BUTSER ANCIENT FARM ARCHIVE 1973-2007 Archivist Christine Shaw
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Bascomb is the culmination of what started as the Butser Ancient Farm Project, funded for just 3 years by British Council for Archaeology. Dr Peter Reynolds was recruited to direct it and then invited to take it on to run as a going concern. For much of the time and especially during the period at Bascomb, he had to fund much of the costs from his own pocket, drawing on his other activities. He did this to maintain the original scientific basis for his work that resulted in so many publications.

The creation of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park in 1976 encompassed both the original Little Butser site and the Demonstration Area within its confines. Over time, it became difficult to maintain the integrity of the research so, at the beginning of 1991, both sites in the Country Park were vacated and a new site developed at Bascomb Copse near Chalton. Withdrawal was managed so as to extract as much information as possible. In particular, the Pimperne house was dismantled piece by piece and the Moel y Gaer house was burned.

One of the earliest activities in transferring whatever could be salvaged from the earlier sites, was the moving of the metal working shed as described under the Demonstration site. The new earthworks were dug to an octagonal design to encompass the roundhouse enclosure. Firstly the Longbridge Deverill house was constructed, utilising some material from the dismantled Pimperne house. Later two small houses were built based on excavation data from Glastonbury and finally a construct of the Moel y Gerddi house which was formally opened By Phil Harding of Time Team fame in 2002.

The original remit of Butser Ancient Farm was to explore, by means of experimentation, the domestic economy of Iron Age and Roman Britain. Peter Reynolds finally achieved his ambition to test the functioning of a Roman heating system when he started building the segment of the Romano-British villa excavated by David Johnston of Southampton University at Sparsholt which contained the hypocaust room. Work proceeded slowly but he had got as far as covering over the insulae and had been pleased to note that a smoke bomb set off under the praefurnian arch resulted in smoke issuing forth from the tubulae. The villa was finally finished in 2003, a process filmed by Discovery TV.

Peter Reynolds’ final research project was the creation of a geophysics testbed which sadly he did not see finished.

Bascomb provided the facilities for external research also. Tony Hamlin worked most summers on his work on metals which culminated in the Monographs published by The Friends of Butser. Because of its uniqueness in combining research with education in its broadest sense, Butser Ancient Farm was used as a resource by many graduate and postgraduate students in the fields of archaeology, museology and public interface as well as by researchers pursuing scientific archaeological studies which developed alongside the increasingly sophisticated technology.

Butser Ancient Farm became a favoured venue for school parties studying the Iron Age and Roman Britain, combining learning with atmospheric stories round the fire in the Great Roundhouse and practical activities such as making daub and spinning the wool from the early breeds of sheep kept by the Farm. It was always important that the general public should be encouraged to view the work of the Ancient Farm. Initially the site was open daily for most of the year but in 2002 it was decided to restrict openings to specific weekends during the summer months. Each had a theme and incorporated a range of hands-on activities with an action sheet to occupy and educate the children. The Moel y Gerddi house was ‘dressed’ and volunteers were on hand to talk to visitors. This proved very successful not only with the public who came to a site buzzing with activity but also with the volunteers as the weekends became great social occasions.

From Peter Reynolds’ sudden death in 2001 until 2007, Christine Shaw took on the management of Butser Ancient Farm having inherited his intellectual property and the archive material.

The site is now run by Butser CIC. Their website may be accessed here.

More images of Bascomb site.