Community Excavation

Exposed 13th century foundations of the Chapel
Exposed 13th century foundations of the Chapel

It’s a few weeks since the end of the excavation and I have finally got my act together to produce a summary of the excavation for you all. Please note however, that work in the office and amongst the specialists is ongoing. As such I cannot give you all of the results at this moment.

Trench Location Plan
Trench Location Plan

In all the excavation ran for six weeks between 19th July and 28th August 2015 during which time fourteen trenches were excavated around the area of the moated house, ruined chapel and orchard of Lower Brockhampton.
Each trench was located in accordance to the results of the preceding geophysical and dowsing surveys that had identified the site of buried anomalies which had the potential to represent archaeological structural remains. This was important as one of the principle aims of the project was to identify evidence for a long presumed village of Anglo-Saxon and Medieval date around the site of the Chapel.
Due to the concentration of anomalies identified to the north of the Chapel this is the location in which the majority of trenches were sited, seven to be exact. Five were situated over the location of anomalies that represented solid buried features (rubble, bedrock, floors, walls); one over a curvilinear feature that appeared to represent an early boundary and the seventh against the chapel wall. A further two were located in the orchard where anomalies representative of solid features were identified.
From the outset, no burials were expected to be encountered as neither the resistivity, magnetometer or ground penetrating radar surveys had identified features representative of graves. This was already controversial as it had been understood prior to the investigation that there were up to fifty graves in the area of the Chapel.
On excavation the majority of the trenches located above anomalies representative of solid features and with that potential structures; in fact uncovered demolition and landscaping material produced as a result of up to 200 years of developments made to the moated house and farm. Even the trench located over the possible boundary revealed a solid clay band of landscape material, laid down to raise the ground level up.  Within the orchard anomalies relating to the planting of the existing orchard and a raised platform were also identified. The platform itself had been established sometime over the last 70 years, presumably to provide a dry level location storage.

Jake excavating the fill of a 'not so old' field drain in the orchard. Over 1 metre of material had been dumped here in the last 60 years.
Jake excavating the fill of a ‘not so old’ field drain in the orchard. Over 1 metre of material had been dumped here in the last 60 years.

Despite a general absence of buried structures, domestic pottery dating from between the 13th and 15th centuries was retrieved indicating that a settlement was located around the chapel at one point. However a settlement on the scale of a village cannot be proven; rather any settlement would have been on a much smaller scale consisting of at least a hall for the lord of the manor, with the chapel acting to serve a dispersed population of people living closer to the lands they were working.  By the early 1400s however, the chapel ceased to support a community and appears to have become private as there is no documentary evidence to suggest a priest visited the chapel after 1402.

Some of the 13th century pottery fragments recovered during the excavation
Some of the 13th century pottery fragments recovered during the excavation

Excavations against the chapel itself also shed light on how the structure would have appeared in the 15th century (when the chapel became private), after the estate had been acquired by John Domulton, to whom the origins of the existing moated house is accredited. It is well known that on acquiring the estate he had the chapel improved, adding many of the windows and the form of the current entrance. But the excavation has further added to this, indicating that the external face of the walls had been rendered and whitewashed and the roof supported a mixture of stone and green glazed ceramic tiles.
It is possible that the roof of the chapel was also similar to that of the house built by John Domulton as similar roofing material was found within the small trenches inserted around the moated house.

Fragments of medieval roof tile excavated from a layer of rubble representing a period of Chapel collapse/demolition.
Fragments of medieval roof tile excavated from a layer of rubble representing a period of Chapel collapse/demolition.

One other aspect of the excavation was to identify how the gardens (identifiable on the 1829 Estate Map) were managed around the house and moat.  A single trench targeted a raised area to the rear of the moat, which is also enclosed by a ditch that had in the past been interpreted as an earlier phase of medieval moat.

With further investigation the ditch was discovered to represent a 17th century overflow channel for the moat, which controlled the flow of water from the moat, around an area of gardens which then went on to feed a smaller square pond with an island at its centre.  It is likely this island and pond acted as a duck pond.

This overflow had been left to fill up by the late 18th century, at which point the sluice that acts as an overflow for the moat today was added.

A view from the revetted overflow channel up-slope towards the raised garden soils
A view from the revetted overflow channel up-slope towards the raised garden soils

Whilst investigating the garden soils themselves we found that the earlier overflow channel cut though an even earlier 13th century medieval soil horizon, possibly a plough soil that was rich in fragments of pottery and charred organic remains.  This layer was sealed by a mixed clay and silt soil horizon that appears to represent the spoil produced when the moat around the house was first excavated.  It is therefore likely, as it seals this earlier medieval plough soil, that the moat was constructed in the late 1300s or early 1400s at a time when John Domulton was rearranging his house and chapel.

So … as state at the beginning, this is at the moment is only a summary.  We are currently compiling a report that will include the specialist reports which will provide further insight into the origins of Lower Brockhampton.  By the end of the year there will also be a small booklet detailing the results of the project.  These will be available from Brockhampton Estate.

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