23 Jul 2017
Today was the last day of our summer dig, and although we spent most of the day recording and backfilling our trenches, the little digging we did do revealed one of the nicest palace features seen on the site in fifty years.
The trench extension in the south east corner of trench 2 was finished, revealing the beautifully preserved base of a circular bread oven, with the remains of the original Tudor kitchen floor in front, and within it, a skim of soot and ash from the last time the oven was fired, at least 360 years ago.
We now think this oven is probably a later replacement to the thoroughly robbed-out one we found nearby on day 9, and this likely explains why the rubble of the other oven was so coarse and included so many complete bricks.
Unlike the demolished features elsewhere, the earlier oven was probably demolished during the palace’s lifetime, when it was decomissioned and the replacement we found today built.
Interestingly, the construction of the newer oven is a mixture of brick and tile - the western half of the exposed wall of the oven (bottom of first 2 pics) being brick and the rest entirely made up of tiles.
Tudor bread ovens worked by setting a fire in the main alcove, and then raking the hot ashes into a pit below. The dough was then placed in the upper part, the oven structure retaining enough heat to bake it. Tiles were used in ovens because they are thinner than brick and so absorb heat quickly and more thoroughly.
Our ovens and the associated well worn kitchen floor are an exteremely evocative piece of archaeology and a significant discovery in the understanding of Henry VIII’s palace, since this is the first time it has been possible to put a definite function to an excavated structure.
It may now be possible to make deductions as to the likely layout of nearby palace elements, since kitchens were never built very far from the main hall and dining rooms in a palace.
The hard work of post-excavation now starts, to make sense of all the complex stratigraphy and multi-phased structures this dig disovered. A full summary of the work will appear in the society newsletter in due course.
A huge thank you is owed to all our members who made this year’s dig possible, especially those who stuck through to backfill despite the threat of torrential rain (which we just barely missed!)
22 Jul 2017
Torrential rain and thunderstorms severely hampered work today, which was mostly confined to planning and some photography and finishing excavation in the two trench extensions we opened yesterday.
The extension that revealed the line of edge-lain roof tiles yesterday is now fully excavated, and revealed a heavily damaged area of edge-lain bricks in front of a skim of ash and rubble.
The evidence is strongly pointing to this being a thoroughly demolished bread oven, a theory that gained more weight as the other extension to the east began to expose a curved brick feature.
We think this may be the base of a more intact oven, with a semicircular front projecting into our brick floored room - the continuation of the floor we found yesterday runs in front of this feature and, as with the first oven the bricks in the floor here appear to be slightly blackened and burnt, which may be evidence of hot ashes being raked out of the oven onto the floor.
We’ve extended so far south now, we should be approaching the line of the substantial southern facade wall of the building we first found in 2014, so if these are ovens they probably had associated chimneys set in this external wall.
Being able to define the function of a building in this way is extremely exciting and a first for the site, and will go a long way to interpreting the arrangement of the palace complex - a key goal of our long term research project.
As excavation has slowed so has the rate of finds, although we’re still being drowned in stoneware jug fragments, including one nice decorated medallion bearing the arms of Amsterdam (pictured).
Unfortunately the bad weather meant we didn’t see as many visitors as we often do on the open day of the dig. Hopefully the weather will be better tomorrow and offer one last chance for people to catch a glimpse of our kitchen - there is still a fair amount of trench recording to do and our second oven must be fully excavated and recorded so that it can be backfilled together with the rest of the site by the end of the day.
20 Jul 2017
A brief spell of rain slowed things down slightly this morning but thankfully cleared up by the afteroon, not delaying things too much.
We opened a new trench today (trench 6), to the north of trench 2, looking for a continuation of the partition wall(s) and possibly the floor in our palace building.
Not much progress has been made in this trench yet, but a wall has appeared, running north-south at the west end of the trench.
There’s more work to do on it, but it seems to be more substantial than the narrow room partition walls in trench 2 and last year’s trench, so may be more likely to be a proper full-height brick wall rather than a support for a timber framed construction as with the others.
Decorated stoneware is definitely the theme of this year’s dig - we can scarcely put a trowel in the ground without finding fragments of stoneware jugs/mugs - trench 6 has already produced several sizeable pieces including body, neck and base fragments.
Another bearded man also put in an appearance, similar in style to yesterday’s, but with the lower part of his face rather than the upper.
We also had another fragment of a coat of arms decorated in the same multicoloured glaze as the piece with the figure of a man we found on day 6.
In trench 2, the brick floors are now alsmost fully exposed and the painstaking process of cleaning them for full interpretation, planning and photography has begun.
Interpretation will be no mean feat - there are evidently several phases of development to the upper floor surfaces alone.
Meanwhile, in the south east corner of the floor there is a feature causing much head scratching - the floor seems to have been cut through during demolition and a sizeable pit dug through it.
We spent much of today removing the rubble fill of this cut hoping to see signs of the large wall we recorded yesterday, which we know the upper floor is laid upon and looked to be running in this direction.
The hole has revealed substantial brickwork beneath both upper floors but it is not a wall - the brick work seems to consist of several layers including at least one course of roof tile, and some bricks seem to be laid edge-on as the floors are.
Could these be even earlier floor surfaces? Making sense of this feature is complicated by the messy nature of the demolition cut and will be an important job for tomorrow.
19 Jul 2017
Thankfully the rain just about held off today, and last night’s thunderstorms softened the ground just enough to make digging easier and less dusty than yesterday, not to mention giving our brick floors a handy rinse.
The southern extension to trench 2 made good progress today and is almost finished, uncovering more of the hardy brick surface within our palace building.
The upper floor surface has been truncated in a rough line across the length of the trench revealing, as we suspected earlier in the week, another brick floor beneath.
Similarly to the floor above it, this surface has bricks laid in more than one orientation and also has signs of repair and patching to it (perhaps one of the reasons a new floor was eventually laid on top). There may also be tentative signs of burning on the lower floor, but this will need closer examination tomorrow.
At the east end of trench 2 the large wall was fully excavated, including the disturbed remains of a few roof tiles, clearly deliberately laid along the front of the wall. We think this may be the remains of the base of a small drain set along the front of the original building.
Altogether, the structures in trench 2 are very complex and multi-phased and interpreting their relationships to each other will take some time. At the moment, we think the large wall (pictured) is the earliest phase, representing the original east end of the building, belonging to Sir Thomas Lovell’s palace, circa 1490-1524, which was later remodelled probably by Henry VIII circa 1540, which involved demolishing the wall (probably to extend the building) and relaying the floor on top of it.
As mentioned yesterday, this year’s dig has turned up quite a lot of stoneware fragments including pieces of decorated ‘Bartmann’ jugs, and today while drawing the north section of trench 2 we had a pleasant surprise when the bearded man himself put in an appearance (pictured).
Initial research has suggested that the stoneware fragment we found yesterday with the image of a man may also come from a Bartmann jug, which is quite unusual given that it is decorated in multi colour glaze (Bartmann jugs typically being monochrome).
The face on this fragment is quite a distinctive elongated shape,
which should be highly dateable.
Trench one continues to throw curveballs - what we thought was the robbed out remains of a wall footing paralell to our large drain is now in fact almost certainly another drain, having been very severly disturbed by the roots of a now absent tree.
This new drain runs almost at ninety degrees to the larger one - a trench extension this afternoon established that the large drain truncates the smaller one, so must be later. As in trench 2 we think this may be more evidence of Henry VIII’s remodelling of the palace some time after 1540.
Since the smaller drain has been cut through by the larger, we may
further extend the trench in this area to see if and where it continues
on the far side of the large drain.
Every now and then we’re given a welcome reminder that the Tudors were far from the first people to live in Forty Hall - today this came from the extension to the drain trench, which produced a lovely flint tool.
Prehistoric hunter-gatherers are known to have lived at least briefly in this area of Enfield particularly in the late Neolithic/Early Bronze age, but this tool is probably earlier being typical of the kind of tool produced in the Mesolithic period, around 7,000 to 11,000 years ago, making Henry VIII seem like yesterday!
18 Jul 2017
Picking up where we left off on Sunday, the long-awaited extension to trench two was opened today, immedately to the south of the brick floor, aiming at exposing much more of it and hopefully explaining some of its oddities, including the recess at the west end (under plastic sheet, pictured), which appears to show another brick surface underneath the main one.
The floor so far exposed is heavily worn and perhaps even rutted, indicating heavy use and frequent foot traffic, and there’s a thin diagonal line of bricks set in the floor which could possibly be a filled in drainage feature - whatever this room was it seems to be a fairly functional part of the palace.
At the east end of trench 2, the thick deposit of coarse rubble is now fully excavated and, as we had hoped, has revealed a substantial wall which could possibly an east end of our building.
Things are slightly complicated by the fact that the brick floor seems to have been laid on top of this wall, and the wall itself is not quite on the same alignment as the partition wall in trench 2.
There are several possible explanations, including that this was an external end wall which was then demolished when the building was remodelled, or it could even once have been a subterranean wall forming part of a cellar.
We may be able to tell more about it once today’s extension makes more progress, but proper interpretation will probably have to wait until post-excavation.
Meanwhile trench 1 finally yielded evidence for the north edge of the building - a very heavily disturbed and partially robbed out line of bricks seems to mark all that is left of the footings of the building at this point.
This is very close to, and likely paralell with our drain, strongly suggesting the drain was laid along the edge of the building (or range of buildings), probably serving several garderobes (toilets) in this block, similar to the ones on the south side of the building we found in 2014-15.
The star finds of today were both decorated stoneware, similar to the piece we found on day 4.
The first, as before, bears a coat of arms which probably once formed part of a ‘Bartmann’ (i.e. Bearded Man) jug - so called because they bore the face of bearded man on the neck. Once nicknamed ‘Bellarmines’ due to their supposed resemblance to a cardinal of the same name, they later acquired additional decoration on the body in the form of medallions with coats of arms of royalty and notable families.
Body sherds of these vessels are ubiquitous at Elsyng, but finding decorated fragments is much less common.
The second piece is much more unsusual - although made in essentially the same fabric, this pot is decorated with the figure of a man in archetypal Tudor costume - doublet and trunk hose, and perhaps even a ruff. He is standing in an outdoor setting, possibly a hunting scene.
Sadly his head and feet are missing but interestingly the pot is decorated in at least three colors - the typical brown base and with blue and yellow-green hilights on the figure.
The forecast for tonight is heavy thunderstorms - this may actually do the site some good, since things were starting to bake this aftertnoon and a good soak may make things easier to work tomorrow.
We’ll just have to hope the rain clears up by the time we get on site tomorrow morning!
16 Jul 2017
We began today’s digging continuing at the east end of trench 2, revealing more of the very nice brick floor that once served this room of our palace building, and investigating the coarse rubble deposit beyond it.
The floor surface has been roughly truncated at the point the rubble begins, confirming our suspicion yesterday that the rubble is filling a substantial cut into the floor of the building towards its east end.
The reason for this cut is as yet unclear as the rubble deposit is not yet fully excavated - and there is still no sign of any wall marking the east end of the building.
Although the floor has been robbed out at this point, we were surprised to find the last metre or so of the surviving floor contains brickwork at a different orientation to the rest - at the moment the theory is that this might be decorative, perhaps suggesting that the floor is for a moderately high status room.
We finished excavating our brick drain over by trench 1 today - no mean feat as it turned out to be considerably deeper than we expected making it very awkward to reach. In the end, a brick-built base was revealed just over a metre down, revealing eleven courses of immaculately laid Tudor brickwork on each side - one of the best built walls we’ve seen in recent years.
The deposit filling the drain was carefully screened and turned up quite a few very small finds, including clothes pins, lace ends and some very small bones including fish bones and a tiny humerus (leg bone) from a small rodent - we think maybe a shrew (all less than 10mm).
The fish bones are particularly interesting as they are so delicate and rarely survive unlike the larger beef and sheep remains (which have been turning up in large numbers in all trenches), and so give an important insight into the Tudor diet.
With a mind to this we retrieved several bulk samples of the context for fine sieving after the dig (stay tuned to the society newsletter for the outcome!).
We’ll be taking tomorrow off to catch up on paperwork and finds processing, (including some lovely very early clay tobacco pipes - one pictured) and we’ll be back, rested and raring to go again on Tuesday.
15 Jul 2017
Today’s digging focused mainly on the eastern extension to trench 2, looking to expose more of the brick floor within our Tudor palace building and continuing the search for an east end to the building range.
The east end of this trench is characterised by large tree roots (from the lime tree avenue), which overlay a noticeably thicker deposit of demolition rubble at the far end of the trench, consisting mostly of large brick and roof tile fragments.
This area had a distinct straight edge, paralell to the interior partition wall and floor edge in the middle of the trench, and we suspected this might be an early sign of the extent of the floor and perhaps the demolished remains of the end of the building.
This end of trench 2 is not yet fully excavated, but at the moment it looks like we were at least half right: The brick floor does seem to end roughly where the large roots begin, but at the moment there is no sign of structure beneath the rubble beyond.
We’ve now exposed about twice as much of the brick floor as yesterday, and it appears to be fairly consistent all the way across - heavily worn bricks lain edge-on with perhaps a slight dip in the middle.
Again, this area is not yet fully excavated - one of the most interesting parts will be its eastern edge, which may yet tell us if our building ends here or if there’s yet another room.
The most tantalising feature of the floor, though, is the rectangular gap in the southern side of the trench, which revealed a layer of bricks beneath. These bricks seem to be similarly laid, but crucially are on a different alignment. This could well be an earlier floor - we will definitely need to extend the trench south to see more.
We’re now sure the double wall we uncovered over by trench 1 is indeed a drain - it is quite a substantial construction consisting of two well built walls, which would probably have had an arched roof (we have seen several such examples elsewhere on site), although this would have made the drain very shallowly buried - it may alternatively have had a flat roof, perhaps of flagstones.
We began to excavate the fill of the drain today, which contained quite a few nice finds including tiny copper alloy clothes pins, a metal fixture we think from a shoe and quite a few animal bones. So far we’ve gone down seven courses of bricks and still haven’t found the drain base.
One of the nicest finds from trench 1 was a fragment from a stoneware mug or jug, featuring a coat of arms - this was a common marketing gimmick in the 16th and 17th centuries, with such vessels commonly being made with coats of arms of various European royal families, sometimes quite shoddily with basic heraldic mistakes.
This one appears to feature four quartered lions rampant (not Enfields, as some of our diggers would have liked!) - and is probably the coat of arms of Owain Glyndŵr, the last native Prince of Wales from 1404 to his death in around 1415.
It’s hard to think of a more ironic find than one commemorating a celebrated rebel against Lancastrian rule in the midst of a Tudor palace!
14 Jul 2017
Day 3 of the dig saw more very nice Tudor Palace remains emerging, including a larger exposure of the brick surface we only got a glimpse of late yesterday afternoon.
The floor (pictured) is on the east side of the narrow wall in trench 2 and is made of bricks laid edge-on, clearly intended to form a durable surface. It slopes down noticeably away from the wall, although whether this is deliberate, perhaps to aid drainage, or a result of subsidance, we don’t yet know for sure.
It also appears as though the floor is less worn at the edge nearest the wall, reinforcing the idea that this surface saw heavy wear and tear during its life.
Interestingly, on the south edge of the exposed floor (top of pic) there is a rectangular gap in the bricks, which has revealed another similar layer of bricks beneath. This may indicate an earlier floor surface, or may be a deliberate feature set in the floor - we will need to extend the trench south to find out more.
Meanwhile, the search for the elusive wall in trench 1 threw a curveball at the last minute, producing not one but two walls, paralell and about a metre apart.
We’ve only seen three bricks worth of each of these walls so far so it’s early to say what they might be, but amongst the possibilities is two sides of the remains of a brick arched drain - always a welcome feature at Elsyng since they frequently contain lots of exciting finds!
Another extension has been laid out to fully uncover this feature and hopefully tomorrow we should get a better idea of what it is.
There were lots of very nice finds today includng decorated pottery, fragments of window glass and the lead that held it in place, and even the carved stone that would have surrounded the windows.
One of the most tantalising finds (pictured) was two joining fragments of a square terracotta plaque, which would quite likely once have formed part of an armorial device, perhaps belonging to Sir Thomas Lovell, who owned Elsyng from about 1490 to 1524, or even Henry VIII himself. Frustratingly, the fragments have either been defaced or possibly have a deliberate rough texture that formed the background to a much larger carving. Either way there is no recognisable detail in the bits we have.
13 Jul 2017
Another great day’s digging in Forty Hall today, uncovering more palace features, albeit mostly confined to trench 2. The demolition rubble in trench 2 has mostly been removed now, revealing a stony surface to the wall’s west side, as well as an offset course of bricks (typical in the foundation of a wall).
The other side of the wall was probably the most interesting feature we uncovered today though - demolition rubble together with large pieces of lime mortar was removed this afternoon to eventually reveal the beginnings of an area of bricks, laid edge-on to form a hard-wearing floor. (Too early for pics yet - stay tuned tomorrow!)
This almost certainly confirms our suspicion that the wall is not the end of our building, but more likely an interior partition wall. Late this afternoon we laid out an extension to trench 2 which will eventually reveal more of this brick surface and hopefully either the end wall of our building or yet another partition wall.
Further extensions to trench 2 to see more of the brick floor are looking likely.
Meanwhile, our strategy in trench 1 has changed slightly - we’ve opened a long, thinner trench next to trench 1 crossing what we know to be the wall line - hopefully once we’ve got deep enough this will reveal the wall.
Trench 3 made slow progress - the most significant feature being the line of rubble we recorded yesterday. This afternoon, the rubble was carefully removed leaving what looks like a ‘robber trench’ - all that remains of a thoughroughly demolished wall.
Tomorrow we should be able to see much more of the new brick floor, and hopefully get a better idea as to its function. Current hypotheses include courtyard surfaces, corridors or working floors (such as kitchens).
At any rate we should have a nice exposure of the surface and some nice structural features for the public to see at the weekend - be sure to come and say hello!
12 Jul 2017
We’re back in Forty Hall for this year’s summer dig on the site of Henry VIII’s Elsyng Palace.
This year’s dig is centered around finding out more about the (probably early 16th century) palace building we first uncovered in 2014 and have been progressively uncovering since.
We’ve opened 3 trenches to the north, west and east of the building to try and establish it’s extent and find out more about its construction.
Trench 2, opened to the east in the (post-palace) lime tree avenue is taking up where we left off last year, looking for what we thought might be the east end wall of the building. It only took a few minutes for the wall to emerge (pictured) - immaculately preserved and only a couple of inches below the turf, but at the moment it looks quite small for an external wall and may prove to be another dividing wall within the building. Tomorrow’s job in this trench will be to excavate the rubble either side of it to see if these are interiors or exterior surfaces.
Trench 3, meanwhile, was opened to the west to follow a rammed pebble and chalk surface that we think may lead us to the west end of the building. Having successfuly relocated the surface, we subsequently uncovered a line of rubble which may be lying over wall, or may be all that remains of a robbed out construction - hopefully we’ll find out more tomorrow.
Trench 1 was not quite as well behaved as the others - its location, to the north, was chosen to re-open an old planting pit which revealed a palace wall in 2005 - we suspect this wall may be connected to our building. Unfortunately so far the trench has essentially drawn a blank, meaning either the backfill of the pit is not visible (not very likely) or that the pit is was not located quite where we thought. If this is the case, it will probably mean extending the trench slightly tomorrow.
18 Jul 2016
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.
16 Jul 2016
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!
15 Jul 2016
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.
14 Jul 2016
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!
13 Jul 2016
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.
12 Jul 2016
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?
04 Jul 2016
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”
19 Apr 2016
This year we wil be returning to the former sites of Elsyng and Theobalds palaces as part of our Festival of Archaeology excavations.
We will be digging on the 8th 9th and 10th July in Cedars Park, Broxbourne on the former site of James I’s Theobalds Palace, continuing to look at the remains of the loggia that once formed part of the celebrated 17th century ornamental palace gardens. Last year we uncovered evidence that the loggia was colonnaded and bounded by an ornamental canal. This year we hope to find more evidence for the interior of the structure and perhaps get a better idea of its full size.
The following week, we will be digging from the 12th – 17th in Forty Hall, Enfield on the former site of Henry VIII’s Elsyng Palace, continuing our exploration of the large palace building we first discovered in 2014. So far we have uncovered two garderobe (toilet) chutes, together with substantial wall remains and evidence of an ornamental moat that fronted the palace building. This year we aim to move into the building in search of more dating evidence, to study its floors and get a better idea of the building’ size. Last year’s star find was a complete panel from a palace window, still set in its lead channels, so hopes for similarly exiting finds this year are high!
We will be cooperating with the Forty Hall estate to give tours and talks to school classes during the week – for more information contact Frances Cherry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each Sunday will be a public event with stalls and Society members on hand to answer questions and explain our work.
Details of meeting places and start times for members who wish to join the dig will be sent out later in the year.
19 Jul 2015
An arduous but thoroughly rewarding final day’s digging in Forty Hall saw the sun shine despite poor forecasts, which thankfully let us crack on and achieve almost all of our principal objectives, and brought a sizeable crowd to witness the fantastic archaeology our trench finally produced.
Yesterday we had removed most of a top layer of sandy rubble from the top of our newly discovered garderobe chute – the layer below seemed to be more solid and our hopes that it would contain useful finds were thoroughly fulfilled.
18 Jul 2015
Our penultimate day’s digging in Forty Hall threw us an unexpected surprise today, as we continued to uncover the Palace wall that we found yesterday.
We’ve now extended the trench nearest the lime tree avenue until it just touches the edge of last year’s trench. The wall – a continuation of last year’s – appeared to thicken as we uncovered it in the end of the trench next to last year’s garderobe (lavatory) chute, and as we removed the rubble we began to suffer from déjà-vu as we noted a rectangular area of slumped bricks on the wall’s south side.
Sure enough, just as last year, we found the slumping was caused by a rectangular void backfilled with palace rubble, which has subsequently settled and allowed the surrounding bricks to tilt inwards – the void is yet another garderobe chute, right next to the one we found last year.
This second chute is abutted against the wall, and therefore must be later in date, although both appear to be of mid to late Tudor construction. There are several puzzling features of the new chute, including its south and east edges which seem to be built of bricks on-edge, in contrast to the other sides. We will be able to tell more once it is fully excavated tomorrow – we have just about finished removing a layer of sandy rubble in the top and have come to what we hope is the original fill of the chute – this is where the critical dating evidence will (hopefully) be, and is what we ran out of time to look at last year.
Meanwhile, our other important job is to determine how far the main wall runs west of the avenue. After the brickwork runs out, we have followed the demolition cut that removed the wall for a few metres, and have extended the west end of the trench to follow it – finding out where and in what direction the wall turns is critical to interpreting the building.
We had many interesting finds today, including a second piece of painted Venetian vessel glass, the complete handle of a post-medieval red-ware flagon (above), and the complete base of a black-glazed red-ware mug, with a numeral ‘X’ scored on it (pictured) – probably a tally mark made by the potter.
Having found two garderobe chutes, we are beginning to wonder if we may have found the palace’s ‘Privy Jakes’ – the communal household toilet block that many Tudor palaces had – in which case there may be more chutes to the east of last year’s trench as well, all discharging into the ornamental moat feature which ran along the building’s south edge.
This would be a significant discovery, and a very important leap forward in understanding the layout of the palace.
We’ve got one more day to excavate and record the structures, and the weather forecast is not too good for tomorrow – rain may make digging and drawing difficult.
Hopefully it won’t put off visitors, since tomorrow is our main public event. After all, it’s not every day you get to see a Tudor Privy Jakes lost for 360 years!
17 Jul 2015
Better late than never, we finally revealed the wall of the Tudor building we’ve been chasing all week today. In the end, we’ve had to move right back until we almost joined up with last year’s trench – we’ve expanded the test pit nearest the avenue into a proper trench and sure enough, here we find the continuation of the Tudor building.
The wall only runs intact for a few metres, after which it is difficult to tell whether it has been robbed out or if it turns a corner at some point (or both). The mess of demolition material – brick and tile fragments and a thick spread of mortar debris make it slow progress to pick apart, leaving in-situ elements in place – we are also looking out for signs of a floor surface inside the building. It could be that the isolated block of brickwork we found yesterday was actually part of the wall, and was cut through when the building was demolished, probably around the year 1650.
Sorting this out is crucial to our understanding of the route of the wall and therefore the nature of the building, and so this will be our focus at the weekend – it will probably require opening one last trench tomorrow and so there will be a lot of work yet to do.
The structural archaeology emerged just in time today, as we were visited by pupils from local primary schools – it was nice to have part of a substantial palace building to show them, as well as members from the Colchester Archaeological Group, who also visited us in the afternoon.
Our main public event is on Sunday, when we will be giving more site tours to the public, and there will be various stalls on display and people on-hand to explain our work.
Hopefully by then we will have a more complete picture of this building – as ever, stay tuned!
16 Jul 2015
Another day of mixed fortunes in Forty Hall, on the third day of our Festival of Archaeology dig in search of part of the Tudor Palace of Elsyng.
Since trench one has now shown definitively no signs of any substantial structure, Historic England, who visited us today, kindly approved a change in strategy. We have moved back towards the lime tree avenue, closer to last year’s trench and opened two small test pits on the alignment of the building we are after.
Frustratingly, there is still no obvious wall emerging from the ground – the structure we uncovered last year was very substantial and shallowly buried so it should be hard to miss when we do find it.
The pit closest to the avenue, and only a couple of metres from last year’s trench is so far looking very promising – there is a block of in-situ brickwork in its corner, although it looks to be too insubstantial to be the wall we’re after – it may be an internal feature within the building, which in itself would be excellent news.
The pit is also producing a lot of rubble and quite a few very nice finds, including part of a glazed floor brick (pictured), which once may have been part of a chequer-board pattern within our target building.
We have also found small fragments of window lead and even a few pieces of window glass and several large pieces of a splendid stoneware pitcher (pictured).
We found a similar vessel last year, decorated with oak leaves and acorns, which would have been imported from Cologne in the sixteenth century, though this one appears to be undecorated and has not yet been accurately dated.
The smallest find to come from the pit was a small fragment of a decorated Venetian glass vessel, quite late in the day (so no picture yet – stay tuned). It’s only the second such fragment ever found at Elsyng and would have been an expensive import, and a very prestigious item in its day.
Just before we finished working in trench one, it produced an almost complete clay tobacco pipe, probably dating from the late sixteenth century. We’ve almost finished excavating and recording trench one, and will probably begin to backfill it tomorrow, and concentrate our efforts on our two test pits.
If there is still no sign of our wall in the area closest to the avenue, we may find that the wall sharply changes direction very close to where we excavated it last year – one way or the other we ought to find out tomorrow.
We still have three days to go, and we’re determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of the vanishing wall before the week is out!
15 Jul 2015
A glorious day in Forty Hall, spoiled only slightly by misbehaving archaeology. The archaeology of Elsyng Palace has been notoriously unpredictable ever since we first opened a trench here in 1963, and so it came as no great surprise when we recorded and lifted the line of rubble we thought yesterday was lying over a wall, to find it was only the fill of a very shallow linear cut.
As we noted yesterday, the rubble line was substantially thinner than the wall we were expecting, despite the fact that it was in exactly the position and alignment we had predicted. We extended the trench, as planned, to the north to make sure there is no sign of an interior building floor, and to be sure the wall had not changed direction slightly, but after a hard day’s mattocking we were rewarded only with a skim of ubiquitous demolition rubble.
Compared to last year’s trench, there is very little rubble – another sign that we are some distance from any demolished structure. As we said yesterday, this may require a radical rethink in strategy. Tomorrow we may extend the trench south to double-check the line of the ornamental moat runs where we predicted, before changing tack – because the site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument any radical change in the dig plans will need to be sanctioned by Historic England. Luckily, they’re planning on visiting the site tomorrow, so we’ll be able to discuss it in person.
It’s early enough in the dig not to cause panic yet, but we’ll need to get a grip on the archaeology tomorrow, so that we’re not rushing to catch up with ourselves at the weekend – we’d also quite like to have something interesting to show the public on Sunday!
14 Jul 2015
We’ve hit the ground running at Forty Hall this year, as we return for the 11th year in our search for Henry VIII’s Elsyng Palace.
Last year we (unexpectedly) discovered the wall of a substantial C16th building, just to the west of the park’s lime tree avenue, apparently bounded on the south side by a shallow but quite wide ornamental ‘moat’.
This year we aim to uncover more of this building and hopefully get a better idea of its size and date, and how it relates to the rest of the palace complex.
We opened Trench 1 today on a point twenty metres west of last year’s trench, following the line of the ‘moat’ – and therefore the wall. The plan is to get another section across the wall (and perhaps part of the moat), and then to expand the trench into the building, to examine the size and nature of the rooms inside it.
So far, having de-turfed and removed topsoil, we have revealed a distinct line of brick rubble, exactly on the predicted line of the wall. This will (hopefully!) peel off tomorrow onto in-situ brick structure, and eventually reveal a floor surface on its north edge.
The width of the apparent wall is, at the moment, slightly worrying, in that it is much narrower than the building section we saw last year. Hopefully, as we reveal more of it it will get bigger – otherwise we may be looking at a boundary wall rather than a continuation of last year’s building. This may require a radical rethink of strategy. Stay tuned tomorrow!
20 Jul 2014
The final day of this year’s summer digs was, as usual rewarding but exhausting. The structure at the north end of the trench is undoubtedly the exterior wall of a palace building, fronting an essentially ornamental moat, and we are now almost certain that the wall features an integral garderobe (lavatory) chute, which would have discharged directly into the moat.
The reason for the slumping area of brickwork is that the rectangular chute was backfilled with large sections of rubble, stuck together with a very soft sandy mortar – the gaps in the rubble and the soft sand has allowed the contents of the chute to settle, the in-situ brickwork around it slumping inwards. It also appears that a large part of the front of the chute was chopped out at its base during demolition, probably in an effort to fell the wall directly into the moat. The soft sandy mortar is typical of the early Tudor phase of the palace, lending more weight to the theory that at least part of this building belongs to Thomas Lovell’s courtier’s palace.
19 Jul 2014
Bingo! Hours of tiring work in intense heat, high humidity and biting insects was rewarded today by the long anticipated palace structure.
An extension at the north end of the trench quickly revealed what at first looked to be a narrow wall buried just under topsoil, but a further extension showed that it is in fact a substantial wall with what looks to be some slumping on one side, making it look at first glance narrower.
An extension to the east and another north revealed at least two and possibly more phases of wall construction, following a dog-leg. The section that was first revealed has a brick offset footing, whereas the section in the east half is sitting on a mortar bed.
18 Jul 2014
Despite thunderstorms overnight, the ground quickly dried out today and the summer heat continued to make work very difficult for our diggers.
Yesterday’s half-width trench extensions were today widened to the full width of trench one while the south end of the trench containing the shallow rubble-filled ditch feature was backfilled and re-turfed, having been fully recorded.
The north end of the trench contains a complex mixture of rubble and brickearth dumps, which at the moment seem to be part of one large deposit filling yet another linear feature such as a ditch, albeit much deeper than the one we backfilled today.
17 Jul 2014
Despite the oppressive heat today (the hottest of the year so far), we managed some decent progress in trench one – looking now like the only trench we will open this year.
Yesterday’s disturbance at the south end of the trench eventually resolved into a linear feature, much as we had expected on day one, but not, as we had hoped, a wall.
The linear magnetic feature now seems to be a broad, very shallow ditch filled with large amounts of palace rubble. While this explains the magnetic signal, it does not explain the origin of the rubble, and the existence of a long shallow ditch bordering one side of the palace is at the moment difficult to explain convincingly.
16 Jul 2014
A hot and tiring second day saw trench one extended by two metres south, in an attempt to identify the putative ‘curtain’ wall causing our targeted linear geophysics anomaly.
While no wall has yet emerged, there has been a significant amount of brick and tile rubble concentrated at the south end of the trench, including odd fragments of dressed stone, glazed floor tiles and other ceramics. The deposits surrounding the rubble dumps are very disturbed and it is still not possible to be sure if the rubble is lying in a random dump, a pit or a linear cut – if the latter was true then it may explain the geophysics anomaly – perhaps the remnants of a demolished wall lying in a shallow ditch – but this does not explain where exactly the wall itself was.
15 Jul 2014
After a day off to recover from our successes at Cedars Park, this year’s investigation of Elsyng Palace kicked off today in blazing sunshine.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of our renewed excavation and research programme in Forty Hall, and it will be the first time in nearly fifty years that we have worked west of the lime tree avenue.
Our target this year is a combined geophysical and topographic feature which runs from within the lime avenue out west towards the inner palace complex. The feature is comprised of a linear magnetic anomaly strongly suggestive of a wall, running parallel with a long shallow ditch-like depression, identified and mapped by LiDAR.
03 Jul 2014
Just over a week to go!
For other national events near you, see: archaeologyfestival.org.uk/whatson
01 Jul 2014
Less than two weeks to go!
We will be digging at Cedars Park (Theobalds Palace site) from the 11th–13th July. The target is a loggia projecting from the main wall of the palace gardens. Work on the Friday will start at 10am and may only last a few hours so all are welcome but this will be mainly fencing, deturfing etc so we may not have work for everyone. Saturday and Sunday will be 9am to 4 or 5pm (possibly later on the Sunday). Non-diggers willing to help with marquees, manning stalls etc are especially welcome from the start on Sunday 13th. The site is directly opposite the main car park. Toilets and cafe nearby.
We will be digging at Forty Hall (Elsyng Palace site) from Tuesday 15th – Sunday 20th July. We will be tracing the south wall (and any moat etc) of the palace west towards the royal apartments. Work will be 9am to 4 or 5pm usually but earlier finishes Tuesday – Friday possible depending on progress/weather. Non-diggers willing to help with marquees, manning stalls etc are especially welcome from the start on Sunday 20th. To find the site from Forty Hall main car park walk down the hill to the left of the double Lime tree avenue and it should be obvious. Cafe and toilets are a fair walk away back up the hill.
New diggers especially may want to note that stout foot wear is needed (preferably boots); you should bring plenty to drink and sun screen if hot and a packed lunch. We have a few trowels to lend but if you don’t have one and want to buy one go for a Standard WHS trowel (e.g. www.archtools.eu at £9 + p&p) For any further queries on practical arrangements e-mail the site director (Dr Martin Dearne): email@example.com
We look forward to seeing you!
22 Jul 2013
The final day of our summer digs was another day of surprising but rewarding archaeology. A brief cool spell in the morning soon gave way to thirty degree heat, and as our diggers braved the afternoon sunshine, further details of the barn complex emerged.
Just in front of the northernmost building we found a substantial block of dressed stone deliberately set into a gravel and rubble surface.
21 Jul 2013
The surprises kept coming today on the penultimate day of the dig. The milder weather was a welcome relief and allowed us to push on with some of the more strenuous work, opening a large trench in the south area of the ‘barn’. So far there is no sign of any more circular brick features at this end of the building, but we will finish investigating this properly tomorrow.
Meanwhile, we went in search of a wall line that, according to the L shaped barn theory, should have met the east/west wall that we decided yesterday was probably on top of an old palace wall line. As we chased the ex-palace wall line east, there was no sign of any north/south turn or junction and so today we went back to the last known position of the north/south wall and began to follow it south towards the ex-palace wall.
20 Jul 2013
Our diggers soldiered on as the heatwave continued today, producing interesting archaeology and even some great (and datable!) finds.
We continued to follow the external barn wall that surprised us yesterday by turning both towards and away from the palace at a T junction. As the wall runs east towards the palace courtyard, it becomes increasingly robbed out, eventually being capped by a compact gravel layer and therefore probably does not form part of the seventeenth century barn complex. We have determined that the east/west run of this wall is on the same alignment as a heavily robbed out palace wall we first dug in 2010 – we now strongly suspect that although this palace wall was demolished, part of its foundations were reused as the footing for parts of the barn – and it may well be that at least part of the barn is itself sitting on the footprint of a palace building.
19 Jul 2013
Today we began to move from the known to the unknown, as we followed the pair of walls (re)located yesterday.
The two walls, with the crude mortar surface between them first discovered last year, continue some distance north just beneath the turf of the lime tree avenue. As expected, the smaller (external) wall turns west, forming the north side of the building. What we did not expect is that the wall also turns east, forming a T junction, and runs east towards the palace courtyard for at least two metres.
Further complicating matters is a line of tiles set into the top of a stretch of the north/south part of the wall (pictured). This may be a door threshold and the eastern stretch of the wall may be part of a porch, although by the end of the day this was beginning to look less likely.
The possibility has been raised that this tangle of walls may be related to some sort of (probably late) palace structure – our first priority tomorrow will be to continue to follow this wall and hopefully find out more, as well as some elusive dating evidence.
17 Jul 2013
The excavation team made good progress today, with the weather looking set to make this year’s dig a feat of endurance. We’ve now fully established the position of last year’s trench and located the two parallel walls – one large and the other small – that we speculate may have formed a narrow passageway within the south end of the barn building.
We can now use these walls as a reference for locating conjectural points in the building outline to confirm (or not!) the layout and function of the building, and hope to begin answering some of the outstanding questions about this building and its history.
16 Jul 2013
Today was the first day in our six-day long dig in Forty Hall, continuing our research into Elsyng Palace, as part of the festival of British archaeology.
For the last few years we have been working in an area to the west of what was the outer Tudor courtyard, investigating a building that we now believe to be a threshing barn. Apparently dating from the mid to late seventeenth century, this building fills in a gap in the history of the site between the final demolition of the palace and the construction of the current lime tree avenue and pleasure grounds between c.1650 and 1750.
Very little was previously known about this time in the site’s history, and we hope to fill in some details about the building including an accurate date of construction and demolition, as well as hopefully finding out more about the palace precinct in this area.
Although the very hot weather continues to be a challenge, today we managed to open a few small trial areas, to identify parts of the building we discovered last year, so that we can follow them and fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge later in the week.
Meanwhile, throughout the week in cooperation with the Forty Hall Estate, we will be taking primary school classes on short tours of the site and explaining about how the site has changed over the past five centuries, as well as (hopefully!) sharing the discoveries of the excavation as they happen.