethelfaed sequences. It´s described as a ´palisaded trench´.  It seems quite certain that there was a pre late saxon defence and there´s speculation that it originated in the royal defences of the royal site of Tamworth in the mid-8th century mentioned in the Market charters.

Speculated cross-section of the defences from mid-anglo saxon period, pre-Aethelfaed.(copied and pasted from Basset,S, Divide and rule,the military infrastructure of eighth and ninth century Mercia)

On the other side of the sequence there´s evidence of continued use of the defences after 913 up until the 13th centuries. The defences were refurbished and stone walls were placed in front of the ramparts as noted in the excavations on Albert Road and rubble found in ditch of Brewery lane. The collapsed walls were probably used in fact to fill in the ditches. (all taken from  reviews of the excavations from Bassett, S, Divide and Rule, The military infrastructure of eighth and ninth century Mercia and info from online archaeology reports)

map with excavations and original medieval streets, again the above map is again copied and pasted  from Bassett, S, Divide and Rule, The military infrastructure of eighth and ninth century Mercia. thankyou!

I remember (although I maybe completely wrong)that they excavated a wall in the excavation on Hospital street in response to the reforming of the old hospital and conversion into houses, with surrounding houses I remember it was back in the 90´s. I dimly remember that they found remains of a wall and ditch and that it was displayed in one of the reformed buildings with an explanation of the remains. I don´t know where I remember it from and  maybe it´s wishful thinking but as far as I know that´s no longer the case and there´s no explanation of the place currently. They are private residences so difficult to find out. Anyway it would have been a great idea if it did exist outside my head!  Why don´t they integrate the ditch and bank found in one of the excavations into the current townscape.With a small investment it would give back to some extent the King´s ditch back to the town and great introduction to the origins of the town. In Valencia where I live the integrating of archaeological remains into modern townscapes is seen everywhere. From an islamic wall in the middle of a museum gallery, a bakery to part of the Roman town  seen  below a glass plaza. Even if you are not interested in a ´bunch of walls,´  the results look great, as you might see from the picture below

The Almoina, Valencia, a glass covered square showing the Roman excavated ruins below. This is perhaps an overly expensive example of what could be done

Promoting the defences

A commemorative heritage gastronomic trail or pub crawl.

How about a pub crawl along the course of the ancient defences  . This can be taken in a more leisurely or decadent way depending on your style. This could integrate Tamworth heritage pub initiative and the Mercian trail promoted by the local council.

Ok here goes, start at the eastern side of the ditch, at the Weatherspoons. It´s best to start here as a: it´s very cheap and b: you miss the rush of hundreds of people later on. Take your time here as there awaits a long walk along the eastern course to the next watering hole, the Albert Inn. This is not right on the course of the defence but it´s near enough. This is an old-school boozer as are most on the itinerary, or at least it was, haven´t been there for years. You may encounter in some of the pubs, real Anglo Saxons descendents, keep a look out, you´ll know when you see one.  From here continue west along Albert street until you get to the crossroads at Gungate. Here you will face a dilemma, if you´re feeling peckish there´s a thai restaurant on the corner or you can carry on to the Globe Hotel, a fine example of a  Victorian pub palace  as described in Tamworth Heritagepubs. From here you enter a more residential area empty of pubs. Go along Hospital street, stop at the corner shop with Orchard Street and while you´re buying some maltesers imagine you´re  standing on the corner of the renowned King´s ditch. Continue along Orchard street, go past the St Johns club and the borough council buildings onto the White Lion the penultimate and well deserved resting place. From here a short step to the last pub, right next to an excavation of the ditch, called the Three Tuns. … That´s it the King´s Ditch pub crawl!

The pub´s named and placed, click to enlarge

A collective search for the ancient defences

This is a call out in Timeteam or maybe big dig style for anyone living on the course of the defences to have a look around, you never know there just might be a telling dip in the garden, a cellar with adjoining wall,  anyway would be amazing to hear any stories. Also memories of the remains would also be great to hear. Below is a map with the houses and adjoining back yards where there might be evidence. I think the corner of Hospital and Orchard street is the most promising place for some sort of evidence, maybe a rise in the garden.

The residences and church( below St Johns Catholic church, probable basement) highlighted on the defence line where maybe, just maybe there is evidence of the ancient defences

I´m really enthusiastic about this idea so I´m  going to risk the ridiculous and am going to try and post a call out on the Tamworth Blog!

Abe and Ernst getting into the spirit of the search for the ancient defences

This post is far too long and has got out of hand!

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This post has the particularity(is that a word! it sounds Spanglish to me )that will probably be not much longer  than the title.  The previous post about Robin Hood´s Butts refers to Elford Lowe  a probable bronze age barrow, located by farm of the same name. The other butt mentioned, Wigginton butt (2 miles away) is a mystery, can´t find any more info either text or map based anywhere. Returning to  Elford Lowe, it´s entered into the scheduled monument database as a bronze age Lowe Bowl Barrow(I assume it´s the same one). Elford has got a considerable prehistoric material record(with bowl barrow, burials,etc). It´s location on a buff on the bend of the  river Tame would have made it a prized location for prehistoric agricultural communities.

Elford represents a sort of gateway to a stretch of the Tame and Trent Valley which  have been relatively well investigated by archaeologists and have turned up a lot of prehistoric material evidence.Take a look at this detailed project on the area called Where Rivers Meet: Landscape, ritual and Archaeology of River Gravels, researching  landscapes from Neolithic to early medieval.  At the same time its the way out for Tamworth Timehikes,  representing  the limit of the area covered in the blog.

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This will get the American tourists coming in, come to Tamworth and see Robin Hood’ s Butt!

Well according to history of the town and castle of Tamworth, by Charles Ferrers Raymond Palmer, 1845 they were located nearby in Elford and Wigginton. I´ll stop going on and leave pasted  below this extract from the remarkable stories of Robin Hood and some “roman tumuli” in the vicinity:

Abe and Ernst who have been out of the picture for a while couldn´t resist testing out the theory that Robin Hood could shoot from one butt or ´prehistoric mound´  to another.

preparing to shoot

will it make it >>>————->

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If there´s a candidate for hordes of treasure hunters descending on a place in the area, it´s got to be the circular mound called Gold´s clump, overlooking the  village of Hints, next to the roman A5. Thats not to advocate treasure hunting and wanton destruction of sites, but the idea of treasure does seem to be a very attractive one(Staffordshire Hoard) a sort of lottery ticket lying in the ground but also the metaphorical idea of treasure, or looking for treasure is very attractive.  The idea of a quest for treasure, information, a lost site,  etc is one of the most appealing facets of archaeology and history. Its an activity thats ‘ out of this world’ , its not mundane in the same way as looking for your keys is! even if the ´quest´ is to study paleodiets in late roman rural sites.

As I´m mentioning treasure hunting I might as well bring up the issue of revealing archaeological sites and protection. Going around revealing and bringing my little grain of exposure to largely overlooked places could bring unwelcome attention and potential destruction of sites. This is an argument commonly used by people in heritage. I would argue though that the policy of hush hush has brought a lot more destruction to sites in the area than actively promoting and creating an awareness and interest in overlooked places.  You can´t always keep a secret especially post facebook days so maybe it´s time to try other ways. This is a controversial issue so it would be great to hear peoples views….please

The above candidate is a tree covered almost perfect mound on a prominent point. Considering its prominence and the fact that its next to the A5, its surprising that there hasn´t been any tunneling to look inside by 18th century learned scholar types or more recent efforts.Famous  Silbury hill on the other hand even got a BBC programme called  big dig commisioned by David Attenborough in the 1960´s  dedicated to tunneling the hill.

In the above LIDAR image it stands out as a spherical bump.

This is a slightly blurred LIDAR close up of the mound, with Geomatics group emblem splashed across it, the raised line to the left is a hedge.

The  Hints Village site has got a couple of paragraphs dedicated to the mound and talk about a possible roman or prehistoric origin, I got the sense they also wonder why despite being declared a scheduled monument there´s never been any investigations of the place. According to the site a trial excavation and the potential communication mast have been rejected.

Theres a great description of Hints in Guide to Staffordshire and the Black Country by Michael Raven(online with Googlebooks) It mentions Golds Clump as a “large circular prehistoric burial mound ” He also mentions the rolling hills around Hints.  The hills and tree covered ridges that surround the area are indeed captivating, there’s the feeling that you don´t want the rolling landscape to end so its best not to travel too far to avoid disappointment.

gateway to the land of the rolling hills

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