The History and Archaeology of Littledean Hall by Don Macer-Wright

The History and Archaeology of Littledean Hall

Don Macer-Wright

Meeting of 14 May 2015

Originally called Dene Hall after the Lords of Dean, when Don’s family opened it to the public in 1982 so many people went to Dean Hall School by mistake that they renamed it Littledean.

The Hall encapsulates 800 years of history (and is in the 1986 Guinness Book of Records as the oldest continually occupied house in England). Visible today is the late medieval East Wing and the remains of a 14th century dovecote; a proper medieval manor house is mostly hidden behind the various re-facings at different periods to make the house fashionable.

Don was brought up on stories of ghosts and Roman remains at Littledean, this and his voluntary archaeology work inspired him to start researching. Beginning in the cellars (which used to be the incredibly damp servants quarters) he found re-used Roman masonry, Norman pottery from the Norman hall house and a probable Saxon chapel.

In 1982, after years of probing the site with a metal bar to find walls, Don found the Roman temple site. Later excavation showed an early Romano-British shrine with a formal pool. Finds included Mesolithic flints and Iron Age sling shot – indicating that the natural spring was probably a ritual site well before the Romans. Roman finds include a brooch, an unguent bottle and a military acorn pendant – all unfortunately stolen when the display cabinet was broken into.

Excavations with Forest of Dean Archaeology Society uncovered more: there is probably a Saxon hall and yard under the lawn. Evidence of an iron industry on site was found in the form of tuyere pieces and slag still in the shape of furnace bases. The pottery is all Iron Age, so this is an early iron-working site in the Forest. Remains of the Chepstow to Newnham Roman road were found under the front drive in 1992.

Dr Anne Ross has identified the spring site as almost certainly a Celtic water shrine to Sabrina, the goddess of the Severn, and the site overlooks the Severn horseshoe.

Don brought a large selection of finds for us to see and touch, including Samian pottery (smart red tableware imported to Roman Britain), barbotine ware, tiles and mosaics and part of an ampohra. A bent iron knife and those sling stones represented the Iron Age. A lovely stone head found near the temple site seems Celtic.

Don will be back to tell us about the haunting at Littledean. CS