In February 2015, Archy and his research and production team were
given access to land around the Park Linhay, private property adjoining
Woodhayes Farm*, near Honiton in Devon, to carry out an experimental
'History Seer' survey of the area. The Park Linhay was once part of the
farm and became a private house in 2005 when it was converted from a
building used for feeding cows to what it is now. The purpose was to see
what Archy could detect about the area from times past.
As usual, Archy had no prior knowledge of anything pertaining to the history of the area. Consequently, what he detected was fascinating, not only in terms of content, but also in terms of that content's likely factuality.
Starting in the field immediately above The Linhay, Archy took some time to scan his surroundings and then began to describe what he could see and sense.
“There was a wooden stockade up here, a sort of small fort,” he says. “It was quite a busy area - lots of activity. I get the impression the Romans did quite a bit round here – not in a major way, not a big fort like you’d get elsewhere. But there would have been a few hundred people living here.”
He goes on, “I can see a blacksmith, people working leather, cooking, collecting firewood, that sort of thing, as well as the Roman soldiers moving amongst them. This was the kind of place where you stopped over on a journey – a bit like the service stations you get on the motorways nowadays. You’d stop over, get something to eat, rest yourself and your horses, get your kit repaired, that kind of thing.”
He also describes seeing lots of animals. Horses, sheep, cows – the usual suspects. But surprisingly, he also talks about seeing a couple of more exotic types of animal, like tigers and even a small elephant, which he thinks were brought over for entertainment “and to show status.”
“There was a sort of wooden circus building here - a circle surrounded by a wooden stockade. Not permanent, not showy. But there was a Roman big-wig who lived round here, who wanted to show he had some status. Actually, I think he was Roman-British. He was a good man. I know there was a villa here, on the other side of this hill, where he lived.”
This villa would have been closer to where Woodhayes Farm now stands, over the hill, and according to Archy, was fitted out with all the usual Roman mod-cons – running water piped into the villa from up on the hill, heating – even a small version of a typical Roman bath, complete with hot and cold plunge pools, and a few slaves to help. Archy claims that this was situated where the present-day cobbled courtyard now exists at the back of Woodhayes – “not big pools, but big enough for a couple of people to use – half indoors, half out.”
Walking over the shoulder of the hill towards Woodhayes, Archy points out where he thought they got the water from.
"Under here, there's water," he says, pointing to a large flat plateau which is certainly boggy and reed-clumped. "They cut channels or pipes to take it down the hill to the villa. They even had a wooden water wheel. They were clever engineers, that's for sure," says Archy.
After Archy had finished his scan of the area, his researcher, Mary Hykel Hunt, and his producer, Simon Holder, interviewed the landowner, Greg Page-Turner, about the history of Woodhayes Farm and its adjacent holdings. What emerged proved fascinating, in light of what Archy had described earlier.
On hearing about Archy’s description of smelting activity on the land above the Park Linhay, Greg revealed that his home and the area around Woodhayes Farm had recently been visited by a geophysicist from the Archaeology Department at the University of Exeter, to view the topography of the land. His reasons for doing so? He suspects there may have been a sizeable Roman settlement in the area, with associated industries and support services.
During this visit, Greg had brought out a strange-looking stone that had recently been found on Woodhayes land, a stone much heavier than the normal flint found in the area. The geophysicist had identified this item as slag residue from smelting, and told Greg that evidence of smelting activity had already been found in the neighbouring parish of Upottery, with a slag deposit found that had been carbon-dated to the early Roman period AD 50-70.
Various surveys have already found considerable evidence of iron-working in the Blackdown Hills, dating from prehistoric times through to the Roman and mediaeval eras. It’s therefore quite possible that smelting also took place on what is now Woodhayes land, given the local availability of easily-smelted ore, together with an abundance of timber for the furnaces. As Greg says in his blog, “…we strongly suspect [the piece of slag] we have is also Roman. The Roman military must have had the iron franchise in the area and we hope Woodhayes might have been their base.”
Greg also mentioned that whilst renewing fencing on the hill above The Linhay, he had found a charcoal deposit level, indicating wood had been burned here, which also adds credibility to the notion that there was smelting activity in the area. He also revealed that an artesian well lies beneath the hill, together with an underground stream, which supplies water toWoodhayes Farm.
So what can we say about what Archy detected on his History Survey of this area?
He said that there'd been a sizeable Roman settlement in the area
This coincides with an archaeological expert's thoughts on the matter - an expert who has not said anything about this publicly, and whom Archy has never met or read about. How did Archy know about this?
He said that there'd been smelting activity in the area
Archaeological evidence of Roman ironworking and smelting in nearby areas already exists, and the slag residue found on Woodhayes land strongly suggests that it took place in this area too, although carbon dating of the Woodhayes slag residue will be necessary to establish this. Remember, Archy knew nothing beforehand about the piece of slag Greg had found, nor what the visiting geophysicist had had to say about it. Yet he was able to describe the activity in detail.
He commented on there being underground water supplies in the area
Greg corroborated this. Again, Archy wouldn't have known about this.
Currently, there's no factual evidence about the villa, the baths, the stockade or the small arena that Archy said he saw, nor the water wheel or water conduits he described. However, in time, Archy’s ‘seeing’ of the smelting activity, together with his visions of the stockade and villa, may be verified by archaeological investigation on Woodhayes land. Be sure we’ll let you know when that happens!
But the over-riding question remains: if Archy has no prior knowledge of the places and activities he describes as a History Seer, and yet comes up with verifiable information known only to the expert few, then how is he doing this?
** Roman Bloomery Image found at http://www.highweald.org/learn-about/timeline.html#romans
The Park Linhay (Honiton) History Seer Survey
"OK, I can see there was a smelting furnace here, a matter of yards away from where we're standing," he begins. "It's a proper little hive of activity. There are a couple of people working some bellows with their feet, and there are others – maybe four or five – working the metal."
He starts to describe the people he can see. The metalworkers – the ‘professionals’ as Archy refers to them - are properly kitted out for this work, wearing leather leggings, thick leather aprons and hefty leather gloves like gauntlets, going well up the arm for protection. He thinks they're making tools and things for cultivating the land, small weapons like knives, and maybe even horseshoes. The smelting area itself he describes as half enclosed, with a roof and a back wall, with skins that can be pulled down for protection, presumably from the weather.
“Could be Roman, maybe later,” says Archy. He pauses, allowing himself time to absorb what else he can sense.