Plymouth Archaeology Society

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Lecture Reports



Dr Peter Claughton and Dr Chris Smart

2nd February 2009

Peter explained that as an economic historian, he had a particular interest in medieval mining history.  They had both been part of the Bere Ferrers Project, which had been a cross-disciplinary study of the extractive industry surrounding the mining of lead ore running north from near Weir Quay. The lode had been worked by the Crown or its lessee during the reign of Edward I & II, because of the high percentage of silver in it. A topographical survey had allowed them to identify some of the places mentioned in medieval documents, with older workings on the periphery of later mines. They had also traced a 16km leat, which had supplied a water wheel situated directly over pumps at Lockeridge.  The Crown records showed that experienced miners had been coerced to work there and the mining settlement had probably been at Bere Alston where the land ownership was very fragmented. The grand church at Bere Ferrers had been paid for out of its tithes but the lord of the manor had not made any profit directly from mining on his land.  During the nineteenth century slag from the known smelting sites had been reworked, but there was a reference to the allocation of woodland for smelting at Calstock and some residues were known to have been removed. The project was looking for the site of the Curia or fortified court which would have been the centre of operations around 1420 and a hill slope below the church could have provided wind assisted hearths. The gravediggers had found signs of burning and Samian ware, and so they did a magnetometer survey in the churchyard.

Chris is the field archaeologist and the Roman Military fort, which he found, has been recognised as being of national significance.  His survey identified one furnace site, but it was Roman and contained arsenic and copper residues. They now knew that the hill top was covered by a standard Roman military fort with double embankment surrounding barrack blocks, which was occupied from 60-120 AD. This unusually long occupation suggested that the fort may have controlled the mining over a wider area. Surrounding it they had found suggestions of a larger enclosure and numerous small post holes from the occupation of the site during the dark ages.  This was only the third Roman site found in Cornwall, but nearly all the sites in both Devon and Cornwall had been at the head of a navigable river. He hoped to find evidence of an anchorage along the road leaving the fort to the east or at least discover where it was heading. Some PDAS members had attended the open day on the previous Saturday but more visitors would be welcome at any time during their current rescue dig.

Joan Price