Mucklestone survey and exploratory excavation 2013

As far west as you can get in Staffordshire, just before you come into Shropshire, lies the ancient parish of Mucklestone. Colin Sparkes, a SOTMAS member and resident of Mucklestone, learned that whenever a field called "Old House Field" is ploughed, an area of dark soil emerges containing pottery sherds. Colin has written the following historical description of Mucklestone, setting Old House Field in context. Click on any of the images to enlarge it

Historical background



 Mucklestone as shown on Plot's map of 1686


The ancient parish of Mucklestone in Staffordshire lies four miles northeast from Market Drayton in Shropshire. Mucklestone ancient parish is made up of the hamlets of Mucklestone, Aston, Knighton, Oakley, and Winnington in Staffordshire and the hamlets of Woore, Bearstone, Dorrington and Gravenhunger in Shropshire (M.P.R, 1555-1701, 1).

Mucklestone and its hamlets are recorded in the Domesday Book
The following translations help with the interpretation of the Domesday text:
(Translation is by the Alecto Historical Editions of both Great and Little Domesday publications).
Bordar (from old French borde , a wooden hut). A cottager: a peasant of lower economic status than a villein
TRE (abbr. for Latin Tempore Regis Edwardi). ‘in the time of King Edward’. i.e. before the conquest in 1066.
Villein (Latin villanus, a villager which translates Old English tunsman). A peasant of higher economic status than a bordar and living in a village. Notionally unfree because subject to manorial court.
Virgate (Latin virgata, from virga, a rod). One quarter of a hide: the equivalent of the English yardland.
Hide (Old English hid, hida).The standard unit of assessment of tax, especially geld. Notionally the amount of land which would support a household: divided into four virgates.

From Domesday under the headings of: XVII. The land of the King’s Thegns
"In Pirehill Hundred, Dunning holds Knighton [in Mucklestone], and he himself held it TRE. […] There is land for 1 plough. This [plough] is there, with 2 slaves, and half an acre of meadow. [There is] woodland 2 furlongs long and 2 furlongs broad. It is worth 2s. Lyfing holds Mucklestone. Alric and Eadric held it TRE. There is 1 hide. There is land for 3 plough. There a priest and 3 villeins have 1 plough. There is 1 acre of meadow, [and] woodland 2 furlongs long and as much broad. It is worth 5s.
The same Lyfing holds Winnington. There is 1 virgate of land. There is land for 1 plough. There are 2 villeins with 1 bordar, and half an acre of meadow. [There is] woodland 3 furlongs long and 2 furlongs broad. It is worth 2s." (DB, 2003, 686)

The ancient parish of Mucklestone forms part of the north Pirehill Hundred. The parish of Woore was formed out of the ancient parish of Mucklestone in 1841, which includes Bearstone, Dorrington, Gravenhunger and Pipe Gate. Mear was also probably carved out of Mucklestone in the 13th century (Staffs. Coll. Vol. 1916, 195).

Walter Chetwynd in his History of the Pirehill Hundred (1692) wrote:

"Muccleston is a large parish, comprehending Muccleston with ye small hamlets of Winnington, Welobridge, Aston, Derrington and Oakley in Staffordshire; and Gravenhunger, Bearston, Knighton, Woure and Bellaport co. Sal.-20 Cong (in Shropshire as part of the Hodnet Hundred). Leaving, one of ye Thanes, held in Muccleston of ye King: there being then a church, one hide of land, one acre of meadow ground and woods two furlongs in length & as much in breadth, valued at 5s, all which Alric and Edric held before ye conquest . About ye time of King John, Will Pantolf gave to Norman [Pantolf] his brother all ye lands that Alina ? his mother, held dower in Monkleston, Winnington & Knighton in exchange for certain lands Norman held of him in Standon" (Staffs. Coll., Vol. XII., 202).

The Domesday Survey of 1086 includes an entry of a priest in the manor of Mucklestone, denoting that Mucklestone has had a church since at least the 11th century and possibly before (D. S, Eyton, & Morris ed. 1976). The church was rebuilt in the 13th century; again in 1790, and in 1883, the tower is thought to belong to the 13th century. There are thirteen stained glass windows (by Kemp) given by the late Lady Chetwold. One of the windows is dedicated to Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI. It is reported that Queen Margaret watched the battle between the houses of York and Lancaster at Blore Heath from the tower of Mucklestone church on September 23rd 1459.

The legend goes that before fleeing on horseback after the defeat, Queen Margaret employed the local blacksmith, William Skelhorn to reverse the shoes to disguise her getaway. Skelhorn was later executed on his anvil when the deceit was discovered, the anvil remains in the churchyard to this day, right opposite the old smithy.
The Rectory of Muccleston was a valuable one. In the year three of Henry V’s reign as king (1416) evidence from a law suit against John de Whitmore for neglect, the Manor house was worth 20, three large chambers each worth 10, a kitchen worth 5, a grange worth 10, a sheepfold valued at 5, a dovecote of the same sum, besides a swine house worth 1 (Staff. Coll., Vol.12., p.202).

Most of the farmland in the 19th century formed part of the Earl of Crewe estate and reverted into private ownership in the early 20th century.

The Old House field in Mucklestone is part of Studley Farm.

In the 1838 Tithe map of Mucklestone shown below, 2130+2131+2132 make up The Old House Field as you can see from the following extract from the Tithe Map schedule (Source: Staffordshire Record Office Documents D3433/3/1 and D3433/3/2 respectively).

Thanks are due to the Staffordshire Record Office for permission to use these extracts from their records


Field walking the site, we identified an area of darker soil with a high concentration of pottery fragments, mostly dating from the early 18th Century. The pottery sherds included both every day kitchen ware but also a higher status dining ware. A selection is shown below:

We carried out a magnetometry survey over this area, and Winston our Dig Director identified 4 areas for us to investigate further by excavation. The magnetometry results are shown below, with the areas to be excavated outlined.


So, what did we find? Trench B yielded very little, but in the other trenches we found sherds of pottery consistent with that found on the surface (as shown in the picture above). The following pictures show us at work, and some of the more notable pieces of pot which we found. Area D was most interesting, as it contained a very red area indicating that it had in the past experienced high temperatures; as well as pieces of brick. This area shows intense black and white on the magnetometry results above. We suspect that there may have been an oven, maybe a bread oven, here and we will be investigating this area more extensively in 2014. In fact we did not manage to return to perform a fuller excavation of the oven area until 2016. You can read about the 2016 excavation here


Digging A Slipware from A
Excavating Trench A Two slipware sherds from Trench A

Slipware from C
A slipware sherd from Trench C 

Tyg in D tyg in D in hand
Part of a late 17C tyg in Trench D. In the close-up, you can also see burnt wood or charcoal in the layer  Another view of the tyg
Digging D Daub from D
Here we are working in Trench D. You can see some of the red oven deposit behind Janet A piece of daub from Trench D
Trench D showing oven area Oven in D close-up
Perhaps you can see the oven area more clearly here Here's a close-up of the red oven deposit, with pieces of brick

All the above pictures are from 2013. In February 2014, we carried out a further magnetometry survey, to the North of the area we surveyed in 2013. The picture below shows the two sets of results joined together. You can see the oven area, and a suggestion of a building to the north of it. We carried out a more extensive excavation of the oven in 2016, and you can see how that progressed here.

Conjoined 2013 and 2014 magnetometry
Magnetometry results: 2014 above (the N half), 2013 below

Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeological Society, August 2014, updated November 2016

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