The Mount, Princes Risborough – December’s Article of the Month

The Mount, Princes Risborough

Published in Records of Buckinghamshire volume 16 part 3 in 1957-58

Selected by MIKE FARLEY who writes:

This is the story of an archaeological excavation carried out in 1955 on a 14th-century royal moated site  that was legally protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument – but whose ‘protection’ was waived for a development for reasons that were never explained.

What remains of this historically significant site, apart from a substantial bank incorporated into the west end of the adjoining graveyard (see below left), is now beneath a car park (below right).

A similar fate had a year earlier befallen High Wycombe’s Roman villa on the Rye, which is now beneath a swimming pool. And two years later Margaret Jones recorded several Roman buildings being destroyed by gravel working! All this was of course before the development of the County Archaeological Service.

Research pointing to the significance of the moated site at Risborough, and confirming that it once held the principal buildings of Edward the Black Prince’s stud farm, had been carried out by Pavry, a historian who lived in Bledlow. The excavation was directed, with the help of ‘labourers’ for the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate, by Group Captain Guy Knocker.

Apart from the circumstances of the excavation two things make it of importance for Buckinghamshire: it was the first significant excavation to take place on a medieval site in the county, and it was an excavation where both recording and publication provided a benchmark for future work (although Hartley’s report on the Rye villa excavation in 1959 would be a close runner-up).

The published report for The Mount at Princes Risborough has the flavour of a modern excavation report with reasonable plans and sections, thoughtful interpretation, and specialist reports on all finds – yes, even including the dreaded ‘pottery report’!

Click to: Read this article on-line… or to: See other on-line Records of Bucks articles…

And how about the workers?  

The names of many who contributed to the excavation may mean little to the present generation of archaeologists (I was asked by a younger archaeologist not long ago:  ‘Mortimer Wheeler, who is he ?’!). But to old guys like myself the Mount excavation report is itself a roll of honour.

Its contributors included  John Hurst and  Gerald Dunning  on the pottery, Elizabeth Eames on the decorated floor tiles, and Margaret Wood on medieval structures. Locally Tom Hume, the Honorary Curator of the County Museum, Jack Head, author of  Early Man in South Buckinghamshire, and  Clive Rouse, national  specialist on wall-paintings, were actively involved, while BAS Council included WF Grimes of London Mithras Temple fame and Kathleen Kenyon, whose career included excavations at Great Zimbabwe and Jericho.

Finally, there was Group Captain Knocker himself. Although with little qualification, he made a good  impression on the Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments. After retirement from the RAF in 1947 he received modest funding to carry out important rescue excavations on Saxo-Norman Thetford and many other locations in East Anglia and south-east England. 

On-line can be found a slightly guarded appreciation of  his work and details of his military record are in the Imperial War Museum.


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