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.
13 Jul 2014
Any doubts we may have had that the wall line we uncovered is indeed the palace ‘loggia’ quickly evaporated today, as, fortunately, did the threat of heavy rain.
At the westernmost point of the wall a sondage to investigate its foundations showed that they were enormous – nearly fifty centimetres of solid rubble and mortar show this to be a very sturdy wall indeed. At the same time, the sondage revealed that the widespread brickearth deposit butting against the wall is not, as we thought yesterday, natural but redeposited – also a significant piece of seventeenth century engineering. There is simply nothing else of this date and scale in the area that the wall could be.
12 Jul 2014
It isn’t often that we lay out a trench on a brand-new and unknown target, and hit the jackpot straight away – but today that appears to be exactly what we have done!
The rubble we began to see yesterday did indeed peel off to reveal wall foundations projecting at right angles from the surviving palace garden wall. Two more trenches and an extension to trench one followed this wall east and west, revealing a dense demolition layer to its north and a short length of wall projecting south from about a third along its revealed length.
The bricks and construction of the revealed walls are consistent with the seventeenth century garden feature we are looking for, as were many of the varied and interesting finds that came out of much of the rubble – including a very well preserved copper alloy buckle (pictured), a 17th/18th century tobacco pipe bowl, many glass and ceramic fragments and a few large animal bones.
We are provisionally speculating that the short stub of wall perpendicular to the main length of wall is the base of an arch or similar feature within the enclosure. If we can prove that this is indeed the feature marked on the 1611 plan (see yesterday’s post) then this will be an important step in understanding the feature’s appearance and function.
Our main job now is to consolidate the dating evidence for the walls. Severe tree root disturbance has made it difficult to be certain about the stratification of some of the finds so far – what we would like to see is a construction cut for the wall with datable and well stratified finds – looking for this will be a job for tomorrow.
Though the weather held for today, tomorrow’s forecast looks more unsettled, so we hope this won’t hinder our so far excellent progress.
11 Jul 2014
A wet morning at Cedars Park didn’t dampen the spirits of EAS diggers as preparations for this year’s Festival of Archaeology began.
This year’s dig at the site of James I’s Theobalds Palace is in search of a largely undocumented garden feature set in the wall of the palace grounds. The feature (pictured) is an apparently large enclosure projecting from the west wall of the palace gardens. Although the feature appears in several early maps, including in some (such as the one pictured) an apsidal end, there are no written descriptions or clues as to the feature’s purpose. It is presumed to represent some sort of grand ornamental feature such as a loggia.
01 May 2014
This years Festival of Archaeology dig dates have been confirmed:
We will be digging at Cedars Park, Broxbourne, on the site of Theobalds Palace from the 11th to 13th July, and at Forty Hall, Enfield, on the site of Elsyng Palace the following week from the 15th to the 20th.
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.
15 Jul 2013
Despite the limitations imposed and the extreme weather, day 3 saw positive archaeological results in both trenches.
In trench 1 this was in the form of a brick built water culvert at the south end of the trench. The culvert was truncated by the Privy Garden wall, giving the impression that it must predate the establishment of the Privy Garden by James I. However, careful analysis of various repairs and elements of rebuilding in this wall, noted and recorded by the team,may yet tell a different story.
The south end of trench 2 revealed more of the a brick built bay feature butted to the original wall and is now thought to be of Georgian origin. The function of the bay remains somewhat obscure although it could have supported a garden seat in the opening beneath which it is situated.
To the north of this bay, a 19thC. Gravel path edged with flint nodules was revealed. Beneath the path, the removal of a thin layer of brick debris revealed another section of brick built water culvert.
13 Jul 2013
Although we managed to open two of the three planned trenches today, extreme heat and humidity has limited the pace of work.
Trench 1, located outside the west edge of the privy garden wall, has been sited to locate the point where two drains previously revealed by Museum of London Archaeologists (assisted by EAS) last year should intersect. The drains appear to connect the privy gardens with a reservoir at the west end of the palace site, and it is hoped that by examining their meeting point at the corner of the gardens, we can find out more about their function and date.
Unfortunately, this area affords no shade for most of the day, and with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees, the heavy digging work in this trench had to be abandoned for the day early in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, in trench 2 by the doorway and window set in the garden wall (pictured yesterday), we found by close inspection of the standing brickwork that the large gap we had thought was simply a collapsed section of wall is in fact (at least in part) another window like opening. The trench subsequently revealed a bay-like projection at the base of this gap (pictured), and poses a number of questions about this section of the wall.
We hope an early start tomorrow will help us to get more work done before the worst of the forecast heat hits, and to answer some of the questions posed today.
12 Jul 2013
Things got off to a bit of a shaky start today, on the first day of the EAS summer digs at Cedars Park, Broxbourne.
This year will be the first time that we have worked inside the Scheduled Ancient Monument on the site of Theobalds Palace, and we have been asked by Broxbourne council to open three trenches to investigate the history of a sixteenth century perimeter wall, enclosing what was part of the palace privy gardens.
Part of the Heritage Lottery funded work being carried out in the park involves the (long overdue) repair and reconstruction of elements of this wall, which has suffered badly from exposure to the elements and vandalism in recent years (pictured).
Unfortunately, this work has affected two of the three areas we had been asked to investigate, and has made them inaccessible to us and the public.
We have laid out one trench today, and we hope to gain access to lay out a second tomorrow, but the restricted access to the site and working time lost today will have an adverse affect on the quality and quantity of useful information we can get from the site this weekend.
22 Jul 2012
The British summer finally lived up to its name today; fierce sunshine at times making digging uncomfortable. Fortunately there wasn’t too much heavy work to do and we were again treated to unexpected and enigmatic archaeology.
Yesterday’s extension into the dark “occupation” layer revealed yet another unexpected, curvilinear wall. This wall abuts the east end wall of the building, which we also located, and curves in the direction of yesterday’s very substantial wall in the middle of the trench.
21 Jul 2012
Today’s sunshine was a welcome contrast to yesterday’s weather and allowed us to make great progress both excavating and planning the main trench. The archaeology seems only to get more complex the more we reveal – what looked like a brick surface emerging in the south-west corner yesterday turned out in fact to be a very substantial wall, running parallel to the smaller wall we first identified.
20 Jul 2012
Despite the persistent drizzle all day today we got a lot of work done and have expanded our main trench to further explore the walls and floor surface first uncovered yesterday.
The mortared surface with the circular pit cut into it is bounded on the north side by a small well preserved wall. The surface itself is only a fairly narrow strip with a straight edge running parallel to the wall which looks like a robbed-out wall line. The mortar surface may therefore represent the floor of a corridor within a building.
19 Jul 2012
Another slightly puzzling but nevertheless interesting day today. We opened another quick-fire trench just to the east of the wall we uncovered yesterday, expecting to find it continuing east, but instead found another nondescript pebble and rubble surface.
This, combined with the lack of wall in the first trench we opened, paints a confusing picture of the building we are now certain exists here. These apparent gaps may be explained by the building having a more irregular plan than we thought, for instance if it was L shaped rather than rectangular, or there may yet be a more subtle explanation.
At the far east end of the building, we have opened a trench on what ought to have been its north-east corner. The archaeology in this trench is by far the most complex we have encountered this week, already revealing palace demolition material, a mortared floor cut by a circular pit, and no less than three potential walls, only one of which lies on an anticipated alignment! Due to its complexity, this will become the focus for our weekend dig and will be enlarged and explored further tomorrow. Unlike the other trenches, we have permission to fully excavate here to the full depth of the archaeology and so hopefully we will be able to get a better picture as to the layout and function of the building.
18 Jul 2012
Today was a day of mixed results. A small test pit near the first trench we cut yesterday stubbornly refused to yield a wall but a new trench cut in the avenue did reveal the north side of our enigmatic structure. This is the first time we have seen the north side of the building, and confirms its speculated width of about six metres.
As to the building’s function, we are still not certain but are guessing at some sort of agricultural structure like a barn, possibly with accommodation for laborers at one end.
17 Jul 2012
This year’s big dig on the site of Elsyng Palace got off to a good start today. Continuing our events in celebration of the Festival of British Archaeology, we will be digging all week, with a public event on Sunday.
Our strategy this year is for a series of small quick-fire trenches in the area of the lime tree avenue, in pursuit of a possible post-palace structure, culminating in a larger targeted excavation at the weekend. We have previously had very little idea about what happened immediately following the palace’s final demolition between 1656 and 1657, and so any work we can do to fill in this gap in the history is important for understanding the site.
15 Jul 2012
We had a much more productive day today, with fine weather and a large number of visitors, who we were able to show some interesting archaeology and several splendid finds, including several large fragments of a delftware charger or bowl beautifully hand decorated with birds and flowers. It has been provisionally dated to the 18th century, but will be cleaned and drawn and properly identified during post-excavation work.
Unfortunately, what with the bad weather yesterday, we did not have time today to reveal the drain (yesterday’s putative structure turned out to be just loose rubble), but may have identified the cut in which it was built. We did have time to do more work on the palace perimeter wall which has called into question our earlier interpretation that it was an early phase palace wall. The carved stone that we discovered yesterday was in fact part of the wall foundation, and when lifted was found to be part of a window mullion – a dividing column in a large ornate window. This is almost certainly from the palace and must therefore have been recycled when the wall was built, meaning the wall must date to a much later or even post-palace phase.
The implications of this year’s work will of course be thoroughly worked out in post-excavation and will be published in an EAS report in due course. A summary of our findings will eventually be published in the society news bulletin.
14 Jul 2012
Things got off to a very damp start today; persistent rain made digging conditions difficult and drawing and surveying at times impossible.
We have opened a second trench just to the north of trench 1, opened yesterday which now seems unlikely to contain the drain - in any case the tree roots have made work in this trench impractical. Trench 2 has also produced signs of demolition rubble likely linked to the demolished palace perimeter wall, including an interesting carved block of stone which we will lift and study more closely tomorrow.
Unfortunately, trench 2 also failed to show signs of a drain cut until the eleventh hour today, when an extension at its north end revealed tantalizing signs of a brick structure heading in the right direction. Tomorrow we will properly excavate this area, although there are hints that it may have already been disturbed in the nineteenth century which may make dating the original drain construction very difficult.
13 Jul 2012
This year’s big dig at Cedars Park got underway today, as we marked out and de-turfed the trench ready for tomorrow and the start of the Festival of British Archaeology.
This year we are hoping to find out more about the substantial vaulted brick drain that we discovered last year and did not have time to date accurately. We suspect the drain was built in the seventeenth century as part of Theobald’s Palace but exactly what building(s) it served and where it runs to is at the moment a mystery.
16 May 2012
Excavation aimed at locating walls possibly delineating an outer court of Theobalds Palace marked on a map of 1611, failed to find evidence of them but did locate a possible gully edged palace phase surface and arched brick drain heavily repaired in the early 19th century. Extensive truncation, dumbing and redeposition related to the 19th century repairs and possibly earlier Georgian activity, could have removed the walls and made interpretation difficult, but the surface may have been renewed in the second half of the seventeenth century, incorporated in the Georgian Theobalds Square and later been partly followed by a nineteenth century path or ride.
15 May 2012
Limited excavation of two trenches further studied two features encountered in an excavation in 2010. One is most likely to have been a robber trench along the line of the curtain wall of the palace, but what was thought to be a possible palace phase lean-to structure fronting it appears instead to have been a large free standing structure of circa 1657, post dating palace demolition. This raises significant new questions about the use of the site in the later seventeenth century.