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Buttington Medieval Timbers


In September 2001 CPAT was alerted to the presence of a series of substantial timbers which had been identified projecting from the banks of the River Severn, near Buttington. The timbers had been exposed following a period of extensive flooding and generally high river levels during the autumn and winter of 2000-2001. A programme of survey and recording was undertaken between October 2001 and March 2002, including dendrochronological dating of the timbers, with funding provided by Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments .

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Right: River Severn near Buttington © CPAT 01-c-0126

The timbers were exposed on the outside of a substantial meander which is actively eroding to the east and south-east. It would seem that the meander has moved around 50m to the south-east since the early 1960s.

The discovery of the timbers was given additional interest by their proximity of Offa’ Dyke, which survives as a low earthwork where it crosses the valley floor, possibly heading for a river crossing.

The most obvious structural element consists of a horizontal timber 0.46 x 0.56m in section which extends from the bank for at least 4.3m. Four tapering dove-tail joints are visible cut into either side of the timber towards one end, one of which contained an eroded upright. A mortise had also been cut vertically through the timber, together with a longer slot, both of which contained a series of uprights. A second substantial horizontal timber was visible below the water, and at least 17 other uprights were observed further downstream, along with a third substantial horizontal timber.

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Left: Main timbers as they appeared in September 2001 © CPAT cs02-15-02

Michael Worthington of the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory was invited to visit the site and take samples for tree-ring dating. These produced some interesting results which suggest that the structure may have included some reused timbers. Of the timbers which were dated one was felled after AD 1087, the main timber after 1125 and another after 1175. The date would suggest a possible connection with the abbey of Strata Marcella, originally founded in 1170 at an unknown location thought to be near Welshpool, and relocated in 1172 at a site c. 1.8km downstream of the timbers, on the west bank of the River Severn.

Further elements of the structure have now been revealed following limited excavations undertaken during low river levels in the summer of 2002. The exact nature of the structure remains something of a mystery, although at present there are two likely interpretations: it is possible that the timbers are part of a sluice associated with a mill, or alternatively they may simply be forming a revetment for the river bank, presumably in association with some riverside structure.

Further investigations were undertaken by a team from the Department of Geography, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, led by Professor Mark Macklin, who conducted a series of surveys to examine the past movements of the river channel. The results demonstrated that this stretch of the River Severn has been extremely active and a number of abandoned river channels were identified, one dating from the 12th century. Although none of the former channels could definitely be associated with the timbers, a channel was identified further to the east which appears to be contemporary with Offa’s Dyke.

The site has featured in the BBC archaeological series Time Flyers. The programme's present, Mark Horton, rowed across the river to the timbers with Nigel Jones from CPAT. The crew filmed an interview alongside the timbers as well as getting an excellent view of the site and its surroundings from a helicopter. The programme actually focuses on Offa's Dyke, but was using the the site of these medieval timbers as an example of how extensively the river has changed coarse over the centuries.

The erosion of the river bank will continue with each new flood and it is likely that further timbers will be exposed in the future.

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Right: Excavation of the mill structure in August 2002 © CPAT cs02-28-32

Below: Main timbers following recent excavations © CPAT cs02-28-35

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