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Claverham Works and Court De Wyck: Medieval key

New homes in Claverham

Earlier this year, the Kemble team from Cotswold Archaeology conducted an excavation at Court de Wyck, Claverham, to uncover evidence of the former medieval manor that gave the area its name.  You can read all about their visit at Mind Your Manors: Rediscovering the medieval manor of Court De Wyck

They discovered stone walls which they think are part of the manorial complex or its chapel.  However, a much smaller find has produced a clue to life in the late medieval period – a key.

Here’s what Grace Griffith, Publications Officer at Cotswold Archaeology, has to say:

Our Kemble field team recently recovered this beautiful little key from a Newland Homes site near Claverham, North Somerset.  We discovered the key, which is likely late medieval (c. 1300–1539), in association with a Post-medieval wall.  This wall followed the same alignment as the medieval boundary wall for the manor house.

Unlocking history

Keys are synonymous with locks – you don’t need a key if there’s no lock! Keys were first developed around 6000 years ago in ancient Babylon and Egypt, and the first locks and keys were made of wood.  Later, during the Roman period, the use of metals greatly improved the designs of keys and created much sturdier locks.

Elaborate or ornate keys were produced from the Roman period to the present day, and the key from Claverham is no exception. Our key is copper alloy, and has a decorated bow, or key handle, depicting a quatrefoil or ‘four-leaf clover’. It has three sub-rectangular mouldings at the junction between the stem and the bow, which form a bulbous collar. Specifically, the stem is circular and hollow, and the bit (which goes into the lock) is sub-rectangular in shape with at least one groove or channel at the exterior end.

More than just your average medieval key

The key is similar to a common type of medieval key referred to as ‘London type VI’ and likely opened a door or a chest. These keys were large copper alloy keys with chunky proportions, typically measuring 80–100mm long. They had fully or partially hollow stems and large, complex bits. Although our key has similar characteristics to these keys, it is much smaller. Consequently, the key recovered from Claverham is likely a less common form of medieval key, which was similar in design, but much smaller (typically 50–70mm), which had simple bits.

Locks and keys are always enigmatic finds; symbolic of personal property, exclusion and hidden mysteries.  They are interesting items to study and call to our inner adventure seekers. Who doesn’t want to find the key to a lost treasure? Although we can determine a likely date for our key, the question remains – what did it open?

Read the full article by Cotswold Archaeology here

Read second article about Court de Wyck Manor by Cotswold Archaeology

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