20 Jul 2014

Festival Of Archaeology 2014 - Forty Hall - Day 6

excavating the chute
beginning to carefully unpick the rubble contents of the chute (right)

The final day of this year's summer digs was, as usual rewarding but exhausting. The structure at the north end of the trench is undoubtedly the exterior wall of a palace building, fronting an essentially ornamental moat, and we are now almost certain that the wall features an integral garderobe (lavatory) chute, which would have discharged directly into the moat.

The reason for the slumping area of brickwork is that the rectangular chute was backfilled with large sections of rubble, stuck together with a very soft sandy mortar -- the gaps in the rubble and the soft sand has allowed the contents of the chute to settle, the in-situ brickwork around it slumping inwards. It also appears that a large part of the front of the chute was chopped out at its base during demolition, probably in an effort to fell the wall directly into the moat. The soft sandy mortar is typical of the early Tudor phase of the palace, lending more weight to the theory that at least part of this building belongs to Thomas Lovell's courtier's palace.


Garderobes can be goldmines for archaeology, as they were commonly used for disposing of domestic rubbish, and so it was with great excitement that we began to excavate the chute's interior.

It quickly became clear, however, that time was against us and as the day progressed we were forced to accept that there would not be time to fully excavate the chute, since we also had to fully record the work we had done before backfilling and re-turfing at the end of the day.

Although we did find part of a nice copper alloy thimble (pictured), most of the contents of the chute were limited to rubble and occasional fragments of window glass. For the time being, we can only speculate as to what is waiting to be found at the bottom of the chute. Before backfilling it, we lined the base with a plastic sheet, and will probably come back to finish the job at a future date.

{% lthumb fba-els-14/17 partially excavated chute | the partially excavated chute
All in all, this year's dig at Elsyng has been hugely successful and our knowledge of the layout and scale of the palace has again been significantly improved. As usual, we are left with many new questions: How big is this new building? What was its function? How does it relate to the inner and outer courts? Where does the moat go? Was it filled with water, and if so how? The answers to these and more questions will have to wait at least another year, but Elsyng has always been an enigmatic site and slowly but surely we are teasing out the truth.

We are as ever very grateful to the dedicated team of diggers who turned out rain and shine to dig one of the biggest hand-dug trenches we have attempted in recent years (especially those who stayed to backfill!) and for the kind cooperation of Enfield council in organising the public event.

The hard work will now continue behind the scenes as post-excavation begins. The results of this will as usual find its way into future issues of Society News.


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