Dowsing for Archaeology

by Colin Peal

A group of eight dowsers with a particular interest in archaeology met at Cressing Temple in Essex on Sunday 14th March for the first of four workshops to be held during this year. The others are scheduled for 6th June, 4th July, 1st August and 10th October. Since the 10th October will clash with the EEG AGM at Glastonbury we shall have to try and find another date. This underlines the problem we all face these days trying to find suitable dates in our increasingly overcrowded diaries. Beth Davie, Stephen Nunn, Andrew Leng, and Geoff Crockford were amongst those unable to join us

These events at Cressing Temple are outside the BSD calendar. They are the brainchild of Barry Hillman-Crouch, a professional archaeologist and Senior Technical Officer with a wide range of responsibilities in the Heritage-Conservation Department of Essex County Council. As we foregathered in the Visitor Centre, Barry introduced himself, explaining that he started his professional life as an archaeological draughtsman leading to his appointment in 1991 as Assistant Site Archaeologist at Cressing Temple with its many historic timber framed buildings. He became increasingly involved in the archaeology of the site and led a series of summer school excavations during the 1990’s before the archaeology office on site was closed.

In the summer of 1990 I had been invited to undertake two dowsing jobs at the site following a geophysical survey which had produced disappointing results. I was given every help and encouragement by Tim Robey the Site Archaeologist, and when Barry took up his appointment the following year, he soon found that he could dowse too.
He was able through the various digs to confirm enough dowsed results to realise that it was something he should take seriously. He was awarded a Post Graduate Diploma in Field Archaeology in 1999 taking ‘Dowsing Archaeological Features, as his thesis. He took his Master’s degree in the ironwork of timber framed buildings. This has never been the subject of proper study before, but is of particular importance in the eastern counties with their rich heritage of historic timber framed buildings. Despite an increasing range of responsibilities Barry remains an active dowser and is keen to give every help and encouragement to anyone who wants to develop their skills, particularly in the field of archaeology.
In the building known as ‘The Court Hall’, in fact the old Granary, Barry has set up a small exhibition on the use of dowsing at the site with site plans showing all the dowsing surveys, the magnetometer and resistivity surveys together with details of all the excavations. There is, however, much still to be learned about the site itself and the adjacent field, known as Dovehouse, and there is great scope for dowsers to develop their skills in a supportive environment.

There is evidence of continuous human activity at Cressing Temple and in the immediate vicinity since the Neolithic, with the exception of the Anglo-Saxon period1, so the site offers plenty of opportunity for those who wish to pursue an interest in any particular period. There are also interesting earth energies, about which very little investigation has been done so far.

The workshop in August will be widely advertised locally as an open day for beginners, and will follow the pattern of successful similar events which Barry organised last August and previously in 1999. He was assisted by John Baker, Chairman of London Dowsers, and one of the two BSD official tutors in archaeological dowsing, and myself since I live about 20 minutes drive away. The BSD gained two new members after last year’s event.

The strong wind on 14th March was less icy than it had been the previous few weeks, and at least we had rain rather than snow. One of the attractions of the Cressing Temple site is that there are plenty of dowsing opportunities inside the two great barns when the weather is bad. In his introduction Barry told us that Cressing Temple had been a prime target for attack during the Peasants Revolt in 1381 which led to the Barley Barn being almost totally destroyed. He was of the opinion that the present structure had been brought in from somewhere else to replace the original.

That the present day Barley Barn has been much modified is easy to see but much erudite debate over the years has produced no clear agreement amongst ‘experts’ as to its history. Much of the dowsing efforts of the day were focused on the Barley Barn and it will be interesting to see if we can achieve enough agreement through our individual efforts to throw some light on the subject.

The dates for the workshops have been fixed in order to give archaeology dowsers an opportunity to get together, discuss matters of common interest and develop their individual skills; they are not intended to form any structured programme. Further, the site is open daily throughout the summer, apart from Mondays, and some have already indicated a wish to come and dowse there in their own time in furthering specific interests. All BSD members will be very welcome there and I shall be more than happy to meet anyone there if possible.

© 2004 Colin Peal & BSD EEG

  1. The lack of evidence of occupation of the site in the Anglo-Saxon period is surprising, though depopulation of the region during the last century of the Roman Empire is perhaps one factor. Nevertheless the Kingdom of the East Saxons had become established by the middle of the fifth century and there is evidence of Dark Age settlement in most parts of the county. Before the Norman Conquest The Manor of Cressing was in the possession of Harold Godwinson (King Harold) and it was thought valuable enough to become the first grant of land to the Templars outside London. Another useful dowsing exercise here, perhaps? []