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.