Enfield Archaeological Society

Founded in 1955, the Enfield Archaeological Society is active in carrying out research and fieldwork in and around the London Borough of Enfield, in order to understand and preserve its history.

Our main aims are: to promote the practice and study of archaeology in the district; to record and preserve all finds in the borough and encourage others to allow their finds to be recorded by the Society; and to co-operate with neighbouring societies with similar aims.

Membership is open to anybody with an interest in the past.

The Enfield Archaeological Society is affiliated to the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society; the President for the society is Harvey Sheldon BSc, FSA, FRSA

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Dig With Us

All members of the society over the age of 16 are welcome to dig with us – no experience is necessary. We typically run at least one dig a year in the summer, on the site of Henry VIII's Elsyng Palace with other work often cropping up through the rest of the year.

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Latest News:

22 Jul 2023

2023 Summer Dig - Day 13

trench 4
Backfilling T4 - initially with topsoil to protect in-situ brickwork

It was a busy but relatively uneventful day today, on what turned out to be the final day of our two-week dig on the site of Elsyng Tudor palace, in the woods by the lime tree avenue of Forty Hall.

The dig naturally reached a point late yesterday afternoon where further significant digging would not be possible in the remaining available time, and so this morning after a few small excavation jobs we pushed on recording the final elements in Trenches 4 and 7 and were able to get the site fully backfilled and cleared before three o'clock.

Trench one was completely backfilled in the morning, followed by Trench 4. All in-situ structures were covered with topsoil first to protect them.

Inner (western) face of the truncated wall in T7

Trench 7 needed a bit more work, including section and elevation drawing.

In the end we were able to reveal ten courses of bricks in the truncated wall in Trench 7, laid in a rather crude header bond. This is the wall that formed the east side what we think may be a palace cellar.

We didn't reach the bottom of the wall, which is perhaps not surprising since, if the interior of the building is, as we suspect, a cellar, the wall could well extend down to the cellar floor, which is beyond our limit of safe excavation.

We suspect that the wall's truncation may have been due to the 17th century demolition crew's removal of a salvageable feature, perhaps such as a flight of stone steps leading down into the cellar.

column base
Large brick column base in T7

Excavation elsewhere in the trench similarly reached the safe depth limit so we don't know how deep the mortar rich rubble layer is - if it is filling a cellar it could be at least another metre or more deep.

We were able to clean up and define the edges of the angled brick feature at the opposite end of Trench 7 - we assume it is one corner of a very substantial octagonal column, perhaps a support for a cellar ceiling, but since we only saw one corner we have no clue to its overall dimensions.

If we have found a palace cellar, this apparent column could have survived to a considerable depth, and may indicate other very well preserved elements of the building close by, not to mention the floor of the cellar itself.

This will almost certainly become at least part if not the major focus of next year's dig, as will further work on the octagonal turret in Trench 4 (once the adjacent undergrowth is cleared), to find out how the 'cellar' and turret are related.

trench 7
Backfilling T7

Once everything was fully surveyed, drawn and photographed, the brick structures were also covered with a protective layer of topsoil before the trench was fully backfilled.

The long process of post-excavation work will now begin, the results of which will appear in future editions of Society News, and of course on BBC2 in the new year, when Series 11 of Digging For Britain airs.

As ever, we owe a big thank-you to all our members whose hard work and enthusiasm made this one of the most productive digs we've had in recent years.

We are most especially grateful to the core team of members who turn up every day rain or shine, and muck in with all the unglamorous and arduous tasks, of which backfilling is only one, without which the dig could not happen.

We are also particularly grateful to Forty Hall Farm for their kind provision of tool storage space and generous loan of wheelbarrows.


21 Jul 2023

2023 Summer Dig - Day 12

trench 4
Final excavation in T4 (facing south)

Excavation began to wind down today, on day 12 of our two-week dig on the site of Elsyng Tudor palace in the grounds of Forty Hall.

Most of the day was taken up by recording trench sections and the elevations of the various walls we've discovered this year, including the stretch of wall in Trench 4 that runs south from the octagonal turret and is reinforced by octagonal column bases.

A small area by this wall, at the south end of Trench 4 is still under excavation, to more closely study the wall's foundations and related stratigraphy, but the rest of the trench has now been fully recorded and a small part of it was backfilled this afternoon.

trench 1
A mess of brickwork in T1 (facing north)

Excavation was completed in Trench 1 and it was fully recorded this afternoon. The brickwork uncovered in Trench 1 is quite disorganized and seems to be a fairly isolated patch not obviously connected to a building or boundary wall, although it could possibly be connected to the boundary wall in Trench 4, evidence supporting or refuting this is impossible to see due to the chaos caused by the invasive tree roots over the brickwork's north and west sides.

Damage caused by these roots has also added to the disorderly appearance of the brickwork, but we currently think the bricks are the remnant of a revetment between the corner of the artificial mound upon which the walls in trenches 4 and 7 are located, and the moat, the cut of which we think we may have just about identified at the edge of Trench 1.

trench 7
Truncated wall at east end of T7 (facing south)

We continued digging by the truncated wall in Trench 7, and confirmed that the deposit on its eastern side represents the original external ground surface, while the mortar rich rubble deposit on its east side is filling what was the interior of the building.

Excavation down the wall's west face has so far revealed at least 8 courses of bricks, and disclosed a second, lower context of rubble with much less mortar but we have still not found the bottom of the context and are now only centimetres from our maximum safe digging depth.

trench 7
Remains of very large octagonal brick pillar at west end of T7

At the other, west, end of T7 we had noticed a concentration of much coarser rubble, and late this afternoon this was removed to reveal the remains of what looks like a very substantial octagonal brick pillar base.

This last minute discovery seems to add weight to the theory that this side of the wall in Trench 7 is a palace cellar, which, in line with other Tudor palaces, could have had octagonal pillars supporting a fan-vaulted ceiling.

As elsewhere in the trench, we are right on the limit of safe depth at this point and so may not be able to reveal much more of this feature, at least this year.

Tomorrow is effectively our last day of practical excavation, and as there is not much more work to do in either Trench 4 or 7, backfilling may even begin tomorrow. Still, we have already got several prime follow-up targets for next year's dig, which looks guaranteed to be as productive as this one.


20 Jul 2023

2023 Summer Dig - Day 11

trench 4
The boundary wall and turret in T4 (looking north)

Recording work began in earnest today in the woods by the lime tree avenue of Forty Hall, as we draw towards the end of this year's dig on the site of Elsyng Tudor palace.

Planning of the thin boundary wall and its octagonal pillar bases, and the large octagonal turret at its north end was completed, and it was thoroughly photographed, leaving only section and elevation drawings to do.

Two sections at the far east end of the trench were also drawn and recording that side of the trench is now complete so that backfilling at least part of the trench can begin from tomorrow.

column base remains
Severely root-disturbed remains of a column base

While that was going on, one last extension to the trench was made at its south end, to further follow the thin boundary wall as far as possible towards a stand of trees, which we found yesterday contained a wasps' nest, hindering our efforts to dig there yesterday.

Fortunately the wasps had calmed down considerably overnight, which allowed us to follow the wall line south by about another metre, almost right up to the base of the nearby trees, where we found the severely damaged remains of another octagonal column base.

The stand of trees appears to have grown almost over the middle of the column and have largely destroyed it, although it does seem that the core of the wall continues to run further south, at least for another few tens of centimetres.

Further excavation in this direction will not be possible due to the trees and their root system.

truncated wall
Large but truncated wall in T7 (looking south)

We made good progress over in Trench 7 today, which was laid out beyond the north side of the octagonal turret, on the far side of an intervening stand of holly trees, in the hope of picking up evidence of the large building that the turret ought to belong to.

Today we revealed the full extent of the wall that had emerged in the trench a couple of days ago, and today showed it to be quite substantial and likely to be the external facade wall of a sizeable palace building.

The wall runs into the trench from the trench's southern side but has been abruptly truncated before it reaches the north side. The extremely sandy mortar-rich rubble deposit that contained sizeable chunks of stonework is confined to the wall's western side, indicating that this was the interior of the building.

So far we've dug through about a metre of this rubble layer and it looks like we might reach the safe limit of depth in this trench before we see the bottom of it.

In terms of interpretation, the jury is still out on Trench 7, but it does seem very likely that we have found a major building connected to the turret in Trench 4, even though the wall in Trench 7 is not on a direct alignment with it. The sheer depth of the rubble deposit is also causing speculation as to whether we might not be looking at something like a palace cellar.

farthing in mortar
A tiny copper coin - probably a farthing - embedded in a mortar fragment

Trench 7 continued to produce great finds today including a very unusual and potentially extremely important find.

For as long as the palace has been studied archaeologically, one of the key dating methods of the various building phases has been the study and comparison of mortar. By comparing and contrasting mortar characteristics such as colour, sand content and so on, it has been possible to broadly group building phases, from medieval mansion through to courtier's and royal palace.

The star find from Trench 7 today was a tiny coin, securely embedded in situ in a piece of mortar. The coin is not immediately identifiable but superficially resembles a copper coin about the size of a farthing, such as those introduced by James I.

If this were the case for example, it would show that the mortar sample it belongs to probably dated to no earlier than the early 17th century, when the palace was occupied by the Earl of Montgomery, and so possibly originated from modifications and repairs to the palace at that time.

The actual dating will not be possible however until the coin is removed from the mortar, cleaned and properly identified, and this probably won't happen until the dig finishes and post-excavation work begins.


19 Jul 2023

2023 Summer Dig - Day 10

lime tree avenue

Martin and Alice
Site director Martin being interviewed by Alice in Trench 3

Another great day's digging in Forty Hall today, on day 10 of our 14-day hunt for the inner gatehouse of the Tudor palace of Elsyng, in the Hall's lime tree avenue.

It was also a slightly unusual day, as we were joined by Professor Alice Roberts and a crew from Rare TV, who are currently filming series eleven of Digging For Britain.

We were very pleased to introduce Alice to the site, and even more pleased to have some splendid Tudor archaeology for the programme.

Filming began this morning in the lime tree avenue and moved initially to Trench 3, where we have been looking for the end of the moat that we found last year, where evidence suggested it should have met the range of buildings that define the north side of the palace's outer courtyard.

The archaeology in this trench is still slightly ambiguous, since although we did find evidence of the end of the moat cut, which included its characteristic finds-rich rubble fill, there was no sign of the expected adjacent building range, which leaves the question of how the moat and outer courtyard meet, currently unresolved.

Nevertheless, having finished excavation in this trench, once filming moved on we were able to finish fully recording it and it was backfilled in the afternoon.

trench 4
Filming excavation in T4 (facing east)

Meanwhile later in the morning we laid out a further southern extension of Trench 4, to expose more of what we now suspect is a perimeter boundary wall, reinforced by octagonal columns, separating the palace's two courtyards, and we are now all but certain that the octagonal tower attached to its north end belongs to a major palace building - the inner gatehouse is a strong contender.

This extension has now fully revealed the outline of the slightly larger of the two octagonal column bases built into the wall, and shows that the narrow wall continues to run south, now within a metre of the sharp break of slope that defines the man-made platform that these structures are built on.

Further extension of the trench was planned today but was limited by the disturbance of a wasps' nest close to the trench edge. We hope that the wasps will calm down and disperse enough overnight to allow the safe extension of the trench tomorrow, to find out what happens when the wall meets the break of slope.

trench 7
Deep decayed mortar context in T7 (facing east)

Excavation also continued all day in Trench 7, which we laid out a few days ago as close to the north side of the octagonal turret as we could get - the north edge of the turret being inaccessible due to dense tree coverage.

Although we have found the beginnings of a wall at the east end of this trench it is not on the expected alignment of the turret wall, and today we did not reveal much more of it, since we are currently removing what has turned out to be a very deep and extremely mortar-rich demolition context at the west end of the trench.

This is the area that yesterday produced a large collection of dressed stone fragments and today continued to yield several more fine examples of window stonework complete with tool marks, and also several shaped and moulded bricks, some possibly from decorative chimneys.

bird skull

But perhaps the most remarkable find of the day, from the very same context, was the incredibly delicate skull of a small bird.

We've tentatively identified it as the skull of a passerine bird, perhaps of the thrush family.

Tomorrow we should hopefully see more of the wall in Trench 7 and get a clearer picture of the building from which all the mortar, rubble and dressed stone fragments derived.

It was a pleasure to introduce Alice and company to the site and to share the fun and excitement of rediscovering this lost chapter of Tudor history.

We look forward to seeing the 11th series of Digging For Britain when it airs on BBC2 early next year!


18 Jul 2023

2023 Summer Dig - Day 9

wall recording
Talking to members of the public and recording the walls in T4/5/6

"So it's like fishing, but for history." was one member of the public's take on archaeology this afternoon, as we returned to the woods by the lime tree avenue of Forty Hall after yesterday's brief break from digging, to resume on the 9th day of our two-week exploration of Elsyng Tudor palace, and the hunt for the inner gatehouse.

t4 wall
Offset foundations on both sides of the skinny wall in T4 (looking north)

If that is the case, then today we caught a few whoppers!

Excavation and recoding continued in Trenches 4 5 and 6, which contain the stretch of narrower wall and octagonal pillar bases leading to the larger octagonal turret.

Our current interpretation is that the narrow wall may be a boundary wall dividing the outer and inner courts of the palace, and that the north end with the octagonal turret may be connected to the elusive gatehouse.

Ideally we would like to extend the trench north to test this theory, but a dense holly bush is in the way, which is why we opened Trench 7 a few days ago on its far side to try and pick up the line of the wall and any associated structures.

Excavation in Trench 7 on Sunday was inconclusive, even though there had been early signs of a possible mortar-rich line crossing the trench where we'd expect a continuation of the wall.

So far in trench 7 all we had seen was another nondescript layer of rubble, but this afternoon it became much more interesting.

At the west end of the trench the rubble began to reveal areas of ashy-mortar and this eventually disclosed a large patch of stone fragments, which grew in size until we were eventually lifting quite sizeable fragments of dressed stone.

dressed stone

dressed stone

dressed stone

dressed stone

The fragments included several pieces bearing prominent tool marks and some with soot discolouration and probably came from various architectural features including window surrounds and at least one from a fireplace.

This is possibly the largest collection of dressed stone ever found at Elsyng - the 17th century demolition crew were extremely thorough in removing the palace's valuable masonry for reuse or resale, so to find so many pieces in one trench is extremely pleasing and will add a lot to our picture of the architectural look of the palace buildings.

The big question of course is where did these stones come from and was it far away?

t7 wall
A new wall line emerges in T7 (facing south)

A possible answer may have begun to emerge from the other end of the trench this afternoon, as the rubble layer gradually revealed a line of in-situ bricks beneath it.

We've only just uncovered one course of the feature and so know nothing yet as to what kind of structure it represents, and its alignment is not quite right to be a direct continuation of the nearby turreted wall.

Tomorrow promises to be another exciting day as we reveal more of this wall and perhaps evidence of the structure it belongs to.

We may also extend Trench 4 at its southern end where the larger of the two octagonal columns are, to see the complete outline of the column and hopefully more of the line of the wall.