Half Term at Butser

 

The traditional festival of Samhain marks the start of the ‘dark half’ of the year, as the days grow shorter and the nights lengthen. At Butser, as well as celebrating Samhain with music and stories in the roundhouse, we celebrate half term, when we take a breath of cool air before the run up to Christmas and the Winter Solstice, when we begin to look forward to spring again.

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This October half term, we’re inviting families to come and discover how people lived in Britain 1600 years ago at the Butser Roman villa. Families will have the chance to try some mosaic-making, drawing Roman pottery and experience the underfloor Roman hypocaust heating in operation. You can also try your hand at latrunculi, a Roman board game which is quite fascinating!

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The Roman villa has recently reopened after a major restoration project over the summer. The newly whitewashed interiors have made the rooms brighter and the floors have been re-laid with opus signinum (Roman concrete) inlaid, in the Roman tradition, with broken pottery. These are real fragments of Romano-British pottery, giving a fantastic new touchstone to the past for Roman-themed visits.

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Butser Ancient Farm can be reached from the A3. There are roadworks in operation over half-term but the road to Butser Ancient Farm from the A3 is still open.

The Bog Blog: Part IV

Much to everyone’s delight, the seat has now been sanded! The aesthetic result has been remarkable and, as each new piece is finished the more ‘convenient’ the convenience is looking… The footboard has been reinforced and the back of the seat tidied up, whilst the adjoining villa wall, artfully finished by the master masons, has been spurring the slaves on.

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We even managed to get the Master Masons to try the new and improved seats and they were impressed with the results: no splinters!

Inevitably, the Slaves were getting bored and started playing games on the toilet seat as well, preferring the Roman game Latrunculi to work. When asked to explain the rules, they suggested it is like a combination of checkers and chess. They made gaming counters from redundant ceramic building material from nearby Fishbourne Palace. Half the counters were covered in charcoal to distinguish between the two players.

That’s everything so far!

From, the loveable slaves at Butser Ancient Farm

Catch up with the rest of the Bog Blog here:
The Bog Blog: Part III
The Bog Blog: Part II
The Bog Blog: Part I

The Bog Blog: Part III

The construction of the great Roman Bog is taking its toll on the slaves. This September a fresh pair were newly acquired and set to work, taking over where the previous slaves left off.

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(‘Wham bam thank you mam half a toilet constructed when we take over’, remarked one slave.)

Their first task was to mix up a gauge of lime mortar and apply this to the inside of the latrine, partly to tart up the bits that no one sees (!), but more importantly to ensure a smooth exit…

The side walls were built up to support the substantial oak seat and an attempt was made to secure the foot rest but a slave stepped on it and it came off again. More work needed! More successful was the installation of the flushing system:

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A number of unofficial tests have been carried out in recent days by the slaves and persons unknown. The flushing system was put through its paces with a slosh of water and ‘woo!’, it worked brilliantly. More circumspect was, well, see for yourself:

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The oak has now been measured and cut to the appropriate size and work has commenced on cutting out holes for the toilet seat: two 9” diameter thrones and a 6” baby seat.

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The slaves have promised they will not forget to sand down any splinters.

Mullein for Moths

This morning we were happy to escape the office and work outside on a project with Fiona Haynes, Conservation Officer from Butterfly Conservation. Butser is in the South Downs National Park, and due to the surrounding farms restricting their use of pesticides, we have lots of cool species that make their home here. One of these is the rare striped lychnis moth (Shargacucullia lychnitis) which only feeds on the flowers of dark mullein (Verbascum nigrum).

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After discovering a few striped lychnis caterpillars in the summer, Fiona asked if we wouldn’t mind distributing the mullein plants further to make the farm into a local stronghold for the moth. A nationally scarce species, they are on the UK BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) priority list with declining populations, mainly due to loss of habitat. They can only be found in West Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, where dark mullein grows on disturbed, low-nutrient ground.

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We first collected seeds from the mullein flowers that already grow here. Some were still in flower, but the majority could be shaken into a bag to release their tiny children. Most were growing in our pig paddock, where the pigs spend all summer uprooting the ground, spreading seeds and trampling them into the soil to germinate. For this reason, pigs are sometimes used for woodland management, where they remove larger competitive plants and help make room for wildflowers.

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Once the seeds were collected, we found new spaces to plant them around the site. As we’re open to the public and schoolchildren, we do usually strim long patches of grass to keep the place safe and tidy. To combat this, we marked on a map where we’ve planted to ensure we leave these areas longer before cutting back, allowing them time to drop their seeds and regenerate. We used mattocks and trowels to clear little patches in the ground, drizzled the seeds over and stamped them in with our boots.

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Hopefully, this will bring a little boost to the mullein flowers that tend to pop up across the farm! Next spring I’ll be setting up a moth trap to see if we can find a striped lychnis hanging around, although they are extremely rare to find. They are also very brown and I’m terrible at moth ID, but we must all seek to improve ourselves! A lovely morning out of the office in the autumn sunshine – with Fiona’s lovely dogs! You can find more on the striped lychnis moth at Butterfly Conservation here.

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Photo by Peter Hall for Butterfly Conservation

Farewell to the Butser Roman Summer!

It’s back-to-school week! Our autumn term is already full to the brim with children coming to learn about prehistoric life, and we can’t wait!
 
For now, we’d like to thank everyone who visited Butser over the holiday and made our Roman Summer such a fantastic event. We’ve uploaded our favourite selection of photos below, all taken by our BRILLIANT volunteer Eleanor.
 
Next year’s summer is already being planned, and we have loads of other great events for half term, Christmas and next spring. See you again soon!