Portchester Castle, Hampshire
Although the Roman fort was built in about AD 280, there is evidence of much earlier activity around Portchester. Excavations show that activity dates to the Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age (about 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago).
This Palaeolithic flint handaxe is an all-purpose tool for cutting and chopping and dates to around 500,000 years ago.
Excavations uncovered this greensand axehead from the Neolithic (about 4000–2500 BC). This forms part of a composite tool. Its wooden shaft and sinew binding would have rotted into the earth, but this sturdier material survives.
Petrology, a type of scientific testing, allowed archaeologists to determine that this greenstone could have come from Cumbria. It was probably brought in from local fields or dredged from the harbour with the flint used as building material for the Roman walls.
The many Roman objects excavated at Portchester help us piece together the story of the fort. This well-preserved netting needle is an example of a dual-functioning object. It could be a needle used for netting, but but it may be a large sewing needle. Recent research has suggested that needles such as this may have been used to hold together the elaborate hairstyles worn by Roman women.
There are also many post-medieval finds from Portchester. This is a Cross of Lorraine, consisting of one vertical and two evenly spaced horizontal bars.
It is a heraldic cross used by the Dukes of Lorraine (previously known as the Dukes of Anjou). This example was found in the inner bailey and is probably 18th-century.
Despite being prisoners of war, those held at Portchester were allowed to practise crafts such as bone carving, making objects that they could sell to the public at a daily market within the castle.
These buttons were made by prisoners from animal bone. They are of a typical 18th-century design – the central puncture is surrounded by three perforations. A loop of metal would have been threaded through the hole to form a shank.
One group of prisoners, who were among a large number of French captives brought here from the Mediterranean in 1810, even transformed one of the rooms in the keep into a theatre.
A pack of playing cards would have been liable for stamp duty, costing sixpence (2½p) per pack in 1711. By 1804, stamp duty had increased to 17 shillings and 6 pence (87½p). Money raised from stamp duty would have helped to pay for the war effort. The inks used on these cards could be easily wiped off, which may have been a means of avoiding stamp duty.
After just over a year at Portchester, some of these men and women – like many 18th-century prisoners of war – were exchanged for captured British soldiers and sent to France. Many then served in the French army in the Bataillon des Pionniers Noir, and some eventually returned to the Caribbean. In 1798 at least 800 of the prisoners were still at Portchester – what happened to them later is as yet unknown.
Pam Braddock, Abigail Coppins, Rose Arkle