Archaeology 10: Drains in detail

27 August 2020

Hello members and JRS fans.

Here is the progress so far on the north facade of The Hall of Clestrain.

This is The Hall’s magnificent drain. It was laid within the moat, which we now know went all round the Hall, and not just the three sides.

At the very bottom of this elaborate drain there are architecturally carved slabs with a rainwater gulley going into their surfaces. This could be the base of the moat and this tall drain may well have been built on it. It is exceptional stonework and the fall seems to take the water along the west side of the hall. There is more research to complete on this fascinating feature.

Trustee and Membership Secretary Fiona Gould has been looking into the census for 1851. Apparently there was a team of six drainage engineers staying at Clestrain. Probably in one of the pavilions. Could this have been when this drain was built? Of course, it could have been other farm drainage being completed.

Just after John Rae Senior’s death,  the Mr McKenzie took over the estate. It was very likely that he had this drainage put in. It would have, by filling in the moat, made the north courtyard more spacious.

Now we are getting deeper into the moat, some surprising stonework suddenly appeared! This abuts the drain and we can examine further on Sunday 30th August. Exciting and excitinger!

Here is a photo of our drain from the west moat, turning east. As the stepped entrance to the Hall, which Sigrid, my wife and I exposed, has a void beneath it, we are certain this wonderful feature runs under it.

Here is a selection of our finds from the top filling of the moat. Early 19th century spongeware along with late 17th century ceramics, including a hand thrown well-less saucer in context with pieces of a lovely hand thrown brown glaze teapot, show pottery that John Rae would have been familiar with. It is probable that these sherds and bones were jettisoned from an earlier midden deposit.

It is notable that no clay pipe stems have turned up at all. There is. though, a strangely flexible tube with mouthpiece from the drain silt. This might be a tortoiseshell cigarette holder? Another observation is that virtually no ‘Cheap’ pottery has come up. It is largely high quality wares. This does reflect sophisticated lifestyles. There are a remarkable number of bird bones, probably waders or curlew. Typical John Rae  hunted provisions. Also these sheep bones, representing a tasty meal.

Personally, I would love to find a really good rubbish pit! This would help us to interpret what life was like and where goods came from. These are early days yet.

So far these vital archaeological investigations have been totally voluntary and financed by a local business and the volunteers. Contributions to this archaeological programme would be most welcome via our JustGiving page. Our John Rae Birthday Lottery tickets can still be bought online from us and any donations would be most welcome.

Andrew Appleby – President John Rae Society