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An insect fauna from a block of daub from Heybridge Hall, Essex



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Essex Naturalist (New Series) 31 (2014)
An insect fauna from a block of daub from Heybridge Hall, Essex
20 Den Bank Close, Crosspool, Sheffield; email:
Heybridge Hall (NGR TL 85950764) once lay at the head of the Blackwater Estuary across from the
small town of Maldon in Essex. It was a timber-framed building with at its core an early fourteenth
century open hall, largely masked by later medieval and post-medieval additions. Although entirely
rendered and partly rebuilt in brick, some panels between the timbers preserved both wattle and
daub and ‘mudbrick’ infilling. Allowed to decay, the structure was largely burnt down in 1997
(Andrews 1998; Bettley & Pevsner 2007), although the charred frame of the house remained standing
for several years until it was finally delisted and demolished in 2008
( The site has since been
the subject of several applications for development for housing but currently remains open.
With the destruction of the building, it has been impossible to ascertain whether the ‘mudbrick’
sample examined reflected infilling of the timber framework with pre-formed blocks or whether
the brick form was fortuitous in a particularly thick application of daub. Andrews (pers. comm.)
suggests that the sample was recovered from the infilling of the fourteenth century aisled hall
which lay at the core of the building. Although it is unknown at what date this was finally renewed,
the sample probably belongs to the late medieval or early post-medieval period, before the hall was
obscured by later rebuilding and this provides a tentative dating context for the sample discussed
below. Unfired ‘clay’ blocks, made from various mixtures of clay/silt, mud, earth, dung and temper,
often of small Chalk and flint gravel, and bound together with either straw or animal hair, were
widely employed in vernacular building in East Anglia (Mercer 1975; Pevsner & Wilson 1999).
Walls were constructed of these blocks using a thin clay mix as mortar and the outer surfaces
protected by a lime or tar wash. McCann (1997) regarded its development as an independent building
material, rather than as filler in otherwise timber framed structures, and as an eighteenth century
innovation, although archaeological evidence from Colchester, Leicester and London (Perring 2002)
indicates its use in the Roman period. If kept dry and laid on a more durable footing, cob, daub and
clay lump walls will survive for centuries, although as Clifton Taylor (1972) notes, exposed surfaces
are prone to provide nest sites for burrowing bees and wasps. The fauna discussed here was recovered
from late medieval daub, labelled ‘mudbrick,’ a sample of which was collected in 1997 during
architectural assessment by John Lea, then of Essex County Council, and passed to David Andrews,
archaeologist in the Essex County Planning Department, also engaged in the analysis of the building
(Andrews 1998). Burrows containing evident insect remains were noted in the block, and it was
sent to the author for examination.
The sample, labelled ‘Essex mudbrick,’consisted of a hard block of light brown clay-silt with some
evident fibrous plant debris. Approximately one litre was broken down in warm water and washed
out over a 300 micron sieve. The residue retained on the sieve consisted of straw, including heads
of cereals and evident insect remains, which were picked out under a low power binocular microscope
210 Essex Naturalist (New Series) 30 (2013)
An insect fauna from a block of daub from Heybridge Hall, Essex
and stored in 70% ethanol (Plate 68). Identification utilised modern reference material held in the
collections of the Museum & Art Gallery, Doncaster, and relevant keys. Table 1 lists the taxa
Interpretation of a fossil insect fauna from structural clay presents numerous taphonomic problems.
Without dissection of the material to obtain in situ elements, it may be difficult to differentiate
between insects which have been accidentally incorporated in the daub or mudbrick during
manufacture and those which were resident either as burrowing species or as predators, parasites
or inquilines in the nests of such species. In addition fossorial predatory wasps may pack their
burrows with invertebrate prey to feed their larvae (cf. Archer 2014). There are also limitations
imposed by the difficulties in identification of disarticulated individual sclerites and the paucity of
adequate descriptions of the larval instars of many species. In addition, whilst the age of the frame
of a timber building may be evident either by structural parallels or dendrochronology, rarely can
it be ascertained whether infilling between timbers is contemporary or a later replacement. At
Heybridge Hall, the sampled block had been effectively sealed by plaster skim, but this could not
be dated as anything other than late medieval/post-medieval/pre-modern. This is singularly
unfortunate in that the most interesting insect found, the bee kleptoparasite Sitaris muralis (Forst.),
has few modern records from the British Isles (Alexander et al. 2014).
A number of species of insect make nesting burrows in steep natural banks or their analogue provided
by mudbrick and cob walls and in the daub of wattle and daub panels in timber-framed buildings.
The most frequent are solitary bees and the Heybridge block proved to have been burrowed into by
Anthophora plumipes (Pallas), of which eight males and a single female were recovered from the
sample, probably from a brood chamber in the block. Whilst the female is completely black, apart
from orange hairs on the hind tibia, the male has a distinctive pattern of creamy-yellow marks on
the face and brown hairs over the body (
plumipes). Although a solitary bee, a single female rearing its brood in the burrow, the hairy footed
flower bee nests gregariously and there may be many hundred nests in a wall, leading to erosion
and occasionally to collapse of the structure (Plate 69). Noted visiting a wide range of flowers, A.
plumipes is usually the most common solitary bee in lowland England and Wales during the early
part of the year, often being active from mid-March onwards collecting nectar and pollen from a
range of flowers. This is packed into individual cells in the brood chamber and a single egg laid in
each. The larvae develop on the honey and emerge the following year. The most frequently identified
kleptoparasite of A. plumipes,feeding on thestored honey is another bee, Melecta albifrons (Forst.)
(Roberts 2010). This was not recognised amongst the assemblage but the nest contained two
specimens of another kleptoparasite, the meloid beetle Sitaris muralis. Fabre (1919) (translated
from the French edition of 1857) succinctly describes the curious life cycle of the species:
“The eggs are laid near the ground nests of the bees during late summer and hatch in the
fall. The larvae hibernate and become active the following spring, climb the plants to
the flowers, and await the visits of the female host bees to which they attach themselves
to be carried to the nests being constructed by the bees in the soil. Upon arrival there the
triungulins leave the adult bees to seek out their eggs, which are consumed and which
enable the predators to transform into apodous eruciform larvae. These latter consume
the stored honey, which enables them to develop fully and to transform into prepupae
which hibernate the second winter. The following spring pupation takes place and the
Essex Naturalist (New Series) 30 (2013)
An insect fauna from a block of daub from Heybridge Hall, Essex
adult beetles emerge in the summer of the second year preparatory to mating and laying
their eggs as indicated above”.
(also quoted by Steven Falk, with photographs of the adult beetle at:
There are few and intermittent records of this species northwards to the Isle of Man and Warwickshire
(Buck 1954). The latest record known to Hyman (1992) was from Wheatley in Oxfordshire in 1969
and Barclay (2006) thought that it might be extinct in Britain. Allen (2001a & b), however, had
taken the species in north Kent and more recently Brock (2010) has found it at Brockenhurst in the
New Forest. Alexanderet al. (2014) have pointed out that the imagines are relatively immobile and
have a short life and the species may be more frequent than records indicate. Given the gregarious
nature of the host bee, it is probable that the beetles are able to lay eggs at the entrance to other
nests without moving far from their initial host and populations may be as long lived as those of
their host in the same locality, if rarely seen.
It is possible that the four heads of chalcid wasps recovered from the sample were the remains of
species endoparasitic on the bee larvae but it is not possible to identify members of this group on
fragments. Six translucent cocoons, 400 microns long by 100 microns wide and slightly cigar-
shaped (Plate 70), may also belong to this group. One hymenopteran is identifiable to species. A
head, pronotal and abdominal sternites clearly belong to the predatory wasp Ancistrocerus antelope
(Panz.). Although largely recorded nesting in hollow stems of brambles Rubus spp., and Elder
Sambucus nigra L., it is also found in the mortar of old walls, where it lays an egg at the end of its
burrow and stuffs the chamber with paralysed caterpillars on which the emergent larva feeds (Archer
2014). Several chambers will be stocked in the same burrow, each sealed by a mud plug. Although
the sample contains sclerites from the heads of lepidopterous larvae, it is not possible either to
identify or quantify them and they need not be part of the wasp’s prey, having been accidentally
incorporated in the mud brick.
Several other species of Coleoptera may have been resident in the bee burrow as inquilines feeding
on detritus, both animal and plant, and moulds. The spider beetle Ptinus fur (L.), is a now virtually
cosmopolitan beetle, which is largely synanthropic. Common in houses and in grain stores, where
it may be the most frequent pest (Armitage et al. 1999), Koch (1989) also records it from bee and
wasp nests and in ivy on old walls. The number of individuals suggests that P. fur may have been
resident in the bee nest if not associated with the chaff and straw utilised in the bricks and mortar or
bird nests in the property. The two species of dermestid, Attagenus pellio(L.) and Anthrenus fuscus
Ol., are similarly detrital feeders. The former is a common household pest on furs but will also feed
on other animal products (Peacock 1993) and has been recorded from bird nests (Alexander 1994),
as well as grain stores, where it probably feeds largely on dead insects. A. fuscus is more widespread
outdoors, taking advantage of spider webs to feed on insect corpses (Peacock 1993); Alexander
(1994) also records it from the nests of bees and wasps.
It is unfortunate that it proved impossible to identify the four adult woodworm, Anobium punctatum
(Deg.) / inexpectatum Lohse, to the species level. The latter, only recognised as a British species in
1977 (Allen 1977) is virtually restricted to old ivy growing on trees, rocks and walls; there is a
single fossil record from an Iron Age ditch in East Yorkshire (Jacques et al. 2002), but it is not
easily identified without examination of the male genital armature, which rarely survives as a fossil.
Along with the Deathwatch Xestobium rufovillosum (Deg.), however, woodworm are equally likely
to have been in oak structural timber. One other xylophagous species, the bark beetle Scolytus
212 Essex Naturalist (New Series) 30 (2013)
An insect fauna from a block of daub from Heybridge Hall, Essex
multistriatus (Marsh.), implies the proximity of living trees, since it usually breeds under the bark
of elm, although there are occasional records from other deciduous trees (Alexander 2002; Koch
The overlap between species able to utilise the artificially warmed habitats created by humans and
those of birds and social Hymenoptera is considerable. Both the cryptophagids and latridiids include
several synanthropic species, feeding largely on moulds either on foodstuffs or in slightly damp
situations. Stephostethus angusticollis (Gyll.) is only occasionally found in barns and stable (Koch
1989), whilst Dienerella filiformis (Gyll.) is largely an indoor species in Britain (Allen 1989);
Hinton (1945) records it feeding on Mucor mucedo L. and Penicillium glaucum Link on walls and
in mouldy bread, as well as outdoors in Enteridium (=Reticularia) lycoperdon (Bull.) M.L. Farr,
the false puffball, on deciduous trees. The three species ofLatridius encompassed withinL. minutus
(group) (Tozer 1972) are frequently found in large numbers feeding on the moulds of stored hay
and straw and the myctophagid Typhaea stercorea (L.) is found in similar situations. All have a
fossil record, although T. stercorea may be a Roman and D. filiformis a medieval introduction
(Buckland & Buckland 2006).
The remainder of the fauna gives some clue to the immediate environment, although the specialised
nature of the sampling location somewhat restricts its usefulness. The proximity of the Blackwater
Estuary is indicated by Heterocerus flexuosus Steph., which burrows in mud in brackish situations
(Clarke 1973); its presence may indicate the source of the mud for the brick. Brachypterus urticae
(F.) feeds on pollen in nettle flowers, Phyllotreta nemorum (L.) on a wide range of Brassicaceae
and Malvapion malvae (F.) on mallows. Both Carr (1916) and Johnson (1963) record Aphodius
sticticus (Panz.) from horse dung, although Landin (1961) in his extensive studies on dung beetles
in Sweden indicates a wider range of herbivore hosts and suggests that shade is the dominant
factor. Certainly recent collecting at the re-wilding project at Knepp in Sussex shows an association
with wood pasture (Buckland, unpubl.).
From both an entomological and archaeological viewpoint clay lump or mudbrick and thicker
pieces of daub may provide interesting information. Incidentally incorporated insects may provide
clues as to the source of the raw materials and the fauna may include species rarely taken in the
wild, although the problem of secure dating of material from burrows remains. As previous work
with smoke-blacked thatch (Letts 1999), more detailed study may provide much new information.
John Lea, then with Essex County Council, provided the original samples in 1997 and these were
forwarded to the Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield for examination of plant
macrofossil content by David Andrews. Maria Medleycott of Essex CC kindly attempted to track
down further information about the site after PCB mislaid the original correspondence and Ian
Tyers discussed the fate of the site. All are thanked for their assistance.
Table 1
Notiophilus biguttatus (F.) 1
Carpelimus sp. 1
Essex Naturalist (New Series) 30 (2013)
An insect fauna from a block of daub from Heybridge Hall, Essex
Anotylus sculpturatus (Grav.)/mutator (Lohse) 1
A. complanatus (Er.) 1
Lathrobium (s.l.) sp. 1
Othius angustus Steph. 1
Philonthus / Gabrius sp. 1
Tachyporus chrysomelinus (L.)/dispar (L.) 1
Aleocharinae indet. 2
Scirtidae indet. 1
Heterocerus flexuosus Steph. 1
Attagenus pellio (L.) 1
Anthrenus fuscus Ol. 3
Brachypterus urticae (F.) 1
Meligethes spp. 2
Cryptophagus spp. 3
Stephostethus angusticollis (Gyll.) 1
Latridius minutus (L.) (grp) 3
Dienerella filiformis (Gyll.) 2
Corticaria/Corticarina spp. 4
Typhaea stercorea (L.) 1
Scymnus (s.l.) sp. 1
Xestobium rufovillosum (Deg.) 1
Anobium punctatum (Deg.)/inexpectatum Lohse 4
Ptinus fur (L.) 12
Ptinus sp. 1
Sitaris muralis (Forst.) 2
Anaspis sp. 2
Aphodius sticticus (Panz.) 1
Aphodius sp. 1
Phyllotreta nemorum (L.) 1
Phyllotreta sp. 1
Longitarsus sp. 1
Scolytus multistriatus (Marsham) 1
Curculionidae indet. 2
214 Essex Naturalist (New Series) 30 (2013)
An insect fauna from a block of daub from Heybridge Hall, Essex
Malvapion malvae (F.) 1
Forficula auricularia L. 1
Diptera indet. (puparia) 1
Hemiptera indet. 1
Homoptera indet. 1
Hymenoptera indet. 5
Lasius sp. 2
Ancistrocerus antilope (Panz.) 1
Anthophora plumipes (Pallas) 9
Coleoptera taxonomy after Duff (2012).
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The use of clay lump in England is traced back to an earlier form, the thinner (but otherwise similar) 'clay bats', which were used to construct the nest-boxes of dovecotes in the late eighteenth century. From 1791 clay bats were used to build cottages in Cambridgeshire. By 1821 the blocks were being made deeper, and were called 'clay lumps'.
Heybridge Hall. The end of a manor. An assessment of the listed building and the importance of its site
  • D D Andrews
ANDREWS, D.D. (1998) Heybridge Hall. The end of a manor. An assessment of the listed building and the importance of its site. Essex Archaeology & History 29: 233-238.
The whitemarked spider beetle, Ptinus fur (L.) in stored grain -biology, seasonal occurrence and control using a surface insecticidal admixture
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  • M P Kelly
  • K Amos
  • S Schaanning
  • W Spagnoli
ARMITAGE, D.M., KELLY, M.P., AMOS, K., SCHAANNING, S. & SPAGNOLI, W. (1999) The whitemarked spider beetle, Ptinus fur (L.) in stored grain -biology, seasonal occurrence and control using a surface insecticidal admixture. Proceedings of the 7th International Working Conference on Storedproduct Protection, 1: 51-57. Beijing.
The Buildings of England
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PEVSNER, N. & WILSON, B. (1999). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 2. North-West and South. London, Yale.