Putting The Pieces Together

Today on the blog we are discussing my favourite site of 2019. We already talked about part of the site’s history last fortnight on the blog- that it contained the store and offices for Walton, Warner and Co. and their later businesses. Today we’ll go a bit more in depth on both the history and the archaeology of the site (so if you haven’t read last fortnight’s blog then I recommend you do before reading this, otherwise this won’t make as much sense). But first, let me explain why it was my favourite site. This site was a perfect combination of a very complicated site history, super complicated archaeological features and excavations, and a very large artefact assemblage that contained a lot of unusual artefacts. Which meant it was very confusing to try and work out what was going on, but it was very satisfying when I did. This site is really complicated, so this isn’t going to be a short blog post (double the length of our normal blogs), but it’s a great way of sharing how, as archaeologists, we draw together multiple lines of evidence to work out what was happening in the past.

The History of the Site

The section of the site we’re going to be focusing on consisted of two town sections, TS 853 and TS 855. They’re highlighted in red on this 1850 map of Christchurch (ignore 857 and 858 as we’re not going to talk about them). Also shown on this map, in blue, is a creek bed. Large natural streams transversed swampy Christchurch and acted as tributaries and overflow channels for the Avon. Remember that there was a creek running through the site- it’s going to be important later on. Image: Jollie 1850 Plot of Christchurch.

Here’s the site in 1877. Those black shapes on the map represent buildings. No buildings were present on the site in the Fooks 1862 map, indicating all these buildings were constructed between 1862 and 1877. If you’ve read last fortnight’s blog, then you’ll remember that the front building on the TS 855/853 border was Walton, Warner and Co.’s store and the centre building on TS 855 was their office and that these buildings were built in 1864. The other building at the front of TS 855 also likely belonged to them, whilst the back building was a house. The buildings on TS 853 were offices that were occupied by a variety of businesses, including architects, accountants, solicitors and insurance brokers. Image: Strouts 1877.

This map, based on the recorded leases in the Deeds indexes from 1860-1872, gives some indication of how complex the history for this site was and how many different businesses were run out of the buildings on the site. We’re going to be focusing on Walton, Warner and Co., but it’s important to know that there were other businesses operating on the site. Image: A. Gibson.

And if you thought the above map was complicated, then check this one out. This is a 1909 plan, with this buildings on the site outlined in red (the blue lines are the property boundaries and the yellow shading is just our excavation are). Comparing it to the 1877 map, we can see that many of the building shown on the 1877 map were still standing in 1909, and that they are described as old and made of wood. What’s most important in this map is that is shows an old wooden building at the back of TS 853, that wasn’t there in the 1877 map, but is described as old suggesting it was probably constructed just after the 1877 map was made. Image: LINZ 1909.

So, to summarise, we’re interested in two town sections: TS 853 and TS 855. These town sections originally had a creek running through them and had buildings constructed on them after 1862, with more buildings added over the course of the 19th century. One of the occupants was Walton, Warner and Co. (later known as Wood, Shand and Co.,  who were general merchants and importers if you didn’t go back and read last fortnight’s blog). The other occupants were architects, insurance brokers, accountants and other businesses that had offices on the site.

The Archaeology

We found 19 different archaeological features during the excavation of the site. This site plan shows that most of the features were clustered at the back of the site. We’re not going to talk about every single feature from the site, but I’ve included t just to give an overview of where most of the archaeology was encountered. Image: M. Healey.

But before we go into more depth with the archaeology, there’s one more thing we need to mention. Before the archaeologist got to site, a large trench was excavated through the site (shown on the left). This trench disturbed archaeological features from the site and is easily comparable to the giant trench Heinrich Schliemann dug through the archaeological site Troy (shown on the right). Image, left: A. Trendafilov, right: C. Watson.

We’re going to break down the features we’re going to talk about into three groups. The first group consists of four features that were brick gully traps. These gully traps were located at the boundary of TS 855 and TS 853 and roughly corresponded to form a rectangle. They were also all found at a depth of approximately 200 mm below the modern surface Image: C. Watson.

One of the gully traps, exposed during excavation. This one also had earthenware pipes connecting into it. These gully traps included bricks manufactured by John Brightling between ca. 1880 and 1898, William Neighbours between 1868 and 1886 and Henry Kirk between 1885 and 1898. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The second group of features are a little more complicated. They consist of a series of deposits found running north to south along TS 853. These were deposits of artefacts in what we think was a tributary stream to the large creek shown on the 1850 map. Image: C. Watson.

This is Feature 3. It was found at a depth of 200 mm and extended down to a depth of 1400 mm and as we can see from this photo, was truncated by the unmonitored trench that was dug through the site. This photo is looking north and shows that the feature had a sloping base and consisted of several deposits. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Looking at the above photo and map, you’ve hopefully worked out that if Feature 3 was truncated by the trench then Feature 2 was located within the trench. We’ve got no idea how much of Feature 2 had been disturbed before we got to site, but we found it at a depth of 1200 mm and it extended down to a depth of 1900 mm. Also disturbed by the trench was Feature 4, which similar to Feature 3, had been truncated by the trench. What this means, is that Feature 2, 3 and 4 may all have been individual deposits within one larger deposit, but because the trench went through the middle of it, we’ll never know for sure. Image: A. Trendafilov.

And now we have Feature 5. Feature 5 was divided into six separate sub-features (told you this site was complicated). One of those, Feature 5d, was the brick gulley trap shown above. Another was a deposit of bricks that were possibly from a destroyed gully trap, as they also contained William Neighbours bricks. Two of the deposits contained 20th century material, and were found at the top of the feature, whilst the others found at a deeper depth contained 19th century material. And finally, there was Feature 15, which was a deposit of artefacts within a large metal bucket, that was found underneath Feature 5d, the brick gully trap. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Getting confused? Here’s a diagram to summarise. Essentially, we found different deposits of artefacts ranging from Feature 3 in the north to Features 5A and B in the south. These deposits extended to a depth of 1.2 m to 1.9 m (in the case of Feature 2). Feature 5D was the brick gully trap and Features 5E and 5F both contained 20th century material. Image: A. Trendafilov.

And finally, we have these features, which were located just west of the Feature 2-5 complex. These features were all rubbish pits or other types of deposits that contained artefacts dating to the 19th century. I’m not going to go into too much detail about them, as they’re a lot simpler to understand than the other features on the site, but just remember where they’re located. Image: C. Watson.

An example of what the other features looked like. This is Feature 13, a large rubbish pit that was dug into the ground. The pit is clearly able to be distinguished from the natural sandy clay that it was dug into. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The Artefacts

I’m not going to go into that much detail about the artefacts here, as that would be a whole blog post in itself (immediately starts drafting a post on them for next fortnight). Instead I’ll just make a few points.

  • A large artefact assemblage was recovered during the excavation, over 2000 artefacts in total.
  • Some of the artefact deposits clearly related to commercial activity. These included artefacts like the large deposit of identical clay pipes (pictured in last fortnight’s blog) that were found in Feature 16.
  • Some of the artefacts seemed to be related to domestic activity. These included things like food waste and worn shoes.
  • Ceramic artefacts found in the Feature 2-5 complex were highly fragmented, and sherds from one vessel were found spread across multiple features within the complex.
  • With the exception of the brick gullies and the 20th century sub-features from Feature 5, the artefact manufacture dates ranged from the 1850s through to the 1870s, with most of the artefacts likely manufactured before 1880.

A few of the many artefacts found at the site. To give you an idea of how many of the ceramic artefacts from different features conjoined, the fragments from the ceramic plate in the bottom right corner of this image were found spread across four different features in the Feature 2-5 complex. Image: C. Watson.

Bringing everything together

Now comes the fun part of archaeology (or at least I think that it’s the fun part). We consider the archaeological features we uncovered, the artefacts they contained, and the history of the site, to try and determine which site occupant likely deposited the artefacts, and from there, when and why they threw things away.

Let’s start with the ‘who’. In the case of this site, if we look at the occupants then we can see that Walton, Warner and Co. (or later iterations of the business) are most likely responsible for depositing most of the material. This is because the other occupants of the site, the insurance, accountant, architect etc offices that we haven’t really talked much about, were unlikely to be generating large volumes of rubbish, and certainly not rubbish that was obviously related to commercial practices such as the large deposit of identical clay pipes. When we compared the artefacts to those found during the excavation of Walton, Warner and Co.’s warehouses on Oxford Terrace, we found identical objects, such as the seltzer water bottles and blue dyed-body ware chambersticks (shown in last fortnight’s blog), confirming to us that the artefacts we had found were likely related to the commercial business of Walton, Warner and Co. But, (there’s always a ‘but’ in archaeology), we also found some artefacts that didn’t quite fit. These included large deposits of leather off-cuts in Feature 3 (you can see a pile of them in the artefacts photo) and lots of faunal remains. The leather off-cuts clearly looked to be from a cobbler, but there was no evidence for a cobbler occupying the site. This suggests then that some of the artefacts may have been disposed on the site from non-occupants. The leather off-cuts were clearly clustered together, meaning this may have been a one-off event, but it means we can’t say for sure that every single artefact found on the site related to Walton, Warner and Co. The faunal material is more typical of a domestic assemblage, relating to the disposal of daily food waste. There was a house located at the rear of TS 855 (you can see it in the 1877 map), so it may be that they were throwing their food away into pits shared with Walton, Warner and Co. Unfortunately, the house appears to have been leased and given how complicated the history of the site was, we’re not too sure exactly who was living in it.

Now let’s go to the ‘when’. From the artefacts, we know that most of the features contained material dating between 1850 and the late 1870s, with the exception of the brick gully traps that dated to the 1880s, and some of the deposits in the top of Feature 5 that dated to the 20th century. Those 20th century deposits contained plastic, indicating that they dated to the mid-late 20th century and despite being in the stream complex, weren’t connected to it. But we don’t have to just go off the artefacts to work out when features were deposited. We can also use information from the historical record, like maps.

This ‘map’ is showing the 1909 plan of the buildings on the site overlaid on the Strouts 1877 map, with the location of the 1850 gully also drawn onto it. Overlaid on top of that are the features we’ve been looking at, with red showing the gully trap, purple the stream features and yellow the general rubbish pit features. Image: C. Watson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Firstly, let’s have a look at the creek bed. The creek bed that was present in 1850 appears to have been filled in by 1877, as it has buildings over it. We didn’t find any archaeological evidence of this infilling, but that’s not surprising because the building that was on the site prior to the earthquakes had a deep basement, and the construction of it likely removed any archaeology. We can see our stream bed features, shown in purple, running north to south. The depth of these features, combined with the curving shape of them, which looks to follow natural contours in the grounds surface, suggests that there was a tributary stream or ditch that flowed into the main creek bed, and that it was used to dispose of rubbish in. The layering of artefacts that we saw in features from this complex confirmed this to us.

All of the features we have been looking at are within the footprint of the building shown on the 1909 map, indicating they were definitely deposited before then (with the exception of the 20th century deposits, which were probably created after that building had been demolished). The 1909 map describes the building as old- the same descriptor it used for other buildings on TS 855 that align with buildings shown on the 1877 map. This would suggest then that this building was probably built at a comparable time. If we look at the gully trap locations, three of the four line up approximately with the edges of the building, suggesting they probably relate to that building and were located at the base of down pipes. Looking at the manufacture dates for the different bricks used in the gully traps, it is pretty likely that the building was built by 1885.

For the building to be constructed, first the stream bed would have had to have been filled in. When we looked at the date of artefacts found at the base of the stream bed features, compared to those found at the top, we found 1874 material at the base and 1876 material at the top, as well as artefacts that could be refitted, but came from different depths. This suggests that the deposition of material into the stream bed appears to have taken place over a relatively short time period, probably both to infill the stream bed so that the land could be developed, but also taking advantage of the natural depression.

The other rubbish features also contained material dating to the 1870s that was consistent with a pre-1885 deposition date. Looking then at the history of Walton, Warner and Co. we can see that the material found at the site likely relates to the Wood, Shand and Co. phase of the business.

So, to summarise, Wood, Shand and Co. built their office buildings and warehouse on the site in 1864 and probably used the empty space at the rear of TS 853 and TS 855 to dispose of commercial rubbish. In the late 1870s they decided to develop that portion of the site and infilled the tributary steam with broken and damaged stock, as well as waste imported from other businesses not operating on the site. In the early 1880s they constructed a building, and added gully traps to the building in the mid-1880s. Some time in the 20th century the buildings were demolished and a new building constructed, which was later damaged by the earthquakes and removed, leading to us excavating at the site and working this all out.  And there you go folks, that’s how we do archaeology (in an extremely condensed version)

Clara Watson

References

LINZ. 1909. DP 2713, Canterbury. Landonline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Putting The Pieces Together

  1. Hi Clara,

    Your condensed yet precise endeavours in bringing to us some semblage of ordered understandings is excellent. Having grown up on ‘condensed’ (milk), your art icle immediately resurfaced me into the realms of childhood goings-ons.
    Digging into the past has always interred me into the bottomless depths of mystique from long ago living. Whether here (where you dig literally, factually and actually, or (in my trunk) genealogically.
    Thankyou, from a happily satisfied no-loo-rolls Oar stray lien, who’s mum hailed from Christchurch. W.H. Bowen being her mum’s dad.

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