Just four days to go until our summer digs kick off in Cedars Park, Broxbourne and just over a week until we return to Forty Hall hot on the trail of Henry VIII’s Elsyng Palace!
All digging places are now full - we’re looking forward to meeting lots of first timers - hopefully with lots of lovely archaeology to show them. Members of the public and the EAS are still more than welcome to come and say hello during the week, and each Sunday will be a public event - coinciding on the 21st with Forty Hall’s “Music on the Lawn”
A decent start to this year’s summer digs in Cedar’s Park, as we continue to explore the remains of the celebrated ornamental gardens that once belonged to James I’s Theobald’s Palace.
Last year we continued to trace the line of a wall that once formed the side of what we think was a garden ‘loggia’ - an open-sided structure with a colonnade that would have been used by the king and courtiers for outdoor entertainments.
This year we’re looking for evidence of the apsidal projection which appears on a map of the palace dated 1611 (see previous blogs for more) . - this feature does not show on earlier maps so if possible we’d like to get an idea of when it was added and what it was for.
This year’s trench is located where we think the apse should have begun to diverge from the main wall, although this is partly guesswork because the 17th century maps we have to work from are not to scale.
Despite this, after removing turf and topsoil there is already a very tentative line of brick rubble in the exact spot the wall should be – whether or not this resolves into any in-situ structure we will see tomorrrow!
A slightly disappointing day’s digging today, as we removed yesterday’s promising looking rubble to find it was the product of 20th century landscaping and other extensive disturbance to the area we’re digging in.
We weren’t entrirely surprised, though, as we know there was a quarry very nearby which involved considerable landscaping by heavy machinery in the 1970s, which we have discovered in the form of a thick compacted layer of brickearth and 20th century rubbish covering probably all of the area immediately around the trench.
All is not lost though, as under the thick 20th century deposit we eventually revealed a brickearth layer containing large fragments of probably 17th century bricks – this is very likely the same deposit we found last year which represents the landscaping work carried out around the palace loggia and canal.
Tomorrow we’ll reveal more of this deposit and hope to find evidence of the loggia structure. The trench will also be extended by a metre or so, although it’s now clear that there’s very little ground left in this area that hasn’t been disturbed in the 19th or 20th centuries – hopefully the weather won’t get in the way!
Archaeologists often like to talk about the value of “negative evidence” – a phrase that can strike dread into the hearts of weary diggers, since it’s usually a sign that the trench is failing to produce any interesting results whatsoever.
Sadly, this year’s trench in Cedars Park was perhaps the perfect example, after early in the day the deposit we had hoped yesterday was the 17th century landscaping surrounding the palace loggia produced a number of decidedly 20th century finds.
It quickly became clear that all of the deposits throughout the trench, including our small extension were dumps of soil associated with the nearby quarrying in the 1970s; meaning no in-situ archaeology has survived in this area at all.
“Negative” evidence is, however, still evidence and the fact that the landscaping around the quarry was much more extensive than we realised is important to know – any future ground work in the area will know to keep well clear of this disturbance.
It now looks likely that any remnant of the apsidal end of the loggia has been lost with the quarrying, and we may now never know how or why it was built – a slightly anticlimactic end to the dig, especially after the successes of the last two years but work definately worth doing.
We are very grateful for the patience of our diggers, especillay our first-timers who soldiered on rain or shine – we can promise better things to come next week, as we move on to Forty Hall to the site of Henry VIII’s Elsyng Palace, where we can confidently guarantee only the most positive evidence as we will be returning to the site of the palace building we’ve been uncovering for the last few years (no quarries here!)
After the disappointment of our dig in Cedars Park last week, which failed to deliver any pre 20th century archaeology, Forty Hall offered a welcome relief as we returned to the site of Henry VIII’s Elsyng Palace and were rewarded early on with in-situ Tudor palace remains.
We’ve returned to the site of the C16th building we first discovered in 2014, which so far we’ve found to contain two garderobe (toilet) chutes, but so far we haven’t seen much of the building’s interior.
This year’s first trench covers a 6x4 metre area inside this building and will hopefully give us a better idea of its size, construction and date.
Despite the best efforts of the weather we made good progress today, de-turfing and removing topsoil to reveal the ubiquitous demolition layer of broken brick and tile fragments that cover most of the palace site, deposited some time around the palace’s final days in c.1650.
The most encouraging feature was a line of roofing tiles deliberately laid in a right-angle in the north-east corner of the trench, approximately where we had suspected the end wall of our building might be.
Roofing tiles were commonly used in wall construction for various purposes, such as making uneven walls level, and as may be most likely in this case as the base for a timber framed construction. It’s too early to interpret this feature fully, and we’ll have to expose more of it tomorrow, but it already poses questions about our building – was it a half-timbered structure, or was it much larger than we thought and could these be internal walls dividing rooms?
We made great progress today on the second day of our week-long exploration of Henry VIII’s long-lost palace of Elsyng.
Yesterday we had removed most of the topsoil covering the demolition layer
representing the final phase of the palace’s destruction in the
mid-seventeenth century, and had just begun to see traces of deliberately
laid roofing tiles, which looked like they may have been the base of a
timber frame possibly for dividing walls inside our target building.
After tidying up yesterday’s work (slightly smudged by torrential rain overnight – luckily we avoided the worst of it today) we began the painstaking process of recording the rubble before starting to remove it to see what lies beneath.
It was another great day’s digging on the site of Elsyng Palace in Forty Hall today as we continue to reveal the layout of our (probably mid sixteenth century) building.
The line of tiles we revealed yesterday has resolved into a definate wall line, but like the wall it runs parallel with, it is just a thin tile construction that probably supported a timber framed internal partition. The narrow (about 2 metres wide) strip these two wall lines define along the center of the trench may represent a corridor inside the palace building.
By mid aftertoon we’d found this new wall line turns a 90-degree angle, just like the first and although at this point the wall is also quite narrow it is of a much more substantial brick-built construction.
The reason for the two walls turning a corner and becoming more substantial is not yet clear, and since only a short stretch of each is inside the trench, it may well call for some small trench extensions tomorrow or at the weekend.
Today was also an excellent day for finds, which came thick and fast and in a great variety. We have now recovered a considerable number of glazed floor tile fragments leaving little doubt as to what the floors of our building were made of – we have also revealed the remains of the mortar bedding they would have been laid in (as expected, the floor has been entirely robbed out).
Interestingly, all of the fragments we recovered showed considerable signs of wear, so much so that at the time of demolition many of the tiles would have had no glaze left on their upper surfaces at all – testiment both to how long they were in place and to the lack of maintenence that ultimately led to the palace falling into disrepair and out of royal favour.
One of the nicer small finds we made today was the end of a bone hair pin (pictured) – with carved decoration and even signs of colouring (it was probably green).
Perhaps the oddest find of the day, though, was a large lump of ironwork in a remarkably good state of preservation, which at first glance may look like an offensive weapon but is in fact a window fixture.
The lower end would have been set in brickwork probably outside a window, and the semi-ornamental spikes would have provided protection against intruders and would also have deterred the local bird population from perching on and defacing the palace facade.
It’s a great (and very unusual) find that adds a little detail to the practicalities of running a palace, but also adds to a sense that the seventeenth century demolition crew weren’t perhaps being as picky as they might have about salvaging resalable material.
We’ve now found a few items like this, such as the large amounts of window glass last year that would have been worth a reasonable amount of money at the time the palace was demolished, making it all the more surprising to find them. Whether the demolition crew were sloppy or had simply saturated the local market by the time they got to this part of the palace, it has provided us with a wealth of unusual and highly dateable finds, for which we’re grateful, no doubt with more to come tomorrow!
Another great day’s progress investigating the interior of our palace building – we’ve nearly finished revealing and recording the floor levels in the main trench, and have found two distinct areas – the first at the north end (left and rear of picture) is made from a compact cobble surface including a large amount of chalk, while the second (right and rear of picture) is the remains of a mortar bedding, which must be the surface in which the glazed tiles we have found would have been set (we continued to find several more of these today).
What this difference in surface signifies, and how (if at all) the two were separated (maybe as two rooms inside the building) we can’t tell yet.
As expected, we extended the trench at its north-west end (foreground of picture) to follow the first of the two dwarf-wall lines. Although as we hoped, we did find another return on this wall, it is still only a small foundation for a wood-framed internal partition and not an external building wall. The three sides we have found probably enclose what was a cupboard or small storage room inside the main building, which is now looking much larger than we had imagined.
The trench continued to produce a variety of interesting and unusual finds including some shaped bricks that we think may have been the base of a column or even possibly a mantelpiece, and several pieces of window glass – including one particularly nice piece of purple-stained glass – something we very rarely find at Elsyng, even though we know from household accounts there were many windows with decoration including the royal arms and those of Sir Thomas Lovell, who owned the palace in the early 16th century.
Tomorrow we may extend the trench again, in the hope of eventually finding an end wall of the building, and will probably open another extension on the dwarf wall on the other side of the trench (mid-background of picture) in the hope of finding the end of the building in that direction.
It was another great day today in what may be one of our most successful ever digs on the site of Elsyng Palace. We’ve now fully excavated and recorded the remains of the mortar surface which once held the glazed floor tiles we have been recovering all week, as well as the other distinctive area of pebbles and chalk.
Meanwhile, the extension in the north-west corner of the trench was further excavated – this forms a square enclosure and features a small square of bricks in its center – we now think this is a (originally wooden) staircase with a central column.
The construction of the walls of this feature have turned out to be a messy mixture of brick and tile courses, rather than just tiles as we first thought, though it still seems likely that the walls were supporting a timber framed construction – it’s interesting that this is all definately not workmanship of the highest quality despite the fact that it seems to date to the period when the palace had come into royal hands. It may be that these structures were built in something of a hurry in anticipation of the arrival of the royal court.
We’ve continued to make some fascinating finds, most notably today we found a concentration of what looks like a variety of iron tools including a splendid hammer head (pictured) which stil contains the remains of the wooden handle in its socket, as well as what may be a file, possibly a chisel and a small chisel blade that may have been part of the hammer head or possibly a tool in its own right.
In light of this, second, third and even fourth opinions have been circulating about the three-pronged iron object we found on day three, which may turn out to be some sort of tool after all.
We have still not seen the ends of our building so we still don’t have a clear idea of its overall size, so further extensions have been opened to the north and west of the trench. Tomorrow is the last day of the dig and so our last chance to answer this question, although in light of the successes of the week it’s unlikely any of our diggers will complain if we have to come back to the same spot next year!
It was a tiring end to the final day of our week-long summer dig in Forty Hall, as we finished recording the interior of our palace building in what turned out to be the hottest day of the dig if not the year so far, but as ever our efforts were rewarded with fascinating finds and more crucial information about the structure of the building.
We put out a last-minute five-metre extension to the west of the trench in an effort to find some sign of the western end of the building but this drew a blank, confirming our suspicions that the footprint of the structure is much larger than we had imagined.
Similarly, an extension to the north only revealed more of the pebble and chalk surface we found on the north side of our probable staircase, failing to show any signs of a large exterior wall to parallel the one we found last year and the year before, which held the garderobes.
Meanwhile, the eastern trench extension we opened on Saturday had more success and did eventually find an end if not to the building then at least to the room on the east of the main trench, as it disclosed a T-junction to the small east-west wall which marked the boundary between the pebble and chalk surface and the mortar bedding which held the glazed tile floor. These walls were again quite narrow and relatively insubstantial.
It’s too early to be sure, but we’re beginning to suspect that this building may not be as solidly constructed as we thought, perhaps even being a half-timbered structure built againt the hefty palace boundary wall. This will be a question for post-excavation analysis and will perhaps lead into next year’s work.