Backwell Environment Trust

...15 years of conservation, protection, improvement...

Archaeology Walk -  July 2014

On Sunday 13th July, BET held an Archaeology Walk through its woods, and after meeting by St Andrews Church, our group of 12 interested walkers set off up the ancient holloway path through the Jubilee Stone woods.  We paused by the 2 big mounds almost touching each other, which local tradition assumes to be mining mounds, but there are no mine shafts nearby, and their shape is not that of a tip.  It is just possible they may be 2 intact Bronze Age barrows, similar to the 4 higher up on the hillside, which have almost been ploughed away.

We then walked up the path to the Jubilee Stone, a large granite obelisk built in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, which is surrounded by a small meadow of long grasses and wild flowers, and was alive with colourful butterflies.  Once over the stile, there in the field were the 4 barrows, possibly up to 4,000 years old, though they are barely visible, apart from the largest one 30 feet in diameter, which was described by Reverend George Masters of Flax Bourton in 1898 as ‘… a cup or basin inverted in its saucer’.  He dug into it looking for grave goods (treasure!), but all he found was a pavement of flat stones 2 feet down, covering modern (19th century) pottery sherds, clay pipes and animal bones, which he called ‘a puzzle’.

After admiring the views across the valley, we moved on to the Warrener’s Cottage, lived in until 1843, the Warrener being an important person who looked after the ‘pillow mounds’ or ‘rabbit bury’ – low grassy mounds from 25 feet to several hundred feet long, and between 6 and 20 feet wide -  where rabbits were bred, for both food and fur.  He also kept predators like stoats, and badgers away, and the inevitable poachers who were always around.  All that remains of the Cottage now are low foundations of stone and soil, and tumbled-down outbuildings, whereas the next site we visited – BET’s limekiln, has been excavated and mostly restored.

Small limekilns were once an essential part of life, used to convert limestone (calcium carbonate) into quicklime (calcium oxide), this one being built between 1843 and 1884, the internal part being lined with Nailsea pennant sandstone.  Limekilns were so important because from them was produced lime mortar used in building, whitewash/limewash waterproofing paint for houses and barns, and it was also spread on the fields as slaked lime which not only helped ‘sweeten’ acid soils, but also enabled better crops to grow.  They were not so good for tramps, however, as many were suffocated by noxious fumes when they sought a warm place to spend the night. BET’s limekiln went out of use between 1884 and 1902.

Then we crossed Cheston Combe road to our lookout point in Badgers Wood to pause for a very welcome cup of tea/coffee and biscuits, and admired the spectacular views across the Estuary towards distant Wales.

Quarry View

Much refreshed, we made our way down the path towards the Burial Cave at the bottom of the hill.  In ancient times a stream flowed over the calcite-covered rock surface of the Cave, giving it an almost mysterious appearance, hence it was thought of as a sacred site. 


Back in 1936, when human bones were found by quarrymen digging it out (for calcite for spreading on paths), Professor Tratman excavated what was left, and believed there were 18-30 people buried there, including 3 children.  Two skulls were found including one with a large depressed fracture, maybe caused by an axe, and several jawbones still with teeth.  Although most of the bones were lost when the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society Museum was bombed in the War, radio carbon dating on 2 vertebrae shows they are 5,000 years old from the Neolithic period, much older than previously thought.

For photographs and more information about the finds, please see this BET article: Backwell Cave

This was the last place we visited on our walk, and then slowly made our way back down to the Church, very pleased that everyone said they had enjoyed themselves, and learned more about Backwell’s archaeology, and the people who had lived, worked and been buried on the hillside all those years ago.


Jenny Greenslade


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