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!
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.