Lectures

Weekly lectures take place on Monday evenings from October to March each year, covering an interesting range of historical and archaeological subjects.

More here »

Excavations

Local digs run throughout the year (weather permitting), giving all members a chance to learn and the more experienced opportunities to extend archaeological skills.

More here »

Library

Our extensive library, covering local history and archaeology, is available to all members.

More here »

Join Us

Archaeology is for everyone, and new members are always welcome. Join the group and help discover your local history.

More here »

Click on image to enlarge it

Summer Programme 2017

Wednesday April 5th:  Churches trip

An excellent attendance of 25 enjoyed a day out in Suffolk. Our first church was Thornham Parva, dating from the 12th, 14th and 15th centuries and unusually with a thatched roof over both church and tower. The graveyard is the burial place of Sir Basil Spence, designer of Coventry Cathedral. The interior has a circular Saxon window, a tiny minstrels’ gallery at the west end and the walls of the nave are lined with some of Suffolk’s most fascinating wall-paintings, dating broadly from the mid C13th. The main attraction, however is the painted oak retable over the altar, dating from around 1330. It is the largest (some 15 feet in length), and most complete, medieval altarpiece in Britain.

Thornham Parva

 

Thornham Parva church

 

 

 

 

Thornham Parva retable

 

Thornham Parva retable

 

 

 

 

Our second church of the day, at Mendlesham, is an imposing medieval building, with a very tall tower, rising in four stages. There are splendid gargoyles on both the south and north side of the church. The northern porch is very large, and it is crowned with the biggest grotesques in the county, including Suffolk’s finest woodwose (‘wild man’) with his club.

The upper part of the porch, formerly the priest’s room, contains the only surviving Tudor Parish armoury in the UK, established in 1593 when Bartholomew Knightes was paid 16d “for making of certain provision of timber work for the well hanging up of the Town Armour, he finding the timber”. Parish armouries were once commonplace, as every Parish was required to provide its own militia force, to provide them with basic arms and armour and give them regular training. They represented the last line of defence in the event of foreign invasion. The armour includes a rare early pauldron (shoulder-piece) and most of a long-bow, long thought to be one of only five in existence (until the Mary Rose was recovered). As well as the arms and armour, it contains several parish chests, a ‘Vinegar’ Bible and other artefacts of interest.

Mendlesham brass

 

Mendlesham church

 

 

 

 

Mendlesham church

 

The brass monument of John Knyvet, who died in 1417. He is very typical of the period, in full plate armour, with a forked beard.

 

 

 

Finally, we visited Gipping to see the Chapel of St Nicholas. This is not a parish church, and never has been. It was built around 1475 by Sir James Tyrrell as the private chapel of Gipping Hall, his family home, which once stood immediately to the east.

The chapel is a superb example of late Perpendicular architecture. Because the windows are so vast, there is a kind of greenhouse effect; from the outside, you can see right through the building. The decorative knapped flint-work is superb – possibly the best anywhere.

Gipping chapel

Gipping chapel

 

 

 

Monday 12th June: a walk around Halstead

This walk around Halstead was specifically aimed at seeing the built legacy of the Courtauld family, owners of the silk mill. They were by far the largest employer in the town for over 150 years, before leaving in 1982. They built 3 types of property:

Firstly:      Industrial buildings, connected with the factory, of which few remain

Secondly:  Housing, for employees and others, most of which remain

Thirdly:     Philanthropic buildings, constructed for the benefit of the community, most of which remain

Examples of workers’ houses built by the Courtauld family

IMG_1212

IMG_1216

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1213IMG_1209

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1210

IMG_1207

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hospital and almshouses

IMG_1214

IMG_1215

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Roman Catholic Church

IMG_1211

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 2nd August: Coach trip to Wrest Park and Elstow

Wrest Park belonged to the powerful de Grey family, Earls of Kent, from 1280 to 1917, and since 2006 has been in the care of English Heritage. The present house is the third on this site and was built between 1834 and 1839. It is a rare example in England of the French chateau style of architecture, built to the designs of its then owner Thomas de Grey, an amateur architect and the first president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The house is set in an outstanding restored 90-acre landscaped garden, originating in the C17th but re-designed with the assistance of Capability Brown in 1758-60. It contains one of the few remaining formal gardens of the early C18th. Both house and garden are Grade I listed. Wrest Park also houses the English Heritage Archaeological Collections Store and the group had a guided tour of these.

Wrest Park, the mansion

DSCN0183

DSCN0210

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrest Park, the formal gardens

DSCN0208

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting the English Heritage Archaeological Collections Store

DSCN0194DSCN0199

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The group then went on the Elstow, a nearby village. The Moot Hall is a picturesque late C15th building of brick and timber which now houses a museum of C17th life, with a focus on the life and career of John Bunyan who was born and grew up here.

The Moot Hall, exterior and upstairs room

DSCN0234

DSCN0225

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Abbey was founded at Elstow in about 1078 and at its peak housed an Abbess and thirty nuns and at the dissolution was the eighth richest nunnery in England. The church is the remains of the Abbey church and stands in the grounds of the mansion created from the demolished Abbey buildings.

 

Elstow church and the remains of Elstow Place

DSCN0257

DSCN0251

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CBA Report 2016

The Group is representated by John Camp at meetings of the Council for British Archaeology. Here is his report from 2016.

CBA Report 2016

Coach Trip to Lullingstone

On Friday 5th August, the annual CAG coach trip took us to Lullingstone, Kent, to visit the Roman Villa and the Castle. Our first stop was the villa, one of the best-preserved in Britain, originally constructed in timber circa 75AD, rebuilt in stone during the 2nd century and finally destroyed by fire in the 5th century. It has 26 rooms, but the most notable feature is the house-church, unique in Roman Britain, which contains wall-paintings giving evidence of early Christianity. Also of great interest (particularly to CAG members currently digging at Fordham) were the mosaics and the bath-house complex. Much discussion of hypocausts and drainage was heard.

DSC_0642DSC_0640

 

The bath-house complex and mosaics at Lullingstone Roman Villa

 

 

 

We then went on to Lullingstone Castle, one of those country houses which was never a castle at all, but a Tudor Manor House from circa 1497, extensively re-modelled during the reign of Queen Anne, who was a frequent visitor. Unusually, the house has been owned by the same family since it was constructed (now the 20th generation). Also in the grounds is the Tudor brick gatehouse and the 14th century church of St Botolph.

DSC_0655DSC_0652DSC_0647

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lullingstone Castle; the house,

gatehouse and church

 

 

 

 

In 2000, Tom Hart-Dyke, the heir to the estate and a horticulturist, made the news when he was kidnapped in Colombia. During his nine months of captivity, he developed the idea of creating a map of the world in plants from each continent. When he was released, he returned to Lullingstone and created the World Garden of Plants in the old walled garden. It now includes the National Collection of Eucalyptus Trees. 

DSC_0663DSC_0662DSC_0660

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the exhibits in the World Garden of Plants

 

 

Mark Davies’ ‘Visual Quiz and Walking Tour 2016’

Do you know when Colchester’s North Bridge was widened and by how much? Or how much time elapsed between the building of Jumbo and when it was able to supply water to the town (twelve years – and people make a fuss about Firstsite?) And where is the boundary between St Giles and Trinity parishes?

Last year, Mark organised a very successful evening event, which saw many CAG members scurrying around Colchester town centre answering questions based on visual evidence, all within a deadline. This year, a similar event took place on Monday 6th June, centred on the western end of town – sample questions are above. Fewer people were able to attend this year, but three teams set off with their quiz sheets and two hours later staggered into The Alehouse in Butt Road for the answers. Two teams had managed to complete the whole course, with the third failing to get quite as far as Essex County Hospital and the Royal Grammar School. The winning team was Hilary, Barbara and Don, who very kindly shared the prize box of chocolates with the rest of us.

The teams receiving their instructions

The teams receiving their instructions

 

 

 

"I'm sure its around here somewhere........"

“I’m sure its around here somewhere……..”

"Thank goodness that's over, we're' off to the pub"

“Thank goodness that’s over, we’re’ off to the pub”

 

 

The eventual winners - clipboard an obvious advantage

The eventual winners – clipboard an obvious advantage

Photos by Chris Farndell

Annual Churches Trip 2016

About twenty CAG members met for the annual churches visit, starting at St Ann and St Lawrence, Elmstead. This is the classic ‘Hall and Church’ combination, remote from the more modern village of Elmstead Market. It is essentially a 14th century church, but in the 1930s, the discovery was made of a 12th century doorway under a Roman brick arch. Remarkably, the original C12th wooden door was also discovered and is on display at the back of the church.  The interior is notable for its numerous early 19th century box-pews. Also of note is the 14th century wooden effigy of a knight in armour with crossed legs. In the chancel is the rather sad epitaph to William Martin, died 1662, the young son of the vicar Thomas Martin, the sentiment being that death took him as a kindness before he could be afflicted with the troubles of adolescence.

Norman doorway in Elmstead Church (note the Roman tiles)

Norman doorway in Elmstead Church (note the Roman tiles)

12th century wooden door in Elmstead Church

12th century wooden door in Elmstead Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14th century wooden effigy in Elmstead Church

14th century wooden effigy in Elmstead Church

Epitaph to William Martin, Elmstead Church

Epitaph to William Martin, Elmstead Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to the church of St George, Gt Bromley, sometimes known as the “Cathedral of the Tendring Hundred”, a fine example of C14th and C15th East Anglian Gothic architecture.  It has a pudding-stone tower rising in four stages; a magnificent south porch; fine examples of knapped flint flush-work, with traceried panels. In the spandrels of the porch doorway are the figures of the Church’s patron, St George and his dragon. Figures of Adam and Eve are set above the doorway inside the south porch. The interior is dominated by the splendid double hammer-beam roof, one of the finest in Essex, which contains 82 separate carvings in the spandrels of the braces, the two eastern bays retaining their original paintwork. Unfortunately, the angels on the lower hammer-beams were removed in the C18th.

 

The other major highlight is the capital of the western-most column in the south arcade of the nave. The carving is extraordinary, with a mixture of human, animal, devilish and heavenly figures. A dragon is swallowing a man; a man with his tongue out is being bitten on the cheeks by a frog and a fish-monster; two angels are holding hands.

Image on a stone capital, St George's Church, Gt Bromley

Image on a stone capital, St George’s Church, Gt Bromley

Image on a stone capital, St George's Church, Gt Bromley

Image on a stone capital, St George’s Church, Gt Bromley

Image on a stone capital, St George's Church, Gt Bromley

Image on a stone capital, St George’s Church, Gt Bromley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The north aisle is dedicated to the Stone family, who left for America in 1634 (and continue to be benefactors to this day). The top-left window contains the only stained-glass image of a male Native American in the British Isles (Pocahontas can be seen at Willoughby Church, Lincolnshire).

A native American in a stained glass window, St George's Church, Gt Bromley

A native American in a stained glass window, St George’s Church, Gt Bromley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the bell-tower, if you look up you can see where the bowler hats of former bell-ringers are hung, the earliest being from 1716, the latest from 1991.

Bellringers' hats in St George's Church, Gt Bromley

Bellringers’ hats in St George’s Church, Gt Bromley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our third and last church was St Mary the Virgin, Lawford. This is another classic ‘Hall and Church’ combination, again remote from the more modern village. The association between the two buildings started in the first half of the C14th when the Church was built; the current Lawford Hall was built around 1580.

Tower of Lawford Church

Tower of Lawford Church

14th century traceried windows, Lawford Church

14th century traceried windows, Lawford Church

The construction of the Church tower is extremely odd: an extraordinary jumble of grey-black flint, ginger septaria, brown puddingstone, off-white limestone ashlar and a variety of coloured brickwork. The C14th south porch is timber-framed. The four C14th windows on each side of the chancel are exceptional examples of the medieval mason’s skill, the tracery of each window being different from its neighbours. They are set above excellent decorative flint flush-work.

 

 

Exuberant carvings in Lawford church

Exuberant carvings in Lawford church

The interior arches of the four northern windows of the chancel are richly carved with foliage in the two western-most bays, with owls and foliage in the next bay, but it is the eastern-most window that is the most celebrated. It portrays a chain of ordinary people having fun, and is known as the ‘Acrobats’ window. In a unique sequence, revellers are holding each other by the leg; two are playing musical instruments and some appear to be dancing. Just one is praying. Against the north wall is a monument to Edward Waldegrave of Lawford Hall, died 1584, and his wife Johan. Edward was the uncle of Sir William Waldegrave of Smallbridge Hall, the builder of the Hunting Lodge at Wormingford excavated by CAG between 2007 and 2011.

 

 

 

William Morris Gallery and Forty Hall

On Friday 17th July, a Kings Coach filled with CAG members and guests, visited the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow and Forty Hall in Enfield. IMG_0317

The William Morris Gallery

The William Morris Gallery is the only public museum devoted to the English Arts and Crafts designer, craftsman and socialist William Morris, who had been born in Walthamstow. The gallery is in the former Water House, which is a substantial Grade II* listed Georgian house built around 1744 with extensive grounds. It was Morris’s home from 1848 to 1856, from the ages of 8 to 22. His mother sold the house to Edward Lloyd, a newspaper publisher, whose son Frank donated the house and grounds to the local council in 1900. The grounds were renamed Lloyd Park in his memory.  In 2010 it received £1.5 million Lottery funding, and in 2013 it won the national Museum of the Year award. IMG_0321  IMG_0326Forty Hall                                                                                        An ornate fireplace in Forty Hall

Forty Hall is a Grade I listed Manor House built in the late 1620s. It was built by Sir Nicholas Rainton, a wealthy London haberdasher, who was Lord Mayor of London from 1632 to 1633. His great-nephew, also named Nicholas, inherited the estate, and extended it northwards by buying and demolishing the neighbouring Elsyng Palace in 1656. After a number of different owners, Forty Hall was purchased by the London Borough of Enfield in 1951, to use as a museum. IMG_0319 IMG_0325

Viewing the site and current excavations of Elsyng Palace

In the grounds, once stood Elsyng Palace, a Tudor mansion and one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourites. She stayed there at least 4 times, including during her progress of 1561 when she had earlier stayed for 3 nights at Smallbridge Hall. Like the Hunting Lodge at Wormingford and Markshall, it became a lost building. After demolition in 1656, its precise location was unknown until Enfield Archaeological Society started excavating in the 1960s. They have made a number of further excavations, revealing more of the buildings footprint.

 

Mildenhall

On Wednesday 15th April, about 25 members and guests went over to Mildenhall in Suffolk for an afternoon trip.  We started off at the Church of All Saints, Icklingham. The village of Icklingham was originally two separate parishes and both churches remain. All Saints has been unused for over 100 years and is now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust. Architecturally, this is unquestionably the more important building of the two, and is one of the finest examples of an unspoilt Suffolk Church, re-built in the C14th, although it is of Norman origin. Thatched roofs cover the nave, chancel, the independently-gabled South aisle and the South porch. The diagonally-buttressed tower rises in three stages to a plain parapet and, unusually, adjoins the aisle rather than the nave. The basic fabric of the nave is probably late Norman, to judge by the vestiges of two small, blocked, round-headed windows still visible in the North wall. The interior of the church is delightful, a consequence of clear glass and the fact that the building was left largely unaltered by the Victorians. The Parish Chest is damaged, but one of only seven late C13th clamp-fronted chests in Suffolk, held together entirely with wooden pegs and tenons. The font is limestone, early C14th and beautifully carved. Octagonal in  shape, with each side carrying a different tracery design. An Elizabethan alms box is on a wooden post by the main door. The nave has C15th backless benches (ouch).  Along the tops of the north and south walls of the south aisle are beautifully carved cornices. There is some excellent medieval stained glass, showing  two half-figure (saints?), with canopies above.  The 5-light East window has splendid tracery, with more carving around the niches on each side. Traces of paint here show that  the stonework would originally have been richly decorated. The rood screen is late C15th and only the lower part (dado) now survives.  The chancel floor is the most notable feature, being made up entirely of medieval glazed tiles. Their survival here is a great rarity, as medieval glazed floor-tiles did not wear well under hob-nailed boots and were largely replaced with pamments, unglazed bricks, harder stone or marble in the great rebuilding of Suffolk churches in the later Middle Ages.  Dating from around 1325, and supplied by the Benedictine Abbey at Ely, they are either plain or line-impressed, varying in shape, colour and design to form a complex mosaic. Individual motifs include two birds facing each other, a lion’s face and an earless man wearing a coronet. Some tiles are pseudo-mosaic, in that they appear to be two tiles but are in fact a single tile. 2015 April Mildenhall Trip (12) 2015 April Mildenhall Trip (6)

 

 

 

 

 

After Icklingham Church, we carried on into Mildenhall to visit the Mildenhall Museum, which  received a £423,000 Lottery grant in 2012 so that it could be extended to house its great treasure – the Anglo-Saxon Lakenheath Warrior (aka The Horse Burial).  The Museum also tells the full story of  the discovery of the Mildenhall Treasure (and a very strange story it is)  together with the history of the Town, the Fens and the Brecks. An excellent little museum in which to spend a couple of hours. Finally we went to visit the Church of St Mary, This is the biggest church in Suffolk, almost 60m long and 20m wide, with a tower 40m high. Virtually all of it is original, hardly anything is a Victorian renovation. It is a church of other superlatives; the east window of circa 1300 is considered one of England’s best (albeit now with Victorian glass). The nave roof is possibly the finest in East Anglia. There are 10 life-size angels with long robes and curly hair, holding instruments of the passion, books or musical instruments. Their wings (which are inserted into grooves on their backs, with no other support) have been restored – in 1651 the parish had paid a man a shilling a day to deface “all symbols of superstition”, and the roof is peppered with shot. There are also some 60 smaller angels carved into the tie-beams and cornices. In the North Aisle there are extraordinary figures and beasts carved into the hammer-beams and the head of a Cromwellian soldier’s pike is still embedded in one of the figures. Each spandrel is a carved panel, depicting a mixture of biblical and domestic scenes, including a woman in a horned head-dress (supposed to typify Pride), a comic pig with an astonishing collar, demons playing an organ and a demon grasping a dog by its tail. The wall posts have canopied figures, with the canopies formed by angel’s wings. In the South Aisle , there are six wingless angels carved into the hammer-beams. The spandrels are filled with solid panelled tracery. The carving here is less ornate than the north aisle, but 164 carvings of swans and antelopes (the emblems of Henry V) survive intact.   The north porch and the tower both contain excellent examples of stone vaulting. 2015 April Mildenhall Trip (19)     2015 April Mildenhall Trip (18)             2015 April Mildenhall Trip (14) 2015 April Mildenhall Trip (13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stour Valley: A Prehistoric Landscape

The Middle Stour Valley, between Bures and Wormingford has long been of interest to Colchester Archaeological Group (CAG), owing to the number and variety of cropmarks visible from the air.  These came to light largely through the aerial photography of Ida McMaster, a long-standing member of CAG, who has recently died at the age of 96. She took to the skies with her camera regularly between the early 1970s and late 1990s, and being a resident of MountBures, was particularly keen to photograph this part of the valley. The cropmarks provide evidence of activity in the area from the early Neolithic, in the form of a long mortuary enclosure and at least one, or probably two, cursuses.  Later, Bronze Age people also used the area to bury their dead in round barrows, often clustered around or aligned on the earlier features.  CAG has been investigating the cropmarks for a number of years and has now published a booklet, ‘The Stour Valley: A Prehistoric Landscape’.  The booklet, which is 40 pages long, has a foreword by Ronald Blythe, is fully illustrated in colour and costs £5 plus p&p. It can be ordered e-mailing ten.kugacnull@seiriuqne

CropMarksBook

Essex from the air

 

Summer Programme  2014

British Museum, Wednesday 9th April

A full coach left Colchester for a visit to the British Museum to see the “Vikings – Life and Legend” exhibition.  This important show was arranged in the brand new Conservation and Exhibition Hall.  It was extremely informative with three rooms displaying artefacts from all over the Viking world, some very beautiful and finely worked. Finally you arrive at the ship hall where the Roskilde boat (what remains of it) had been brought over and reassembled.  Nothing can prepare you for just how big it really was!

Roskilde 6 at the British Museum

Roskilde 6 at the British Museum

 

Flag Fen, Saturday 7th June

On a rather damp morning our coach party left Colchester and arrived at Flag fen in time to meet our guide who took us around the site pointing out things to see. A very important Bronze Age site which was initially discovered and excavated by Francis Pryor. Amongst other things, we saw the site of the Neolithic trackway; reconstructed Bronze & Iron Age huts; remains of a Roman road; a small museum displaying a few of the many finds – several of which, it is thought, had been ritually deposited.  As Flag Fen is now a centre for the conservation of waterlogged wood it was very exciting to see the Bronze Age boats from Must Farm being treated. Members may recall we had a fascinating talk about this project last year. By this time the rain had cleared and we had time to picnic or lunch at the visitor centre, watching the antics of a little water vole! We set off again a very soon arrived at BuckdenTowers – originally called BuckdenPalace, when the property belonged to the Bishops of Lincoln. It is now a Claretian Missionary Centre used for retreats and conferences. We split into 2 groups each with a guide. Much of what we saw was 15 cent. There is an imposing Gatehouse and a large square tower. The site was walled and moated – some of which still exists. A part of the original structure was demolished to make way for a large Victorian House. We were made very welcome and given tea and biscuits in the beautiful walled garden before setting off on our return journey home. An excellent day out!

Flag Fen Visitor Centre

Flag Fen Visitor Centre

The Oldest Wheel in the Country

The Oldest Wheel in the Country

Conservation of the Must Farm boats

Conservation of the Must Farm boats

 

Flag Fen; interior of the reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse

Flag Fen; interior of the reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse

 

Flag Fen; Bronze Age timber causeway

Flag Fen; Bronze Age timber causeway

Flag Fen; Bronze Age timber causeway

Flag Fen; Bronze Age timber causeway

 

Flag Fen; reconstructed Bronze Age roundhouse

Flag Fen; reconstructed Bronze Age roundhouse

Interior of Bronze Age roundhouse

Interior of Bronze Age roundhouse

A year with the Young Archaeologists of Colchester. Photos of some of the work our local YAC has been getting up to since they reformed can be found here – http://caguk.net/sample-page/colchester-young-archaeologists-club/

Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved.