Pococks Field Revisited – Report for June Meeting 2016

Pococks Field – A marsh-side settlement – Giles Dawkes

Very nearly every seat was filled (there are 90!), and a late-comer sat on the floor, to hear Giles Dawkes describe the developments of the Pococks Field post excavation analysis. The work is now half-way to publication, expected sometime in 2017. What still needs to be done is the detailed examination, recording and conservation of the many artefacts discovered, plus the considered interpretation of the evidence to tell the complete story of the site. Giles promised to return with the tale of the artefacts at a later date, hopefully next year.

The topography of the site today is generally of a gentle slope from King’s Drive, across Pococks Field, down to what once was tidal marsh, but which are now well drained levels.  Excavation revealed that in deep antiquity the site was much more contoured, with hollows now filled by colluvium, or soil wash, with the rising ground heavily wooded, shown by tree-root scars. The natural soil base was of colluvium over a desiccated peat, but sadly the peat preservation was so poor, it could not be sampled for evidence. For the Late Neolithic to Middle Bronze Age period, there were some flints, and two shards of Beaker ware. People were obviously in the area, but being wooded, activity was slight, and later settlement has obliterated any further trace of them.

There was a distinct hook-shaped promontory of slightly higher ground sticking out into the marsh forming a natural barrow, which in the Late Bronze Age, (1150-800 bc), was utilised for eleven cremation burials and one inhumation. It is hoped to get C14 dates from the later. Trackway ditches along the 3 meter contour seem to lead to this hook, which was reserved for the dead, and/or ritual. It was visible from, and looking out onto the marsh. There was no Bronze Age settlement at Pococks Field, though 3 or 4 kilometres to the North and across the marsh was the Shinewater site, which appears to have been the main focus of Bronze Age activity in the area.

Continuous activity started from the early Iron Age (800-600 bc). Phase one is fairly enigmatic, with 50 shards, some evidence of salt-making, and lots of pits, one of which had a ritual deposit of a cow’s skull. The first settlement began with phase two, with a round-house which had a south-east entrance within a large enclosure, and associated drove roads. The BA barrow/hook was obviously recognised as a burial ground or Isle of the Dead, and separated by a substantial ditch from the land of the living. The most spectacular discovery was the mass of salt working with lots of associated waste, which was done on an industrial scale, and more pits. The salt-making proved to be the largest ever found for this period in the country, one of such size had been predicted, but not found until now. The pits were in large clusters and of two distinct types, round and rectangular. The pits may be the signature shapes of individual workers, or of a single season’s work. There are 500 kilos of salt-working waste, some of which containing disarticulated human and animal bone. The pits do not seem to have been dug especially for containing the salt waste, as the sections revealed natural slumping/abrasion below the layers of salt waste, and they may originally have been grain storage pits. Similar shaped pits were found on the St Anne’s Road site, on the ridge above and to the South of Pococks. The briquetage waste included many pillars, but fewer of the brine evaporation pots than expected, and it was suggested that they may have transported the salt crystals off-site for trade inland, salt was an essential food preservative, and very valuable. One pit base contained a disarticulated horse’s skull, another a horse pelvis, and a dog skeleton was deposited in the top of another.

During the Middle Iron Age (600-400 bc) the settlement changed, the round-house went, and four rectangular structures were built. This is the same period as the St Anne’s Road site. The drove road was still used, but the enclosure moved to the north, a chalk-quarry pit was dug, and there was also a pond, whose section shows a clear chronology. There was very little activity near the hook cemetery. In the Late Iron Age (400-0 bc) the drove-road finally went out of use, but still influenced the shape of the LIA enclosure. This was large and rectangular, within which was a funerary enclosure with associated inhumations, one of which was a double with an adult plus juvenile, probably a family group. There were associated pits and a bread oven.

In the early Roman period the same general large enclosure was used, but another small funerary enclosure was made within it, with 4 individuals, and a timber shrine at the centre, built on a cobble foundation. These were a male, a female, and two juveniles, and were probably a single family group. Pairs of cobble base-pads were probably for pillars supporting a granary, and a stone wall building foundation probably had a timber superstructure. The salt-making continued, though at lesser intensity. In about 100 ad, the settlement enclosure was re-dug, roughly along similar lines, but with many internal ditch divisions. There is evidence of buildings, a possible threshing floor, and a typical ‘T’ shaped corn dryer. In the Late Roman period, the enclosure was again re-dug, this time without the internal divisions, and there were some large pits, mainly containing the rake-out from corn dryers. This late period also has box-tiles from a bath-house, indicating that there was certainly a villa close to the site, potentially under the DGH site.

In the Saxon period, (6th to 8th cent ad), five sunken, or gruben houses were cut in along the higher ground, and a ‘short’ house built of ground-fast posts. This short house was a relatively weak structure, having no corner posts, and a possible ‘D’ shaped end. Its use is unknown, but at least one sunken houses contained pin-beaters, so was certainly for weaving. The late Saxon period was an extended hiatus, but a new trackway was dug, it cuts through an early Saxon feature, but all subsequent activity on the site relates to it. This trackway can be traced running from the crumbles to East Dean, and was in use up to the 19th cent. Traces can still be seen at the north end of the site near the hospital roundabout running towards and under the new roundabout.

In the 12th – 14th cent there was intense activity on the site, with elements of a field system, a cobbled floor of a wooden building, based on a ground fast sill beam, and associated partially butchered domestic animals. About 1350-1450, a new high status stone house was built, terraced into the lower site, most probably for the lawyer or merchant class, it was stone built to the first floor, with a wooden superstructure. Fresh shards of 14th & 15th cent pot were found in the foundations, and finds included a horse-bit, a candle-stick, and very rare midden deposits. Some of the stonework seems to have been from a castle, one piece had an arrow-loop, most probably from Pevensey. The Saxon drove-road seems to have been altered to form an approach to the house. The first house was of a basic ‘C’ plan, but later phases had lower status additions built on to the front, a brew-house, a malting kiln, and an enigmatic tank, (this had been investigated by ENHAS under Robin Reffell’s supervision). All pointing to a drop in status, to a mere utilitarian farm building. This may have been caused by unacceptably damp conditions due to the closeness of the flooding levels, and may be related to the building of Pococks Farm house higher up the slope. (This has been speculated as the manor house for the manor of Rodmill-Beverington).

By 1579 the levels had largely dried out, and by Frere’s map of 1636 the building on Pococks Field had gone, though Pococks Farm and the drove road were marked. Human remains were found in the demolition of the 14th cent building, and were probably 16th Cent, but this will be confirmed by C14 dating. By a lucky chance, Pococks Field was never ploughed, which alone accounts for the remarkable preservation of such very rare survivals as the cobbled floors and the midden deposits, with the field being used for grazing through into the 21st century. The last surprise was three WWII slit trenches with caches of phosphorus grenades left by the Home Guard. They had been deposited in the trenches under a corrugated iron cover, and being of obviously 20th cent date, were ignored by the team struggling to investigate the earlier treasures of the rest of the site.

There was a lively Q&A session, the vote of thanks was by Greg Chuter, and Giles was enthusiastically applauded for his fascinating tale of Pococks Field.

John Warren. 10-06-2016