Dowsing Archaeological Features;
An empirical study at Cressing Temple, Witham, Essex.


15. Excavation history of the site.

A knowledge of the excavation history of the site is necessary to evaluate any responses found that may represent these excavations rather than actual archaeological features.

Press cutting of 1934.
18a. A newspaper cutting from the Times of the digs in 1934.

The earliest recorded excavations were photographed in November 1934 and were reported in The Times (Figure. 18a) and other papers (ERO D/DU 1491).

Mr Campen examining the Tudor brickwork
18b. A publicised search for the 'archaeologist' shown in the pictures resulted in only one response which stated that it was a Mr Campen. He was a well-known character who was little more than a fortune hunter and may have been responsible for the removal of many of the finds from Cressing Temple.

The photographs (Figure. 18b) clearly indicate the site of the dig as being on the green in front of the farm house close to the site of the chapel. The brickwork and the 17th century Bellarmine flasks found were wrongly interpreted as the "remains of a subterranean kitchen" from the 13th century. There is no surviving scientific report and the newspaper cuttings show a familiar journalistic licence with the facts.

Further undocumented digging in the chapel area in the 1940s resulted in more finds, most of which have since disappeared. In 1948 a kiln was excavated in the Great Barn Field at TL80411903. No written record has survived and personal recollections of witnesses indicate a tile kiln of medieval or Tudor date. Occasional digging in adjacent fields by Mr P. Bayliss, the farm manager during the 1950's and 60's produced evidence of Roman occupation, notably in Dovehouse Field.

A bronze foot, now lost, was recovered near the moat and a coin of Constantine II near the top of the field is recorded on the OS. Numerous other coins from the 1st to 4th centuries have been found elsewhere around the farm. Unfortunately, Mr Bayliss had some association with a Mr Campen, who while calling himself an archaeologist was little more than a treasure hunter and it is to him that many of these finds may have disappeared. (Bayliss, 1994).

During the 1960s Roy Martin, the current warden of the site and then a farm hand, carried out limited excavations on two features on Dovehouse Field: a cobbled surface and a ditch filled with Roman pottery. The written record has been lost, but the finds, some 25 boxes of pottery and a number of glass and metal objects, have been incorporated into the archaeology archive under the project designation CT5.

The cellar opened up.

19. The (now retired) site warden Mr Roy Martin re-excavated the Tudor cellar in the 1960's. Apparently it was full of rubbish and old tyres from its earlier opening. The run of the brick culverts can clearly be seen. The man is Roy's brother. (Roy Martin).

Roy Martin also re-opened and more fully excavated the cellar and some photographs (Figure. 19) were taken showing the cellar floors and the extensive Tudor culvert system.

The Brain Valley Archaeological Society began excavations at Cressing Temple under the direction of John Hope in 1978, continuing over several seasons until 1981 (Hope 1986, 1987). They dug a series of unlocated and unrecorded testpits (Figure. 20) before opening four large area excavations archived as BVAS I-IV.

The BVAS test pits
20. One of the Brain Valley Archaeological Society test pits made before the main excavations in 1979-81. The pits were unlocated and unrecorded. One, at least, was found in the subsequent re-opening of the excavations (CT29 T3) for the chapel where it broached the rammed gravel footings. (BVAS).

These uncovered the chapel, the Templar ponds, a Tudor building and the backfilled moats with culverts. While the level of recording was not of the poorest quality, with many plans, sections and photographs being taken, the context recording was sketchy and opinion based, the understanding of the digging limited and the care of the finds abysmal. (Crouch.B)

21. Final site plan of BVAS IV. The on-site plans did not match as they were unlocated and so a certain amount of 'creative drawing' was employed to tie them together. (BVAS).

Also the limits of the excavations were not located on plan and the publication drawings (Figure. 21) were fudged. This led, in the future, to the chapel being re-opened to try to reconcile the record with the actual site.

In 1987 the site of the scheduled monument and Dovehouse Field adjoining to the east became the property of Essex County Council whose brief from the Members was to develop it into an 'Heritage Centre' for the enjoyment of the County. As part of an on-going program of repairs and services upgrades as well as some considerable landscaping to build a car park and modernly in 1997, a substantial visitors centre a resident site archaeologist was installed in the farmhouse to direct the mitigation and research works.

The first archaeologist, Roland Flook set up the recording system beginning with project CT1 (Trial areas in Wenlock's Field prior to tree planting) and the projects ran up to CT31. Projects CT8 onwards were supervised by Tim Robey whose responsibility it also was to upgrade and catalogue the archives including those of the BVAS.

Most of these projects were narrow trenches or small area explorations in front of cable and pipe trenches. However some were large area excavations, most notably CT3 (Car park and access road), CT8 (The Walled Garden), CT17 (The Courtroom floor), CT23 (Interior of Wheat Barn) and CT29 (Field School excavations of the Tudor 'Greate House'). CT30 (The footprint of the Visitors Centre) was carried out by the FAU. The projects following, run by the FAU as Field Schools, were for some reason not designated CT codes but were allied to their own system of site recording.

16. Archaeological evidence of past activity.

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Barry Hillman-Crouch. MSt PA, Dip FA, BSc, HND. Written 1999 Published on the web June 2005.