Bristol and Avon Archaeological Society

BAAS Bulletin No. 89 Autumn 2021

In this Issue:

BAAS Program 2021-2022

News from the Society

Archaeological Events with Bristol Museum

Another Loss for UK Archaeology

Rediscovered Gate Piers Close to the Formal Gardens of Stoke Park

Thoughts on Bandits in the Roman Period

Keep up to date at:


Twitter: @BristolAvonArch



BAAS Programme 2021-2022

Keith Stenner

It is with great excitement that BAAS can now announce the resumption of its fabulous programme of regular talks, starting in November.  Currently these talks will be in person at the Apostle Room in Clifton Cathedral on a Wednesday each month at 7.30pm, usually ending by 9.30pm.  Doors open at 7.00pm.  Please note, as a consequence of Apostle Room Covid provisions, no refreshments will be available for the first meeting and until further notice, but it is hoped these can be resumed later in the programme.  Ample free car parking is available in the Cathedral car park (entrance from Worcester Road off Pembroke Road).  The No 8 bus service runs along parts of Pembroke Road.  The entrance to the Apostle Room is on the same level as the car park, under the main part of the Cathedral.  Non-members are welcome as guests at a charge of £2.00 per meeting.

2021 Autumn/Winter Talks

Wednesday 10th November      The First Pharaohs

Illustrated talk by Professor Aidan Dodson, Hon. Professor of Egyptology at the University of Bristol.

Egypt was unified around 3000BC, beginning the history of Pharaonic Egypt and setting the ground-rules for the nature and constitution of the state and kingship that would endure for three millennia. This talk will explore the history and archaeology of the first three Egyptian dynasties, from the unification itself down to the building of the first three pyramids.


Wednesday 1st December     The Newport Medieval Ship: Dendrochronology, Dating and Provenance

Illustrated talk by Professor Nigel Nayling, Professor of Archaeology, University of Wales Trinity St. David Lampeter

During the dramatic discovery of the Newport Ship in 2002, the application of dendrochronology provided the first precise absolute dating for the timbers surrounding and within the ship placing its arrival in Newport to after AD 1468.  The ship itself has now been dated against historic buildings in the hinterland of the Basque Country in Spain.  These discoveries have encouraged further research on other Iberian shipwrecks on the Atlantic seaboard of Europe, but also in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

2021 Spring Talks

Wednesday 12th January 2022    Mount Pleasant, Dorchester and Other Mega-Henges: New Chronologies and Ideas

Illustrated talk by Susan Greaney, School of Archaeology, University of Cardiff

Located just to the east of Dorchester in Dorset, the enormous and elaborate henge of Mount Pleasant was excavated in 1970-1 by Geoffrey Wainwright.  Until recently, our understanding of the site has been based on these excavations and the dating available at the time.  Now, a new research project has obtained radiocarbon dates from samples of antler picks, charcoal and human remains held in the Dorset County Museum and has been able to build a brand-new chronology for the monument.  The henge and its various components – a palisaded (fenced) enclosure, a concentric timber monument and the great mound of Conquer Barrow –  can all now be placed in the latest Neolithic, a time of great change in southern Britain. This talk will discuss the results of the research project, explore the current understanding of the Dorchester area in the Neolithic period, and explore the implications for thinking about mega-henges across Britain.


Wednesday 9th February 2022      LESLIE GRINSELL MEMORIAL LECTURE: The Three Hundred Year Dig: Discovering Aquae Sulis           

Illustrated talk by Peter Davenport

Since the early 18th century, excavations have been carried out in Roman Bath.  At first these were rare and archaeological finds were made by chance.  From the 1860s increasingly professional methods were employed.  From the laying of the baths in the last decades of the 19th century until the 1950s, interest accelerated, professionals and amateurs collaborated, and there was never a decade in which some new discovery was not made.  From the 1990s to the present there was some sort of archaeological investigation almost every year.  Investigation continues adding still more chapters to the ‘Three Hundred Year Dig’.


Wednesday 9th March 2022     BAAS AGM followed by An Interpretation of Castles [working title]

Illustrated talk by Mike Gwyther, BAAS Chairman.  A full summary of this talk is to follow.


Wednesday 6th April 2022        The Mystery of Gatcombe Roman Site and its Roads

Illustrated talk by Bev Knott, BAAS Committee Member

A fresh examination of this significant Roman walled site just outside Bristol (near Long Ashton), and a look at the puzzling dimensions of its defences.  Another surprising element is the communication with other sites, specifically in the context of Roman roads.  The current state of knowledge will be reviewed and a possibly contentious hypothesis will be offered about the status of the site and its defences, through a comparison with a range of other sites in Britain.


2022 Summer Field Visits

May 2022  Field Visit to Gatcombe Roman Site

A short field walk supplementing April’s talk.  The afternoon will include a brief tour of the site, a look at short stretches of one, and very possibly a second, proposed Roman road; finished with a cream tea at Gatcombe Court.

June 2022  Field Visit to Blaise Castle Estate

A field walk led by Kate Iles (Bristol City Museum and BAAS Committee Member). Full details are to follow.

July 2022  Field Visit (Details to follow).

August 2022  Field Visit (Details to follow).


2022 Autumn/Winter Talks

Wednesday 14th September 2022     The Challenges of Objectively Reconstructing Kings Weston Roman Villa and the Roman Ruins at Sea Mills

Illustrated talk by Alex Birkett, University of Bristol.  (A full summary of this talk is to follow).


Wednesday 12th October 2022   A Romano-British Settlement and the Lost Medieval Hamlet of Wyck: Excavations at Wyke Beck Road and Fishpool Hill in 2021

Illustrated talk by Cai Mason, Senior Project Officer, Wessex Archaeology

Excavations in advance of a large housing development near Cribbs Causeway, Bristol, led to the discovery of an extensive and previously unknown Romano-British settlement defined by an extensive field system.  The site produced a rich finds assemblage spanning the entire Romano-British period, with some evidence for activity continuing into the 5th-7th century AD.  In another part of the site, a large stone-founded medieval hall house and associated buildings were uncovered.  This large and relatively high-status building formed part of the lost settlement of Wyck, and is provisionally dated to the 14th-15th century.

Wednesday 9th November 2022 (Details to Follow).

Wednesday 14th December 2022 (Details to Follow).


News from the Society

The James Russell bequest – the latest

As you will know James Russell, who died last year, made BAAS the main beneficiary in his will.  His bequest consists mainly of his house, left to him by his parents, and its contents.

For the past few months, since we were made aware of this enormous generosity, a dedicated team from your committee has been working in the house to separate James’ research materials and personal effects from the thousands of books which he had.  As loyal and interested members you were then invited to come and choose books in his memory at a special weekend and subsequent morning. Around 40 of you came and books flew off the shelves – most of you went away with far more than you had expected and looking very happy.

Through Paula Gardiner we found a very sympathetic duo of antiquarian booksellers who have cleared all the rest of the printed matter.  Lectures and walks have been photographed, slides will be digitised. Kate Iles has taken much of the research material into the Museum (to be sorted by us at a later date – any offers?) and organised much more to go into archives. Some is being stored, at least for the moment, by Bruce Williams.  The better pieces of furniture have gone to a friendly reclamation contact.  Mike Gwyther, Keith Stenner, Bev Knott and Steve Hastings have endlessly fetched and carried.  Everything which was personal to James, or his parents – a wonderful collection of early writings and photographs – has come to me temporarily until we decide what to do with it – what do you think?

The keys have been handed back to the executor who will now organise the remaining clearance of the house and put it on the market.  For those of us who knew James, and the house in which he spent his whole life, this is the end of a never to be forgotten era.  We hope the moves now usher in a new era which will be sympathetic to his wishes and can reflect our pride in him.

Gundula Dorey (Hon Secretary)

The BAA Journal

A team from the BAAS committee have been working behind the scenes to get the latest edition of the BAA journal ready for publication, gathering articles and lists of recent work carried out in Bristol and the former county of Avon.  The final draft of the latest volume has been accepted by our editor Bruce and will be available soon for members!  Earlier editions of the BAA journal and copies of the BARG Bulletin are avaliable online alongside a contents page, just visit our website at:

The BAAS Online Survey

We are in the process of gathering feedback to improve the society for members. If you would like to share your views of what works well in this society and what can be improved, please take part and fill in our online survey at:–5d5gLELZXomklj7UzOA/viewform

Archaeology Events with Bristol Museum

Kate Iles

October sees the return of Archaeology Online, a series of monthly evening lectures brought to you by Bristol Museums, Bath and Counties Archaeological Society, Bristol and Avon Archaeology Society and Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society.

Booking will open soon for the next few talks but for now, here are some dates for your diaries:

  • Wed 24th Nov 2021 – Archaeology online: the genetic prehistory of Britain with Dr Tom Booth
  • Wed 26th Jan 2022 – Archaeology online: Isca: the Roman legionary fortress at Caerleon with Dr Peter Guest

Bristol Museum also have a few new archaeology study sessions coming up too for anyone interested. Links and more info below:

The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt with Professor Aidan Dodson: 8th November—13th December 2021, 7.30pm – 9pm via Zoom. Tickets cost £50 adult/ £45 concession for all six sessions. For more info visit:

Art on the move – investigate prehistoric portable art with Dr George Nash: 10th January—24th January 2022, 7.30pm – 9pm via Zoom. Tickets cost £30 adult/ £25 concession for all three sessions. For more info visit:

And finally, Blaise Museum have some walks around the Blaise Estate planned, which will definitely feature some archaeology!  They are on the first Thursday of every month and involve a gentle stroll exploring some of the estate’s hidden corners.  They are free but you need to book.  More info here:

We hope to see you online or in-person sometime soon!


Another loss for UK Archaeology

Jack Fuller*

The last year has been very damaging for UK archaeology, as the threat of closure has been faced by several university departments.  The first major one to be threatened with this news was the well-regarded department at the University of Sheffield, which after a determined fight back on social media and within the university, will likely cease to run archaeological courses in the future; redistributing, or making redundant their excellent staff members.

Most recently, the University of Worcester has been in the firing line for closure.  This is the same university department that has recently pioneered excellent archaeological research in Somerset and Mendip, led by Dr Jodie Lewis.  Her work in the area has led to exciting discoveries including the first Early Neolithic enclosure on Mendip at North Hill and the amazing excavations of the first dated timber circle in Somerset near Priddy.[i]  She has also re-evaluated, and given new insights into some of Mendip’s most important monuments including the first radiocarbon dates for the Priddy Circles, as well as excavations on nearby Bronze Age barrows, all of which received refined dates and interpretations after they were first investigated over 100 years ago.[ii]

*With assistance from Cat Lodge, Senior Archaeologist for North Somerset Council.

[i] Lewis, J; Mullin, D; Johnson, N (2018) Filling the gaps: New research on the Mendip Hills, Somerset, Past, 90, pp. 11-13, “Somerset’s first timber circle found” (2020) Current Archaeology Online:

[ii] Lewis, J; Mullin, D (2011) New Excavations at Priddy Circle I Mendip Hills, Somerset, UBSS, 25.2, pp. 133-163, Lewis, J (2014) Priddy, North Hill, in Webster, C, J, Somerset Archaeology 2013, SANHS, 157, pp. 144-165.

Despite a determined fight from the “Save Worcester Archaeology” campaign, on Tuesday 26th October the University of Worcester finally announced that it is refusing to overturn its decision to close the Archaeology course in July 2022.  This is despite public and sector outrage and high-level support for the course.  A small victory was made by this campaign, as the University backtracked on its decision of reducing teaching staff from 3.5 FTE to 1.5 FTE in January 2022.  Instead, all teaching staff will remain on their current contracts until July 2022, allowing all current undergraduate students to complete their degree with the support of their lecturers.  However, postgraduate students appear not to have been considered, and will still lose their supervisors in July 2022, before they have completed their studies. This is a terrible position to be placed in whilst in the middle of undertaking a research degree.

This news is extremely disappointing and highlights a concerning trend of universities seeking to cut expenditure by axing archaeology courses. This is despite a national shortage of trained archaeologists in the commercial sector (the profession is on the national skills shortage list) and renewed public interest in the subject (e.g. The Great British Dig, Digging for Britain, and the relaunch of Time Team).  It can only be hoped that more universities do not follow this trend, and that the excellent staff from Worcester continue their research through other means where it is valued for the high quality that it is.

If you want to keep up to date with news from “Save Worcester Archaeology Campaign”, please follow them on Twitter and Facebook:

We must act now to prevent the loss of skills and infrastructure required to protect and promote our archaeological heritage. You can do this by supporting the Dig for Archaeology campaign. To find out more, head to:


Rediscovered Gate Piers Close to the Formal Gardens of Stoke Park

John M Hunt*

In 1998, Adrian Parry (BaRAS), reporting on his investigations at the former Posthouse Forte Hotel, Filton Road[i] (ST6298 7855m), now owned by the Holiday Inn Company, noted that the documentary and cartographic sources revealed that a house has been on the site of the hotel since the 17th century, variously called ‘Axlease’ and ‘Conifers’, alongside a couple of ancillary farm buildings which were demolished prior to the building of the hotel.

However, of particular interest to Adrian was the potential location of a formal garden attached to the nearby Stoke Park.  He noted that a tower providing views of the park[ii] was built on to one side of the main house which still occupies part of the hotel grounds, as well as other garden features which could still be seen today including a tree lined avenue and a ha-ha.  Importantly, he also noted that the style of the gated entrance to the house was that of Thomas Wright, the landscape architect who designed the nearby Stoke Park in the 18th century[iii], although no further connection to Wright was noted during the desktop assessment.

The house with the tower attached (shown on maps as ‘Conifers’), was mostly concealed by a length of tall roadside hedgerow, and prior to 1980 the present writer had never seen the sign of a gate or gate piers, likely due to the vegetation cover.  However, after August 2013 a new speed ramp was placed between the rear entrance to the Holiday Inn and ‘The Old Stables’, alongside two newer yellow brick walls for the entrance to the latter, which had replaced a length of the concealing hedgerow.  This drew attention to one of the two gate piers, which appeared as a cylindrical pier, made of grey pennant stone and topped with a large ‘carved’ capstone.  A later visit by the writer confirmed that both gate piers still in fact exist on the north side of the road. They were measured, sketched, and photographed.  A description of them is provided below.

Whilst the original design of the piers could be that of Thomas Wright, the capstones are probably later and are made of material known as ‘Pulhamite’, invented in the early 19th C.  by James R. Pulham.[iv]

The more visible left-hand pier measures 91cm in diameter and is 1.73m tall, although the true height is concealed by dumped branches at the base, which at the time of surveying were home to far too many bees to continue!  The capstone has two holes in the Pulhamite cement revealing the bricks underneath, and a deep hole on upper area of the capstone measuring 7.5 x 10 x 51cm.  Lower down on the pennant section is a metal catch for a gate.

The right-hand pier stands 1.98m tall, although again the true height was obscured by dumped vegetation and more conspicuous ivy growth compared to the left-hand pier.  The domed top of the capstone of this pier is missing in this instance, and just below this was another hole measuring around 51cm in diameter and 26cm deep.  A possible reason for these deep holes in both piers is due to the removal of lantern brackets, perhaps of a similar type to those formerly of ‘Duchess Gates’ (v).  On this pier the upper pivot hinge of the gate remains in place, although the lower one is missing.

The gate itself is no longer present. Now covering the 2.74m gap is a length of plastic covered chicken wire, set across the back of the piers, leaving them outside of the present property boundary (of ‘Conifers’) on a roadside grass verge.

*Transcribed and edited by the Bulletin Editor.

[i] Parry, A, H, H (1998) Archaeological Desktop Study & Geophysical Survey of The Forte Posthouse Hotel, Filton Road, Hambrook, South Gloucestershire (Bristol & Region Archaeological Services); BCMAG 1998 0050.

[ii] Although it is noted by the author that strangely when viewed from Filtonwood side does not currently have windows or openings to view the park.

[iii] Russell, R, J (1989) The Archaeology of Stoke Park, Bristol, Bristol and Avon Archaeology, vol. 8, pp.30-40; Russell, R, J (1988) Three Garden Buildings by Thomas Wright in Stoke Park, Bristol (Bristol and Avon Archaeological Society)

[iv] Pulhamite: Information on this was provided to the author by Mr Chris Stephens – J.R. Pulham (1820-98) was the last of a dynasty of James Pulhams who led a company which manufactured garden ornaments, rock gardens, water features, and ferneries. ‘Pulhamite’ was a rending made using the company’s own cement formula derived by J.R. Pulham and included appropriate dyes where necessary. It was applied to foundations of skillfully laid bricks to achieve whatever shape the builders had in mind. The material appeared so geologically authentic that it frequently deceived experts. Thomas Wright (1711-1786) could have been connected with the earlier James Pulhams who were at Dewstow from the late 18th century, perhaps at the time Pulham was working at Badminton and Stoke Park, although the date of Pulhamite’s invention is much later.

[v] Harding, S (1990) Proposals for the Restoration of Stoke Park, Bristol (Stoke Park Restoration Trust), fig. 16, p. 32

Thoughts on Bandits in the Roman Period

Bev Knott

Any mention of bandits in Roman times is often followed by the words “infested” and “rife”.  Did this mean that travelling on Roman roads was too dangerous for anyone apart from the army or people with heavily armed escort?  Well, there is plenty of evidence from the ancient world to support this idea.  For example, literary sources such as Juvenal, or Seneca: “Only the poor man is safe from bandit attacks.” Or epigraphic evidence such as tombstones found throughout the Empire from Belgium to Bulgaria to North Africa carrying the phrase “Killed by bandits” (interfectus ab latronibus).  Of the 25 examples I have seen (and I don’t know if this is an exhaustive list), I have seen none from Britannia although, I must confess, I have not trawled through ‘Roman Inscriptions of Britain’ (RIB).  However, I do wonder if this list is statistically significant for such a large area over hundreds of years, even considering the random survival of tombstones.

Perhaps it isn’t significant and there is other evidence to suggest that while the risk from bandits obviously existed, especially in some areas and in unsettled times, it was by no means as generally dangerous and endemic as is often painted. It was clearly not a deterrent to the huge use of roads for freight transportation or personal travel.  In our own area, roads were clearly being heavily used by traffic long after the military withdrawal away to the north, as is shown by the repeated rebuilds of the Fosse Way burying successive rutted surfaces, or by the section  of the Sea Mills to Bath Road excavated recently in a Stoke Bishop garden, displaying heavily worn surfaces indicating the passage of frequent traffic.

Large amounts of freight transport clearly existed in general, as is evidenced by use of roads as shown above and many other examples and by the amounts of silver coinage in circulation, obviously generated by massive commercial activity.  A striking example of this kind of traffic is the ubiquitous Samian ware made in central Gaul which is found throughout the Empire and penetrated even to ordinary households in Britannia such as the Row of Ashes farmstead excavated near Bristol Airport south of Bristol.

Unsurprisingly, outbreaks of road crime increased in unsettled times; during the long drawn-out civil wars from the death of Julius Caesar until the triumph of Augustus, banditry surged even in Italy.  Even landowners joined in, imprisoning kidnapped travellers either for ransom or forced labour on their estates.  But once Augustus established his control, he rapidly sorted out the situation, setting up guard posts along roads and generally solving the crisis with such dispatch that everyone was astonished and could hardly believe it.  So this suggests that even when banditry is indeed “rife” from the special circumstances of a difficult time, it is far from being an insoluble problem.  Again, a couple of hundred years later after another bout of civil war, the eventual victor, Septimius Severus, set up police posts (stationes) at important road junctions, and these may have lasted through to or been revived during the troubles of the third century.  But how widespread could they possibly have been bearing in mind the amount of people power that would’ve been required?  In our own area, so far as I know, there is no evidence of one at the most important out-of-town local road junction where (just north of Roman Shepton Mallet) the much-used Fosse Way crosses the road from the lead and silver mines of Charterhouse on Mendip, an obviously critical security point.

It seems to me that the popular picture of bandits lurking behind every other hedgerow is much exaggerated.  I have even seen it said that Roman roads were straight to prevent bandits hiding round every corner!  I don’t think so, otherwise, the vast trade of the Roman Empire that generated its great wealth could not have been carried on along its mighty network of roads.



CHAIRMAN: Mike Gwyther

VICE CHAIRMAN: James Lyttleton

SECRETARY: Gundula Dorey

MEMBERSHIP: Julie Bassett

TREASURER: Steve Hastings



EDITORS (BAA):  Bruce Williams and Bev Knott (assistant editor)




CO-OPTED: Peter Insole, Donal Lucey

Do keep an eye on the website and social media for event reviews and updates, especially during the current pandemic.  If you have forgotten the Members’ password please contact Julie Bassett at [email protected]. If you are not receiving email communications, but would like to, could you also contact Julie Bassett and give her your email address.

Bulletin 90 is scheduled for January 2022.  If you would like to write anything for it or wish to highlight a subject you think should be in there please contact Jack Fuller on [email protected].


BAAS Website:



 If you have any queries about BAAS events or activities please contact the following:

Gundula Dorey (Hon. Secretary)  0117 9276812  [email protected]

Keith Stenner (Hon. Programme Secretary)  01275 541512  [email protected]

Paula Gardiner (Website Co-ordinator) 0117 9213608  [email protected]