07 Jul 2024

Summer Dig - Day 1

trench 2
Excavation begins in Trench 2

It was a soggy but successful start to our second dig of the year in Forty Hall on our 20th year of research on the site of Elsyng Tudor palace.

For the last few years we have been on the trail of the palace's inner gatehouse - the building that formally divided and controlled access between the palace's outer court, where the servants mostly lived and worked, and the inner court, which contained the royal apartments, chapel, great hall and other higher status buildings.

We know from documentary and excavational evidence that the courtyards were separated by a moat, and earlier this year in May we dug a trench which added to the body of evidence for that moat. See here for a summary of that dig.

trench 2 and turret corner
The corner of the turret at the end of Trench 2

Last year's July dig finally pinned down a decorative boundary wall and an angular turret, forming we think, one corner of the elusive gatehouse. (And featured on Series 11 of the BBC's Digging For Britain).

We were limited last year however in how much of the turret and connected building we could reveal by a large dense holly bush and other undergrowth, but this year the bush has been removed and a large area has been cleared to allow us to get hopefully a much bigger exposure of the front of our potential gatehouse.

The other significant feature uncovered last year lay in a trench on the far side of the (ex) holly bush, in the form of a truncated wall and very deep rubble context which we think may be the fill of a cellar. The truncated wall was roughly but not quite on the same alignment as the nearby turret, so some change in the building must occur between the two trenches.

topsoil removal from trench 2
Rubble deposit emerging in T2

With the bush removed, we therefore laid out Trench 2 today, so as to partially overlap last year's turret trench at one end and the cellar trench at the other end, which will we hope eventually fill in the blanks between them.

Having laid out Trench 2 we set to work removing topsoil and were able to quickly reveal the very corner of the turret from last year. At the other end of the trench a layer of demolition rubble begain to emerge, just as the heavens opened.

Torrential rain and thunderstorms slowed and eventually halted work before we could make much more progress.

Tomorrow we will finish topsoil removal and hopefully locate last year's truncated wall at the far end of Trench 2.

We eventually aim to open two more trenches - one on the extended line of the truncated wall, and another inside the 'cellar', to try and safely get to the bottom of the very deep rubble fill.

The weather forecast for the week looks rather mixed so progress may be stop-start but there's plenty of excellent Tudor archaeology to keep our diggers motivated!


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