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?
10 Jul 2016
Archaeologists often like to talk about the value of “negative evidence” – a phrase that can strike dread into the hearts of weary diggers, since it’s usually a sign that the trench is failing to produce any interesting results whatsoever.
Sadly, this year’s trench in Cedars Park was perhaps the perfect example, after early in the day the deposit we had hoped yesterday was the 17th century landscaping surrounding the palace loggia produced a number of decidedly 20th century finds.
It quickly became clear that all of the deposits throughout the trench, including our small extension were dumps of soil associated with the nearby quarrying in the 1970s; meaning no in-situ archaeology has survived in this area at all.
“Negative” evidence is, however, still evidence and the fact that the landscaping around the quarry was much more extensive than we realised is important to know – any future ground work in the area will know to keep well clear of this disturbance.
It now looks likely that any remnant of the apsidal end of the loggia has been lost with the quarrying, and we may now never know how or why it was built – a slightly anticlimactic end to the dig, especially after the successes of the last two years but work definately worth doing.
We are very grateful for the patience of our diggers, especillay our first-timers who soldiered on rain or shine – we can promise better things to come next week, as we move on to Forty Hall to the site of Henry VIII’s Elsyng Palace, where we can confidently guarantee only the most positive evidence as we will be returning to the site of the palace building we’ve been uncovering for the last few years (no quarries here!)
09 Jul 2016
A slightly disappointing day’s digging today, as we removed yesterday’s promising looking rubble to find it was the product of 20th century landscaping and other extensive disturbance to the area we’re digging in.
We weren’t entrirely surprised, though, as we know there was a quarry very nearby which involved considerable landscaping by heavy machinery in the 1970s, which we have discovered in the form of a thick compacted layer of brickearth and 20th century rubbish covering probably all of the area immediately around the trench.
All is not lost though, as under the thick 20th century deposit we eventually revealed a brickearth layer containing large fragments of probably 17th century bricks – this is very likely the same deposit we found last year which represents the landscaping work carried out around the palace loggia and canal.
Tomorrow we’ll reveal more of this deposit and hope to find evidence of the loggia structure. The trench will also be extended by a metre or so, although it’s now clear that there’s very little ground left in this area that hasn’t been disturbed in the 19th or 20th centuries – hopefully the weather won’t get in the way!