Thursday, 20 January 2022

Archaeologists unearth tiles that could be from medieval chapel floor

THE remains of what could have been a medieval chapel have been found in Sonning Common.

THE remains of what could have been a medieval chapel have been found in Sonning Common.

Encaustic tiles, which could have been part of the floor of the building, were found during an archaeology dig of the lawns at the Johnson Matthey research centre in Blounts Court Road.

Up to 20 people from the Berkshire Archaeological Society and the Berkshire Archaeology Research Group have been working on site for the past three weeks and have unearthed what they believed to be the foundations of a large, timber-framed building.

Ann Griffin, chairwoman of the society, said: “If we can date when it was built then we can speak a lot more about it. This type of tile is very often found on the floor of medieval chapels or high status buildings. They use two different clays to make a pattern. It’s significant for us.”

The archaeologists began working on the project in 2013 when they carried out a geophysical survey of Blounts Court, which dates back to the 14th century.

This showed up several anomalies where the colour was darker due to more dense material.

Three trenches were dug where the archaeologists found a chalk block wall, a chalk floor and artefacts. Some of the pieces of tile or rock found in the trenches have been kept to help with the research and provide context to later finds.

The project has been spearheaded by Nigel Spencer, from Finchampstead, who worked for Johnson Matthey from 1995 to 2013 and wrote a book about the history of Blounts Court.

When he retired he was able to spend more time on his passion for archaeology and his former workplace was an ideal location.

Mr Spencer said: “I’ve always been interested in history in one shape or form, especially local history and buildings. When I worked at Johnson Matthey I was always badgering people to have a look out here. I wanted to find the extent of the building.”

He said he was sure that there was originally a number of buildings on the site and this was supported by their finds so far.

Mr Spencer said: “There is a mortared wall, which is probably the base for a quite substantial building but we don’t know for sure what it is or the date it is from.

“We are likely to find more of the wall and the building next year. I am 100 per sure cent that there was some kind of complex.

“This work is ongoing and hopefully we will be able to come back in a year and build up a pattern of what this area was like but we have to go forward very carefully.

“This is a very long-term thing and if we keep finding things during excavations we will have a better picture of what is here. We would like to come back if we are invited.”

When each summer digging session finishes the team covers the dig sections in a tarpaulin sheet so they can be easily found when they return. Each trench is then filled in with soil and the grass put back on top.

Johnson Matthey, a sustainable technologies company which took over the site in the Sixties, is supporting the dig.

Ian Godwin, communications director, said: “The volunteers are very good. They come in for a few weeks in the summer as that is when they can do it.

“When the digging season is over they fill the holes in again and you can’t even see they have been.

“Many of the employees take an interest in keeping track of the progress.”

Mrs Griffin, from Knowl Hill, said: “The staff have shown terrific interest. They come out and ask the most searching questions.”

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