TVAS Reading Site Update: Chilton Manor, Buckinghamshire

TVAS Reading Site Update: Chilton Manor, Buckinghamshire

During March 2024 a watching brief was carried out by Thames Valley Archaeological Services at Chilton Manor, Buckinghamshire for the development of a swimming pool – and supporting infrastructure on behalf of Bruern Abbey Senior School. Working within the watching brief area of 13m long to 7m wide, a portion of a medieval limestone-built structure was exposed, along with various surrounding features such as linears, a spread and a pit.

The primary feature of the project is a building dating roughly to the 13th-14th century. This is located below various deposits of landscaping associated with the manor house gardens that are likely part its construction in the 16th century, or remodelling in the 1740s.

A plan view of the site taken using a drone

The building was aligned west to east. The western entrance slopes into the building with a change in height of roughly 440mm from the top of the slope to the bottom and was made of a uniformly packed limestone floor. At the base of the entrance slope, the floor surface changed to a flat, irregularly formed surface mixed with materials of both limestone and locally sourced sandstone – the natural bedrock.

Excavating and cleaning the inside of the building

The extent of the exposed structure was 6.3m long by 5.3m wide. The northern wall has a thickness of 787mm, whereas the southern wall has an abnormal thickness of 1307mm. The thickness of the southern wall highlights that the structure may have been irregularly tall in size.

The building had a smooth facing which was seen on all the interior edges and the southern exterior. The northern exterior had no distinct face as it was built into the natural geology.

Oblique view of the building uncovered

The internal deposits along the sloping entrance floor surface yielded finds such as animal bone and pottery. Whereas towards the secondary floor surface (at the base of the entrance slope), further finds were found, such as a horse shoe, two pieces of leather (one piece being a possible belt or shoe), an abundance of cattle bone and a 1.6m long branch. The branch shows us evidence that it was forcibly removed from its southern end. Containing a few knife marks on the branch, along with the northern tip damaged through severe burning. This branch was found two deposits directly underneath a feature containing ceramic building material, with vitrified brick. This feature is located in a deposit above the floor surface which suggests that the building was still in use past its prime. The vitrified brick shows that vast amounts of heat was used to turn the ceramic bricks into a glassy texture.

Leather (possibly part of a shoe or belt)
Preserved branch

Due to the limited exposure of the building, it is currently unknown for what purpose the building served. However, towards the bottom deposits located in the eastern half of the building, two rich blue alluvial deposits were found above the floor surface. These deposits show that the building at some point was waterlogged to a certain degree. With the possibility that the building may have been used for that purpose. Due to the rich organic material found in these deposits, samples were taken to help illustrate what environmental evidence were present at its time.

The full extent of the building is uncertain due to the limit of the watching brief area. However, with further research on the grounds using non-intrusive survey techniques (geophysical magnetometry and possible resistivity surveys), may reveal the full plan of the building.

Cleaning the inside of the building (note how wet it was)
Taking a column sample