In September 2017 (T7) we discovered the edge of an unexpected structure to the East of the Keep, running parallel to it, about 1M from the bottom of the splayed base. The objective of this Septembers excavation (T9) was to further investigate this structure. This large trench, some 6 x 9M, extended from the Eastern edge of T7 almost to the circuit of railings surrounding the top of the mound. Previous Geophysics in this area did not identify clear targets, so the large size of the trench gave us scope to follow any promising Archaeology. This trench also encompasses the only know previous excavation on the mound in 1988 which did not reveal any significant findings.
After de-turfing a 3 x 3M portion of the trench in the Northwest area of the planned trench, this was excavated to reveal the known structure, which also included a Northern return, at a depth of 0.7M below ground level. This structure was a truncated wall running North-South with the return running East at right angles to it, so likely a building. The wall was of lime mortared cobble construction with finely worked long and short sandstone ashlar facing in the internal and external corners, and at just over 1M wide, a much less substantial structure than the Keep. The excavation followed the return to the East but after 2M the wall had clearly been destroyed by the insertion of several 19th century landscaping walls, constructed of a mixture of brick and re-used stone. Once recorded we attempted to remove this feature to ascertain if the earlier wall continued beneath, but it proved beyond our capacity due to the lack of suitable heavy equipment.
The inner corner of the building was excavated to a depth of 2M to determine if a floor or occupation surface remained. The inner walls had large traces of lime plaster up to 1cm thick in places and this plaster stopped abruptly along a clear line. This suggests that any floor or surface has been robbed or badly disturbed in the past. This excavation did not reach the foundations of the building here because for safety reasons we would have to remove a substantial amount of material, and a decision was taken to stop at this point.
The trench was extended 9M to the South to the agreed limit of excavation and a return wall of the same type of construction was uncovered which ran to the East, just at the limit of the trench. This suggested a rectilinear building that was 7M wide at this point, running along an East-West axis. This Southern wall was excavated to the Eastern limits of the trench to look for a further return but the wall was continuing beyond this, so we could not determine the overall size of the building. This Southern wall was excavated to a foundation level which revealed more about the buildings construction. The wall was underpinned by well-made bi-faced sandstone blocks very similar in style to those at the bottom of the Keep’s splayed base. However these were not found on the Northern or Western walls. Some 2M East from the West wall the south wall had a gap in it, suggesting a doorway or window, although most of it had been destroyed. A few very finely carved sandstone blocks remained hinting at an ornate structure of possible 12th century date by it’s style.
The finds from this trench were relatively few but interesting. From outside the building to the North a horse spur (Rowell), a very large pin (some 25cm long), numerous animal bones and a few musket balls and other small metal objects were excavated. Inside the building, some early pottery (not yet identified) and a late Roman coin demonstrating again, much like the Iron-age coin we found in 2018, the degree of disturbance this site has experienced. Along the South wall there were few finds, mainly pieces of pottery dated tentatively to the later Mediaeval period, but these are still being cleaned and studied.
This unexpected structure to the East of the Keep is clearly a building, but it’s purpose is unknown. The nature of the construction is clearly not defensive as its location would have undermined the effectiveness of the Keep as a defensive structure. What is certain is that the structure post-dates the keep. One possibility is that it was a chapel, as we know from period records that a free Chapel dedicated to St Nicholas was built on the site, but the records do not say specifically where it was located. The comprehensive demolition of the building, the paucity of finds, and the possibility that the Eastern end of the building was partially removed to make way for Victorian garden developments makes a definitive identification very difficult. If another excavation here is possible in the future we would welcome the opportunity to excavate more of this building.