Clevedon and District Archaeological Society Summer study Tour 14th to 18th August 2023      

28 members of the society and friends took part in this year's study tour. We were based at the Warbrook House Hotel near Hook, to the south of Reading.

On  Monday, our first day we visited the Sandham Memorial Chapel near Newbury. It was built in the 1920s to house a series of paintings by Stanley Spencer, the British artist. They illustrate his war service in World War I as a medical orderly, firstly in England (including his time at the Beaufort Hospital, formerly Glenside, in Fishponds, Bristol) and then in Macedonia in Northern Greece. There is an exhibition about this little known campaign attached to the chapel. It was commissioned by Mary and John Behrend in memory of Mary's brother Lieutenant Henry Sandham who died in Macedonia in WWI. The chapel is on Watership Down and there was a display about the author Richard Adams in another room next to the chapel

From there we went on to The Vyne (NT) near Basingstoke. Our driver Dave delivered us to the south door avoiding the long walk from the car park. It was built in the early 16th century by William, 1st Lord Sandys who rose to be the Lord Chamberlain of Henry VIII. He entertained Henry and his first wife Catherine of Aragon (there are many carved pomegranates in her honour around the house) and later Henry's second wife Anne Boleyn. The chapel is largely as it was at this time. Lord Sandys and the King attended services sitting in the 1st floor balcony, the ladies had a similar balcony which has now disappeared. There is an imposing long Oak Gallery stretching the length of the west wing. Lord Sandys was gifted Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. We visited this on our way to the Isle of Wight on another study tour.

The Sandys were Royalists in the Civil War and for this they were heavily fined, which led to them selling the Vyne in 1653 and moving to Mottisfont. The house came in to the possession of the Parliamentarian Chute family. They employed the architect John Webb, a pupil of Inigo Jones (a Royal prisoner captured at Basing House) to give the house a classical look. The mullioned windows were replaced by sash windows and the North front was given a  classical portico which is thought to be the first of it's kind on a domestic building in the country. A classical staircase replaced the Tudor one. A latter Chute was a friend of Horace Walpole and elements of the Strawberry Hill Gothic style where introduced in to the house. There is a room with the walls covered in Soho tapestries.

From the Vyne we went to our hotel which is a Georgian building with later additions set in parkland with ornamental canals.

On Tuesday morning we did the short journey to Stratfield Saye. The house was purchased with with some of the £600,000 given to Arthur Wellesley, the (1st )Duke of Wellington by parliament in recognition of his service in defeating Napoleon. The plan was that the house, originally built around 1630 by an early Sir William Pitt and extended by George Pitt, 1st Baron Rivers in the 18th century, should be knocked down and the “Waterloo Palace” which would rival Blenheim Palace would be built to the east of the house site. However by the time  Wellington had purchased his London Home Apsley House near Hyde Park there were not sufficient funds for the project. So the Duke and his wife Kitty stayed in the old house. He had chosen Stratfield Saye because it was surrounded by flat land which was very good for hunting and horse riding. It was relatively near to London.

Born in Dublin,Wellington had been a very unpromising schoolboy at Eton. He had a “gap year” at a military academy in France. Learning the language, he returned to England with a clear plan to pursue a career in the Army which he joined as a lieutenant. He met Kitty and was taken with her good looks and vivacity. He proposed but was rejected by her father as having gambling debts and no prospects. He then went to India where he was very successful and made a fortune. He duly returned and asked again for Kitty's hand. Although she warned him that she was “much changed”. The marriage went ahead although he said to a friend  on the wedding day that she had become very ugly. They lived at opposite ends of the house but did produce 2 sons who became the 2nd and 3rd Dukes. He continued his spectacular military career in Spain and Portugal eventually pursuing the French army to Toulouse where it was defeated.

On Napoleon's return from his first exile, Wellington commanded the army of the coalition that defeated him at Waterloo. He returned a hero and had a distinguished career in politics (twice PM) and as an advisor and friend to Queen Victoria. His funeral in 1852 was a lavish affair with his coffin carried on a 18 ton carriage (this is on display at the house. It was moved there in 1982 from St Paul's with the help of the Army and a very large low loader) . It was made from metal from cannons captured at Waterloo. One million people lined the streets of London.  Wellington put his military success down to good reconnaissance and having good supply lines. Useful advice for Study Tour organizers. He admired Napoleon and studied his tactics. Napoleon did not reciprocate these feelings, seeing Wellington as merely a “Sepoy” General.

In the afternoon we went to Silchester, the site of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebartum. It was an Iron Age tribal centre (Calleva is a Celtic word for place in the woods, and the Atrebate were the local tribe).  It was a hub for roads from the Roman towns now known as London  Bath, Cirencester, Exeter, Leicester and Winchester. It has 2 miles of walls and an amphitheatre. As well as domestic buildings, the Forum with a Basilica, temples,Baths and a Mansio have all been excavated. After walking across the site (unfortunately my plan to play the English Heritage audio tour while we walked was unsuccessful so we used the information boards) we arrived at the church of St Mary the Virgin (built from the 1200s) where the new vicar Karen and her church lady helpers kindly provided us with tea and cake, After tea we walked to the amphitheatre which lies outside the walls of the town. The ellipse shaped arena is lined by a stone wall with 2 recesses that are possibly shrines or places of refuge for the performers in animal fights. Behind the wall there is an earth bank which would have been lined with seating. It could have held 7,000 people. The population of the town was about 5,000. It is thought that at some point after the Roman period it was used as a fort giving us the name Silchester, the fort in the woods. The site ceased to be inhabited in the 6thC.This may have been as it was in a conflict zone between Wessex and Mercia or because Reading and Basingstoke developed as important towns and the new routes west bypassed Silchester. Unfortunately we couldn't get the coach down the narrow lane as I had hoped so one party took the shorter route back along the narrow lane and the rest of us followed the north wall passing the north gate, back to the coach.

Wednesday. Guildford. After coffee in the cathedral's cafe we split in to 2 groups for the tours. The diocese of Guildford was created in 1927. One of the churches in the town, Holy Trinity was used as a Pro Cathedral but soon found to be too small. It was decided to build a new cathedral on Stag Hill (then in open country) to the North of the town. Money to purchase the land had come from Canadian donors in gratitude for the kindness shown by locals to the Canadian troops stationed in the area. The architect Edward Maufe won a competition and work started in 1936 using bricks made of clay excavated on the site. Work was halted by WWII and further by material shortages after the war, as housing was seen as the priority. Work restarted in 1956 funded partly by the “Buy a Brick” campaign. The cost was 2/6 (12.5pence) and the donor (including me on a visit with my mother's Mothers Union group in about 1959!) signed the brick.  Bricks given by royalty are displayed in the St Ursula Porch. Maufe was influenced by Scandinavian Churches. The post war bricks came from a different company, hence the change of colour. It has mainly clear glass in the high windows and simple clean lines with high vaulted ceilings. It is decorated inside and out with   sculptures by many famous artists of the 20thC including the now controversial Eric Gill. The enormous tower that dominates the landscape around the town is topped by a golden Angel weathervane.

After lunch in the cafe, Dave dropped us at the top of Guildford's pedestrianized High Street and we visited its delightful old buildings including the Archbishop Abbot's Hospital (Almshouses), the Gallery situated in a 17thC Merchants House, the Town Hall with it's prominent clock above the street. From the High Street there is a short walk to the Castle. This was  started soon after 1066 and it  was once an important Royal Palace. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens. The Museum is in a house next to one of the gates in the bailey wall. Dave met us near the River Wey at the bottom of the town.  Following supper at the hotel, we finally got to hear the audio tour of Silchester.

On Thursday after an 8.30 start, we visited the ruins of Waverley Abbey near Farnham. It was founded in 1128 and was the first Abbey of the Cistercian order in England.  Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is one of the sculptures on the west front of Guildford Cathedral. He founded the order . The abbey was dissolved in 1534 by Henry VIII.

While at the Abbey we saw a flock of geese that were unfamiliar to us. These turned out to be Egyptian Geese. They are on the “Union” list of invasive Alien Species. They do not interbreed with native geese but they are very aggressive to other birds. They seem to have come over from the continent and are in the South East and the Thames valley. Also in the grounds were a collection of Dragons Teeth, anti tank obstacles from WWII.

From the Abbey we went to Farnham Castle. It is a “shell “ keep  built on a “motte” in 1138 by King Stephen's brother, Henry of Blois. It was later a favourite residence of the Bishops of Winchester.

After an excellent lunch at the Barton Mills pub in Old Basing (it had the old mill machinery above the mill stream inside the building) we went on to Basing House.  Again Dave dropped us near reception.

It was built from 1531 by William Paulet, a successful courtier to Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor (she spent her honeymoon with Philip II there), Elizabeth I and James I. They all visited several times bringing him to the verge of bankruptcy. Later Paulets downsized the property to make it less attractive to royal visitors.

In the Civil War it was besieged by the Parliamentarians finally falling and being looted and set on fire in October 1645. Cromwell decreed that local people could take what they liked from the site and many local houses are built from it's bricks. The only Tudor building left on the site is the Great Barn. The site was again disrupted when a canal was built across it in the 18thC. After our tour of the site we returned to the hotel for supper and one of Jean Hannaford's excellent quizzes.

Friday. After breakfast and careful loading of the luggage on the coach, we went to Jane Austen's House in Chawton, near Alton. The author, her mother, sister Cassandra and a friend came to live in the house following the death of her father, who had been a vicar. It belonged to her brother Edward who had been adopted by wealthy relatives and through them had inherited the estate of nearby Chawton House. Edward redecorated the fairly modest house for them and it was here that Jane wrote some of her most famous novels. She lived there for 8 years before dying at the age of 42. After the Austens moved out it was converted in to 3 cottages for estate workers and their families. It was purchased for the Jane Austen Society in memory of Lieutenant Philip John Carpenter by his parents. He had been killed in Italy in WWII. It was opened to the public by the then Duke of Wellington  in 1949. After our visits some of us had coffee in the excellent Cassandra's Cup tearoom opposite the house. We went on to have lunch at The Departure Lounge outside Alton. It is normally a wedding venue. It has an airliner in it's grounds that was used for children's parties but  now hosts “Fear of Flying “ courses.

Our final visit was to the Crofton Beam Engines near Great Bedwyn in Wiltshire. This had been a second best choice as my original plan was to go on the Watercress Line. Unfortunately, a Thomas the Tank Engine Day there prevented this. However it turned out to be one of the week's highlights as both of the beam engines where in full steam throughout the visit. According to one of the volunteers working there, this is only the third time in 30 years that this has happened. This arose because of the low level of water in the Kennet and Avon Canal and the electric pumps that normally do most of the raising of the water were out of action.

The canal has a summit section of 2 miles without any natural sources of water. Water from a spring 40 feet below the canal level has to be pumped up to the canal.  The Bolton and Watt Beam Engine was installed in 1812 making it the oldest working beam engine in the world in its original engine house. A second Harvey and Co of Hayle beam engine was installed in 1846. A Lancaster Boiler serves both engines. Each pump action lifts 1,000 litres of water which flow in to a leat that links to the canal.  Luckily the Great Weston Railway that passes nearby, needed water so the Pumping Station kept working after the canal fell into disuse. Because of problems with it's chimney it did go out of use and water was raised by electric pumps. However in 1968 it was acquired by the Avon Canal Trust that was restoring the canal and a full restoration of the pumping station was undertaken. The project is concerned about future supplies of coal for the boiler as British coal pits are closing. They are considering Ecoal, a mixture of coal dust and olive waste!

From Crofton we returned home via a clever diversion through Westerleigh and the centre of Bristol to avoid hold ups on the M4/5. A very “full on” and enjoyable study tour!

Tom Chown,  August 2023