30 June 2018

#Research: Thetford Warren Lodge

Ruins of Thetford Warren Lodge
Four miles south of the Neolithic flint mines of Grime’s Graves, lies another open area in Thetford Forest, this time of sandy heathland. It is the last remaining shred of a once vast medieval Warren. At one end stands the ruins of Thetford Warren Lodge, built around 1400 on the orders of Thetford Priory which owned the Warren.

Rabbits, or coneys as they were known, are not native to the British Isles. The first influx came with the Romans but didn’t seem to make much impression on the landscape. The second influx followed the Norman conquest in 1066.

Coney meat was regarded as a delicacy by the Normans, while its fur trimmed the finest clothing. The coneys were farmed in warrens on what would now be termed an industrial scale, and only lords of manors, and religious houses, could own one.

The surrounding forest is early 20th century; at the time all the land would have been open heath. It has been estimated that this one warren was bigger than modern Thetford (11 sq miles). In the vicinity were over 25 warrens. Each would have had a fortified lodge. There were no villages or hamlets in this area, then or now.

Thetford Warren Lodge, built of flint as all stone buildings in the region were, even castle ramparts, stood like a mini castle itself, with walls up to three feet thick, small windows on all sides, and a fortified ground floor doorway leading to its undercroft store where pelts and doubtless meat, would be worked and stored. 

L: ground floor inner view; doorway to spiral staircase bottom left beyond the modern grille.
R: substantial brick-faced fire-back in what would have been the living quarters.

Connected by an inner spiral staircase the Warrener and his family (and men?) lived on the upper floor in what would have been considered good quarters for the time: note the large brick-faced fireplace. However, like a castle keep, it was meant to act as a refuge – against gangs of armed poachers. Cut off from normal village life, it must have been a harsh and lonely existence, especially for the women of the household.

Over the centuries coneys adapted to the wild, becoming the ubiquitous “bunny”, and in 1880 the animal lost its protected status under the Ground Game Act. Yet the industry of farming them continued into the 1920s when gradually the land was purchased for much-needed timber production following World War 1. Thetford Forest is now the largest lowland forest of mixed pines in Britain.

NB: Click on the images to bring up a larger view. All photos (c) Linda Acaster.

23 June 2018

#Research: Neolithic Grime's Graves Flint Mines

Hubby on his way down
We have been away on holiday, though holiday seems a misnomer where we’re concerned. Hard hat and down into a Neolithic flint mine, anyone? 

Grime's Graves, in the county of Norfolk, was given its name during the Anglo-Saxon period of the so-called Dark Ages. In this case it was the Angle period, when the peoples from what is now southern Denmark and northern Germany migrated to the area and created the Kingdom of East Anglia. 1500 years on, the region containing the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk is still loosely known as East Anglia, and Grim’s Graben – “the diggings of Grim” (a euphemism for their main god, Woden; Norse Odin) became Grime’s Graves.

Lumps and bumps at ground level don't do justice to the vast area
The place is currently overseen by English Heritage, and it is on its website the best image of the area can be viewed – HERE – unless you happen to have a camera-drone handy. 

Even seeing such a photograph didn’t prepare me for driving out of the Thetford woodland and along the designated chalk track to park amid what can only be described as a green moonscape of gently waving grasses. It’s just… odd.

The delves, some over 10 metres (30 feet) across, are the visible remains of 433 vertical shafts hemmed almost shoulder to shoulder, though it is believed others are buried beneath obscuring sandy soil nearby.

All have been in-filled: by the original diggers, by later Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Age peoples, or by Nature. To give an idea of the time-line, the first diggings - using red deer antler picks, they've been found in the middens - were probably started as the groundwork was being laid for Stonehenge in Wiltshire.

It is all a bit basic on-site. Chemical toilets only are available near the gate because there is a ban on any sort of non-archaeological excavation, no matter how shallow. The visitor centre is a self-contained wooden structure "sitting" on the land so as to do minimum damage. But its exhibition is interesting, the staff friendly and informative, and we eventually made our way across the beaten-grass path to what amounts to a small metal portacabin suspended in the mouth of “Pit 1”.

The duty-man who gave us the Health & Safety talk trained as an experimental archaeologist, and the small space displays everything from lime-bast fibres and rope, to flint arrowheads, scrapers, knives, a flint-bladed sickle, and a surprisingly light axe big enough to fell a substantial tree.

L: repro flint axe detail, with 3 knapped, unpolished, spare flint heads / R: repro flint knife with antler handle and sheath

Hard hats on tight, we stepped onto the ladder which disappeared through a trapdoor and down some 9 metres (30 feet) to the excavated floor level. We were lucky; an electrician was rigging up new lights in the radiating chalk galleries and the safety grilles had been removed. We’d been warned only to stick our heads and shoulders inside the gallery openings as turning around in a 1 metre high gallery could prove problematic. Merely backing out proved problematic, and I was grateful for the hard hat on more than one occasion.

L: Husband crouching in front of a gallery entrance, with a second covered by a grille to show size. 
Rubber matting is laid on the excavated floor to help save it from modern foot-fall erosion. 
R: Inside a chalk gallery; bear in mind the size shown in the left image

The galleries, there are six main ones, are up to 15 metres (49 feet) long, twisting, turning and intersecting as the seams of flint were followed. The sections of chalk waste, and the flint nodules, were prised free with antler picks and raised in baskets to the surface to be worked on.

The mine was wondrous to behold, to crouch in the small spaces with bright modern lighting reflecting from the white chalk, and wonder just what those far off ancestors used to light their work. And how many times a rockfall snuffed out a life.

NB: Click on the images to bring up a larger view. All photos (c) Linda Acaster.

1 June 2018

Early Summer eBook Promos #99c / #99p - Part 2

Following on from Part 1 - some of whose promotions may still be live, check before purchasing - here's the current promos I'm involved with. There won't be any more for a while, so take advantage while they're available.

Just finishing (ignore the date) are Speculative Fiction titles from Magic Book Deals SpecFic including sub-genres from Dystopian to Romance, Epic Fantasy to Supernatural Chills. My title is The Paintings.

Open now for Kindle Unlimited Addicts, this time from Magic Book Deals Romance until 5th June. My title is Beneath The Shining Mountains.

And finally, for this coming weekend only, over 60 titles in the Fantasy and Science Fiction genres from the site of prolific author Patty Jansen. My title is Torc of Moonlight, Bk 1.

Enjoy your reading!