Newsletter – Issue 158, June 2006
i) Visit to Mavisbank House
On 26th April a dozen of us congregated at Loanhead Farm to meet James Simpson (architect) and Tom Addyman (archaeologist) from the Mavisbank Trust. The house was created by close collaboration between Sir John Clerk, the owner, and William Adam between 1723 and 1727.
Since access through the main gateway was blocked, we were guided on a circuitous route through the estate. This gave us a chance to see the care with which the house had been positioned to be seen from several higher viewpoints and the irregular outline of a loch which was originally built as a long rectangle and which will hopefully be restored to this. Other features were the foundations of a 17th century farm, an oval walled garden that looked circular from a distance, a mound with a flat top which was said to have been an Iron Age fort (unlikely) and a dovecote masquerading as a medieval tower. The mansion itself was badly damaged by a fire in 1973 and has suffered from the effects of subsidence of mines beneath it. Nonetheless it retains a state of elegance with a main block attached by colonnades to two pavilions.
Our guides obviously live and breath their project and they gave us highly emotive and descriptive accounts of how the house and estate were developed, and about the remarkable talent of Sir John Clerk in a multiplicity of fields. This can be rated as one of the best outings yet.
ii) Visit to Rough Castle
Members of the Society made a visit to Rough Castle. This was made doubly interesting by Geoff Bailey, the keeper of archaeology for Falkirk and an expert on all things Roman. On our approach to the fort we passed a particularly well preserved section of the Antonine Wall and managed to skirt the lilia (Roman landmines) without incident. The multiple ramparts and ditches of the fort and annexe were well preserved and a sketch prepared by Geoff gave us a clear idea of the buildings occupying each quadrant of the fort. The military way that ran through the fort and annexe was also clearly marked. It was a particularly enjoyable outing but be warned – Geoff will be expecting payment in the form of slaves when he undertakes another excavation later this year.
We shall be visiting Cammo in the north west of Edinburgh at 3.30pm on Tuesday, 27th June when one of the Rangers will guide us round the site discussing its history and topography. Sir John Clerk initiated many of his horticultural and forestry techniques at Cammo before his inheritance of the Penicuik estate and there is at least one prehistoric feature and a medieval folly on the site. There used to be an attractive country house but this was burnt down in the recent past – all that remains are some walls. Estates occupied by the Clerks seem to have been jinxed in this respect.
The meeting place is the car park on Cammo Walk. To get there drive a short distance south along Maybury Road from the ruined Barnton hotel, then turn right along Cammo Gardens, then left along Cammo Road and then left onto Cammo Walk until you come to a car park at a bend in the road.
Nothing more now till we start the winter season again on Wednesday, 18th October with The Demise of Knossos – A Stratigraphical Problem
Poor weather at the start of the dig season, including one snowed off Sunday, did not encourage members to come out in large numbers but we are now not far behind the comparable point of last year in terms of member-days.
Trench 2 has been cleaned up, drawn and has produced one further stone tool (so peculiar in shape that it has still to be confirmed as a tool). Having properly recorded the trench, the next move is to section the paved area and record again.
The sectioning across the inner bank at the SW end of the site (Trench 3) has uncovered what appears to be stone packing round a post hole. It could be part of a palisade along the top of the bank and we are actively looking for more on that line. The bank appears to have been faced on the SW side with stones possibly embedded in clay.
Trench 5, alongside and to the NE of Trench 2, has exposed more of the revetment stones but little of interest at its N end.
We probably have only six more sessions before having to leave the site to the pheasants so no new excavation areas are envisaged.
The joint project with the University of Edinburgh Archaeology Department to investigate possible Mesolithic sites on the Dalmeny Estate is expected to take place around the end of August. The present crop is not yet ready for harvest so the precise date for the start of the dig is unlikely to be known before late August – given really good weather it could be a little earlier. As our first fieldwalking over the area to find lithics of that period was in 1997 it will be great to see the project wound up within the decade.
The British Archaeological Awards 2006
Four years ago we submitted the Fast Castle report to the Pitt-Rivers Award section of the BAA awards and to our delight and slight surprise we won. In the intervening years the small print of the ‘Eligibility’ section of the award has changed to include not only excavation but also survey. On the basis of this change and with some outside encouragement, the geophysical survey to the east of Cramond House and that beside Cramond Tower have been submitted under the title of ‘Cramond Roman Fort Vicus Survey’. We look forward to see how they will view a pure geophysical survey and whether we will make the short list this year; in the meantime don’t hold out too much hope.
Geophysics at Lauriston
We have been able to borrow a magnetometer and, after a separate exercise, we have obtained a copy of the handbook on how to set it up. Ian has now mastered the complex procedure required. As a test of the equipment, our mastery of it and the Lauriston site, we will shortly re-layout some of the squares that showed interesting resistive anomalies to see whether there are any magnetic responses.
Luggate, Cousland and Newbyres Castle
The joint projects with David Connolly, the assistant archaeological officer in East Lothian, have altered slightly from the original list, but are now taking shape. The original inclusion of a Gorebridge Gunpowder Mill as part of the survey has now been superseded by an investigation that will take place round Newbyres Castle.
Newbyres is a Scheduled Monument listed as a mid 16th c. tower house of ‘unsound ruinous condition’ and is NMRS NT36 SW7 for those who wish to look it up on the web on CANMORE. It now appears to have been built around to the N and W but ‘vague foundations of outbuildings may be traced under the turf to the N and S of the tower’. The site occupied by the tower is ‘roughly rectangular, naturally defended by deeply worn water courses and there appears to have been a courtyard wall’. The limited area that is available for survey should be covered in one day.
The Luggate site lies S of the village and about 1 mile SE of Traprain Law. A book, ‘The seven ages of an E Lothian parish being the story of Whittinghame’, by Marshall Lang talks of ‘two hundred stone cists with masses of bones involving thirty-five cartloads’ being removed within living memory (of 1929). The church probably stood in a field known as Kirklands and it is likely that the medieval village was to the S – aerial photographs show what could be a rectangular layout. The total area is so large we will have to find where the important features are likely to be.
Cousland village lies on the Dalkeith to Ormiston road and the site(s) lie to the S. A chapel is listed as NMRS NT36 NE16 and a castle (remains of) as NT38 NE12. To the S of the castle is Nunnery Quarry and further S again at NT36 NE12 ‘Cist with inhumations’. The prime site is the nunnery but precisely where that was we will find out later.
It is suggested that most of the work on all three sites will be done at weekends throughout September and October. The surveys could be both ground resistance and magnetometry and what appears on the printouts will govern what further action takes place.