All posts by tmrowe70

A mum and a writer with a passion for archaeology and history.

Hampton Park – Te Puke o Tara

Back in October the Auckland Council hosted the Auckland Heritage Festival, where, as the name would suggest all things heritage and Auckland was celebrated. There are a wide range of events during the festival weeks from walks, talks, exhibitions and workshops. I was able to attend two events – a talk at the Devonport Museum on Mt Cambria (more on that down the page) and a walk ‘n’ talk at Hampton Park.

Hampton Park is situated in the heart of commercial Otara, a pocket of farm land amongst the warehouses, factories and offices. Having never been there or even for that matter heard of it, I was intrigued to find out more. The park is in fact a working farm and whilst the public are able to walk around it there are no proper footpaths and no other facilities (there is a house and it is lived in by the family who farm the park as well others – if visiting please respect their privacy).

The story of Hampton Park begins long before people arrived in the area. Geologically it is part of the wider volcanic landscape of Auckland, here in Otara there are (or were) three volcanoes, the largest of which was called Te Puke o Taramainuku (‘the hill of Taramainuku’, a Tainui ancestor). The small scoria cone that sits in Hampton Park is the smallest of the three and is probably the smallest of all the Auckland volcanoes. It is so small that it has no formal name, simply being referred to as the Hampton Park volcano.

The beginnings of the human story in the area is much like the human story all over Tamaki Makaurau. Here like everywhere else Māori terraced the flanks of the cones and grew crops in the good volcanic soil. The larger cones would have provided a place of refuge when in need. The small cone in Hampton Park shows some evidence of terracing but later changes has blurred this somewhat. Alongside the driveway between the house and the church there is a large rectangular kumara pit which has remarkably survived. For more on the Māori use and occupation of the maunga of Tamaki Makaurau read here.

The large rectangular kumara pit between the house and the church.
Terracing on the sides of the Hampton Park volcano.

In 1852 the Rev. Gideon Smales, a Wesleyan missionary, bought 460 acres from the fencible Major Gray, settling there with his wife and children in 1855. The land was cleared of rocks, stone walls were built and crops and livestock brought in. Gideon Smales called the farm Hampton Park as he wished to model it on the English gentleman’s estate. It was said to have once rivalled Sir George Grey’s Kawau Island estate for its ‘botanical excellence’.

The current homestead.
One of the many stone walls found on the farm, in the background is the cone of Hampton Park volcano

The farm grew oats, hay, barley, wheat and had an extensive orchard which included cider apple trees, pomegranates, oranges, figs and plums to name a few. In addition, to the more practical elements of the farm, the gardener – a veteran of the Crimean War – built a sunken garden in the form of the fort of Sebastopol. The remains of which can still be seen today. The excessive amount of stone on the estate resulted in it being used for a great many projects including the sunken garden, a rockery with a high stone wall and cave and of course the stone walls.

The stone walls which were constructed with the stone cleared away for cultivable fields was done so under the supervision of James Stewart who immigrated to New Zealand from Yorkshire. Due to the vast quantity of stone the walls were higher than was the norm and it was said there was over five miles of walls on the estate.

As is to be expected on a farm there are a number of buildings but perhaps the most striking are the remains of the stone stables, again built from stone quarried from the estate. Although not long after they were built a vagrant worker came to the estate looking for work, he was given a meal and allowed to sleep in the stables. That night the stables burnt down and the vagrant disappeared. They were never rebuilt properly although they were partly roofed over as barn and milking shed. Nearby are the derelict tin shed of the 1930s barn.

Two other buildings which still stand are the homestead and the church. The current homestead is the second to have stood on the estate, the first was burnt down in 1940 and the current homestead was built – only the front steps remain of the original house. The first homestead was built in 1855, it was three storied and had ten rooms which was later extended to eighteen rooms in 1869.

Images of the first two homesteads on site with the Rev. Gideon Smales on the left.

The small chapel – St John’s church – is also constructed using stone from a nearby quarry. Interestingly, the mortar for both the church and the house was made of burnt shell from Howick beach, the timber arrived via the Tamaki river and was brought overland by bullock teams. The first service to be held in the church was on Sunday the 12th January 1862. When the Rev. Gideon Smales died in 1894 he bequeathed the chapel and four acres jointly to the Anglican and Methodist Churches. It is still used today for services once a month.

The Missing Maunga

Beyond the settler history of the park there is another story that is reflected in the wider landscape of Auckland Tamaki Makaurau. As mentioned earlier the small volcano cone at Hampton Park is one of three in the immediate area, which may confuse the visitor, as nothing of the other two remain to be seen.

The inside of the Hampton Park volcano. The roofs of the industrial estate in the background is where Te Puke o Taramainuku would have stood and the green mound at the rear is all that is left of Matanginui (see below).

Te Puke o Taramainuku has been completely quarried away beginning in 1955 and now is vast expanse of factories, beyond is Greenmount or Matanginui which had minor quarrying from around 1870 which began in earnest during the 1960s. The quarry eventually became a landfill giving way to the gently sloping mound/hill we see today.

Another view of the missing maunga/volcanoes.

The quarrying of the volcanic cones around Auckland in the late 1800s up until the mid fairly recently was not an unusual. Many of the cities defining features were quarried away to make way for development and to use the raw material of scoria and basalt in the infrastructure of a city. An earlier event at the Devonport Museum told of the history of Takararo/Mt Cambria, another volcanic cone wedged between Takarunga/Mt Victoria and Maungauika/North Head which was mostly quarried away and only more recently became the pleasant parkland area it is today.

The parkland that was Takarora/Mt Cambria with Takarunga/Mt Victoria in the background.

Other volcanoes that have been subjected to quarrying to the point of total removal include –

Te Apunga-o-Tainui/McLennan Hills; Waitomokia/Mt Gabriel; Ōtuataua Volcano/Quarry Hill; Maungataketake/Elletts Mountain; Te Pou Hawaiki (the second smallest cone and now a carpark);Te Tātua-a-Riukiuta/Three Kings; Rarotonga/Mt Smart; Maungarahiri/Little Rangitoto; Te Tauoma/Purchas Hill to name a few.

There are also many others which have been partially quarried, of the fifty three volcanoes in Auckland only thirteen appear to have been untouched by the bulldozer and the digger. This is not to say that those that remain have been completely untouched by human hands. For as long as there has been people in Tamaki Makaurau then the landscape and its features will have been adapted and utilised to suit the needs and requirements of its inhabitants.

For more information regarding the volcanoes of Auckland I recommend the following book –

B. W. Hayward (2019) The Volcanoes of Auckland. A field guide. Published by Auckland University Press

Objects That Go Boo!

In the northern hemisphere when the weather begins to bite and the nights draw in thoughts turn to that time when it is said the veil thins between our world and that ‘otherworld’. Samhain, Halloween or All Hallows is a festival celebrated in many ways in the northern hemisphere (and in the southern hemisphere, somewhat erroneously). Previously on this blog tales have been written about witches, ghosts and the superstitions of Halloween – all of which are pretty standard topics for the time of the year.

So now lets turn our attention to the lesser known spooky stories of objects said to be haunted such as skulls that scream and drums that, well, drum…

The Rillaton Cup

The Rillaton Cup – British Museum

In 1837 a Bronze Age barrow on the eastern side of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall was excavated. Human remains were found alongside a number of objects including a bronze dagger, beads, pottery and a gold cup – the Rillaton Cup. At 90cm high, with a handle attached with rivets it resembles the beaker style of cup known from other Bronze Age burials. It is said that the cup is haunted by the spirit of a druid priest who offers travelers a drink from the undrainable cup. Local legend tells of one man who, in a fit of Christian pique, threw the contents of the cup at the ghost. He was later found dead in a ravine…

Busby’s Chair

Can a curse on chair result in the deaths of those who sit in it? In North Yorkshire there is such a tale centered around a Thomas Busby who was arrested, tried and executed for the murder of his father-in-law in 1702. Two versions of the local legend exist – one says that Busby cursed the chair on his way to the gallows and the other says he was drunk in the chair when arrested and that was when he cursed it. He was hung at a crossroads near an inn where the chair resided until the late 1970s. It was said that during the second world war Canadian airmen from the nearby base who sat in the chair never returned from their bombing missions over Europe. Following a series of fatal accidents linked to the chair in the 1970s the chair was donated to the museum at Thirsk where it hangs permanently on a wall beyond the reach of curious bottoms…

The Great Bed

In the town of Ware (Herts)there once was a carpenter named Jonas Fosbrook who made a bed fit for a king. It is massive four poster constructed from oak and measuring 3.38m long and 3.28m wide. It was said that Fosbrook intended the bed to be used for Edward IV although there is no evidence of this ever happening. The bed was owned by several of Wares inns; it was alleged that once in the 17th century twelve married couples slept in it. However, it is said that the ghost of Fosbrook will pinch and scratch anyone who slept in it because the bed was not being used for royalty. The Great Bed is now housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The King’s Lynn Brick

In the wall of a house on the north-west corner of the ancient Tuesday market in King’s Lynn is a diamond shaped brick with a heart carved into it. According to local tradition it marks the spot where the heart of witch burst from her body as she was being burnt at the stake and hurtled across the market square to smash against the wall. Being burnt at the stake was not a common means of execution for those accused of witchcraft in England, hanging was the preferred method however one of the few witches to suffer death by fire in England was Margaret Read of King’s Lynn in 1590.

‘Alas poor Yorick…’ – Skulls and more skulls…

Keeping a skull of a long dead ancestor or past occupant of a house on shelf or in a cupboard should be a rare and somewhat odd occurrence, but it is not. A brief foray into the records shows that there are at least half a dozen instances of skulls being kept in houses across the UK.

On a farm near Buxton in Derbyshire there is a skull known affectionately as ‘Dickie’, said to have once been a Ned Dixon who was murdered by his cousin in the house – although the tale is also sometime told as love triangle where two sisters fell in love with the same man and one sister murdered the other. Either way, it is said that should the skull be moved then all kinds of disasters will fall upon the farm. A well meaning soul once thought to bury the skull and before long things began to go wrong – pigs died, cows became ill and crops failed. Once the skull was retrieved life once more settled down and all was well.

On another occasion, in 1870 there were all sorts of issues regarding unsuccessful building work by a railway company who were a little to close for comfort and disturbing ‘Dickie’s’ rest. The issues soon stopped though when the railway company chose a different route for the railway…

Burton Agnes Hall in Humberside was built by three sisters in the seventeenth century. One day the house was attacked and the youngest sister Anne was mortally wounded. Before she died she asked that her head be kept in the house she loved. Her sisters chose to ignore Anne’s request and she was buried whole in the local churchyard. However, Anne’s unhappy soul created havoc in the house and eventually the sisters were forced to disinter their sister and remove her head. Some years later a new maid took fright when she came across the skull and threw it out of a window where it landed on a passing cart. The story tells how the horse stopped immediately and would not move until the skull was returned to the house. It is now bricked up in one of the walls so it can never be removed and since then all has been quiet, even if her ghost is still occasionally seen watching over her beloved home.

Burton Agnes Hall, Yorkshire – from The County Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, by Francis Orpen Morris. Original held and digitised by the British Library. (source: wikimediacommons)

At the head of the staircase in Wardley Hall, Greater Manchester is the skull of Father Ambrose Barlow who was hung, drawn and quartered in 1641 when he confessed to being a Catholic priest. It is said that if moved it emits blood curdling screams and will bring misfortune on the house. The antiquary Thomas Barritt wrote of the skull, “if removed or ill-used, some uncommon noise and disturbance always follows, to the terror of the whole house.” When Wardley Hall was divided into miners tenements, the new tenants attempted to rid themselves of the macabre object much to their detriment. Peace was only restored once the skull was brought back to the Hall.

Near to the shore of Lake Windermere is the sixteenth century manor house called Calgarth Hall. Before the manor was built the land it sits upon was farmed by Kraster and Dorothy Cook who refused to sell their land to the neighbouring landowner and magistrate Myles Phillipson which led to a great deal of ill feeling between the two parties. However as Christmas approached Phillipson invited the couple to dinner declaring he wished to mend the rift. The Cooks were happy to obliged and duly arrived at the magistrates house on Christmas morning, unfortunately the day did not end well when it was found that a small silver bowl which had been on the table near Kraster had gone missing. The Cooks had just put on their coats which had been unattended all day and when searched the bowl was found in Kraster’s pocket.

The Cooks were arrested, tried and found guilty of theft – all before the magistrate, Myles Phillipson. As was the law in those days they were sentenced to hang, as Dorothy was being taken from the court she cried;

“Guard thyself, Myles Phillipson! Thou thinkest thou hast managed grandly but that tiny lump of land is the dearest a Phillipson has bought or stolen for you will never prosper, neither will your breed…Never will you be rid of us”

The following Christmas the hall had been built and was ready for occupation and a huge banquet was planned. The evening of the banquet the lady of the house went upstairs and to her horror came face to face with two skulls grinning at them from the balustrade, one even had hair much like Dorothy’s. The guests declared this to be some nasty prank and threw them into the yard, later that night the skulls reappeared. After which all attempts to get rid of the skulls failed, as time and time again they reappeared on their perch. Myles Phillipson suffered multiple misfortunes and with each setback the skulls would scream in celebration. On his death he had lost all his lands, wealth and positions. The hall was inherited by his son and the skulls only appeared at Christmas, but Dorothy’s curse continued and the Phillipson family became impoverished. Only when the hall passed into new hands did the haunting of Calgarth hall cease.

At Higher Chilton Farm at Chilton Cantello, Somerset there is a special cupboard containing the skull of Theophilus Brome, a one time owner of the farm. Theophilus died in August 1670 and one of his last requests was to have his head removed from his body and kept at the farm for all of time. The reasons for such a strange request are unknown and it is not known if he had placed a curse on any who would remove his skull from the farm. But what is told that whenever someone has attempted to move the skull the resulting supernatural commotion has meant it remains in the house. In Collinson’s History of Somerset from the 1860s there is an entry which refers to the skull.

…(of which) the tenants of the house have often endeavoured to commit to the bowels of the earth, but have as often been deterred by the horrid noises portentive of sad displeasure…”

In Dorset at Bettiscombe Manor another skull can found which objects strongly to being moved from its abode. One nineteenth century tenant of the manor had the audacity to throw the skull into a pond. The house was shaken by screams and tremors for days until the skull was retrieved and placed back in the house. Interestingly, analysis of the skull has shown that the skull is about 2000 years old and is that of a woman in her twenties.

Country below Bettiscombe Manor. Fields on either side of the valley lead towards Bettiscombe Manor, home of a screaming skull. (Derek Harper / Country below Bettiscombe Manor / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Read more about England’s screaming skulls here and here.

Drake’s Drum

In Buckland Abbey, Devon is Drake’s Drum, said to have accompanied Francis Drake when he circumnavigated the globe in 1577-80. Not unlike the legend surrounding King Arthur it is said that Francis Drake is not dead but only sleeping. Whilst not necessarily haunted it is said that if his drum is beaten he will wake to his country’s call. The drum is said to have been heard when the German fleet surrendered in 1918.

Replica of Drake’s Drum from the education center at Buckland Abbey (source – wikimediacommons).

There are many objects from around the world which are said to be haunted or cursed, some are famed and others not so much – Ebay apparently do a roaring trade in haunted items…be ware the buyer…

If you want to disappear down a rabbit hole then these sites are a good place to start – happy haunting…sorry I meant hunting…

Cursed Objects – Atlas Obscura

Top 10 Haunted Objects in Museums – YouTube

On the hunt for Roman London

People have always lived in the area that is now known as London, a visit to the London Museum will tell all you need to know about London before it was London. However, it was the Romans who gave the area its name – Londinium – and apart from a small hiccup in the first century AD they provided the structure that would become one of the most famous cities in the world.

Although later parts of the cities history can be easier to spot, the evidence for Roman London is possible to find. The following is not an exhaustive guide, just a few pictures and the like of places as and when they were found.

The most obvious evidence for the Romans can be found in the bits of surviving wall that once surrounded the town. Short sections of the wall survive in various places (one section is in an underground carpark) and are really the only upstanding remains left – all else having been destroyed and built over by later generations. The wall remained (with later additions and repairs) because it was useful. For those wishing to walk the wall – follow the road ‘London Wall’ which leads to and from the Museum of London, along the way are several signposted places of interest.

The above photos show a section of the wall at Tower Hill (first three pictures) and one of the bastions and wall section of the Cripplegate fort. The Roman fort formed part of the wall defences when it was built in the second century AD. Follow this link for an interactive map of other locations of the wall sections. Do keep in mind though that the Roman parts of the London wall are generally speaking the lower sections, later Londoners did alter, reinforce and reconstruct much of the upper sections as and when was necessary.

As mentioned before an essential place to start if you want to know more of London’s history is with the London Museum. More so if you want to learn about the Roman period and earlier as much of the evidence comes from excavations. The Roman galleries paint a fascinating picture of life at the time with the added bonus of a section of the Roman wall being just outside the museum (see above photo).

Part of the gallery is laid out as a series of ‘rooms’ where objects are given life like context. For example, cooking pots and utensils are placed within the context of kitchen befitting a Roman home.

There are also many of the usual museum type exhibits. It was particularly interesting to see the exhibit on the burial of the Roman woman found at Spitalfields.

The above photos show a reconstruction of the Spitalfields woman may have looked like. Roman London was a cosmopolitan city and by AD120 the population was around 45,000. Many of the people living in Londinium came from all over the known world. The Spitalfields lady’s burial was of high status, not only did she have a stone sarcophagus but also a highly decorated lead coffin (above). Fragile glass vials were found with her as were pieces of Damascus silk. Chemical analysis indicated that she was one of the few known people to have actually come from Rome. Read here for more of her story.

Every generation since London’s inception has reimagined the city, demolishing that which did not fit or was not useful and rebuilding for their own purposes. Resulting in thick layers of history beneath the roads and buildings we see today. Every time a new road, building or train line is built the archaeologists move in to hastily uncover what can be seen, such as during the Cross Rail project. Many of these reports can be accessed via the Archaeological Data Service along with others such as 1 Poultry Lane and Tower Hamlets excavations.

Most of what is excavated does not survive the process for numerous reasons, however in one case the remains of Roman temple has been preserved deep underground – the London Mithraeum. Located beneath Bloombergs European headquarters in the heart of the city is the well preserved and intriguing site of a temple dedicated to the eastern god Mithras.

The mysterious cult of Mithras first appeared in Rome in the 1st century AD. It spread across the Empire over the next 300 years, predominantly attracting merchants, soldiers and imperial administrators. Meeting in temples which were often constructed below ground, these were private, dark and windowless spaces. (From londonmithraeum.com).

The temple was built in the third century AD and it lies on reclaimed land over what was once the river Walbrook; because of this a number of wooden artefacts survived. After the 1954 excavations the site was physically moved and reconstructed in the 1960s on the far side of the plaza from where it sits now. During the construction of the Bloomberg center even more excavations were undertaken revealing even more about the sites fascinating past. As part of this process, it was decided to move the mithraeum back to (as close as possible) to its original position seven meters below modern ground level and open it to the public as educational and exciting place to learn about Roman London.

The experience is immersive – the visitor stands in a darkened room, surrounded by the sounds of the temple as it may have been, judicious use of lighting draws your attention to various spaces. Each session is timed and numbers limited (booking is essential but free). This allows for an unhurried and unharried visit of the mithraeum – evoking an atmosphere of quiet contemplation, similar to that felt when visiting a church.

Although there is a small display of some of the many artefacts found during the 1954 excavations the sculpture featuring Mithras and the bull can be seen at the London Museum.

Another feature of Roman London which can still be traced above ground, so to speak, is that of the roads which ran in and out of the city. Some of the names may be familiar – Ermine St (now the A10/Kingsland Rd), Watling St (of which there are two…), not always easy to see or follow, later changes to the topography can blur the picture but it is always lovely when you accidentally find one such road…

Here is the Watling Street which most likely ran south east past the mithraeum and across London Bridge heading towards Durovernum (Canterbury) and the coast. The site of todays London Bridge is roughly in the same position of the first proper bridge across the Thames built by the Romans.

Unlike later periods of London’s history the Roman story can be a little harder to find however it is well worth the effort should you make the attempt.

How to travel back in time…

A view from the Roman villa back into the Iron Age.

Experimental archaeology is the one path that virtually anyone can take to travel back in time; to get an idea of what life may have been like in the distant past. One such place which encapsulates this philosophy is Butser Ancient Farm, a place I had the chance to visit recently.

Butser began life in 1972, in a different location by the late Peter Reynolds, whose passion for experimental archaeology was contagious. The original farm was situated on Butser Hill, in what is now the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, in part because of the evidence for extensive Iron Age field systems on Butser Hill, still visible in the prehistoric field boundaries and earthworks that cover the landscape. However, it did not open to the public until 1974 and because of its popularity moved to a more accessible site at the bottom of Butser Hill. In 1991 the farm moved to its present location (near Chalton, Hampshire – just off the A3).

At Butser it is possible to see ten thousand years of history come to life; to see plans of archaeological sites rise up from the ground; to feel, touch, smell and absorb some of what it may have been like in the past is an experience that should not be missed. All of the buildings which have been reconstructed are based on actual archaeological sites that have been discovered through excavation.

These excavations often only reveal the faintest of remains, the postholes and their layout is usually all archaeologists have to go on as to the type of building. The artefacts found and their position in the structure can also provide clues as to the use of the space inside and outside. Understanding all the fragmentary pieces of evidence can often take a leap of faith particularly for the general public. In this case Butser provides a physical and tangible connection to the past for the visitor.

However, it is much more than that, it is a place where those who study the past can test theories in, not only ancient technologies and construction techniques but also in how sites degrade. Our understanding of how archaeological sites are formed depend very much on understanding how a place degrades, becoming the humps and bumps we see in the landscape.

In addition to the buildings, there are also gardens containing plants that would have been in use at a particular time – known from faunal analysis during excavations. Ancient breeds of sheep, goat and pig are also a feature of the farm, giving the visitor a well-rounded experience. At certain times of the year, they also host various events such as flint knapping weekends, re-enactment groups, storytelling, solstice celebrations and more.

The following are few photos from my visit this year…beginning in the very distant past of the Mesolithic and Neolithic.

In the days preceding my visit the team at Butser along with volunteers from the HMS Queen Elizabeth had a go at erecting a megalith using only the types of technology available in the Neolithic. They moved and raised a 3.5 ton piece of Purbeck limestone using theorised prehistoric techniques. The stone is roughly the same weight as the smaller bluestones at Stonehenge, which were moved over 140 miles around 5000 years ago. 

When performing such tasks it is also useful to observe what is left behind, these ephemeral remains are often the hardest to interpret.

From the Neolithic we carefully saunter into the Bronze Age, the time of the roundhouse and metal working…

The Iron Age –

The Roman villa – as with all the structures at Butser the villa was built using only construction techniques known to be used in the Romano-British period. The mosaic is the only known reconstruction in the UK and the aim was to understand some of the finer points in mosaic construction but also to see what happens to it over time.

The Anglo-Saxon halls are the most recent addition to the farm and demonstrate two different types of building style.

As mentioned before Butser also engages in research and education, none of the buildings, gardens or spaces are static museum pieces, they are constantly evolving – adding to our knowledge. Most years the farm is well attended by schools wide and far who get a hands on perspective of life in the past, archaeology and history.

A building dedicated to hot technologies under construction – a dedicated space for smelting, metal casting, pottery firing, bead making etc.
In several places around the farm are these curious structures. Used for school visits they give the children hands on experience at excavation and archaeological practices.
The archaeology of decay…

The gardens and the animals are an equally fascinating aspect to the farm, endeavoring to give a much more rounded picture of the past.

For more information I would highly recommend their website (and archive) – Butser Ancient Farm

Mudlarking on the Thames – A Couple of Hours of Joy!

July 2022, it’s hot, humid and even though only 10am the sweat is beginning to accumulate between my shoulder blades and in other unmentionable places. Not for the first time I am surprised at how hot it is in the city. Crossing the road in search of shade, I find myself greeted by the vista of St Pauls Cathedral, but this is not my destination, turning left I head for the Thames and the Millenium Bridge. Today, or at least for a couple of hours, I am joining a group of like-minded people to…mudlark.

I am early, really early, but it gives me time to watch – the river and the people – from a shady spot, which, thankfully, is tickled by an occasional breeze. Observing the tide as it slowly retreats, numerous wooden structures begin to appear, the remains of old jetties and the like can be seen jutting out of the mud. The Thames has been the lifeblood of London for more than two thousand years and although officially it was the Romans who first established a settlement here there were other inhabitants of the area throughout prehistory.

The tide begins to fall…
The excitement builds as more of the foreshore is revealed…
Finally…I am on the foreshore…where do I look first? (note the ubiquitous clay pipe stem).

All of those people, have over thousands of years left traces of their lives on the foreshore of the Thames.

In the past mudlarks were group of souls who spent endless hours sorting and collecting useful debris from the mud to sell – it was an occupation for only the most desperate.

The searched for pieces of coal they could wash and sell on the streets; rags, bones, glass and copper nails they could take to various merchants to recycle…sometimes the children would turn cartwheels in the mud for the amusement of onlookers, who would toss in a penny for them to find. It was a pathetic existence and just a step away from the workhouse.” (L Maiklem ‘A Field Guide to Larking’ 2021).

Nowadays, mudlarks have a much-improved reputation – the twenty first century mudlarks of the Thames foreshore scour the mud and debris for stories of the past. Bits of broken pottery, clay pipes pieces, coins, buckles, pins, tiles, bones and much more all tell the story of London’s history. Not the story of kings and queens but one of ordinary people whose voices are often lost to us but who can speak to us down through time via the bits and bobs they lost and discarded along the river.

As some may already realise, larking is one of my favourite activities – in NZ it is dressed up as beach combing and often consists of finding odds and ends of glass bottles and 19th/20th century ceramics if I’m lucky. So when the opportunity arises for me to become a mudlark for a few hours…well…what can I say…(actually I yelled, ‘here take my money!’)

At this point it is important to note that not just anyone can mudlark on the Thames foreshore and there are a number of rules and regulations to follow. Everyone who is involved in the searching and removal of objects from the foreshore has to hold a permit to do so. There are also exceptions as to where you can and cannot search, for example, the foreshore in front of Westminster is completely out of bounds (for obvious reasons). There are places where only certain permit holders can go and there are rules surrounding the digging/scraping of the foreshore. For more information on the rules and regulations look here.

For the casual visitor to London there are two ways to get involved mudlarking – get a day permit from the Ports of London Authority or join a mudlarking tour. The Thames Explorer Trust do daily tours and give you plenty of time on the foreshore to fossick. Needless to say, my foray into mudlarking was with the Thames Explorer Trust, as I found it to be the cheapest and easiest way to get involved.

Our guide (standing in the hat) giving us a whistle-stop tour of London’s history through its artefacts.

Our guide for the morning was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic (and a fellow NZer!) She began the tour with a whirlwind introduction to the history of London and the types of artefacts we might find on the foreshore. Eventually, we were ushered to the steps that led down to the riverside. A few final words of warning from our guide (watch out for the wash of passing boats, no digging or scraping and don’t go past that point over there…) and we were left to our own devices.

The area where we were not allowed to venture – the round posts in the center of the photo are actually surrounding the remains of the Anglo Saxon wharf at Queenhithe. Only certain people are allowed to search in this area.

Bent over, eyes on the ground, the rest of the world receded to a low hum in the background as bit-by-bit London’s past revealed itself. The broken stems of clay pipes were by far the most numerous artefacts, along with red bricks and roof tiles, pottery fragments began to leap out. At first the ubiquitous willow pattern and plain white sherds but then as I looked harder, the green glaze of medieval pottery could be seen. Animal bones were plentiful, some the remains of someone’s fried chicken dinner, whilst others spoke of the butcher and the resources needed to feed the people of London. Oyster shells told a tale of cheap and easy eats (in the past oysters were not a delicacy but a cheap foodstuff for poor people).

The above photos show just some of the things I spotted – in truth I kept forgetting to take photos, I was so engrossed. The first photo is of a roof tile, the nail holes can be seen on either side (I would like to think this was Roman but I cannot say for sure), second photo is the jaw bone of a pig and represents just some of the vast amount of bones found on the foreshore. The third photo is the sole of a leather shoe, age is undetermined but most likely Victorian – the Thames mud is of type which preserves organic remains very well. The fourth picture shows first a chicken leg bone, clay pipe stems and a small sherd of green glazed medieval pottery. The final photo is a close up of the medieval pottery sherd, note the quantity of terracotta brick and tile.

It was, simply, two hours of joy that flew by in seconds.

Please note, as a participant of the tour artefacts could not be removed from the foreshore; if you have one day permit you can remove artefacts but if you are travelling overseas, it is important to know that it is illegal to remove any artefacts over 300 years old from the UK. I would also like to stress that there are many laws around the removal of artefacts from any archaeological site (The Thames can be considered an archaeological site in its entirety) and it is up to the individual to know and understand these laws.

The following books are a good source of information regarding mudlarking on the Thames.

L. Maiklem (2019) ‘Mudlarking. Lost and Found on the River Thames’

L. Maiklem (2021) ‘A Field Guide to Larking – Beachcombing, Mudlarking, Fieldwalking and More.’

J. Sandy & N. Stevens (2021) ‘Thames Mudlarking. Searching for London’s Lost Treasures.’

Exploring Auckland’s Maunga

Perhaps one of the most dominant and much-loved landscape features of Tamaki Makaurau Auckland are the remains of long dead volcanoes.  Fifty-three volcanoes have erupted in the Auckland area over many millennia (the most recent being Rangitoto), some exist in today’s landscape as basins or form lakes and many have been quarried away for stone used in the construction of roads and building, or to simply make room for the ever-developing city.

“For hundred of years, these volcanoes have played a key part in the lives of Māori and Pākehā – as sites for Māori pā and 20th century military fortifications, as kūmara gardens and parks, as sources of water and stone.” (B.Hayward ‘Volcanoes of Auckland’ 2019).

As an archaeologist my interest in the upstanding cones of Auckland’s past volcanoes relate to the features found on and near their slopes, to this extent with the company of the dog, the other half and one of the teens, it was decided to explore those we had seen from a distance as we zipped up and down the motorway.

The trusty hound on the summit of Maungarei/Mt Wellington.

The four largest maunga (mountains/volcanic cones) in Auckland are Maungarei (Mt Wellington), Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill), Maungawhau (Mt Eden) and Mangere. Today’s visitor to these places may have a skewed view of the maunga, seeing them standing alone within a landscape of roads, housing developments and shopping centers. This was of course not always the case, using archaeology it is possible to strip back the layers of modern city life to see into the past. It is equally important to understand that the maunga were not static occupation sites. There were many changes over time, what we see today is simply the last phase of occupation. One of the most common assumption about all of Aucklands upstanding volcanic cones are that they were solely used for defence in times of upheaval. The common name for this type of site with its banks and ditches is pā – a Māori fortification which in turn has resulted in other misconceptions that will be touched upon below.

It is also important to know that remarkably little archaeological excavation work has been done on the maunga of Auckland. The most well known was the series of excavations done on Maungarei between 1960 and 1972 ahead of several developments (installation of water tank and road access).

The interior of the volcanic cone – the flat area is the top of a water tank with an asphalt carpark immediately in front (please note vehicle access is no longer possible on any of the maunga).

As mentioned above, a pā is seen as any type of settlement which has been fortified, their defining features are the banks and ditches surrounding an area of landscape. Situated mainly on hills, spurs and headlands (but not always, such as the ‘swamp pā’ found in the Waikato), there are some five thousand known pā in New Zealand, of which, the majority are found in areas good for horticulture. Other features can include, pits, terraces and house platforms.

From Fox A (1976) ‘Prehistoric Maori Fortifications in the North Island of New Zealand’
An old postcard of Mt Albert – the banks and ditches surrounding the summit can be clearly seen.

The above diagram is from A Fox (1976) ‘Prehistoric Maori Fortifications in the North Island of New Zealand’ depicting the variety of methods used in defence of a pā.

A sequence of ditches and banks along the north east rim of Maungarei/Mt Wellington.

It is perhaps a mistake to assign a singular function to pā – they were used as places of refuge but they were also places were people lived (although not always and in some cases never), where they stored important food and water supplies; they could also be focal points for religious activity. The palisades and ditches were just as likely to be a symbolic boundary separating a sacred area from the everyday, then a fortification built during times of war.

Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) has four heavily defended summits but at its the very highest point there is an area which is regarded as important and sacred. Called Te Totara-i-ahua after the sacred lone tōtara that grew there in pre-European times (see earlier post) and it has the greatest amount of defenses surrounding it.

The highest point of One Tree Hill – note the many humps and bumps surrounding it – these are the remains of the terraces (lower slopes) and the banks and ditches (upper slopes).

One of the most common features found at many pā including the maunga of Auckland are the storage pits. Unlike the ancestral tropical home of the Māori where important food staples could be grown all year round, Aotearoa’s more temperate climate required some lateral thinking by New Zealand’s first people.

Storage pits enable kumara tubers to be stored in conditions that protected them from extremes of temperature both for future planting and consumption. There are several types of storage pits – rua are small cave like structures that are dug into the ground and sealed with a wooden door. The type which is most obvious on Auckland’s maunga are the large rectangular storage pits dug into an area and topped with a pitched roof. Depending on the size the roof was supported by either a single line of central posts or a double line of posts. Other features within the storage pit itself include drainage channels that led to one corner of the structure and a sump – an important feature in Aotearoa’s rainy climate.

The above are from Fox A (1976) ‘Prehistoric Maori Fortifications in the North Island of New Zealand’ and show the two types of storage pits commonly seen on the maunga of Auckland.

The depressions seen in a row (mid photo) are the remains of the rectangular storage pits – Manugarei/Mt Wellington.
More of the rectangular storage pits but this time from Mangere Mountain – the two reluctant teens being used to show context regarding size of the pits.

As mentioned before the maunga of Auckland existed within a landscape dotted with settlements and gardens. The fertile volcanic soils surrounding the maunga providing a perfect growing medium for kumara and later the potatoe. This combined with the easy access to other natural resources such as fish and shellfish from the nearby harbours east and west of the central maunga made the isthmus a desirable to place to live where resources were plentiful.

The view from Mangere Mountain towards the Manakau Harbour – the stonefield gardens of Otuatua and Puketutu Island are to the top and left of the photo.

“The prospect from the summit is grand and nobly pleasing, I observed twenty villages in the valley below, and, with a single glance, beheld the largest portionn of cultivated land I had ever met in one place in New Zealand.” From Reverend John Butler – travelling with Samuel Marsden in 1820 as he climbed the summit of Maungarei.

The excavations of Maungarei produced radiocarbon dates for the earliest occupation on the lower slopes to the early 1500s. The period from the mid 1500s to the late 1600s was a time of intensive use. But after 1700 Maungarei does not feature in oral accounts of Māori history and was perhaps no longer an important place. The archaeology suggests that it was the two high points which were the most densely protected (tihi) by palisades and ditches. The lower terraces providing evidence of structures (postholes), hearths, fire scoops, midden deposits and storage pits.

“Maungarei was thus the location of repeated settlements, which were sometimes fortified, particularly late in the sequence, but often not.” From J Davidson (2011) ‘Archaeological investigations at Maungarei: A large Māori settlement on a volcanic cone in Auckland, New Zealand’ Tuhinga 22 Te Papa.

A view of the man humps and bumps to be found over Maungarei – looking north towards Rangitoto.
Maungarei – the seeming farmland setting belies the busy road behind me and the surrounding suburban sprawl which are just out of shot.

Increasingly, archaeological studies are showing that the pā as a site was a late feature of the landscape, dating from the 1500s onwards, not all were in use at the same time and not all functioned in the same way. This would appear to be the case for Tamaki Makaurau Auckland as well. For a long time it has been assumed that the widespread presence of pā in Auckland has meant that the area was in a constant state of flux.

“…Tamaki, in the years of Waiohua ascendency, was one of the most settled and extensively cultivated regions in Aotearoa…in spite of the received wisdom of historians to the contrary, was the the fact that tribes enjoyed long periods of relative peace.” From R C J Stone (2001) ‘From Tamaki-makau-rau to Auckland’ Auckland University Press.

Another of the common features of the maunga are the areas of flat ground surrounding cones. These terraces were used as places for living (some have house platforms), as places for storage pits and as places for gardens.

The above slideshow shows a fraction of the terraces that can be found on any given maunga in Auckland. These examples are from Maungakiekie, Mangere, Maungarei and Maungawhau.

But this is not to say that pā were never used for defence, the banks, ditches and palisades would suggest otherwise. Instead it is suggested that a more balanced view be taken when interpreting such places. Understanding that what we see in the landscape is but the final stage of a long and often complicated history – the evidence from the excavations at Maungarei are a good example of this.

A Return to Otata

Auckland was recently subjected to what the meteorologists refer to as a ‘weather event’. High winds and a months worth of rainfall caused damage and chaos throughout the city. None more so than on the islands of the Hauraki Gulf including Otata.

Reports came in of erosion and the lost of the shingle beach exposing the clay beds. It was decided that a visit to the island would be necessary, to assess and record the damage to the midden site. In addition, Louise Furey, the archaeology curator at the Auckland Museum, invited Bruce Hayward and Robert Brassey for a second opinion on the stratigraphy of the site (the former a geologist and the latter an archaeologist who had worked on the nearby islands of Motatapu and Tiritiri Matangi).

The first attempt to visit the island was thwarted, yet again by bad weather. However, on the second attempt we were graced with a stunning day with tides and winds in our favour and so we set off early morning. It was with some luck that only a few days earlier, the wind and tide redeposited much of the shingle back onto the beach, making landing on the island a little safer. On our arrival we could see that the sea had not been kind to the midden and much of the beach had indeed been washed away, leaving the midden sitting up high.

We spent the day measuring levels, recording and describing what could be seen. An Auckland Museum photography was on site to provide a photographic record of the midden in detail (look out for the video during Archaeology Week 2022). There was also a great deal of discussion regarding the stratigraphy – the outcomes of which can wait until the published report.

The following photos are of the site as it was seen on March 28th 2022 – these photos are my own.

Main Beach from the boat – the grey band is the remaining shingle, the dark brown band is the clay and above that are the midden layers.
The area of last years excavation – where the cobbles and branch is sticking out of the edge is where I excavated last year. The base of this square was at ankle height but is now almost chest height.
Taking levels.

For more information see a previous article on Otata here or visit the Noises website here and here for articles by Emma Ash (Assistant Archaeology Curator, Auckland Museum).

Coastal sites are always at the mercy of the environment and it can be heartbreaking to watch them year after year become less and less. The greatest shame is in the loss of the information that would have been gained if time and funds had allowed. Yes, it is true that excavation is destruction but when a site is under threat from elsewhere then surely it is time to step in and save that information for future generations. This is often done in urban areas before large developments are undertaken. Rescue archaeology shouldn’t just be about pre-development but also about the natural damage being done to archaeological sites.

Squatters Budgeree !! – A small find with a big story…

Recently I was contacted by a reader of this blog who showed me a small but intriguing artefact he had found on the beach at Fitzpatrick’s Bay (Waitemata Harbour, Auckland, New Zealand). The photo was of a single piece of clay pipe stem, not all that unusual in itself. Clay pipes are one of the most common finds on any settler/colonial sites. However it was the legend stamped onto the opposing sides of the stem that caught my attention – ‘SQUATTERS BUDGEREE!!’ – yes there are two exclamation marks at the end of the legend.

Such an unusual name must have a good story…

A quick online search located an article published in the Australian Historical Archaeology journal which was able to provide the background to the name (see below for the reference to the article and link) and some eloquent discussion on the symbolism associated with this particular pipe.

This particular type of clay tobacco pipe was manufactured between 1840 and 1865 for the Australian market and was one of the ‘first commercial products specifically branded to appeal to the Australian colonial market’. It should be noted that these were most likely manufactured in the UK and not actually in Australia. Although Gojak and Courtney (2018) suggest that the mold was created by someone with local knowledge. When first manufactured the pipe itself spoke volumes about the political and social situation in Australia at the time.

Australia in the late 1830s and 1840s was undergoing a period of pastoral expansion which resulted in the dispossession and often violence towards indigenous people. Events came to a head with the Myall Creek massacre in 1838, here around thirty Indigenous people were murdered. This went against the then colonial government who tried to reign in the pastoralists and protect the Indigenous people. The government hunted down a number of those who were responsible for the massacre, seven of which were executed.

The symbolism therefore advocated for the pastoral interests at a time when there was a significant divide in colonial society…the symbolism of the pipe matched what many people already believed, that Aboriginal society was widely thought to be doomed…reflecting the belief in the inevitability of the strong and advanced overcoming the weak and primitive.

Gojak, D., & Courtney, K. (2018). Squatters Budgeree: a distinctive clay tobacco pipe produced for the Australian colonial market. Australasian Historical Archaeology, 36, 5–15

The bowl was decorated with coarse depictions of Indigenous people drinking alcohol on the side with word ‘budgeree!!’ And a pastoralist with animals under a cabbage tree on the side with the word ‘squatter’. The symbolism of the two opposing scenes clearly spoke to many in colonial Australia of the differences between the Aboriginal world of chaos and savagery and the world of the pastoralist – serene, productive, sobriety and quiet reflection. Even the exclamation marks at the end of the legend serve to emphasise the indignation of the pastoralists who felt they were being unfairly treated by the government in favour of the Indigenous people.

Unfortunately, all that was found at Fitzpatricks was a short fragment of stem but the words stamped on the stem are also a political statement. Both words originate in New South Wales – ‘squatter’ refers to the pastoralists who grazed their herds on land without government sanction, whilst ‘budgeree’ is a form of pidgin local dialect and comes from the Dharug language from Sydney. It means ‘something that is good’ or ‘someone who is doing well’. Thus the words can be read that the ‘pastoralists are doing really well’.

From this point on colonial society became split into two camps, those who supported the pastoralists and those who did not. Using the ‘Squatters Budgeree’ pipe became a political act – a way of displaying support for the pastoralists. Not dissimilar to our modern inclination of showing support for various causes on a t-shirt.

Photo by D J Payne and used with permission.
Photo by D J Payne and used with permission.

So, what is an Australian tobacco pipe doing in New Zealand? Other Squatter Budgeree pipes have occasionally turned up during excavations in New Zealand, such as, at Paremata on the Porirua Harbour and the Victoria Hotel site in Auckland. In the case of Paremata, a military site, it could be that it arrived as a personal item with troops from Australia at the time of the New Zealand wars. Whilst the excavation of the Victoria Hotel yielded a large number of clay pipes, amongst which was a variety of Australian themed types, including the Squatters Budgeree. At the time almost all of New Zealand’s imports came through Australia and it is most likely that these pipes were part of a general lot. It is equally possible that such pipes were sold in New Zealand from a job lot, so to speak, when the Squatter pipes went out of fashion after 1860.

In regard to our small but perfect specimen, the jury is out but given the bay’s proximity to the new settlement of Auckland, the connection to the harbour and of course our understanding of the early settlement of Fitzpatricks Bay – the reader can make their own judgements…

Reference – ‘Squatters Budgeree: a distinctive clay tobacco pipe produced for the Australian colonial market.’ By Denis Gojak and Kris Courtney. Australian Historical Archaeology Vol 36 2018 pp5-15.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/26775685

Written with special thanks to D J Payne who brought the pipe stem to my attention and provided the photos for this blog post. Please do not use the photos without permission.

Christmas Greetings!

In today’s world where the internet rules, the desire to send and receive Christmas cards is fast losing favour. Instead people send memes, GIFs and quick texts to celebrate the event. However, a study of old Christmas cards can be informative of times past. The earliest cards rarely featured winter or religious themes, often preferring scenes of fairies, flowers and such as a reminder that Spring was on the way (like many midwinter traditions). War time cards had a strong patriotic theme, whilst later cards gave emphasis to the religious aspects and others encourage values that were felt to be important to a well functioning society – the first commercial card produced showed a scene of three generations of a family toasting the recipient with scenes of charity to one side. But perhaps for me personally it is the quirky cards from the Victorian era which often has me wondering what the card designers were thinking.

The following is less a history of the Christmas card then a gallery of some of the strange, bizarre and downright weird designs found on Christmas cards.

Here is a classic example of a card looking to the future and the coming Spring.
“The fox has given doubtful bliss – But tis a friend who sends you this” – this time we have a Winter scene but with a dubious message. Don’t trust the fox even when he comes bearing gifts…

Frogs tend to feature quite often in Christmas card design – although it is hard to say what exactly is being said with the first card…

The following few card designs feature food but not in ways you would expect.

Here we are encouraged to treat the roast beef with respect.
Once again the side of beef is being given due respect – in this case it is being knighted whilst the goose, the pig, the turkey and the hare look on (all of which were also acceptable for Christmas feasting, although the roast beef was of the highest esteem).
This one is for those who prefer a less meat laden feast…the revenge of the turkey…
“A dead heat for the plate” reads the caption – I can’t even fathom what is supposed to be happening here.
This disturbing image is pretty self explanatory – even if it is a tad uncomfortable.

Kittens often feature on Christmas cards, sometimes cute, sometimes not and as the card above shows not always in ways we expect either.

And here are the cute kittens – or are they?
For those who own cats, perhaps this is the more appropriate card.
Apparently even the food rejoice during the season of good cheer!

The following cards are simply those which are too weird for explanations.

I believe it is the Christmas turnip…
Nope…no idea…although it is a New Year card…
The caption seems to be in opposition to the picture.
Don’t ask…
And now for some light relief…and don’t say you’ve never wanted to do this to carolers …

For more interesting and quirky facts about Christmas please check out the other blog on Christmas traditions here (there are also some more carzy cards…)