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.

More Information

Latest News:

Stories of Enfield

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.


Other News

27 Nov 2021

Zoom Lecture - December 3rd at 7pm

In order to start our lecture programme again and to try and make up for some of the time lost due to covid we are going to present out first Zoom lecture on Friday, December 3rd starting at 7pm.

The speaker will be our director of excavations Martin Dearne who will be looking at the people of Elsyng Palace as opposed to the archaeology.

Monarchs, Courtiers, Technocrats and Kitchen Boys; Bringing Elsyng Palace to Life.

Though its archaeology has been the subject of many EAS lectures, few will know the life stories of those who lived and worked at Elsyng Palace. These have been the subject of many years of archive research soon to be published as part of a major monograph. So this is a chance to hear about some of these people and what has been involved in trying to dig into their lives.

The activation code together with any final details and instructions will be sent out to all member’s e-mail addresses on the day of the lecture and will also be put on our website (www.enfarchsoc.org/lectures). We hope this will be the first in a series of Zoom talks to both see us though the winter and, hopefully, the worst of covid. We would also suggest they become a regular feature of the worst winter months so we could add December and January to our regular programme.

Having experienced several LAMAS lectures via Zoom, after initial reservations, I found the experience most rewarding. I would also suggest that anyone who has a suitable television consider investing in the necessary lead to get both a larger picture and the benefit of your favourite armchair. Details of the Zoom lectures for January, February and March 2022 will be published in the December bulletin.

Ian Jones, Chairman


04 Sep 2021

Forty Hall Summer Dig - Day 13

backfilling trench 2

A good if not hugely exciting day's work on what turned out to be the last day of our almost two week dig in search of evidence for the inner gatehouse of Elsyng Palace, in the grounds of Forty Hall.

Having finished excavation at the west end of trench two by the late morning, we were able to press on with surveying, drawing and photography through lunchtime, and then spent the rest of the afternoon backfilling and clearing the site for another year.

demolition cut
the demolition cut looking west

Although it's maybe not the most photogenic feature we've ever excavated, we're pretty pleased at having been able to fully define at least one edge of the very irregular and very wide rubble-filled demolition cut at the end of the trench.

It is of course far from conclusive evidence of a gatehouse, but it is strong evidence of a substantial, previously unknown structure very close by, and its location roughly between the meeting point of the palace's two principal courtyards does support the gatehouse theory.

demolition cut
the demolition cut looking east

The final small extension at the west end of the trench was maybe beginning to show signs of the cut rising again, but exploring it further in this area may not be possible due to nearby trees and extensive animal burrowing.

In any case, we already have plenty of ideas for excavation targets next near, which may include a re-visit to a stretch of wall we saw in a small test pit some way to the north of this year's dig, which may be on a course to intercept our tentative gatehouse. Watch this space!

As ever we are of course very grateful to our hardy team of diggers whose patience and perseverance make this work possible.

trench 2
job complete

What with the ever evolving covid situation it was touch and go whether this year's dig would even happen and unfortunately we were unable to incorporate the usual batch of students in the dig, which at times did mean we were a little thin on the ground.

All things considered we're happy to have been able once again to advance our understanding of the archaeology of Elsyng, and look forward to hopefully pushing it further next year.

We'd also like to thank the Parks Department of Enfield Council for their kind cooperation in preparing the site for the dig.

As ever, the findings of this year's work will eventually appear in future editions of Society News. Although our lecture programme is still currently suspended, there are talks going on about staging digital lectures, which may also eventually include summaries of this year's and other work in Forty Hall.


03 Sep 2021

Forty Hall Summer Dig - Day 12

partially excavated fill of the conduit

Work is beginning to wind down now, as we near the penultimate day of our two week dig on the site of Elsyng Palace in Forty Hall.

We've now wrapped up all the work in the area of trench one, which was examining the course of the brick water conduit we first saw in 2018.

Having revealed the top of the channel yesterday afternoon, today we partially excavated the fill of the conduit to a depth of three brick courses, but since we're nearing the end of the dig we elected not to fully excavate it, as we did this already at a previous position in 2018 and it wouldn't have told us much that we don't already know.

Having answered the relevant research questions (i.e. the channel has nothing to do with the gatehouse), we therefore phographed it, drew it and then backfilled it together with the rest of trench one.

trench 2
west end of trench 2

At the same time we wound up work at the east end of trench two, and also began backfilling it, leaving only the west end of the trench, with our deep rubble-filled demolition cut, still active.

We slightly enlarged the extended area of the trench to improve access this morning and are now making one last push to remove the substantial fill of rubble and to define the shape of what looks like a steep linear, roughly east-west aligned cut.

Whatever structure this cut is associated with, be it the inner gatehouse or something else, we are still only right on the very edge of it at this end of the trench and probably won't get to see anything much more substantial this year, but it should hopefully set us up nicely for some great archaeology the next time we dig here.

tobacco pipe
late C16th tobacco pipe

The rubble fill continued to throw up all sorts of excellent small finds throughout the day, including the bowl of what is probably the smallest and earliest tobacco pipe we've ever found.

This one is even smaller than the one we found on Tuesday, which again reflects the high price of tobacco not long after it was first introduced to Europe.

This bowl is barely 2cm long and less wide, which probably puts it in a date range of 1580 to 1610, and has a maker's mark on the foot.

Once we have time to look it up, this should get us a more accurate date range and hopefully a place of manufacture, and perhaps even the name of the maker.

window fragment
window glass set in lead cames

Right at the base of the cut we also found an astonishingly delicate find in the shape of a section of a diamond-shaped window pane, with the lead channels (known as 'cames') forming one corner, and a fragment of glass still set in them.

The last time we found anything like this was in 2015 when we found a complete pane in the base of a garderobe chute, not too far away.

Although this fragment is nowhere near as complete, it is just as astonishing to find something so delicate to have survived not only the demolition process but more than 350 years in the ground. It is also more strong evidence of a building very close by, as a fragment like this cannot have travelled far from where it derived.


02 Sep 2021

Forty Hall Summer Dig - Day 11

trench 2
extension to west end of trench 2

A great day's digging in Forty Hall today, as we approach the end of our two-week hunt for the inner gatehouse of Elsyng Palace.

Over the past few days we've been busily removing a sloping rubble context at the west end of trench two, and the further north and west we trace it, the thicker and deeper it seems to run.

We're now very confident the rubble is filling a substantial linear cut, and although we may not necessarily have identified the exact location of a wall, we have definitely confirmed the existence of a previously unexplored structure very close by.

This morning, after a brief but exciting detour to free a young muntjac deer that had become entangled in a fence, we opened a small extension to this end of the trench (as large as we think we can dig and record in two days), which will either find the far side of the cut, or expose more of it as it thickens and deepens to the north.

the conduit
the two sides of the water conduit

Meanwhile, in the 1.5 metre square trench we opened yesterday near trench one, we finally found the continuation of the brick water conduit that had not shown up earlier in the week in any other of the predicted positions.

This proves that the conduit does run in a straight line, and does not turn or feed into any features associated with any gatehouse or moat to its north. The channel's absence from from trench one was indeed due to extensive truncation due to centuries of successive tree planting in the lime avenue.

yet more pipkins

The only major job left to do in this trench is to excavate the fill of the channel, which we'll do tomorrow.

Trench two continued to produce a varied and steady mixture of finds. The far end of the extended trench has produced a notable number of pipkin fragments - these were cooking pots with three tripod feet and typically a hollow ceramic handle into which a wooden extension was fitted for handling when hot.

We've found so many similar fragments of one type of fabric that we think we should be able to reconstruct a sizeable portion of it after the dig.

glazed tile
an unusual glazed roof tile

Another unusual find that came from trench two late in the day was a drip glazed roof tile - something that we've never seen before at Elsyng. Glazed roof tiles are something that you would not expect on a Tudor building, but was a medieval tradition, so this together with the couple of medieval pottery fragments may together begin to hint at some older archaeology not far away.

If this is the case it will probably have to wait for another year, as we've almost completed most of this years' work. We're aiming to be done and at least mostly backfilled by Saturday afternoon.


01 Sep 2021

Forty Hall Summer Dig - Day 10

lime tree avenue
opening 1.5m test pit (background-left)

A drizzly and at times chilly morning didn't dampen our spirits today as we returned to Forty Hall for the final five-day stretch of our two-week dig on the site of Elsyng Tudor palace.

trench 2
excavating the cut at west end of T2

This morning we decided to have one last roll of the dice in our effort to find the extended course of the previously excavated brick water conduit we relocated a few days ago. We strung a line out along the stretch of brickwork we have exposed at the west end of trench one, and extended the line out east into the middle of Forty Hall's lime tree avenue, where we laid out a 1.5 metre square trench which hopefully should be clear of any historical tree planting pits which we suspect are the reason we didn't find the conduit running through the east end of trench 1. We've only got as far as deturfing and topsoil removal, but if the conduit does run straight in this direction we should only have to dig down 60cm or so to find it.

rubble filled cut
large sections of mortared-together rubble in the cut in T2

Meanwhile at the west end of trench two, the sloping rubble-filled context is looking more and more like a rubble-filled demolition cut. We haven't quite finished removing the all of the rubble in this area, but where we have done so it does seem to show a steep cut into a sloping brickearth surface; moreover at the north section of the trench the rubble fragments are very substantial and large chunks are mortared together.

We strongly suspect that the structure this rubble derives from is less than a few of metres away, although from the size of the apparent cut, it may well be that any in-situ wall foundations have been removed entirely. Ideally we'd like to extend this part of the trench north, but at this point we may be limited by time and person-power.

candle dish
candle holder

In any case, the context continued to throw up plenty of great finds today, including an unusual ceramic fragment that had us all scratching our heads for a few minutes until the penny dropped.

At first glance it looked like a stubby cylindrical spout, but the hole doesn't go all the way through, which led to suggestions ranging from a decorative foot to a suspension point for rope straps.

medieval pot
more medieval pottery

Fortunately the site director then remembered an identical example we found a few years ago, which was identified as a ceramic candle-holder, which would have had a surrounding dish to catch dripping wax.

Although we only removed topsoil from the new 1.5m square trench, it did turn up a second fragment of medieval pottery - part of a large handle and rim of what was probably a chunky jar, in a slightly finer fabric than the previous piece but again tentatively dated to the 14th century.