FYH05: An Excavation To Establish The Original Appearance Of Forty Hall, By Martin J. Dearne
Forty Hall, the Grade 1 listed Jacobean home of Sir Nicholas Rainton, Lord Mayor of London, and a succession of owners ending with the Bowles family, is familiar to most members of the EAS. It is the most important of the standing monuments of Enfield and some probably think of it as having been more or less the same since it was built in the early 17th century. But that is far from the case. Those who have read Geoffrey Gillam's book on the hall (still available from the Hall and the EAS) will know that every generation has made some change and that what we see today is a mix of styles and dates.
Recently Dr. Andy Wittrick (then of English Heritage) studied the building and suggested that its original look was quite different to what we see today because it had projecting bay windows – a possibility Geoffrey Gillam had also noted from an early manuscript reference to 'bow' windows. In order to confirm or refute this Enfield Council asked the EAS in June 2005 to excavate a section of the rose beds surrounding the hall at the south corner of the east facade.
Cutting a 1.3x3.8m trench right against the wall of the hall, and in beating sun, we first encountered modern topsoil and planting pits and then, as expected, traces of a Victorian lean to conservatory which was once tacked onto this side of the hall. As well as its clay floor or floor make-up we found an area of 'hoggin' filling a cut and pierced by a large silt-filled stake hole – perhaps the seating and support for a valued specimen plant in a container.
This lay above a dump of material over 44 cm deep with some pieces of mortared brickwork within it (12) and, at the north end of the trench, the foundations (10) of one of the suspected bay windows. These foundations, with a thin layer of rubble above them and surrounded by the dumped material, indicated that the east facade (and so presumably the others) of Forty Hall once had two rectangular bay windows projecting 0.95m from the wall we see today, and probably about 3m long. The remains of the brick and mortar foundations were engaged in the wall, showing that the bays were original features. Some of the mortar was cream and some of it at a slightly higher level white, suggesting some hiatus in construction. As it would not originally have been seen, here the main wall of the hall, with an offset or thickening the length of the bay, included some irregular construction work using broken and possibly salvaged bricks.
The gap between the wall of the hall and the bay window foundation was filled with a deposit (11) deriving from the demolition of the bay which was full of brick fragments, mortar, nails, moulded plaster work (probably from the window surround), slate, lead off–cuts and a flooring brick fragment.
We need therefore to imagine Forty Hall as originally having had regularly spaced projecting bay windows – perhaps two storeys high – with pitched slate roofs with lead flashings and, inside, perhaps brick floors.
Some time after the demolition of these bays, which documentary evidence assembled by Geoffrey Gillam suggests was c.1700 when the hall was owned by a Mr. Wolstenholme, a mortared brick vaulted drain (13) was inserted, running at an angle to the wall of the hall. It was only seen in a sondage (a deepening of the trench) and not investigated closely as it may still be part of the hall's sewerage system (!), but it was probably of late 18th⁄19th century date to judge by its bricks.
One other suggestion by Dr. Wittrick – that a door into the cellars of the hall had once existed here – could not be confirmed. Though we found evidence in the irregularity of the brickwork at one point for some sort of lintel having been removed at some time, below this at the sort of depth such a door would have been our sondage found only a further offset in the external wall marking a change in the brick bond used. The existence of external cellar access here therefore seems unlikely on present evidence.
Amongst the finds from the excavation a possible pewter goblet or candlestick base fragment may particularly be noted.
Thanks are due to Gavin Williams, the manager of Forty Hall who commissioned the work on behalf of the London Borough of Enfield, Dr Wittrick for sharing his research with us, and especially to all those members of the Society who pursued the excavation despite the scorching sunshine.
Gillam, G (1997) Forty Hall, Enfield Enfield Archaeological Society