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This property was known to be the site of a post-mediaeval pottery workshop and kiln.  An excavation in 2009, before TARG was formed, had revealed pits, drains and burnt red clay.   Also some good finds, including part of a floor tile made in Repton, (1300 to 1360), a mediaeval roof tile(c 1300) and some good examples of Cistercian pottery (c1400-1550), which were the first drinking vessels after horn and wood.  However, this was mainly ‘dumped’, with not much archaeology.  Ticknall Archaeological Research Group was founded following this dig and obtained Lottery funding of £50k over three years, one of the main items to pay for being professional archaeologists (Archaeological Project Services (APS) from Heckington, Lincolnshire) to supervise, advise and train, and to eventually produce professional analyses and reports of our activities.  We are also supported by the National Trust at nearby Calke Abbey, Council for British Archaeology, County Archaeologist and Heritage Officer.

We had a second dig in March 2010 which was so good it was extended in August, both weeks buzzing with enthusiasm from beginning to end, from volunteers and visitors alike.  Mark and Jon, our professional archaeologists arrived at about 10am on the first day, and under their guidance the diggers soon began to expose distinct layers which Mark allocated ‘context’ numbers and plastic bags for the finds.  Other volunteers were kept busy emptying buckets, storing full bags under the carport, escorting visitors and making sure they signed in, making tea, etc etc.  Digging paused occasionally to allow Mark and Jon to draw, measure, photograph, using ranging poles, theodolites etc, reminiscent of Time Team but without Tony Robinson!

As the week progressed distinct layers were revealed, along with some interesting finds.  Carefully excavating a half hidden object is filled with anticipation and excitement, even if you’re only watching.   Most are incomplete, but with the experts’ guidance you begin to see the shape of the pot from even a fragment.  A WHOLE butter pot came out after about 6 hours of careful excavation and lots of held breath.  Later, a bigger one with a jug lodged inside it.  Each day brought a steady trickle, sometimes a surge, of visitors.  The spoil heaps grew steadily.  Volunteers began seriously considering a change of career! 

Some interesting finds – the whole pots, fragments large and small,  some beautiful yellowy mediaeval with bright green glaze, a clay pipe from early 1600s.  ‘Squeezes’ – wonderful lumps of clay moulded by the potter to support his pots when he placed them in the kiln.  Sometimes you find one with imprints of his hands and fingers, which you can grasp just as he did, placing your fingers in his 200 to 600 year old prints. This is what it’s all about, what brings it to life.  Also a piece of ironage clinker, identified by our archaeologist whose speciality is prehistory, indicating activity on the site before the potworks.

By Friday the main trench was about 1½ metres deep, with distinct layers of coal, red crumbly baked clay, clinker, clays and pot, with several groups of butter pots, base up. ‘Butter pots’ is a generic term.  They would have been used for many other purposes also. Digging finished at lunchtime to allow Mark and Jon to finish recording.  Jon commented as he was working on the second trench that in 2 sq ms there were 26 contexts, which you’d normally expect to get in about 50 sq m.  It had been a superb week but clearly there was more waiting to be discovered. The rain began at about 4.30pm, just as the last stragglers had drifted away.

Back in Heckington there was great excitement amongst the archaeologists as the evidence was examined.  The large pots were the base of a kiln.  Pot sherds would have been placed on top of them so that hot air could circulate under the pots which would be carefully stacked on top of them, then covered with more sherds, plastered over with clay, with a vent in the middle.  It’s very unusual to find a kiln of this age still in situ and caused quite a stir in archaeological circles.

The August dig revealed more of the kiln and also allowed more interpretation of the site such as the floor of a workshop, a ‘robbed out’ wall, possibly of the same workshop, culverts, and the remains of a coal heap.

Alongside the digging was washing, sorting and processing the finds. The washed pot sherds were laid out on newspaper on the lawn to dry in the sun (we were so lucky with the weather!) and then sorted into type e.g. earthenware, blackware, Cistercian, yellow ware, midlands purple, mediaeval etc, and rims, bases, profiles etc., entered onto an excel spreadsheet and sent off to the professionals for analysis.

A Report was produced for TARG by APS, from which the following is the SUMMARY:-

An archaeological investigation was undertaken on land at Ivy Leigh, Ticknall, Derbyshire because documentary evidence indicated that this was a site of pottery production and examples of unstratified pottery and kiln furniture had been found.

A previous investigation had revealed a pit and gully of 15th-16th century date and a probable buried subsoil of 16th -17th century date.  These had been overlain by 17th -18th century dumping of kiln waste and furniture including a smashed and redeposited kiln floor of probable 16th -17th century origin.

The present investigation revealed a sequence of dumped deposits associated with the practice of pottery making. These contained mostly mid 16th to mid 17th century pottery, although some earlier 13th to 14th century pottery was identified, suggesting that earlier deposits had been disturbed and raising the possibility of an earlier phase of pottery making at the site.

A mid 16th to mid 17th century kiln was identified along with three stone structures which post-dated the kiln but also dated from the mid 16th to mid 17th century.  These included a culvert, a probable building and another stone culvert or possible wall.

These structures were overlain by more dumped deposits containing mid 16th to mid 17th century kiln waste, kiln furniture and pottery fragments.

An undated square pit was cut through the latest of these dumped deposits and a layer of topsoil extended throughout the site overlying the pit and the mid 16th to mid 17th century dumps.

The largest category of finds retrieved from the evaluation comprised pottery of mid 16th to mid 17th century date, although earlier and later types were also in evidence.  The second largest category comprises fired clay associated with pottery production in the form of kiln furniture and waste products.

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Making a start

Layers revealed

A whole butter pot

Pots forming the base of the kiln

Part of a cistern found

The Professionals

Pot washing (no dishwashers here!)

More pot washing, drying and tea drinking