(Header Image: From left: part of the Varley Archive, in original boxes; Varley’s recording cards for Eddisbury; faunal remains packed in a tobacco tin. All images © Richard Mason and Rachel Pope.)
This is important because Varley never published the finds from his excavations. Our work established a project to re-integrate Varley’s archive with our own system, allowing us to re-evaluate his conclusions, and also to ultimately publish his finds.
The archive reveals that Varley may in fact have been correct in identifying Eddisbury as Aethelfaed’s burh (AD 914). Archive reassessment, alongside our 2010-11 excavations, means that we are now comfortable that the 16th century forester’s lodge may have had earlier, medieval origins – our work again confirming the less well-supported 1930s conclusions of Bill and Joan Varley.
Our most exciting archive discovery was the survival of the hillfort gate’s iron gate-mechanisms (pivots) which Varley had discovered in situ and the east and north entrances to the hillfort. Their extraordinary survival appears to have been a result of the mineralisation of the large oak uprights to which they were still attached. In 2006, on the death of his second wife, the gate-fittings had been found in a caravan, stored in a cardboard box, packed with sawdust.
Iron Age hillfort gate-mechanisms from the east and north entrances of Eddisbury hillfort, Cheshire. All images © Richard Mason and Rachel Pope.
An incredibly rare find, the Eddisbury gate-fittings were an internationally-significant discovery. Historic England awarded a ‘Heritage at Risk’ grant to conserve and scientifically analyse the objects. Now published, this has allowed us to: 1) reassess the architectural design of hillfort entrances; 2) provide a first typology of hillfort gates; 3) improve our understanding of Iron Age metalworking technology in NW England; and 4) facilitate public access through open access publication (click on the link below).
Eddisbury hillfort’s eastern entrance sequence. All images © Richard Mason and Rachel Pope.
Pope, R.E. and Mason, R.G.S. 2021. Understanding hillfort gate-mechanisms. British Archaeology (Feb.). [2000-word popular digest].
Mason, R.G.S. and Pope, R.E. 2021. Illustrating Bill Varley’s Eddisbury assemblage. RAI Newsletter. [500 words].
Pope, R.E., Mason, R.G., Rule, E., Hamilton, D., and Swogger, J. 2020. Hillfort gate-mechanisms: A contextual, architectural re-assessment of Eddisbury, Hembury, Cadbury hillforts. Archaeological Journal 177(2), 339-407. http://doi.org/10.1080/00665983.2019.1711301 [15000-word publication on HE-funded project to conserve, analyse, illustrate, and interpret Bill Varley’s ‘lost’ iron gate-pivots from Eddisbury Hillfort. First C-14 dating of developed hillforts to 400 BC (Bayesian method). Introduces architectural method to interpreting hillfort sequences. Full contextual analysis and reinterpretation/re-dating of the hillfort sequences at Eddisbury and Hembury (Devon). Solves problems with the mid-late Cadbury sequence, more securely dates the ‘massacre deposit’ to Conquest period, reconstructs the Cadbury gate. Provides the first typology of gate-mechanisms in Europe (3rd century BC-Roman)].
Pope, R.E. and Mason, R.G.S. 2020. Understanding the ‘great gate’ at Eddisbury. CBA NW Newsletter.
Mason, R.G.S. and Pope, R.E. 2016. The lost archive of Eddisbury: Rediscovering finds and records from the 1936-38 Varley excavations. In D. Garner (ed.) Hillforts of the Cheshire Ridge: Investigations undertaken by The Habitats and Hillforts Landscape Partnership Scheme 2009–2012, 29-36. Oxford: Archaeopress. [4000-word chapter detailing work undertaken on W.J. Varley’s lost 1936-38 archive].
Mason, R.G.S. and Pope, R.E. 2016. Illustrating Eddisbury: Excavations 1936-38 and 2010-11: A re-evaluation of W.J. Varley’s Eddisbury, in light of recent excavations. Royal Archaeological Institute Newsletter 51, 9-10.