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Archaeology Excavations The Hall

Notes from the Cellar Discovery

Coffee Cup, found in the excavations (2 pieces glued together)

The discovery of the cellar at Parlington prompted me to make the following notes at the time, 2005

He considered the options carefully, “How could it be? No one, and I mean nobody, could have been in here for around seventy or more years, not since the main entrance area was demolished when the Porte Cochère was moved to Lotherton Hall — it’s giving a tingling sensation down my neck, spooky! . . . well, it might be if I believed in ghosts, but the dark, cool, damp atmosphere adds spades to the creepy feeling and I’m only twelve feet or so beneath the surface”.

“And no-one knows I’m here, supposing… come on you’ll be fine.”

“Now I’m talking to myself.”

“OK adjust the torch and let’s see what’s what.”

The Cellar

He was standing in a large basement perhaps 24 feet long by about 12 feet wide, the walls and vaulted ceiling were from local limestone and clearly showed the chisel indentations from the mason, as he had cut and dressed the stone, perhaps many hundreds of years before. It was a fairly slight arch forming an arc of a larger circle, rising around three feet higher at the apex in the centre than at the walls. A few short strands of vegetation hung limply from some of the joints in the arch, beneath in the natural stone that formed the floor were indentations of a few inches deep where small pools had formed from the water slowly and silently dripping, giving a pock marked appearance to the whole surface. In the dimly lit space at the far end of the basement from where he was standing was a square drain, its lip was above the surface of the floor, allowing water to stand across the whole area to a depth of a about an inch. Fortunately the summer this far had been dry and there was no trace of water, only the marks where it had previously stained the foot of the stone walls was evident.

The room was divided by internal walls which jutted out from either side wall approximately one third of the width of the room, forming a series of small lobbies, six in all, each with two stone shelves, clearly originally for storage purposes, they reduced the impact of the overall emptiness of the place, but afforded many dark corners beyond the reach of the torch. Old rusting steel bowls and ceramic pots lay scattered about the shelves as if waiting to be discovered after centuries without use. On a nearby shelf was one half of a piece of what looked like a fine porcelain cup, too dirty to discern its decoration, but clearly from a quality service. (See photograph at the head of the article.)

“Well, I’ll keep you with me and clean you up when I go back to the surface”, he mused. “I wonder if the rest of this piece is anywhere to be found. Strange that it should be sitting here all alone.” There was no sign of any other pieces of it or anything remotely similar in the gloom. 

“This torch is really not up to much, I must make a list of things I need, perhaps one of those fancy head torches, would make the investigation easier and free up both hands.” “Back out and get organised, torch, rope, notepad, pencil, will do for starters. Oh! don’t forget the camera, the digital one, then you can see if the shots are ok as you’re taking them, we don’t want any cockups!” Squeezing through the small opening, up the ladder and out of the excavation, he was again back in the bright light of a summer’s day. For a moment the brightness blinded him and it was impossible to make out the detail on the small piece of porcelain he took from his jacket pocket. Wiping it instinctively on his sleeve to clear the years of accumulated muck, then back across the garden the short walk to the old west wing, and into the kitchen… “Hello, guess what I’ve found?” 

“Never mind what you’ve found. Look at the dirt on your jacket, and your jeans are filthy, go back outside and brush yourself down, I only washed….”

“Yes, yes I know, but this is significant, look!”

“And what has ‘Lord of the Muck’ found now”, she enquired, with little enthusiasm, more concerned over the dirty clothing and footprints across the kitchen floor! “You should live in the garage, really.”

“Yes, yes, I’ll clean up, honest. I’ll just rinse it under the tap and you will be able to see it clearer.”

“Oh, it’s obviously quality stuff, where did you find it?”

“Well you know I was investigating in the excavation where the old dining room used to be, well as I dug down through the loose demolition fill, along the line to the west of the wall, what should I discover about three feet away but a second wall running at right angles to the wall I was following, then to my surprise, the loose fill started to fall away in front of me and the head of an old brick arch became visible.”

“You’re kidding me!

“No seriously, I’ve opened up enough to squeeze through.”

“Now I know your joking, you’ve just found it in the garden, where someone threw, years ago!”

“No really, come and look there is a “BASEMENT” in the garden! and if I’m not mistaken, it’s the exact footprint of the small drawing room which was adjacent to the dining room!”

“I thought you were just showing me the cup!”

“No that’s an aside, the really interesting bit is the cellar.”

They quickly paced to the excavation and there in the corner on the south side of the hole was the top of a brick arch with a gap of about eighteen inches at its centre, the blackness of the void beyond, was in stark contrast to the brightness of the day.

“So what’s happened.” 

“Well, it seems that when the old Hall was demolished the demolition rubble filled up this brick area, which I presume is a passageway, however, as the fill reached the top of the arch, it was prevented from further filling the space beyond, so leaving the cellar intact, except for a line of fill at the angle of repose!”

“Very good ‘Hercule’, what next!”

“Well, down there is a cellar of about twenty feet by twelve feet or so, with stub walls coming off the two length wise walls forming stone shelving, two shelves per bay.”

“How many bays?”

“Six in all, each about six feet long, with massive stone shelves built into the walls, there are two shelves in each bay.”

“Is it dry?”

“Yes, well there are a few damp areas but it is generally quite dry. Obviously, if I am correct and it was beneath the small drawing room, and I’m pretty confident it is, then it would have been shielded from water coming down above it, whereas nowadays, as this is the lawn, the ground water is soaking through. I expect it can get quite wet during the winter months.”

“So how deep is it?”

“It’s, probably about twelve feet below the surface to the floor, and the roof is a huge stone arch!”

“What, it’s stone, the entrance is all brick?”

“Yes, but I suspect that this brick entrance is later, I imagine this excavation is above a long corridor, leading to the cellar.”

“More digging then . . that’ll keep you fit, stop you from staring at the computer day in day out!”

“Come on it’s really exciting, how often do people find an unknown cellar in their garden, from a part of an old Hall that dates back to the eighteenth century or earlier.”

“Almost everyone I suppose …” she chided. “Yes ok I’m just as thrilled as you, but I’m not going down there! And you will have to do the digging!”

“Coward! It’s not that spooky.”

“Well maybe not, but you’ve hardly investigated it thoroughly, it may be haunted! There could be hidden treasure… eh?”

“No I don’t reckon we’ll be that lucky, the Gascoignes’ kept all their valuables in the muniments room on the first floor and that’s long gone.”

“Yeah, long gone but is that where everything was kept.”

“I would think so, unless as papists other locations were deliberately used.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well if you knew that you were likely to be ‘turned over’ you would spread the documents in different locations so as to avoid being used against you, each one on its own would be insufficient to convict. . . but together they form a plot. Don’t forget that the Sir Thomas Gascoigne (2nd Baronet) was accused in the seventeenth century of the Barnbow Plot, by his former employee Bolron.”

Yeah, yeah, I remember something about that. But that’s not what were faced with, we have a hole in the ground which to all the world no longer existed and now it does!”

“Anyhow it was demolished last century! and its gone!” Although considering how this cellar has been missed and that the demolition men didn’t knock down the arched ceiling, suggests, as I have suspected for some time that the demolition occurred in stages after the old Colonel died in June 1905.”

“Hey it’s June now, what was the date of his death?”

“12th, I recall, Hey that’s Sunday, tomorrow, this gets more interesting by the minute, I’ll come down at midnight and see if he visits.”

“If he does ask him, where the treasure is?”

“More likely that if there are ghosts, it would not be the old Colonel, he died at the ripe old age of 91 after a short illness, I think he died in his bedroom on the ground floor, which was over here.” He pointed to the spot where the Colonel’s room had been, part of it lost in the demolition, the rest, now the office, on the extreme north east of the remaining wing of the hall.

“So what do you think happened with the demolition?”

“Well we know that the original entrance portico, the ‘Porte Cochère’ was dismantled and moved to the Lotherton home after the Colonel’s death to make a feature in the garden, so if they were moving such large pieces of the masonry, it stands to reason that they could have taken many other bits.”

“True, many of the fireplaces were similarly collected!”

“Right. So I reckon much of the north side of the hall was stripped away.”

“So how much was left when the army came during the war?”

“I don’t know precisely, but the photographs taken by Harry Felton for the National Monument Record, clearly show that this side of the building was no longer around in 1952 and there were weeds and small bushes in the foreground of the photos, which must have been established for a few years, so it is highly likely that the rumoured explosion heard during the war was not a enemy bomb, as locally believed, but brought about by some devilish experiments being carried out in germ warfare!”

“Don’t be stupid!”

“No seriously.”

“Yeah”

They looked at each other, one thinking it was Anthrax, the other imagining some hideous bubonic plague. . . Then they laughed. 

“How long can Anthrax survive in the ground? I’m not digging anymore, I need a drink!”

They trudged back to the house, spread out the copy of the old plan from Fowler-Jones Survey of 1885 on the kitchen table and cracked open a bottle of Cabernet Shiraz; picked up the scale rule and busily made calculations as to the find, it’s location, proximity to adjacent structures and other relevant data, in no time a clear view emerged of this cellar, it was not shown on the plan but matched exactly the area of the Small Drawing Room. Also intriguingly the drain in the cellar matched one shown on the plan by Fowler -Jones, Architects, Micklegate, York.

“Not often you find a drawing by an Architect to be accurate.” He noted, his lifelong prejudice against modern architects surfacing at any opportunity!

“The passageway must be beneath this staircase.” He pointed to the plan at the location of a secondary staircase at the rear and to the north of the Small Drawing Room. The stairway and corridor at the ground floor level, served as an access to the Work Room, on to the Gallery and Fernery.

He looked further and noted, “The drawing is incorrectly detailed as the staircase, shows no indication of a lower level leading to the cellar that we have just uncovered. Also it is worth digging away from the present excavation towards the west as the plan shows a light shaft, which illuminates the cellar below, perhaps that is still intact. Although I imagine the roof will be stove in like the wine cellars shown on the plan to the east of the one found. Anyway still worth trying, but first I need to excavate the entirety of the passageway we’ve already uncovered.”

“See you in September then when you’ve dug it out.”

“The problem is, that as you dig deeper the removal of the spoil is harder, unless you have some form of mechanised removal system.”

“Well it’s the twenty first century, yet your methods are more primitive than the miners who worked for the Gascoignes’ for centuries!”

“Yes I need a hoist, like the sort of thing you get on the front of four by fours, I’ll add it to my list, ‘torch, rope, etc’!”

Further discoveries will be set out in future posts.

Entrance to the Cellar, partly cleared of debris

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