Q. Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in archaeology?
A. I’m the Assistant Archaeologist for Stoke City Council and the job involves, amongst other things, carrying out field work projects, both community based research excavations like this one, and development control projects throughout North Staffordshire. I’ve always been interested in history and when the Hulton Abbey dig was on I volunteered on that and stuck around for long enough that they eventually gave me a job.
Q. Can you summarize what is currently known about the site and the people who once lived there?
A. The moat at Lawn Farm has been recognised since the 19th century as of historical interest, Ward in his history of the borough of Stoke-on-Trent written in 1843 described, “the site of a moated mansion discoverable here [Lawn Farm], this may probably have been the ancient manor-stead of Fenton Vivian cum Botteslow.” No further research was done on the site, however, until the 1960s when the Stoke-on-Trent Museum archaeology society put in some trial trenches which uncovered stone structures and medieval pottery. The trenches were not extensive enough, though, to identify the type or size of any buildings.
So it was only with the recent Millennium project that we have really begun to understand the site. Geophysics survey enabled us to locate trenches over various buildings on the site and so far we have identified a substantial stone-built manor house, a dovecote, and an oven complex, as well as a probable timber building, all of the 13th to 14th centuries, and that Ward was very probably right. Maps and aerial photographs also suggest that the moated area as it exists today is only about two thirds of the original size.
Q. What new things did you hope to discover from this year’s dig and geophysical survey?
A. The new geophysics survey was intended to confirm the line of the missing east end of the moated area, and to look for a possible cross wing on the east end of the manor house and various drains and features associated with it. The excavation this September took place over the main hall of the manor house. It was designed to answer questions about the structure of the hall. Were there aisle posts supporting the roof, was there a central hearth, and was there a cross wing at the east end? In fact we found no trace of any of these.
Q. What do you find particularly interesting about the Mediaeval period from which the moated site dates?
A. Society was very different then with lords and peasants, and the majority of people living in the countryside, but many of the towns and institutions we know today originated in the middle ages. There were also incredibly dramatic events happening at this time such as the Black Death, the Hundred Years War and the Peasants Revolt.
Q. How does the Berryhill Fields site compare with other moated sites you have studied?
A. The Lawn Farm moated site is much bigger than average, with a manor house rather larger than many contemporary manor houses, and stone-built, not timber. It does, though, fit well into a pattern of moated sites used to exploit upland and woodland resources and with a collection of farm buildings and stores on the site, such as the dovecote and ovens at Lawn Farm.
Q. After a total of five digs on the site, what things are you 100% sure of regarding the building that once stood upon the site and the identity of the people who lived there, and what things are still open to debate pending further exploration or perhaps we’ll never know for sure?
A. We know that this is an important site with substantial stone buildings indicative of manorial status, and that it was occupied in the 13th> and 14th centuries, situated to exploit the woodland resources of Fenton Park. The names of the lords of the manor of Fenton Vivian are known for this period and some of them, at least, would have resided at the site. What we don’t know is exactly when it was built, when it was abandoned and why it was abandoned.
The main central building is clearly a manor house and we’ve now got it’s complete plan, consisting of a ‘great hall’ where the lord of the manor would hold courts, business meetings and estate management, and meals and entertainment for the household would take place, a cross wing for storage and other service activities on the ground floor and private apartments above, and a smaller room attached to the cross wing probably also for services. Just outside this small room was an oven in two parts (or possibly two ovens) of long parallel walls with burning in between them, probably for grain processing (malting barley?) rather than cooking. There’s also a round dovecote, to supply meat and manure. There’s the suggestion of a wooden building in one trench where a shallow slot in the ground may once have held a timber sill beam. There must be many more buildings in the areas we haven’t yet excavated, such as stables, barns, perhaps a cow shed, and a separate kitchen.
Q. Are there any plans for a further exploration of the site next year?
A. We need to check out the geophysics results on the missing fourth arm of the moat, which suggest it’s smaller than the maps and aerial photographs seem to show. This would only involve a couple of trial trenches with a JCB over a couple of days, and I’d like to get this done before Christmas, so it’s unlikely there’ll be any more digging next year.
Thank you on behalf of the Friends and our readers for answering our questions
— John Steele © 2002, 2018