Over the Easter weekend, I visited the Cotswolds to enjoy a break in the English countryside. It was rather chillier than might be expected at this time of year, but the surroundings did not disappoint. One of the particular attractions of the Cotswolds is that there are many villages and churches where the work of Arts & Crafts Movement designers can be seen, and one of these artists was of particular interest.
Although this plaque is found in the main street of Chipping Campden, where the artist spent over 30 years of his life, Griggs was born on 30 October 1876 in Hitchin and concentrated on his hometown and surroundings in his early work.
Griggs trained as an architectural craftsman. He had studied at the Slade School of Art and worked for two years in the architectural office of C.E. Mallows, the architectural draughtsman. He may be best known, however, for his illustrations in the Highways and Byways Series of Books, published by Macmillan between 1902 and 1918. Some of these illustrations are part of the North Herts Museum collection
Griggs settled in Chipping Campden in 1903 in Dover House, where the Guild of Handicrafts had already been established by C.R. Ashbee. He went on to design an Arts and Crafts house at ‘New Dover’s House’ and set up the Dover’s House Press there, where he printed late proofs of the etchings of Samuel Palmer and his own work.
He had converted to Catholicism in 1912, and it is thought that this is when he adopted the name Maur as a baptismal name, after the Benedictine St Maur. At around this time he also took up etching with passion, becoming a leader in the British etching revival. He was inspired by the work of Samuel Palmer and William Blake, and liked to use his etchings to capture an ideal of unspoilt England. He died 7 June 1938. A centenary exhibition of his work was held at Hitchin Museum in 1976.
We hope that we will be able to display some of the drawings, etchings and photographs by F L Griggs at the new museum so that his work can be appreciated and enjoyed by a new audience.
We’ve been thinking about our audiences – those who already know and use the museums service and those who don’t. Our Audience Development Consultant, Jo Ward, has been talking to lots of different people to find out what they think, and staff have been looking at what the new museum will have to offer. We used a wall in Letchworth Museum to organise our thoughts. All of this will feed into our plans for the new museum and its displays, and the events and activities we will offer in the future.
Difficult as it is to believe that we are now in spring owing to the continued presence of snow on the ground and the threat of more to come, today saw topsoil stripping for our Easter weekend small-scale project. It’s more in the nature of an evaluation exercise than a full-blown excavation: we have stripped a linear trench across the line predicted for the henge outer ditch on the basis of the 1996 magnetometer survey. In previous years, the location of the ditch has been masked by the presence of an unknown depth of colluvium; in 2012, an area of colluvium was removed by machine down to the chalk bedrock, at which point (to the east-north-east of the centre of the henge), it was more than half a metre deep. This was a cause for concern, as the depth meant that we would never get into the ditch fills using the 100% recovery and three-dimensional recording of all finds that we had been practising up to that point.
In addition to this worry, I was concerned that the scale of the ditch suggested by magnetometry (between 3.5 and 5.0 m wide at the top) might indicate a commensurate depth. I had visions of Alexander Keiller’s excavation of the outer ditch at Avebury, where the V-shaped ditch was more than 11 m deep, with a width of 21 m at the top: a similar feature at Stapleton’s field might be almost two metres in depth. Then I was puzzled by the results of the 2011/12 resitivity survey, where the spread of colluvium was visible but the ditch was not. On the one hand, I thought that maybe the colluvium was so deep (perhaps a metre or so) that the outer ditch could not be detected at the resolution achieved (at a depth of a metre, using the survey technique employed, most features would be invisible); on the other, I was heartened by the likelihood that a ditch two metres deep would show up regardless of the depth of colluvium sealing it. Either way, I was beginning to suspect that the ditch was of a more manageable size.
I arrived on site slightly late (about 8.40) to find Tony, Nigel and Jim chatting to the digger driver. Under the snow, it was possible to make out the outline of last summer’s trench, which made it reasonably easy for me to locate the rough centre of the henge. I had already decided that we would open our exploratory slot down hill from the centre of the monument, where the colluvium was likely to be thinner (we knew from last year’s project that it did not extend as far to the south-east as the Roman enclosure ditch). The machine could then cut a trench up to 20 m long from the outside to the inside of the henge. This way, we could minimise the potential damage to deposits within the outer ditch.
There was barely any colluvium at the south-eastern (downhill) end of the trench, although it began to show up within a metre or so of the end of the trench. In the conditions on site (it was -2° C and icy), it was difficult to see artefacts within the colluvium, although Tony managed to identify a piece of Roman tegula, with part of the flange visible. After cutting back for over five metres, with the colluvium becoming increasingly thick (it has reached a depth of perhaps 0.25 m at this point), the chalk bedrock suddenly dived down. This was the outer edge of the ditch, exactly where the magnetometer survey had predicted it to be. It was clear straight away that the side of the ditch was not steep, perhaps around 45°, which raised my hopes that it would prove to be reasonably shallow.
The machine was used to empty the ditch of its contents. Although it is too early to be certain, it appeared to contain only one fill, which was sterile (or, at least, contained too few artefacts and ecofacts to be visible during soil stripping). If true, this is intriguing. It suggests that the ditch filled in a single episode; in other words, it was deliberately backfilled. If this proves to be the case, it explains how the ditch was so full that a colluvium formed over it north-west of the henge from the Late Neolithic onwards (the infamous context (35) that we spent so long excavating in 2011 in the mistaken belief that it was indeed the upper ditch fill). If it is a deliberate backfill, it raises some intriguing issues: why would the outer ditch have been filled and how much effort would have been required for the undertaking? This might be yet another indication that the early ‘formative’ henge was converted to the classic type some time before the middle of the third millennium BC.
The ditch proved to be at the upper limit of size suggested by magnetometry, around 5 m at the surface of the chalk. However, its sides sloped quite gently. Although we stopped the digger at a depth of 1.2 m from the ground surface for health and safety reasons, the angle of slope of the ditch suggests that there is less than half a metre of deposit left in the bottom. We will therefore be able to excavate a slot through the base, where there ought to be some indication of primary silts (and, I hope, something that can be dated). This means that the ditch is no more than 1.7 m deep (and cut under 1.5 m into the bedrock). This is very encouraging for the summer as it means that it will be possible to excavate a complete section through it by hand whilst maintaining our three-dimensional finds recording system.
After locating the inner edge of the ditch, another 1.5 m of topsoil and colluvium was stripped. At this point, over the berm between outer ditch and bank, the colluvium appears to be at least 0.4 m deep, confirming the observation to the north-east of the henge last year. After tidying up the soil scattered by the machine around the top of the trench, we left it until Friday (there is little point in cleaning up inside the trench, as more soil will have fallen in by then). I left around 10.15, while Tony, Nigel and Jim began putting up the hazard fence around the trench as, although it’s in the middle of a field, we need to ensure that people don’t stumble into it in the dark.
The forecast for the weekend isn’t good: there is supposed to be a high risk of more snow on Thursday or Friday and temperatures are not due to get above around 5° all week. This is hardly what one expects for an early spring project, but it’s necessary for understanding the monument. I will be back to blogging on Friday, when we return to clean and record what has been exposed. I also hope that it will be possible to excavate the soil in the base of the ditch. If we are lucky, there may be a primary silt with organic remains in it.