Stories Of Enfield

Stories of Enfield is a project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, via Enfield Council, to develop and deliver a range of creative community heritage activities from exhibitions and events through to festivals and theatre performances and will involve local communities and organisations from across the borough. It will also provide additional support to the Museum of Enfield and the borough’s archive and will run formally from November 1st 2021 to October 31st 2022.

Elsyng Revealed

The EAS has received funding as part of the Stories of Enfield project, which will help us continue our ongoing research on the site of Elsyng Tudor Palace, and importantly, to publish and share our work with a wider audience.

Despite its local and national importance, Elsyng remains almost unknown to the people of the Borough. Excavations and research since the 1960s have yielded a vast amount of physical and documentary information which has now been brought together and intensively studied by Martin Dearne. We now have a much better understanding of the form and evolution of this complex building and we hope that the 2022 excavation will add to this. We also know a vast amount more about the ordinary people who lived and worked there from Jack the junior kitchen boy in 1524 to Mr. Johnson, a bricklayer killed when scaffolding collapsed during repairs in 1616.

The core of the project will be the professionally-led excavation in July 2022 whose participants will include experienced archaeologists, University and College students and volunteers from the Borough including newcomers to the subject. There will also be training sessions for participants. (Please note that all workers on the site must be members of the EAS and no-one below the age of 16 can take part, requirements that are dictated by our insurance.)

During the period a film will be made from which a virtual tour of the palace will be developed. Oral history interviews will also be carried out and the results included in the film. These will include the memories of any survivors of the 1960s dig plus those of people involved in the earlier stages of the present campaign, which began in 2004 as well as those working on the 2022 excavation.

A definitive book on all aspects of the history and archaeology of the site will be produced and there will also be a family open day during the course of the excavation which will be similar to those held in previous years.

We very much hope that Society members will be willing to help with various aspects of this project and in particular we would like to hear from anyone who would be interested in helping with the Oral History element. Any volunteers will be given training in advance of the dig.

Latest News

24 Jul 2022

Summer Dig - Day 13

backfilling trench 4
Backfilling T4

As predicted, we finished backfilling and re-turfing (with what litte turf there was) and had cleared the site by 11 o'clock this morning.

That concludes this year's exploration of Elsyng Palace - we came for the gatehouse and left with a moat, and more unanswered questions, but we're used to this by now - one of the defining characteristics of Elsyng is its unpredictability owing to the ad-hoc way in which it was built and modified over several centuries. If we knew what we were going to find we wouldn't need to dig it in the first place!

Post-excavation work will begin now, but we already have a list of targets in mind for next year, probably beginning with another trench close to trench 4, to try and find out how far west the outer courtyard's northern range of buildings extends, since we didn't find it as expected in trench 4.

We've also got our eyes on a large platform or mound not far away from this year's site, in the woods to the west of the lime tree avenue, which may be another contender for a gatehouse location.

trench 4 complete
T4 finished

This would be pushing us further into the area of the inner courtyard, which is where the more high-status buildings of the palace, such as the chapel and royal apartments would have been, so even if the inner gatehouse continues to elude us, there's every chance of finding some new and exciting archaeology.

A big thank-you to all our diggers this year who braved the sunshine and didn't complain (too loudly) about the lack of tangible structure in this year's trenches, and as ever a special thank-you to those of you who mucked in with the less glamorous work including backfilling and lugging equipment up and down the hill every day. Special thanks also to Forty Hall farm, for the loan of wheelbarrows and storage space for our site gear on the farm.

This year's dig was funded by the Stories Of Enfield project, organised by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Enfield Council, to develop and deliver a range of creative community heritage activities across the borough, and has helped us to reach a wide audience including local residents and schools, and crucially has enabled us to publish our latest book Monarchs Courtiers and Technocrats.

A comprehensive history of the palace and people who owned and lived in it, the book also features a complete technical publication of all the archaeological work we've done on the site since 2004 plus a summary of the original work by the EAS in 1963-67 which rediscovered the palace site.

If you prefer a little lighter reading, we are also working on a smaller book, to be published later in the year, which will include an account of this year's dig.


23 Jul 2022

Summer Dig - Day 12

lime tree avenue

backfilling trench 1
Backfilling T1

We worked hard in the lime tree avenue of Forty Hall today tying up loose ends and backfilling all but one trench, on what turned out to be the last day of excavation for this year's summer dig on the site of Elsyng Palace.

Although we still haven't found evidence for the elusive inner gatehouse, we have instead built a picture of what may prove to be quite a substantial moat separating the inner and outer courts of the palace.

trench 4
Rubble in T4

We pressed on with excavation in trench 4, which we opened a few days ago on the alignment of the western end of the range of buildings which define the northern side of the palace's outer courtyard, in order to find out how far west the range extends, and whether or not the new 'moat' feature we identified in trenches 1-3 extends out this way to meet it.

By the end of the day yesterday this trench had revealed an alignment of rubble which closely matched where we would have expected the building range to cross the trench, and early this morning we began excavating this rubble deposit to find out whether there was evidence of any structure or not.

trench 4
Rubble in T4 removed. The slope turned out to be illusory.

By mid-afternoon however, the rubble had been lifted to reveal what at first appeared to be a sloping brickearth surface - precisely like the sloping brickearth cuts in our other trenches which define the edge of the 'moat' - but further work in the afternoon showed that the slope was illusory, and the brickearth contained a substantial amount of brick and roof tile rubble, meaning that it was itself the fill of a larger cut.

We pressed on excavating this context throughout the mid to late afternoon and eventually came to the conclusion that it probably is the fill of the 'moat' feature, which does then indeed seem to be extending out towards the western end of the outer courtyard's north range.

jug fragment
Bartmann medallion fragment

Unfortunately, having been forced off site early in the week due to the severe weather has left us short of precious time that could have been spent fully excavating this trench and exploring the theory further, but it does give us a good starting point for next year's work which will probably include an effort to locate the actual end of the north range and to examine how it meets this year's 'moat'.

Despite the absence of palace structures in trench 4 we did have the consolation of plenty of small finds, including a large sherd of another Bartmann jug, (see day 6) this time bearing a smaller armorial fragment of what may have been the arms of Amsterdam.

c17th tobacco pipe

Trench 4 also produced a complete clay tobacco pipe bowl of a form we've seen before, and is closely dateable to circa 1640-60, meaning it could well have been deposited by workmen during the final demolition of the palace.

All that remains to do on site tomorrow is backfilling trench 4 and clearing the site, which we expect will only take at most half the day.


22 Jul 2022

Summer Dig - Day 11

trench 2
Backfilling T2

It was a relaxed day's digging in Forty Hall today, as we approach the end of this year's summer dig on the site of Elsyng Palace, and we closed and backfilled trenches 2 and 3, and worked our way through the few outstanding recording jobs in trench 1.

trench 1
Excavating and screening more of the rubble fill in T1

We continued to excavate the deep rubble rich fill of our possible moat cut in trench 1, screening the spoil as it was removed, and at first it continued to produce a rich assortment of finds including fine copper-alloy pins and even fish bones, but towards the end of the day the rate of finds dried up somewhat and the rubble content of the context became coarser, due to variation in the original dumping process, so further excavation of this context may not be worthwhile considering the limited time we have remaining.

Meanwhile in trench 4 we pressed on in the morning to remove the ubiquitous pebble landscaping deposit to reveal the expected rubble/brickearth context beneath.

trench 4
T4 (facing E) Rubble context

This trench was laid out on Wednesday on the projected line of the north range of the palace's outer courtyard, to find out whether and/or how it may meet up with our 'moat' feature.

At first it looked as though we had revealed a promising looking line of coarse rubble, almost exactly where we would have expected the inside edge of the building range to cross the trench, but unfortunately, having started to remove this rubble context, the alignment appears to have been a coincidence, and the trench is now looking suspiciously empty.

Previous trenches that we have dug, at the other (eastern) end of the building range, have found archaeology including intact brick floors just a few centimetres below turf level, but the archaeology in this trench, at the other end of the building range, does not appear to be as shallow.

trench 4
T4 (facing N) Rubble concentration removed

This means that it will probably take quite a bit more work to conclusively confirm the absence or not of the building in this trench, and although we plan to get as much work done on it as we can tomorrow, we probably won't have time this year to properly finish the job, so we'll most likely end up covering the trench base with a tarpaulin and backfilling, so that we can return to it next year.


21 Jul 2022

Summer Dig - Day 10

trench 2
Section drawing in T2

It was a much more pleasant day's digging in Forty Hall today, as temperatures finally began to ease and with a moderate amount of cloud cover for most of the morning and early afternoon, we managed to get a decent amount of work done, including finishing digging and recording trenches 2 and 3, and making a good start on backfilling, which will save us work later in the weekend.

trench 1
Excavating the rubble context in T1

Although we did find very ephemeral evidence in trench 2 for the eastern side of our possible moat cut, trench 3 did not reveal any sign of a corresponding western edge, and both trenches reached their safe depth limits without finding the cut's base.

Both trenches were then fully recorded this afternoon and backfilling has begun in trench 3 and will continue in trenches 2 and 3 tomorrow.

Excavation has continued in trench 1, to remove more of the rubble fill of the 'moat' cut. Once the upper surface of this context, which had baked like concrete in the 40-degree heat of Monday and Tuesday, had been removed, digging was significantly easier and we were able to get through much more of it today, taking the time to carefully sift through the spoil as we went.

cut in trench 1
T1 looking west. Cut line in foreground.

The rubble context in trench 1 is much more rich in finds than other trenches (it produced the key on Sunday - see day 8) and a steady stream of pottery, window glass, pins and other finds came out of it for most of the day.

We also cleaned up the eastern end of trench 1 and neatly defined the nearly vertical but not straight cut line of the possible moat. As noted on day 7, if this cut line is the same as the one we defined in trench 2, the 'moat', at least on its eastern side, must follow a curve.

Work has continued in trench 4, which was opened yesterday afternoon close to the western end of the known range of buildings which defined the northern side of the outer courtyard.

trench 4
Trench 4 facing east. Note band of greener grass in background.

Since trenches 1 to 3 have not found any evidence of the inner gatehouse, which we had assumed joined up to the north range, the question then remains as to where the north range terminates, and whether or how it connects to our possible moat.

The location of the north range is currently visible on the ground as a band of slightly greener grass within the lime tree avenue and trench 4 was laid out to cross its inner edge and to take in some of its interior, which in previous digs we have found to contain well-preserved in-situ brick floors.

We've got as far as removing topsoil and starting to remove the inevitable post-palace pebble landscaping deposit which covers most of the site. Hopefully tomorrow we can finish removing this layer fairly quickly and get on to revealing the remains of the building, or whatever else is waiting for us!


20 Jul 2022

Summer Dig - Day 9

trench 1
Excavating rubble fill in T1

We returned to the lime tree avenue of Forty Hall today, having taken two days off to shelter from the record-breaking heatwave that has swept northern Europe.

We picked up where we left off on Sunday, continuing to excavate the rubble rich deposit which fills the cut of what we think may be the moat fronting the inner gatehouse of Elsyng Palace, separating the outer and inner courts.

trench 3
Drawing western section of T3

Having successfully found the eastern side of the 'moat' cut in trench 1 on Sunday, today we resumed the removal of the metre-plus thick deposit of rubble filling it.

This was slow-going today, since the surface of this deposit has been baking in 40-plus degree sunshine for two days and is very hard. Once we've broken through the baked crust of this context hopefully it should become easier going.

Trench 3, meanwhile, located to the west, did not show the far side of the 'moat' cut, as we had hoped, and today we reached the safe limit of depth for excavation. We therefore began drawing and recording this trench today and tomorrow will probably start to backfill it.

lime tree avenue
Laying out trench 4. Inner edge of the north range marked by ranging poles.

One problem that the discovery of the very large rubble-filled 'moat' cut has raised, is how such a moat and any associated gatehouse would join up to the known position of the nearby north range of the palace's outer courtyard.

The location of the north range is one of the few elements of Elsyng that is relatively easy to locate on the ground, at least where its footprint crosses the middle of the lime tree avenue, because in dry summers it leaves clear parch marks in the grass.

These marks are caused by ex-wall lines that were robbed-out in c.1656 and have left the ground slightly more permeable than their surroundings, meaning they retain moisture for slightly longer and so the grass stays slightly greener.

trench 4
Topsoil removal in T4

These marks are not as clear closer to the avenue's tree line, however, and the range of buildings they represent clearly do not extend as far as the area we've been excavating so far, within and west of the tree line.

In order to find out just how far this range of buildings comes across the avenue, and also potentially whether the 'moat' cut extends out to meet it, we opened trench 4 today, a small trench located across what should be the inside edge of the north range, just before it meets the row of trees on the western side of the lime avenue.

Having excavated parts of the north range before, we know we shouldn't need to dig very deep to find signs of it, if it is there, and having closed trench 3 we should hopefully have enough time and person-power to get the job done by Sunday.