Acton Court

BookActon Court

Acton Court

The evolution of an early Tudor courtier's house

English Heritage


February 15th, 2013

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For more than 400 years a substantial moated manor house at Iron Acton in South Gloucestershire was occupied first by the Acton family and then by the Poyntz family. Successive remodelllings and extensions of the 13th-century building reflected the growth in wealth of the Actons, and later the increasing prosperity and rise to royal favour of several Poyntz family heirs. During a royal progress in the summer of 1535, Henry VIII with Queen Anne Boleyn and their retinue stayed briefly at Acton Court. There is evidence from excavation, from tree-ring analysis of structural timbers, and from internal layout and decoration that the surviving east range was built especially for the royal visit. In the central room of this range an elaborate painted frieze in the 'antike' work survives, thought to have been executed by craftsmen employed by the Royal Works. Debris from a ceiling and fireplace overmantel represent one of the earliest uses in England of moulded stucco decoration. Exotic glass and ceramic tableware had been brought to the site, also probably for the royal visit. By the mid-1550s, new north and west ranges had been built, the south range modernised and the moat filled in, giving Acton Court the outwardly regular appearance of a courtyard house. In architectural and decorative style, these major works were innovatory: in the north range, a classical stone fireplace was installed in the first-floor long gallery, which was decorated with a painted frieze of Latin texts. The Poyntz family's fortunes later diminshed, the estate was sold, the building was reduced in size and converted into a farmhouse - but, paradoxically, this decline resulted in the unique preservation of the mid-16th-century appearance of the surviving structures.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half-Title Page2
Title page3
Copyright Page477
List of illustrations7
List of tables11
Glossary and abbreviations19
1. Introduction22
The rescue of Acton Court22
The investigations23
Building recording25
Modern topography26
Physical geography26
Summary of phasing and dating29
2. The history of Acton Court34
The Actons35
Medieval Poyntzes39
The rise of the Poyntzes41
Early Tudor courtiers43
Sir Nicholas Poyntz the builder45
Elizabethan Poyntzes49
The decline of the Poyntzes50
The sale and demolition53
Tenant farmers54
Appendix A: contemporary descriptions56
Appendix B: household contents59
Appendix C: building accounts and hearth tax62
Appendix D: illustrative sources63
3. The medieval manor house64
Pre-Period 3 features64
Period 164
Period 264
Phase 165
Phase 265
Phase 365
Phase 4a67
Phase 4b69
Earthworks and features in the north and west fields69
Period 3: The medieval manor house70
Phase 170
The inner moat70
The house73
Rooms A-D73
The entrance74
Phase 1a74
Phase 1b75
Phase 1c75
Phase 1d75
Phase 1e75
Room G75
Room S77
The curtain wall79
Phase 279
Room G79
The north porch80
Phase 381
Room G81
Rooms H–K81
Room H81
Room J82
Room K84
The south range: Room D and Rooms P1 and P284
The curtain wall86
Phase 486
Phase 4a86
Rooms A–C86
Rooms E and E188
Room F189
Room S89
Other features90
Phase 4b91
Room Q91
Room R92
Room R192
The triangular areas between the south range and Room G92
Rooms M and N94
Phase 596
The south range96
The south and east arms of the moat98
Room G98
Rooms L and L199
The area south of the house99
The area east of the moat100
Phase 1–3100
The outer moat101
Phase 5102
Earthworks and features in the environs of the house103
Period 3.1–3.3103
Period 3.4-3.5105
Period 1: Romano-British occupation106
Periods 1–2: 11th to mid-13th centuries107
The medieval manor house109
Period 3.1–3.2 (mid- to late 13th century)109
The moat109
The hall range110
The kitchen range (Room S)112
Room G112
The curtain wall113
Period 3.3 (late 13th to mid-14th century)114
Tire south range114
Rooms H–J114
The Period 3.1-3.3 house: summary114
The 15th-century house (Fig 3.21)115
Period 3.4a116
Period 3.4b118
Period 3.5120
The environs of the medieval house123
The garden123
The agricultural buildings127
The fishponds129
The rabbit warren129
The deer parks130
The west park130
The east park131
4. The Tudor house135
Period 4.1: the construction of the east range135
Ground floor139
First floor139
The roof141
Period 4.2142
The north range: excavated evidence142
The north range: standing building145
The roof146
The west range148
The west part of the south range152
Room G/32152
The moat154
Period 4.3154
Alterations to the south and east ranges154
The moat158
Room 33159
Period 4.4160
Alterations to the north range160
The moat: Period 4.4–4.5161
The south court162
Period 4.1-4.3162
Period 4.3-4.4162
Period 4.4-4.6164
The buildings east of the house164
Period 4.1165
Period 4.2165
Room 34166
Room 35167
Room 36169
Room 37169
Other buildings east of the house170
Period 4.3170
The outer moat170
The house in the later 16th and 17th centuries170
Period 4.5170
The stair tower170
Period 4.6 and uncertain172
Period 4.5–4.6: excavated evidence173
Room 30173
Room 32173
Period 4.6174
Period 4.6a174
The cast court174
Period 4.6b175
Period 4.6c176
5. The interior of the Tudor house178
Doors and door frames178
Wooden frames178
Stone frames178
Hinges. latches and locks182
Period 4. 1190
East range: ground floor190
East range: first floor190
Room 6190
Room 10193
Room 11195
Period 4.2198
Room 1198
Other rooms199
Period 4.3200
East range. ground floor200
First floor201
Periods 4.4 and 4.5202
6. The Tudor house: discussion203
Period 4.1203
The form and function of the east range203
The progress of 1535209
Periods 4.2–4.4214
The mid-16th-century house214
External elevations214
Plan and room function216
Stylistic comparisons223
The Period 4.5 and 4.6 house228
Civil War defences228
7. The later history of the building230
Period 5.1a230
Excavated evidence230
The north range230
The west range231
The south range231
Room 32231
The farmhouse231
Fixtures and fittings235
Outbuildings (OBs)235
The south court236
The east court236
Period 5.1b: The west and south ranges236
The east court236
Subsidence over the former moat237
Period 5.2237
The farmhouse238
The environs of the house239
The north range west of the track239
The inner courtyard239
The farmyard239
The west range239
South of the south range240
The south court240
The east court240
North of the east court241
South of the cast court241
North of the house241
Period 5.3241
The farmhouse241
The north range242
The farmyard and inner courtyard243
The area south of the farmyard243
The east and south courts243
Period 5.4243
The form of the Period 5.1 house243
8. Building materials: finds and specialist reports247
Medieval floor tiles247
Catalogue of designs249
Tile arrangements254
Triangular courtyard254
Room R/28254
Medieval and post-medieval ridge and roof tiles256
Fabrics. glaze. decoration257
Distribution on site257
Fabric analysis259
Architectural fragments263
Doors and arches266
Roof fittings267
Paving slabs267
Sculptural fragments267
The sundial282
Window glass282
Excavated glass282
Lead cames from excavated contexts283
Physical and documentary evidence283
Architectural Woodwork fragments284
The painted texts in the long gallery287
The verses287
The north wall: A–E287
The east wall290
The south wall290
Graffiti in the east range292
Graffiti elsewhere in the house296
The ship graffiti296
Decorative plasterwork from excavated contexts299
West range. demolition layers; (principal contexts 183,185)302
X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis of plaster samples303
A shell containing pigment303
The tree-ring dating305
Methods of sample collection306
Timbers sampled and particular problems306
Sample preparation and measurement307
Cross-matching procedure308
Dating results and analysis308
Summary of results and conclusion314
9. Life at Acton Court: finds and specialist reports315
Medieval and later pottery315
Roman pottery315
Early medieval pottery (Period 2)315
Later medieval pottery (Period 3)318
16th- and 17th-century pottery (Period 4)319
Key to codes used in pottery and roof-tile tables and catalogues328
Catalogue of illustrated vessels331
Site formation344
Dating the site sequence346
Sources of pottery347
Non-local and imported wares350
Vessel glass352
Forest glass352
Colourless glass352
The Acton Court vessel glass353
Glass vessel catalogue356
Unillustrated Period 5.1–5.3 bottle glass370
Analysis of the Venetian-style glass371
The clay tobacco pipes372
Coins. jettons and tokens380
Small finds386
Dress items386
Lead shot388
Catalogue of small finds388
Group A388
Group B390
Group C403
Group D407
Stone objects418
Lace tags421
Textiles in lace ends424
The leather424
The shoes424
The longbows426
Performance characteristics428
Historical context428
The vertebrate remains429
Plant and animal macro-fossils from Period 4.2–4.3 contexts in the moat432
Plant macrofossils (excluding moss)433
Colour Plates437
Appendix 1: multi-period building plans and elevations442