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TVAS News: Through the ages at Beeches Manor, Wokingham

Excavations at Beeches Manor, Wokingham, carried out in advance of the redevelopment of the site as a care home, have peeled back the ages to reveal the history of the manor house itself and its immediate surroundings. The manor house has been documented as being located on the site since 1624 though it may have been there longer as it was probably named after the 15th century landowner Robert de Beche. Various maps show the development of the site from a possible appearance on Rocque's 1761 map of Berkshire with a detailed layout depicted on the enclosure map of 1817. The Ordnance Survey map of 1877 shows a marked change in the building's size and layout. Later editions show further changes with the addition of various out buildings and a landscape garden including a sunken lawn. The last building remaining on the site was destroyed by fire in 1953 and since then the area had been abandoned with trees and shrubs covering any traces of what was there previously.

A six-trench evaluation was carried out by TVAS in December 2010 which uncovered evidence of buildings and early post-medieval activity. This confirmed the archaeological potential of the site and it was decided that a full excavation should be undertaken to record the extent of the manor house and any surrounding features.

The excavations uncovered the brick foundations of the manor house and other components of the complex as well as medieval features. By studying the different types of bricks and construction methods used, it was discovered that the house was built in at least two main phases. The first of these was the original 17th century house, which was built of flat wide bricks and made up the central core of the later house. The second major phase was built in the modern, primarily Victorian, period and consisted of extensions to both ends of the old house and a large wing projecting into the garden at the northern end. It was during this later period that the garden was landscaped and evidence of this was found in the form of in-situ paving stones and garden features. Prior to the house and garden was a ditched enclosure and other ditches containing medieval finds. This tentatively suggests that the brick-built house may have had a medieval antecedent.

Click on the image thumbnails below for larger versions:

General view of work excavating the Victorian extension. The foundations of one of the modern internal walls which was found to have been built over a bitumen floor, the remains of which can be seen in front of the brickwork.

A Victorian brick-paved yard with accompanying drainage gullies. This was uncovered at the northern end of the house and still bears the burn marks from the fire. Removing the brick paving to uncover the crushed brick levelling layer on which it was built.

An earlier, possibly original 17th century, brick gully which has since been filled in using Victorian bricks showing how the features of the old house were adapted or went out of use when the extensions were added. View of the original drain seen in the previous photograph once the Victorian bricks had been removed.

The base of the southern end wall of the original house. To the right is the Victorin extension, accessed by a doorway the step of which can be seen in the foreground. The lump of concrete in the foreground is thought to be associated with the fireplace. A cross-section through the foundations of the original 17th century manor house. The bricks were laid in a regular pattern on top of a layer of broken brick and rubble. The rubble to the left of the wall is either the fill of the construction trench or support for the wall above it which may have been added during a later phase of building.

A brick-lined well discovered in the gardens just to the north of the manor house. A length of brick-built drainage gully.