Oswestry Castle Excavation September 2018
The September 2017 excavation (Trench 6) exposed the East (external) face of the East wall of the Keep as far as the Southeast corner. This September we excavated most of the South face of the Keep and any archaeology associated with it. This trench was designated T8 (see plans) and extends last years’ T6 Westwards. This was the largest trench we have undertaken to date extending to 14 x 7m overall. We looked principally for evidence of a forebuilding, an entrance structure that enabled access the first floor of the Keep. We have previously excavated the North, West and East faces of the splayed base but have not so far found convincing evidence for this feature.
The excavation proceeded much like previous years with a 20cm deep layer of soil beneath the turf followed by a deep layer of uncompacted dark brown sandy loam containing a mixture of irregular stones. This is clearly a demolition layer much like previous excavations. We excavated to the bottom course of the South face, some 2m below the level of the turf. This revealed that the ‘splayed base’ is in fact a vertical wall within the trench limits, which is clearly different from the other three faces. Unfortunately the wall has been subject to extensive disturbance and robbing of stone in the past and only 3 to 4 courses remain in-situ for much of its length. The lowest course consists of well-made bi-faced stones seen on all other sides of the Keep and certainly represents the first phase of construction.
At the West end of the trench a 1.5m length of the vertical wall had been removed down to the bi-faced course which was intact. There were traces of two walls of a different type of build and stone quality laid at right angles to the base, the spacing suggesting that this may have been a later entrance, constructed to access the basement of the Keep. So much of the Keep wall had been removed here that other explanations may be possible. This feature was at the limit of the North edge of the trench so we were unable to excavate further, and can’t confirm it did actually enter the basement. This will possibly be a target for a future excavation.
An unexpected discovery was an extensive well laid flagstone surface level with the bottom of the lowest course of the base. The stones appear unworked but have clearly been selected for their flat level face, and many are of a similar size, roughly 30 x 30cm. This surface extends along the full length of the Keep wall we exposed and continues South to the limits of the trench, 1.5m at its widest point, dipping slightly but noticeably to the South. This would appear to have been a path or paved area and as it is contiguous with the lowest course of the wall was probably contemporary with it. If it was a pathway it may have been surfaced with sand or grit originally. The paved area had been overlain with two parallel low walls, not tied to the Keep, poorly constructed of stone and stabilised against the Keep wall with concrete (see image, right). Clearly these were recent in date and may have supported some form of steps from the surrounding path to the top of the mound.
The finds for this trench are somewhat different from previous excavations. There have been large quantities of animal bones and pottery sherds from other trenches, but noticeably few from this one. There have been more metal finds; many more musket balls, mostly unfired, hand made nails, a lead dice, and other metal pieces. The dice is particularly interesting as it appears to have been made from squaring a musket ball, and it is the same weight as the largest type of ball found. Also a number of coins were recovered from this trench, including a long cross penny of Edward I (about 1300 in date) several copper farthings of Charles I and James I date and others not yet identified. Some of the copper farthings were found close to each other and it was suggested that these may represent the contents of a purse lost here, possibly in the Civil War period.
As usual this excavation has added to our knowledge of the castle but poses many further questions. This was our largest trench to date and despite a huge effort from the volunteers we were unable to excavate it to its fullest extent, so we could not reach the Southwest corner. The vertical base of the South wall of the Keep was different to the usual splayed base and associated clamping buttresses revealed on the other three sides. This, along with the flagstone surface, support the view that this accommodated the entrance to the Keep, but too much has been robbed out or modified by later work to be certain of its nature. What is clear is that the lowest course of the Keep sits at the level of the surrounding path, so the modern mound is 1.5 to 2m higher than it was in the 11th-12th centuries.