By Dig Director Jim Brightman of Solstice Heritage
The dig is rattling along really well now as we head towards the end of our second week. We’re bottoming out our questions in Trenches 1 and 2, though the ongoing mystery of our paved surface in Trench 3 continues to tax brains—hopefully the answer is lying deeper in the trench and will be revealed in the next few days.
The main story of today was the excitement generated by the arrival of Professor Alice Roberts and the camera crew from the Digging for Britain series on the BBC. It was a real honour to host the team at Richmond Castle and for our dig to form part of the upcoming series. The volunteers really seemed to enjoy having the cameras on site, and Alice was really enthused by the way in which we are unearthing these forgotten fragments of our history together as a community.
The real star of the day though was a find that came out of Trench 2 just as we were cleaning up for a photo. On her very first day on an archaeological site, from a layer that we had been interpreting as early 14th century in date, Jenny’s trowel flicked over a small disc of metal.
At first, we thought we had another jetton, like the one discovered last week in Trench 3—a fabulous find! After we’d gently cleaned off a little of the dirt, however, it gradually became clear we had something much rarer on our hands. Examining the symbols and barely visible face on the obverse, we realised we were staring into the eyes of William the Conqueror stamped on a silver penny! With specialist conservation work, we may be able to discern the legend around the edge and find out where it was minted. Even with the information we have though, we know it dates to the early years of Richmond Castle, taking our story right back to the very beginnings of the town.
By Excavation Director Jim Brightman of Solstice Archaeology
So, we are very much at that point on the dig where we are in amongst the really fascinating medieval archaeology, but we are still teasing the answers out of what are turning into quite complex layers.
One place where we are still not sure about whether we are seeing medieval archaeology is in Trench 1: ironically the one trench sited right against the colossal curtain wall of the Castle! The small finds have been outstanding from the upper levels, including a selection of particularly well made and decorated medieval pottery—evidence of the high-status dining that would have graced the tables of the great and good. As we have investigated the substantial buttresses, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that a lot of the stonework around the trench may in fact be an invention of the Ministry of Works in the 20th century! It turns out that the enterprising work teams may have gone a little beyond their remit of consolidation and let their imaginations run free!
Trench 3 is the biggest mystery of all though. We have a clear sequence back through time: modern topsoil, early-20th-century building foundations, the Victorian and later parade ground and a post-medieval soil that had built up after the Castle had fallen out of use. Beneath this, we were hoping for the remains of a medieval building, and that is what we have found. Sort of.
The exposed remains comprise a series of massive limestone slabs, not squared and dressed like flagstones but nevertheless laid with some skill. They look a little like a yard that we might see in front of a typical Yorkshire Dales farm, but there are a set of slabs laid at an angle as if forming the side of a shallow pond. If this wasn’t strange enough, the whole arrangement is curved in an arc, part of a much larger feature extending beyond the trench. So far, all our theories don’t quite fit with what we can see in the trench, so the only thing left to do is dig more—out and down—and see what is revealed!
By Excavation Director Jim Brightman of Solstice Heritage
So, at the end of a frantic and incredibly hot first week on site, it’s time to take a day off and let things marinade a little.
It has been a joy and privilege to work with so many enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers. We have had people of all ages coming and getting stuck into the digging—sometimes it’s been delicate and sometimes it’s been fairly heavy going with mattocks and shovels—and not a single frown or grumble!
So, where have we got to?
It’s very much been an archaeological tale of two halves.
Firstly, we have the small finds that have been coming out of the ground. As I’ve mentioned in some of the earlier posts, we have had some really illuminating items, including: a fine selection of different kinds of medieval pottery, an impressive collection of animal bone (turns out it was probably a deer jaw not a horse!) with marks of butchery on them, and a lot of more recent items relating to the late Victorian and early 20th-century use of the Castle.
Some of my favourite objects have been those that have a really personal connection, however. In all the trenches we have found a fair number of graphite ‘pencils’, giving a lovely image of the army trainees at the camp in the 1900s feverishly noting down instructions and reminders.
Whilst the artefacts are giving us a general picture of all the different periods of the Castle’s history, the second part of our story comprises the archaeological deposits and layers themselves. Here, we have very much been digging our way through the deep deposits dating from 1850 onwards: the army parade ground and the mid-20th-century landscaping to turn Richmond Castle into the tourist site familiar to visitors today.
The possible wall we were so excited about on Tuesday evening turned out to be part of the drainage system from the parade ground, but as the sun was dipping on Friday we started to see tantalising hints that the loose stone lies on top of a much more well-built structure—our first hints of undisturbed medieval deposits!
So, if week 1 was spent in the time of Baden-Powell and the Richmond Sixteen, then it looks like week 2 will be when we make our acquaintance with the lords, ladies, knights and commoners of medieval Richmond.
By Dig Director Jim Brightman of Solstice Archaeology
A quick update today as the main theme has been deploying mattocks to really push on through the more modern levels to try and reach the undisturbed medieval deposits. That means the main excitement of the day was the small finds that continue to emerge from the mixed overburden and 20th-century landscaping: animal bone in considerable quantities, more medieval pottery, what appears to be a hobnail and something that looks suspiciously like window lead.
The highlight of the day, however, was uncovered in Trench 3 (see plan below)—an area where we the volunteers are diligently digging through the clay dump of the former military parade ground in baking heat! What at first we thought was a corroded button (we’ve had one of those already), turned out on closer inspection to be a 14th-century French jetton!
Jettons were one example of a growing system of trade tokens often used in lieu of coins in specific areas or for specific trades. Jettons, however, were primarily used as accounting tokens, providing a visual means of making calculations on a large wooden board. This find gives us a fascinating insight into both the mechanics of medieval trade centred on Richmond Castle, and also the way in which many great magnates held considerable land on both sides of the Channel in this period.
By Dig Director, Jim Brightman of Solstice Archaeology
Things are moving apace despite the sweltering conditions this week. We are now three days into the excavation, and all three trenches currently open have yielded up a variety of medieval pottery sherds as well as plenty of more recent artefacts.
Given the anticipated depths of some of the remains we are looking for, the last two days have seen a concerted flurry of digging to get through the topsoil and 20th-century overburden, particularly in Trenches 2 and 3. Once again the volunteers have excelled themselves and maintained a wonderfully positive attitude—whether debating the merits of marmalade and boiled egg toasties (apparently it’s a thing) or trying to convince the trench supervisors that they’ve found a Roman road (it wasn’t, but a good effort nevertheless).
Perhaps the most excitement that was generated among visitors to the Castle, however, was the discovery of a largely complete jawbone from a horse! Although it was a little too high in the deposits to be evidence for medieval stables (or a meal!), it was a real reminder to everyone that as we’re digging ever deeper, we never truly know what we are going to find.
From the point of view of our main aims for the excavation, the biggest news of the day is that we starting to see the hints of probably medieval walling in both Trenches 1 and 2. Trench 1 by Robin Hood Tower is butted against the standing walls of the castle, but a lot of the stonework in this area was rebuilt and consolidated by the Ministry of Works in the 20th century. What we are seeing here are the first signs of original medieval stones beneath the surface—very exciting!
Trench 2, however, was targeted to find part of a range of buildings never before known and revealed through geophysical survey. As the sun started to dip at the end of the day, and as we were starting to think about packing up the tools, loose rock started to turn up through the centre of the trench. A little more careful trowelling by the team soon revealed what may be the rubble core of a wall—our first window back into this untouched medieval structure.
By Dig Director Jim Brightman of Solstice Archaeology
Although my plan with these posts was only to provide updates of juicy finds and exciting discoveries, I really wanted to just put pen to paper (so to speak) on the evening of the first day on site. It has been an absolute scorcher, which was not ideal for the back-breaking labour of de-turfing, but the project volunteers have been fantastic!
We removed all the turf in the two largest trenches we are planning on excavating: the east ‘entrance’ by Robin Hood Tower and the confluence of wall foundations near the Great Chamber revealed through geophysical survey.
First days on excavations are always a little unusual as everything gets set up, people find their feet and there’s often not a lot in the way of instant rewards in the topsoil. That said, the reception we have received from the English Heritage team and the crowds of visitors to the castle has been wonderful. Sitting with a family on the edge of Trench 1 going through the various topsoil finds and letting them hold these artefacts in their hands will never be less than a fantastic experience.
The first handful of finds have already started to paint a picture of the dual nature of Richmond Castle. The early 20th century was well represented with a large tent peg (let’s imagine it was from the very tent of Robert Baden-Powell!), some scattered pottery and a small bullet casing. The most exciting moment, however, was when Irene pulled out the first piece of medieval pottery: a fantastic fragment of green-glazed handle from a large jug! A few more pieces followed near the end of the day, and we are all eager to see what is revealed as we start to get deeper.
Jim Brightman of Solstice Archaeology, dig director of the Richmond Castle excavation, outlines what the next three weeks of excavations of Richmond Castle to mark the 950th anniversary of its founding. The excavation is being co-funded by the Castle Studies Trust along with Richmond and District Civic Society and Richmond District Council.
By way of an introduction to the Richmond 950 community excavation, I’m going to start with a bit of a personal reminiscence. I am a former pupil at Richmond School, and in the dim and distant past when I was in in Lower School (the old Grammar School building), the first topic covered in history lessons was the medieval period. I’d already been fascinated by the past through primary school, and I was ready for it to be my favourite class. I wasn’t disappointed. On a seasonably warm autumn afternoon, we all trooped up the hill for our first site visit: Richmond Castle.
Many, many years later, having studied archaeology at university and spent my early career in and around the Peak District, I moved back home in 2012. The first time I walked back into town, I vividly remember thinking “was the Castle always that big?!”. Then as now, and as in the centuries preceding, the keep towers over the marketplace, easily the most prominent building in the town’s skyline. Indeed, I was so taken with this icon of my childhood love of history, that the outline of the Castle now features on my company’s stationery!
With the 950th anniversary of the Castle’s original founding rapidly approaching, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to run a volunteer archaeology excavation as part of the wider celebrations being held in the town through the course of 2021. Having been fortunate enough to be involved in a lot of community archaeology projects through the course of my career, it felt like a real homecoming.
As we started developing the project, it became clear that there was a wealth of places within the Castle where targeted excavation had the potential to shed light on parts of its story that have remained hidden. Geophysical survey in recent years has revealed whole complexes of possible walls and structures beneath the grassy sward of the bailey, and Richmond 950 is the first time that they will see the light of day for many, many centuries.
The volunteer archaeology project was made a reality by the kind support of several funders, all of whom believed in the vision of engaging local people directly with the tangible past in such a beautiful and historic setting. We are very grateful to the Castle Studies Trust, Richmond and District Civic Society and Richmondshire District Council for their huge generosity and support – I feel strongly we will repay your trust with a fantastic project!
As I write this on the eve of the project starting, we are almost fully booked in terms of volunteer places—a real testament to the interest in archaeology in and around Richmond. That said, if you are reading this and getting the itch to try your hand at archaeology, then there are still a few places available on our Eventbrite link; no experience is required and everything you need to unlock your inner Indiana Jones is provided! Even if you are just interested in finding out more, then the Castle is still open to visitors through the next three weeks while we are digging, and we would be delighted to talk you through the unfolding story of the archaeology.
Professor Matthew Johnson of Northwestern University takes a look the iconic Bodiam Castle.
Many readers of the Castle Studies Trust blog will be only too familiar with Bodiam Castle. It is the most-discussed late medieval castle in England, and probably in Europe. Over the last ten years I have worked with a team of researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Southampton, in partnership with the National Trust. We carried out a new survey of the building, a topographical and geophysical survey of the surrounding landscape, and a synthesis of the extensive ‘grey literature’ on the site. Our work was published in the 2017 volume Lived Experience in the Later Middle Ages; digital copies are freely available here. We deliberately avoided older debates, and instead stressed a landscape of work and the variety of lived experiences of different people as they worked and moved around the castle and local landscape.
In this short blog post, I want to highlight one point: Bodiam needs to be understood as a multi-period site and landscape. One of the mistakes of the old ‘defence vs status’ debates was to see Bodiam simply as a creation of the 1380s and of one man, Sir Edward Dallingridge. Our work suggests rather that the building and its surroundings form a distinctive place with its own cultural biography that should be understood over the very long term, from the Palaeolithic to the WWII pillbox. It is a place that has seen reworking and recasting by different social groups over the centuries and even over the millennia.
The stone fabric of the castle does, indeed, date largely to the 1380s, and the use-life of the stone structure was relatively short; it was probably derelict and rarely used by the end of the 15th century. However, its story is not just that of one man. Bodiam was a manor of the Wardedieu family, which Edward inherited through his marriage to Elizabeth Wardedieu. Alice Beauchamp, a wealthy widow and subsequently warden of the infant king Henry VI, married John Dallingridge, son and heir of Edward; John died soon after his father, and Alice became chatelaine of the castle for 35 years until her death in 1443 (Johnson 2020, 321). Usually presented as the creation of a single powerful man, Bodiam then was one of the residences of a powerful woman for much of its active use. The elaborate stacked, double suite of ‘private’ chambers at the upper end of the hall needs to be understood in this gendered context.
Much of the internal fabric, and most of the barbican, was ‘robbed’ of building stone in succeeding centuries; many visitors stopped to leave their mark in the form of graffiti. In the 1830s, ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller bought and restored the site and landscape. Fuller’s wealth came in part from his ownership of enslaved people on plantations in Jamaica, as the recent National Trust report describes. In the 1920s, the castle was restored again by ex-Viceroy of India Lord Curzon; Curzon of course was also responsible for the restoration of the Taj Mahal. His activities at Bodiam included the failed construction of a cricket pitch (the selected site, which he named ‘the tiltyard’ but which was in fact the basin of the old millpond, was not an ideal choice). The later cultural biography of Bodiam, then, is part of a story of colonialism and postcolonialism.
However, it is the prehistory of the site – its enduring importance as a critical place in the landscape – before the 1380s that most fascinates me. The castle itself was ‘fitted in’ to an earlier framework of manorial site, village tenements, river crossing and wharf. The whole assemblage sits at the junction of the Weald and the Rother Valley. The Kent and Sussex Weald, with its rolling hills, heavy clay soil and extensive woodland, contrasts with the floodplains below, running out to Romney Marsh. Climatic variation and the troubled history of land reclamation has meant that at different times, the valley has been shallow estuary, marshland, or fertile fields (it will return to shallow estuary in 100 years if climate change continues). Bodiam sits at the lowest crossing point on the river Rother, on a N/S Roman road, at a point which was a ford but which had a bridge from the 12th century onwards.
When I lecture on Bodiam, I like to suggest to audiences primed for discussion of knights, gunports and the Hundred Years War that the critical moment in the biography of the Bodiam landscape is not the 1380s, but rather the Early Bronze Age, when the complex interaction between human and environment meant that peat accumulation in the valley stopped and was replaced by alluvium. And I like to go back still further, to a time in the deep past when the valley was some metres deeper and the surrounding hills some metres higher, giving a less comfortable and more rugged feel to the landscape.
Jacquetta Hawkes (1967) famously said that ‘every generation gets the Stonehenge it deserves – or desires’; the same, arguably, is true of Bodiam. The Bodiam for our generation is, in part, a place of cultural biography and long-term climatic change, where humans have worked with and through the landscape to create, maintain and transform a place that has had an enduring importance over the millennia.
Back in January 2021 Triskele Heritage were successful in a funding bid to the Castle Studies Trust for carrying out a research project atGreasley Castle in Nottinghamshire. Here James Wright of Triskele Heritage explains what they hope to achieve with this project.
The work will focus on the production of an interpretative phased floor plan. The castle, built in the 1340s, has an obscure history and the understanding of its architectural phasing is at best very cloudy. The site is now a working farm and a number of post-mediaeval structures have been conglomerated around the remains of what is suspected to be a fourteenth century courtyard house with projecting corner towers.
The survey will act as baseline research data for a site which has not previously received serious fieldwork or publication. It will also provide a basis for further research and future conservation needs.
Work on the project will start in April 2021 and will be carried out by James Wright FSA alongside Dr Matt Beresford. We are supported in this endeavour by the landowners and Sarah Seaton of the Greasley Castle and Manor Farm History Project.
Greasley Castle was developed for Nicholas, 3rd Baron Cantelupe (c 1301-55) after being granted a licence to crenellate by Edward III in 1340 (Davis 2006-07, 239). He was a significant figure who fought for the king in France and Scotland, served in parliament, founded Beauvale Priory and established a chantry at Lincoln Cathedral (Green 1934). Later owners of the site included John Lord Zouche – one of the few aristocrats proven to have fought for Richard III at Bosworth (Skidmore 2013, 330). After Zouche’s attainder, the castle was given to Sir John Savage in recognition for his military support of Henry VII in 1485 and remained in the family after his death at the siege of Boulogne (Green 1934).
The site is now a working farm and comprises two grade II listed buildings (NHL 1247955 and 1248033) overlying a scheduled ancient monument (NHL 1020943). The buildings sit along the northern perimeter of a 5.18 hectare earthwork enclosure and comprise a multi-phased U-shaped group of structures with an adjacent farmhouse to the north-west. The layout of the site is not well understood, but very limited prior research indicates the potential for a courtyard house with projecting corner towers.
The most substantive work on site took place in 1933 and comprised just two days of rather inadequate and poorly reported archaeological evaluation (Green 1934, 34-53). During the mid-2000s the wider landscape of the site was considered by the East Midlands Earthwork Project (Speight 2006). Greasley is routinely mentioned in surveys of castles stretching as far back as the antiquarian Throsby (1797, 239-42) and the early castle scholar Mackenzie (1896, 448-49). Although these initial commentators were of the opinion that little or nothing remained of the mediaeval castle, twentieth century authors, including Pevsner (1951, 76), his later editors (Pevsner & Williamson 1979, 135), Sarah Speight (1995, 70-71) and Oliver Creighton (1998, 479), noted in situ structures. In the twenty-first century a number of writers have pointed towards the tremendous archaeological potential of the surviving mediaeval architectural features (Emery 2000, 327; Salter 2002, 85; Wright 2008, 49-50, 65; Osbourne, 2014, 39).
Crucially, the potential of the site has never been realised. Green (1934) noted that ‘it is not possible to be definite’ about the ground plan of the castle; a point later confirmed by Creighton (1998, 479): ‘the deficiency of the field evidence renders the exact nature and extent… obscure.’ The confusion surrounding the floor plan of the castle has been created by an overall lack of fieldwork and publication on the site. The paucity of research has led to a number of conflicting statements regarding the buildings archaeology. For example, the National Heritage List notes that the farmhouse was built c 1800 and has later nineteenth century elements (NHL 1247955); however, the most recent Pevsner edition notes that it is a seventeenth and eighteenth century building ‘with earlier origins’ (Hartwell, Pevsner & Williamson 2020, 240).
The proposed project to accurately map, assess and date the overall floor plan of the structures at Greasley Castle is long overdue and such building recording of manorial centres is specifically called for by the East Midlands research agenda (Knight, Vyner & Allen 2012, 94).
Dr Lorna-Jane Richardson, University of East Anglia/Bungay Museum, looks at the 1930s excavations of Bungay carried out by Hugh Braun and also the possibility of future work at the site.
Bungay is a small market town on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk, and sits on a meander in the River Waveney at the very edge of the Norfolk Broads National Park. The town is in a good defensive position, sat on a sand and gravel river terrace, some 10 metres above OD, with wide views across the valley and surrounded by marshland. This ‘natural fortress’ (Braun 1934) had seen earlier, perhaps early Medieval, defensive structures built, suggestive of a burh. This site was chosen for the construction of a castle firstly by one of William the Conqueror’s stewards, William de Noyers, who constructed a motte and bailey structure. The castle was bestowed on Roger Bigod, a Norman knight who was awarded estates in East Anglia and given Bungay in 1103 by King Henry I. Roger’s son, Hugh, known as Bigod the Restless, was made Earl of Norfolk in 1154, and he ordered the construction of the stone keep. The Bigods were the most powerful family in East Anglia for much of the 12th and 13th centuries. After nearly two centuries in the hands of the Bigod family, who also owned Framlingham Castle further south in Suffolk, Bungay Castle reverted to the Crown and fell into disuse. In 1312, Edward II gave the Castle to his brother, Thomas Plantagenet, and it eventually passed to the Dukes of Norfolk in 1483. However, it was recorded as being ‘ruinous’ by 1362, and over the subsequent centuries, the site was used as a source for building materials, the gatehouse was converted into a residence for an eighteenth-century novelist, and the keep was also used as a beer garden by the King’s Head Inn at least until the early 1930s.
A group of Bungay dignitaries, led by the Town Reeve and local doctor Leonard Cane, leased the site from the Duke of Norfolk, and on 19th November 1934, the excavation of the site commenced. This excavation took place under the leadership of Dr Cane and Hugh Braun, an architect from London who had worked in Iraq with the Chicago University Expedition at the site of Nineveh. The excavation provided work for unemployed war veterans and interestingly, engaged the services of a local water diviner, one Mr John Davey who can be seen in Fig 2, to locate water and gold during the excavations. Further research is underway in an attempt to discover more about these veterans, and the role played by Mr Davey and his water-magic.
The excavations initially concentrated on the area between the keep ruins and the gatehouse, and around the keep itself, revealing buried walls which “would show the castle rising some twenty feet higher than before the excavation commenced” (Braun 1991, 23). The drawbridge pit was excavated, and the west wall of the keep was exposed, but other areas of the gatehouse and keep were left intact, after the excavation ran out of funds. Some of these areas were, according to Braun’s report, tidied and returfed ready for further exploration at a later date. These areas remain untouched, and no further excavations in the area of the gatehouse or keep have taken place since 1934. The excavations were subsequently published in the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History in 1934, 1935 and 1936. There have been no further major archaeological excavations, although some unpublished monitoring work took place in 2001, 2006 and 2008 according to the HER, and geophysical work took place at the Castle in 1990 (Gaffney & Gater) and 2017 (Schofield). In 2017, what is now Cotswold Archaeology Suffolk undertook a detailed geophysical survey of the area of the inner bailey, which demonstrated very high potential for archaeological material and structural remains. These include evidence for buildings, a potential well, and a variety of pits some of which feature ferrous debris. Bungay Castle holds much potential for further archaeological work.
These photographs are from the Braun/ Cane excavations at Bungay Castle and are dated to 1935. They are part of the Bungay Museum collection, and there are around 40 images which feature the excavations, the people involved, and a variety local dignitaries and visitors to the site. In January 2021, I became curator of Bungay Museum, which was originally established in 1968 by Dr Leonard Cane’s son, Dr Hugh Cane. As part of this role, I plan to undertake further research into the contents of the museum collection, local contemporary news articles about the excavations, as well as Ministry of Works documents held at Kew, in order to develop new displays about the site and Bungay’s very own version of ‘The Dig’. Basil Brown himself would have certainly visited the excavations, as he lists the site in his notebooks, and he lived relatively locally. I hope my research will reveal more information about the names and lives of the veterans who dug the site, how the excavation was managed and run, more about the archaeological finds, and the mysterious role of water divination in the process. There are many interesting stories waiting to be told about the original excavations at Bungay Castle, and many more are waiting in the wealth of archaeology that remains in the ground.
Feature image: Bungay Castle copyright Andrew Atterwill
Braun, H. (1934). “Some notes on Bungay Castle”. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History XXII.1, pp. 109–119.
— (1935). “Bungay Castle, report on the excavations”. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History XXII.2, pp. 201–223.
Braun, H. and G. Dunning (1936). “Bungay Castle: Notes on 1936 excavations and on pot- tery from the mortar layer”. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History XXII.3, pp. 334–338.
Gaffney, C., and Gater, J. (1990). Report on Geophysical Survey, Bungay Castle. Geophysical Surveys Bradford, Report 90/60.
Schofield, T. (2017) Bungay Castle, Bungay, Suffolk BUN 004 Geophysical Survey Report. Suffolk Archaeology Community Interest Company Report No. 2017/078.