Archaeology & Landscape

The Church and it Environs

There has never been an excavation within or adjacent to the parish church itself, but the standing fabric indicates the likelihood that the west end has at one time or another been rebuilt. The architecture of the building is of a sufficiently distinctive ‘late Romanesque’ style for us to be able to date its construction to sometime in the mid-12th century. Four archaeological trenches were excavated beyond the current graveyard to the north-west of the church in 2001, in response to a planning application to extend the present yard. Seven simple burials were located and recorded, and two of these were carbon-dated to the 11th or 12th century. They were probably part of the original cemetery that began at the same time that the church was built. Since a British church was recorded at ‘Mochros’ probably as early as the seventh century, it seems likely that it was formerly located nearby, but not on the present site. Any early church enclosure here was likely to have covered a very much larger area than the present churchyard.

Moccas Court and the Parkland

Moccas Court was built between 1776 and 1783, replacing an earlier house on the same site. The extent of landscaping (designed by Brown and executed, probably, by Humphry Repton) in the 1790’s is uncertain. But there will be associated gardens archaeology, since (for example) Repton mentioned the removal of a mound that obscured views of the Scar from the house. The wider expanse of ground that was converted to parkland at this time formerly contained a rabbit warren, so artificial earthen nesting mounds would also have featured here. The kitchen gardens and walled gardens associated with the late 18th century brick mansion would undoubtedly have replaced earlier formal gardens.

Old Map of Moccas Court, its Grounds and Moccas Church

Moccas Castle and Deer Park

The site of Moccas village in the medieval period may have been close to the church, or close to the site of the castle (just to the south of the National Nature Reserve of Moccas Park), but by the 17th century had moved southwards to a location opposite the entrance to Moccas Court. The structure that resulted from a ‘Licence to Crenelate’ granted to Sir Hugh de Freyne in 1293 was enclosed with a low stone wall, so exhibited no architectural pretension. The structure had been almost entirely quarried away for road metalling by the 19th century, but the outline is still discernible.

The deer park associated with the castle was itself enclosed by a simple sinuous bank and ditch, also still visible in its original and modified layouts lengthwise across the slopes within the nature reserve. It was later absorbed within the Landscape Park laid out across the same slopes but extending eastwards down to the road and up to the hilltop westwards. Also absorbed were woodland areas (whose former boundaries are still marked by slight and sinuous linear banks); areas of former arable open fields (marked by several areas of ‘ridge-and-furrow’ fossilised plough-ridges); and ‘pillow mounds’ (rectangular ditched former rabbit nesting facilities, dating from the time in the medieval period when rabbits were farmed and therefore protected form wild predators).

The hillslopes feature paths and rides laid out in the 19th century the better to appreciate the views eastwards and southwards over the Wye valley. On the upper slopes it is possible to view impressive former field terraces, representing the extension of the arable onto higher ground during the periods of poor harvests, over-population, famines and pestilence that plagued the 14th century. A small-scale excavation ten years ago revealed the traces of much earlier farming sealed beneath the uppermost of the terraces. This comprised a clearance cairn made from stones that had been collected together to enable simple Bronze Age cultivation plots to be created.

Photograph of old Moccas Motte & Bailey Mound

Neolithic Origins: Dorstone Hill and Arthur's Stone

Episodes in the early occupation of the Moccas landscape have been traced on Dorstone Hill on a promontory overlooking Dorstone and the Golden Valley westwards. A remarkable series of structures have been revealed in research excavations involving Manchester University between 2011 and 2019. First, three timber hall-like rectangular roofed buildings (among the earliest known in north-west Europe, dating to before 3800BC) were raised sequentially end to end on a north-west to south-east axis near the neck of the promontory. These were then deliberately burned down and their remains sealed within three different long burial mounds. An enclosure defined by dug and re-dug segmented ditches was subsequently built higher up the hill as a venue for gatherings that involved feasts and exchanges.

Arthur’s Stone is a multi-phase Neolithic burial mound that stands on the hill overlooking Dorstone village, further northwards along the ridge towards Merbach Hill in the direction of Hay-on-Wye. Very little is known about its development (probably from around 3,600BC) because it has not been excavated in modern times. It seemingly began as a simple single chamber with a massive capstone supported by a ring of smaller stones beneath it. The mound was later elaborated to feature a passage defined by edge-set stone slabs. A stone cairn was possibly then added, covering most of the stones.

Photograph of Arthurs Stone, Dorstone

Text kindly provided by Keith Ray (former County Archaeologist of Herefordshire)