Tudor Hall Archaeology – The Wicket Door

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The front of Bramall Hall. Try to imagine a wall and gatehouse where the grass meets the courtyard.

Welcome to the first post of the Tudor Hall Archaeology series! Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing with you some of the incredible archaeology that a Tudor hall offers. For the past seven months I’ve been fortunate enough to work as a Museum Assistant at Bramall Hall in Stockport.

Bramall Hall is in many ways a unique Tudor residence, even amongst the limited number of Tudor properties still standing in the UK. The hall was built by the Davenport family in the late 14th century, who owned the estate for over 500 years. During this period, Bramall Hall grew from a single room structure to a sprawling mansion that encapsulates Tudor, Elizabethan and Victorian styles.

After the Davenport family left, the hall was owned by the Nevill family until the 1920’s, and the Davies family from 1925-1935. By necessity this is only a brief account of the hall’s history, otherwise I’d never get to the archaeology! Needless to say, I highly recommend visiting the hall as it’s open most days (you can find more information here).

The Wicket Door

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The Wicket Door. Note the size of the door, hinges and bolts.

To say Bramall Hall is a treasure trove is an understatement. Trying to choose the first object to focus on was rather challenging. In the end, I decided upon the Wicket Door because it’s eye-catching, it resides in the Great Hall (the oldest room in the hall) and it’s the first object a visitor sees upon entering.

You’re probably wondering “What exactly is a Wicket Door?”. Quite simply, a wicket door is a smaller door within a door. The Wicket Door at Bramall Hall dates to the 16th century, and served as a security gate that allowed someone to allow or prohibit entrance onto the property much more effectively. Look at the hinges and imagine how difficult it would be to break through!

The smaller door could be opened to check the identity of whoever was on the other side, whilst at the same time severely inhibiting any hostile action due to the size of the portal. This also forced people to enter single file, making it much easier to defend.

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The outer face of the Wicket Door. The door is made of thick oak and studded with iron, making it very hard to break down.

The Wicket Door was originally attached to a gatehouse that along with a wall, protected the back of the property. When the gatehouse and wall were demolished, the back of the house became the front and the Wicket Door was moved inside the hall to protect the newly designated back entrance. All the hinges and bolts were moved over too, and are completely original 16th century ironwork.

Well, that’s it from me. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into Tudor hall archaeology. Hopefully I’ll be back in the near future with another worthy object from Bramall Hall. Stay tuned!

Jamie

 

 

 

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Valentine’s Day…

Hello you fine folks,

I hope you’re all well. As the card shops and Thornton’s are so eager to keep reminding us, Valentine’s Day is looming over us like a malevolant giant, candy floss coated teddy bear. It’s bearable if you’re in a relationship (only just, mind), but if you’re like me and perpetually single, it’s an awful day and should be stopped.

Wishful thinking aside, I am going to spend the day visiting heritage sites around Stockport. I will be far removed from plastic cupids, heart shaped chocolates and anything pink. I live in Stockport, which has a few options on offer such as Staircase House. There is more in the area, but Staircase House is a favourite of mine and I’m always happy to spend a few hours in there.

One of Staircase House's bedrooms (courtesy of the BBC)
One of Staircase House’s bedrooms

Staircase House is something quite different from the usual visitor attraction you would usually find in a similar small town. Built at some point in the latter half of the 15th century (dendrochronology pinpoints the felling of the oldest timbers in the house to 1459/60),

Staircase House stands only metres away from the historic St Mary’s Church (which is the parish of the Church of England’s first female Bishop). In 1995 a fire broke out which almost destroyed the building. Luckily, the building was saved and restoration efforts were started in the years following.

Stockport Council secured HLF funding to restore the building and the Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit were invited to survey the property. As it stands at the moment, Staircase House is an audio assisted tour that takes groups through the house.

Starting in the cold store (where meat was left to hang) at the bottom, the tour simultaneously takes you up though the house and up through time, from the earliest occupation up until World War 2. The tour points out that there is some debate over what the house’s original purpose was.

Was it residential or commercial? Did the Shallcross family live there, or was it used as a town house whilst visiting Stockport? The tour attempts to reflect both, with a counting house replete with Nuremburg chest alongside residential quarters and the rather ostentatious dining/living rooms.

As you can imagine, the fire in 1995 destroyed most of the original features, but here and there you can see parts that have survived (such as the door with the lion head knocker, and the floorboards that are warped from the heat).

The staircase for which the house is named is one of only three surving examples (in the UK) of the cage newel style, and whilst having being extensively damaged parts of the original are still present.

The famous cage newel staircase, from which the house takes its name
The famous cage newel staircase, from which the house takes its name

It’s well worth a visit, even if it’s just to admire the quality of the conservation work that’s taken place. Have you got any heritage sites nearby that you’re planning to take refuge in on Saturday? Please share if so, as I’d love to hear about it!

Jamie

Crowdsourcing Archaeology

Hello!

A couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me an article he’d stumbled across online. I’ve droned on long enough on Facebook and Twitter about archaeology and computers that he assumed I’d be interested. He knows me well.

How many of you have spent hours bent over a map, or staring at one on-screen in the name of archaeology? Imagine if you could not only get someone else to do it, but increase the number of people doing it?

That’s exactly what four archaeologists from the University of California did when they crowdsourced the hunt for Genghis Khan’s tomb out to over 10,000 volunteers. With such a large amount of people involved, the team decided to promote a collective intelligence, where the volunteers governed the search themselves.

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Using high resolution satellite imagery, the volunteers were tasked with tagging the map with what they thought could be archaeological sites. After six months, the volunteers had tagged the map 2.3 million times and combined, had donated 30,000 hours (3.4 years) of human analysis.

Alas, even with such incredible input, the tomb still hasn’t been identified. What the survey did generate though was 100 highly tagged areas. After investigation by the team, 55 were found to be positive archaeological sites, which included Bronze Age burial mounds and megaliths.

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The ability to crowdsource the identification of archaeological sites is nothing short of staggering, and could change the way we approach archaeology altogether. If this technique is applied to sites already excavated, just think how our understanding of them could potentially change.

As a tech fiend, I think it’s a great time to be an archaeologist. To paraphrase Hudson from the film Aliens: “We got crowdsourcing, drones, 3D imaging, scanners and printers! We got tablets, we got virtual reality…”

You can find the news article here, and the research article here.

Jaime

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