Proposed redevelopment at Chazey Court Farm has prompted a series of archaeological and building recording work carried out by Oxford Archaeology since 2002. The site is situated on a slightly elevated area of land in the northern floodplain of the River Thames on the Mapledurham Estate, some 2 miles upstream from the modern urban sprawl of Reading and Caversham.
The farm, now defunct has a number of significant and well preserved structures arranged on two sides of what was once a large farm yard. The brick barn is listed Grade I and a farmhouse range comprising 4 distinct structures, a half-timbered farmhouse, a brick farmhouse, a cruck frame structure and a brick structure possibly a stable; these are listed Grade II*. A programme of Dendro dating and Building Recording took place in 2003. This work proved that the barn dated to Spring 1611, and was contemporary with the timber framed farmhouse, and only slightly earlier than the raised cruck frame structure dated to autumn/winter 1611 which in turn was a few years earlier than the ‘stable’ that dated to winter 1614/1615. These buildings attest to a comprehensive building programme in the early 17th century. But what had prompted these works? This is where an edition of the Oxfordshire Record Society from 1925 dedicated to the history of Mapledurham helps.
Chazey Court Farm was the site of the Manor of Mapledurham Chazey which has an entry in Domesday, and was the neighbouring estate to Mapledurham Gurney, a much larger estate. In 1582 Mapledurham Chazey was purchased by the Blount family, who owned Mapledurham Gurney, to increase their landholdings. It would appear that the Blount family saw no use for the old medieval manor structures, which were demolished and replaced by a new farm complex. Significant redevelopment of Mapledurham Gurney probably occurred around the same period.
Excavations during 2008 and 2009, managed by Ben Ford MIFA and led on-site by Steve Leech, located the remains of these demolished manorial structures and revealed details of the complexes development, probably from the late 12th century until their demolition in the 16th century. Earlier prehistoric evidence has added another intriguing dimension to the site.
The excavated elements of the manorial complex consisted of buildings on 3 sides of a courtyard. Two of these were constructed using chalk and flint foundations with a standard width of c. 1m. The Hall was located to the East, with a Chamber House to the South and Kitchens to the North. The Hall started as a single roomed building (11m x 10m) with a large central hearth, this was later enlarged by the addition of equal sized rooms to the north and south, each measuring 4 x 10m, giving the final building a full length of 19m oriented N-S. In the southern room a series of hearths and evidence for subdivision of the space was recorded. From deposits associated with this remodelling the remains of complete unpainted plaster panels survived, the reverse of the panels show distinctive wattle impressions. These indicate that elements of the superstructure to the Hall were half-timbered with close-set studwork infilled with plastered panels.
To the south of the Hall a E-W orintated stone building, slightly smaller than the Hall and measuring 7.5 m wide by 11.25m+ long (extending beyond the site limits) was recorded. On its N wall were two stone lined pits which probably served as Cess Pits or Garderobes. This structure was probably the Chamber House.
To the north of the Hall the remains of a separate building constructed from timber posts. This contained a succession of flint and tile floored ovens and indicate the position of the manorial Kitchens.
Short stretches of ditch to the north and south of the buildings combined with earthworks to the west indicate the entire manorial complex was enclosed. Elements of this enclosing ditch would have flooded but this should not be considered as a moat.
The medieval remains sit on top of a gravelly sand filled paleochannel, running broadly E-W which indicates a previous course of the Thames (or at least one of its channels). The current river course now runs to the south and east.
A number of tree throws in this horizon yielded mixed date flint assemblages from the Mesolithic-Bronze Age. The southern edge of the channel is marked by a high point of the underlying gravels within which some potential deliberately dug Neolithic features were concentrated, one of which contained the disarticulated remains of a human skull.
Ben Ford and Steve Leech
A complete Archaeological Evaluation Report may be found here.