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

Latest News  

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.


More Information

Latest News:

15 May 2024

Lecture Note

In answer to a question posed at last Friday's lecture meeting, the Holy Family site at Walthamstow will in due course be published in the Transactions of the Essex Society for Archaeology and History.


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09 May 2024

2024 Early May Dig

lime tree avenue
Site location within the lime tree avenue

The EAS returned to Forty Hall's lime tree avenue this Early May bank holiday, in our continuing exploration of the former site of Elsyng Tudor palace.

Evidence from our excavations has shown that the site, towards the end of Forty Hall's lime tree avenue, was probably first occupied around the turn of the 12th century, but it rose to prominence under the ownership of Sir Thomas Lovell, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Henry VII, towards the end of the 15th century.

Lovell developed Elsyng into a 'courtier's palace' - that is a place sufficiently large and comfortable enough to be able to invite the royal family and their retinue to stay, which they often did through the late 1400s and early 1500s.

Those visitors would have included a young Henry VIII, and so years later when he was looking for safe places outside of London to accomodate his children, especially his precious infant son Edward, Henry would naturally have thought of Elsyng. Thus, in late 1539 Henry added Elsyng to his already impressive and growing property portfolio, documents at the time referring to it simply as "The Prince's Place".

As a 'prince's place', Elsyng was perhaps never quite as spectacular as the no-expense-spared palaces of for example Hampton Court or Greenwich, but nontheless it featured all the trappings of wealth and power and had all the essential features of a Tudor palace, including a two-courtyard layout.

The outer, or service court, where most of the numerous household servants would have lived and worked, lay mostly within what is now Forty Hall's lime tree avenue, and has until recently been the focus of most of our research.

octagonal turret
The boundary wall (foreground) and integrated turret that featured on Digging for Britain. The holly bush in the background prevented further exploration but will be cut back for this year's July dig so that more of the turret and wall can be excavated.

In recent years however, we have begun to turn our attention west of the avenue, to where the palace's inner court and the more high status buildings lay.

A crucial part of understanding the layout of Elsyng is defining the boundary between the inner and outer courts, and this is what we have been working on for the last couple of years. We know from surviving documents that the courts were separated by a moat and an imposing four-storey gatehouse reached by a bridge.

Our summer dig in 2022 found the moat, which had been backfilled with rubble when the palace was demolished in the mid 17th century, and nearby in 2023 we found the remains of a boundary wall and octagonal tower which may be the first evidence of the gatehouse structure itself.

The 2023 dig was featured on BBC2's "Digging For Britain" (series 11 ep.4) with Professor Alice Roberts and is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer until December.

We aim to return to the octagonal tower and other nearby features later this summer, but ahead of that we had some loose ends to tie up over the three-day bank holiday weekend, from some nearby work we did in 2006.

Pit 43
Test Pit 43 - October 2006

Throughout 2006 the EAS dug more than 60 small evaluation trenches (called 'test pits') ahead of proposed tree planting by Enfield Council in Forty Hall's lime tree avenue, to determine whether such planting would adversley affect important buried archaeology on the site of the palace.

One of those pits, Pit 43, revealed the remains of a substantial and very high quality 16th century wall. Due to time constraints we were unable at the time to fully excavate the wall or to determine if it was part of a building or served some other function. The location of Pit 43 is quite close to the features we found last summer, so now seemed a good time to revisit this wall to try to find out its purpose and whether it might be related to our potential gatehouse and/or the moat.

busy trench
EAS diggers get stuck in

And so on Saturday 4th May, we opened a 2x8 metre trench next to the location of Pit 43, to expose more of the wall and to examine the area next to it for any evidence of either a building interior or a potential continuation of the moat.

When the palace was demolished in the 1650s the site was carefully levelled, typically with dumps of gravel. We revealed and quickly removed this gravel deposit to reveal, as expected, the top of the remains of our wall. What we did not expect, however, was to find that the wall appeared to be considerably narrower and much more poorly constructed than the section we had seen in 2006, less than 1.5 metres away.

Recording what we had found so far, we went home to scratch our heads and returned on Sunday to dig down either side of the wall, to see if it really was as shoddy as it seemed.

It really was!

top of the wall
The top of the wall as it was revealed

Ultimately we revealed three courses of very crude brickwork including odds and ends of ceramic roof tiles probably added in an ad-hoc attempt to keep the brickwork level. This was far from the best work Tudor bricklayers were capable of and worlds apart from the section of masonry we found in 2006.

The ragged inside edge of the wall indicates that it was probably constructed against a bank of brickearth, which together with its size (too insubstantial for a building) leads us to believe it is a retaining wall for one side of the moat. This theory was supported by the fact that towards the other end of the trench we once again found a deep rubble-filled feature probably corresponding to the moat itself.

This of course leaves a major unanswered question - why the dramatic change in size and quality of the wall? The wall as it appeared in Pit 43 was no doubt much more than a simple retaining wall, and so the possibility remains of a building very nearby, although now that we know that at least part of the wall is associated with the courtyard boundary moat, there are additional possibilities including footings for a bridge.

excavated wall
Not their best work: The wall fully excavated.

Sadly we once again ran out of time to tackle this question and as is very often the case with Elsyng we left with as many new questions as answers. We will almost certainly revisit this feature, maybe next summer. In some ways this is the attraction of the site - it isn't simple but piece by piece we've been putting together the jigsaw puzzle over the last 20 years, rebuilding a picture of the palace and the people who lived there.

For a more complete background on the palace and the story of the people who lived there, our new book "Enfield's Lost Palace Revealed" is available to buy alongside the complete technical archaeological publication "Monarchs, Courtiers and Technocrats", which also includes summaries and complete transcripts of all the available documentary evidence and also a summary of the work carried out by the EAS from 1963-67 which first put the palace back on the map. See enfarchsoc.org/publications.

We'll be back in Forty Hall from July 7th-21st to revisit the octagonal tower that featured on Digging for Britain, but will also be further investigating what we think is a cellar within the possible gatehouse building, which turned up after the cameras stopped rolling.

If you'd like to help us get to the bottom of this and other mysteries yet to come, digging is open to all members of the Society aged 16+. No experience is necessary. See enfarchsoc.org/dig for more details.

muddy backfilling

Once again we would like to thank our hardy team of diggers who make the work of the Society possible, most especially those who saw it thorough to the end, enduring the famous British Bank Holiday downpour throughout Monday as we slogged our way through the unglamorous but necessary backfilling process.


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21 Jan 2024

2024 Dig Dates

We will be returning to Forty Hall twice this year, to investigate two separate but possibly related features of the Tudor palace of Elsyng.

Tudor wall
2006 test pit revealing a mystery wall

The first dig will be a fairly small scale investigation in May, into a mysterious section of wall we first encountered in 2006, during test-pitting in the lime tree avenue ahead of proposed tree planting.

Owing to time constraints we were never able to to fully investigate the feature and so know very little about it or what part of the palace it belongs to. Due to its presence a tree was never planted in the proposed space, however in the intervening years a lime tree has set itself in the gap, and if left unchecked its root system could pose a direct threat to the archaeology.

We aim to open a small trench to both fully investigate the wall and evaluate its state of preservation. The dig will run over a long weekend, either from May 4th - 6th or if the weather is bad, from May 25th - 27th.

wall corner
Corner of possible octagonal pillar emerges at the last second of 2023 dig

The wall is something of a mystery but is quite nearby to the wall and octagonal turret we discovered last summer which featured on BBC2's Digging For Britain.

Close to the octagonal turret featured in the programme, after the cameras stopped rolling we discovered a very deep rubble-filled feature which we think may be a palace cellar. At the very end of the dig towards to bottom of the rubble we uncovered the corner of an in-situ brick feature. The angle of the corner measures almost exactly 135 degrees, and so we strongly suspect it is another octagonal feature - in this case possibly the remains of an octagonal pillar that once supported the cellar ceiling.

This will be the primary target of our 2024 summer dig, which will run for two weeks from July 7th - 21st with a public open day on the 13th. We aim to open a much larger trench here in order to safely reach the bottom of the cellar and fully reveal the possibly octagonal feature. If the brick feature is an in-situ pillar, it would also indicate the possibly of an intact cellar floor waiting to be discovered.

As ever, our digs are open to all members of the Society over the age of 16; no experience is necessary.

If you have not yet renewed your subscription or are not a member of the Society and would like to join, please do so as soon as possible - see enfarchsoc.org/join or direct any queries to the membership secretary at membership

There is also the possibility of a dig on a Roman site later in the year, but this is still in early negotiation.

Members will be kept up to date on this and further details of the Forty Hall digs on the usual mailing list.


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18 Dec 2023

Digging For Britain Broadcast Date

digging for britain

The new series of Digging For Britain, featuring this year's summer dig on the site Elsyng Tudor Palace in Forty Hall, will be broadcast on BB2 and will be available on BBC iPlayer beginning Tuesday 2nd January at 8pm. The episode featuring the EAS dig is slated for broadcast on January 9th at 8pm.

palace wall

The 2023 dig was an excellent year for Tudor archaeology, and we are very pleased to be able to share our discoveries with a wider than usual audience.

During this year's search for the inner gatehouse of Henry VIII's palace we discovered several new Tudor structures and, after filming ended evidence for what we currently think may be a substantial palace cellar.

We'll be back in Forty Hall in 2024 to continue the gatehouse hunt, and hopefully explore the hidden depths of Henry's cellars!


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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.

wall
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.


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