23 Jul 2017

Forty Hall Summer Dig - Day 10

bread oven with ash layer

Today was the last day of our summer dig, and although we spent most of the day recording and backfilling our trenches, the little digging we did do revealed one of the nicest palace features seen on the site in fifty years.

The trench extension in the south east corner of trench 2 was finished, revealing the beautifully preserved base of a circular bread oven, with the remains of the original Tudor kitchen floor in front, and within it, a skim of soot and ash from the last time the oven was fired, at least 360 years ago.

We now think this oven is probably a later replacement to the thoroughly robbed-out one we found nearby on day 9, and this likely explains why the rubble of the other oven was so coarse and included so many complete bricks.

heat damaged brick base of oven

Unlike the demolished features elsewhere, the earlier oven was probably demolished during the palace's lifetime, when it was decomissioned and the replacement we found today built.

Interestingly, the construction of the newer oven is a mixture of brick and tile - the western half of the exposed wall of the oven (bottom of first 2 pics) being brick and the rest entirely made up of tiles.

Tudor bread ovens worked by setting a fire in the main alcove, and then raking the hot ashes into a pit below. The dough was then placed in the upper part, the oven structure retaining enough heat to bake it. Tiles were used in ovens because they are thinner than brick and so absorb heat quickly and more thoroughly.

Our ovens and the associated well worn kitchen floor are an exteremely evocative piece of archaeology and a significant discovery in the understanding of Henry VIII's palace, since this is the first time it has been possible to put a definite function to an excavated structure.

the oven and kitchen floor in front

It may now be possible to make deductions as to the likely layout of nearby palace elements, since kitchens were never built very far from the main hall and dining rooms in a palace.

The hard work of post-excavation now starts, to make sense of all the complex stratigraphy and multi-phased structures this dig disovered. A full summary of the work will appear in the society newsletter in due course.

A huge thank you is owed to all our members who made this year's dig possible, especially those who stuck through to backfill despite the threat of torrential rain (which we just barely missed!)


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