10 Jul 2016
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!)
09 Jul 2016
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!
08 Jul 2016
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!
12 Jul 2015
The final day of our annual dig on the site of James I’s Theobalds Palace in Cedars Park was one of surprises.
The weather held up well for the most part, and we had lots of intrigued visitors to the site – happily this year, as last, there was lots to show them!
As predicted late in the day yesterday, the walls in trench one are indeed a discrete square feature, most likely the supporting foundations for a column or pier base.
Although we saw a near identical feature last year, we hadn’t expected to find the gaps between columns to be so close - only just over three metres. This may suggest that the columns once supported a very substantial structure, perhaps of more than one storey.
We did not, however, find evidence of a column in trench three, so we will have to continue looking for evidence of column bases away from the ‘loggia’ boundary wall perhaps next year.
Another feature that proved elusive was the ornamental canal bounding the loggia. Although last year we found a cut feature which looked like a contender for the canal, trench two, which was placed to pick up its projected line, failed to deliver the goods – instead providing us with a highly compacted deposit of brickearth and rubble.
Worried that the canal may have turned and perhaps run under the main wall into the loggia itself, we extended trench one to see if there were signs of a culvert anywhere along the main wall, but here we also drew a blank.
11 Jul 2015
The second day of our three-day exploration of James I’s palace gardens went well today, as we opened a third trench in the area of the ‘loggia’ garden feature.
We opened a third trench today in line with, and slightly to the south of, a stub of wall abutting the main loggia boundary wall. Last year we tentatively identified this stub as the base of a column within the loggia – to test this theory, we are looking to see if there are indeed a row of such column bases, which would also underline the interpretation of the structure as a loggia.
So far, the trench has not produced much more than large tree roots, so we will have to crack on with this tomorrow.
Meanwhile, we extended trench 1, hoping to follow the odd pair of walls we uncovered yesterday, projecting from the loggia boundary. The construction of these walls seemed very poor, and we soon found they are not directly attached to the loggia boundary wall. As we followed the brickwork south, things became more complicated – the brickwork became increasingly jumbled and gave way to a layer of brick fragments, mortar and chalk, before apparently resolving back into a wall, albeit apparently narrower than it started.
After much scratching of heads, we have tentatively come to the conclusion that what we have is in fact another column base, and the jumble of bricks, either caused by poor quality work or disturbance during demolition has created the optical illusion of two parallel walls.
If this is correct, then beneath the rough brick course on top, there ought to be a neat square column base – and the narrow wall section is a separate ‘dwarf’ wall forming some sort of decorative division between columns. We will test this hypothesis tomorrow by digging down in front of the brickwork and carefully examining the bond of the walls.
Progress in trench 2 is relatively slow, as we are having to unpick various complex layers of 19th century deposits, while keeping an eye out for the cut of the C16th ornamental canal.
One of today’s nicer finds was the neck of a (perhaps 17th century) Apothecary’s bottle.
There have also been a surprising number of interesting finds coming (unfortunately) directly from the topsoil (and therefore unstratified) – including an ornate bronze shoe buckle, lead trading tokens and even what may be a small bronze ‘pricker’ for clearing the touch-hole of a flintlock pistol!
To see these and other finds as they emerge from the trenches, come and see us in Cedars Park on the last day of the dig tomorrow!
10 Jul 2015
The first day of our Festival of British Archaeology digs got off to a great start today – We’ve opened two trenches continuing our exploration of what we think is a large ‘loggia’ structure, which would have been attached to the grand gardens of James I’s Theobalds Palace.
Trench 1 was opened slightly overlapping last year’s trenches, so it was no surprise when we immediately uncovered the loggia wall. This trench is targeted on a brick projection attached to the main loggia wall which we only examined partly last year. We’ve already uncovered the top of this feature and have found that it is in fact two walls projecting side by side at ninety degrees from the main loggia wall.
Since we’ve only seen the top of these walls, it’s too soon to say whether they are part of the main loggia colonnade, or perhaps part of some sort of internal feature – we’ll hopefully get a better idea when we excavate more tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Trench 2 was opened a small distance to the west, and offset to look at the ornamental canal that we think bounded the loggia.
This trench came straight down onto a distinct cobbled path or road surface, which seems to run alongside the loggia wall, and was bounded along its north edge by two peculiar lines of rubble. Pottery sherds within the rubble show that the lines and the path date to the nineteenth century – we think the rubble was placed as a crude kerb at the side of the path, with the remains of the loggia wall (which was probably above ground at the time) forming the other side.
Crucially, the rubble itself is of a much earlier date, and composed almost exclusively of relatively high status ceramic building material, including moulded and drip-glazed bricks, and at least two types of floor tiles, perhaps once part of a chequered pattern floor.
This is the best evidence of the interior construction of the loggia so far – hopefully some of this material has survived elsewhere in-situ.
We also hope that the ornamental canal survives intact beneath the road surface – digging down under this level is another job for tomorrow.
02 Dec 2013
A small EAS team went over to Cedars Park yesterday to lend a hand with a small scale ground penetrating radar survey just south of “Pets Corner”. The building at the south end of Pets Corner has long been believed to be standing partly on the footprint of a wing of Theobalds Palace. New documentary evidence has recently come to light suggesting the possibility that the palace wing may have continued further south than previously thought, towards what is now rose beds and it is hoped that geophysics may shed more light on this hypothesis. The collected data is now being analysed and we will hopefully share a summary of the results here soon (and probably eventually in the society news bulletin).