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Anglo-Saxon hall construction

Work is progressing on the two new replica buildings at the Avalon Marshes Centre. Their methods of construction provide a fascinating glimpse into how our forebears built. Since our last update in November the timber frame of the Anglo Saxon Longhall has been erected and the roof trusses for both buildings have been hoisted into place by crane. The main work underway at the moment is wattle and daub walling, to the Longhall and to the gables of the Romano British dining room, and tiling.

When it comes to roofing materials for villas, the Romans favoured slates or tiles made of clay. Slates would be nailed into place and overlapped one another much as we see today on houses. With the clay tiles (Imbrex and Tegula!) nails were not required as a nib on the Tegula held the tile in place. Tiles would have been produced locally and evidence of Roman pottery kilns has been found all over Somerset.

As explained in our last update, the Anglo Saxons used mostly timber in their building construction, so it should come as no surprise that this was applied to their roofs. Everyday dwellings would probably have had roofs made of thatch or reeds but the Longhalls were buildings of status and required a more impressive roof. They would have used wooden tiles known as shakes (sometimes referred to as shingles), which would have been pegged into place with wooden dowels.

The word ‘shake’ is a relatively modern term and is used when referring to wooden tiles that are produced using the traditional method of hand splitting them. Shingles are produced using modern machine saws; they are generally thinner and smoother than the traditional shake. It is estimated that South West Heritage Trust will need a around 5500 tiles to cover the roof for our Anglo Saxon Longhall.

This exciting project has been made possible by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, through the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership, and a lot of hard graft by South West Heritage Trust staff and volunteers. When completed the Anglo-Saxon long hall and the Romano-British replica building, which is also under construction, will provide an important educational and visitor resource at the Avalon Marshes Centre.

Roman Tiles  Anglo-Saxon Shingles and Shakes

Roman roofing tiles                                        Saxon Shakes

Anglo-Saxon wattle and daub  Anglo-Saxon Long Hall Joints

Wattle and daub                                                 Saxon Longhall – Pegged joints

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Open Country is the BBC Radio 4’s countryside magazine that features the people and wildlife that shape the landscape of the British Isles. Helen Mark the presenter of the programme visited the Avalon Marshes in January to find out about the part peat has played in shaping the landscape.

She visited Glastonbury Lake Village museum and met Steve Minnitt of South West Heritage Trust (SWHT). At Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve (NNR) she visited the replica of the Sweet Track with SWHT’s Dr Richard Brunning and also met Simon Clarke of Natural England.

The Avalon Marshes has a very long history of peat extraction and use. Godwins peat are one of the principal peat companies and Ben Malin talked about modern day use. In contrast Avalon Marshes volunteer Peter Lander explained the peat industry of old. Peter, who lives in Meare, has put in well over 300 hours of his time researching the history of the Eclipse Peat Company who were primarily based at what is now Shapwick Heath NNR. The company were innovative in their uses of peat, even selling peat dust to the Americans as a premium grade product!

You can find out more and listen to the programme on BBC’s catch up, just open this link and click on the photo.

Helen with Richard Brunning                        Helen with Peter Lander

Helen Richard BBC Presenter Radio 4 Open Country

Copyright both images – BBC / FabProm

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Late last year Natural England launched a campaign to raise funds for a new hide at Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve. The tower hide will be located on the main track through the reserve and will look out over the “Scrape”, which is a great site to see waders, and “70 acres”, which is a vast reedbed loved by Marsh Harrier, Bittern and Bearded Tit.

With reserve budgets tight and needing to cover its priority habitat condition work, the Natural England team at Shapwick Heath decided to try ‘crowdfunding’ as an innovative way to raise the money needed. The new hide will complement the existing hides which are becoming increasingly popular. With over 80,000 visitors a year, many regular visitors and a team of dedicated volunteers crowdfunding was seen as a way to harness the huge enthusiasm that exists for the area and the reserve and create a facility that will bring enjoyment to many.

To quote Natural England: “we were absolutely blown-away by the response we received! We not only met our target of £12,500 but exceeded our stretch target of £15,000 to eventually raise just over £17,500 to fund this fantastic project. We’d like to say a massive THANK YOU to everyone who shared, contributed and supported the campaign. We now have a tight schedule to get the hide built which will hopefully be in the Spring.”

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New fencing, tree surveys and otters galore; catch up with the past 3 months of activity on at Natural England’s Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve (NNR) with issue 19 of the Shapwick Heath newsletter.

To download your free PDF copy click here

If you would like to receive your own quarterly copy contact Julie Merrett of Natural England:

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Would you like to expand your bird identification skills and log your sightings? If so this FREE workshop might be for you.  An expert, Su Gough from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), will provide tips on identifying birds by sight and sound in the classroom in the morning, and then lead a walk onto Shapwick Heath in the afternoon.

The day will run from 10am – 4pm on Wed 13 April and be held at the Avalon Marshes Centre, Westhay.  Refreshments provided but you will need a packed lunch and suitable outdoor attire.  To book a place or for more information please email or telephone 01458 860556.