Our final day saw us completing a whole range of tasks on site. As we are backfilling when finished it’s important we finish everything we need to do as there is no going back later. This means that every feature we’ve found must be drawn, photographed and described in detail.
By the end of our last day all this was completed and there was an opportunity for everyone to relax. We now need to reflect on our findings and produce an interim report. This will be finished within the next couple of months, so do keep an eye on the project website where it will be available as a download. In the meantime we’d like to thank everyone who has supported us and followed our progress, we hope to see you for our next season in 2012!
Today most of the actual digging stopped and we are concentrating on the recording. In Trench A the full extent of the internal barn drain could be seen and this required careful drawing. Now we have reached the earliest barn levels we decided not to excavate any further, partly because the trench is now very deep, but also by leaving the walls in place (as we have to do) means there is only a relatively small area left and we wouldn’t properly understand any features that we encountered.
We carried on the resistivity survey in the field to the south east of the church as the results here were very good. There now appears to be a regular layout of walls to the east of the church as well as what appears to be two phases of the great monastic drain running through this area. By the end of the excavation we will have undertaken detailed survey of one type or another over around half the site, so we are planning to come back earlier in the new year to complete this.
As the dig is drawing to a close we are spending more and more time recording all the features we’ve been uncovering. This is a time consuming task but it is important we make a permanent record of everything we have found. As well as taking lots of photographs we are making scaled drawings of all the walls and surfaces, so that when the trenches are filled in we can completely reconstruct what was excavated.
In Trench A digging still continued, and the French drain running down the middle of the inside of the barn was fully revealed. Whilst doing this we finally found the foundation layer for the main barn wall, which is now over a metre in height, confirming we have come to base of the medieval floor layers. Outside of the barn more occupation layers were starting to show, and although we don’t know what these are yet, they definitely predate the addition of the porch or annexe to the barn.
In Trench C most of the excavation was finished by the end of the day. We are now certain that we have the very end of an earlier medieval building running west out of our trench, which was then overlain by a later post-medieval ramp. In the evening we had our end of dig open day, and over 40 people attended. However, we are uncertain whether it was the interested generated by the archaeology or the prospect of Mr Farrow’s barbequed lamb burgers afterwards that drew so many people!
As is so typical for the last week of an excavation, all sorts of new things started to appear across the site over the last few days of the excavation. In C the robber trench over the outer wall of Skinner’s house was completely cleaned (above), and revealed that it was a regular feature approximately 1.5m wide and cut through the sand. Over the rest of the trench we revealed the top of the same sandy layer (below) and at the northern end of the trench some new features seemed to appear that are within this context. These included the wall running parallel with the moat noticed yesterday, as well as a possible pit feature which inconveniently lies underneath one of the latest phase walls.
However, the real surprises occurred in Trench A. In the internal area of the barn we started to excavate the central ‘French’ rubble drain. However, this turned out to be much more substantial than we first thought and as we cleared the remnants of the clay floor it was set within, we released that there was a thin but distinct alluvial spread below. This suggests that at some point the barn floor was temporarily flooded, and this probably initiated the insertion of a drain underneath the newer floor level laid above. In the area outside of the barn we cleaned up a very irregular rubbly level we had previously seen, which looked like a phase of collapse or demolition. No sooner had we started to remove the first spit did several in situ plain medieval floor tiles appear, suggesting that we are looking at the internal surface of an earlier phase building that was later built upon by the porch, or annex, of the barn.
Today a number of exciting developments took place both within the trenches and beyond. In Trench A in the area inside the barn the ‘French drain’ was carefully cleaned up for planning. However, it now appears to be a more curved feature rather than a simple linear drain, and although its precise function needs to be clarified, it probably still performed some drainage function. Trench B is nearly at the stage of being ready for final recording before being shut down. The garden bank has been completely removed and cleaning up of what is presumed to be the top of the medieval surface below started. We will be looking to see if there are any visible features in this layer, but if not we will leave it intact as the trench has fulfilled all its research aims and given us a good look at part of the Skinner gardens. In Trench C the full extent of the cut caused by the robbing of the Skinner mansion’s outer wall was revealed. No courses of stone were left, but interestingly we could see that there was a 60-80cm thick layer of dumped sand both outside and underneath the house. Whether this levelling took place as part of the house construction or prior to it we cannot tell yet. However, given the house was essentially built on a very unstable material we might have found the cause of its sudden and unexpected collapse!
The greatest excitement today came from geophysical work undertaken in the field to the south east of the church. This is an area of very prominent earthworks, but has never before been subject to detailed topographic or any geophysical survey. We initially tried magnetometery here a few days ago, with rather disappointing results, so decided to use resistivity survey which is more effective at picking up stone walls. Although the data still requires more comprehensive processing, a number of structures are clearly visible. The most prominent of these is a rectangular building approximately 20x25m connected to the cloister by a walled corridor, and this is almost certainly the monastic infirmary. To the west of the infirmary is a second large building. This shows up less clearly on the geophysics, probably due to the fact there is more rubble in this area which obscures the electrical signal. However, the upstanding earthworks in this area are in fact much more substantial than those at the infirmary, so our current assumption is that this is the location of the Abbot’s lodging, a building we know from the contemporary documentation to have been a large and impressive structure.
In Trench A a lot of careful effort was put into revealing the drain on the inside of the barn. This has now been traced across the full length of the floor and after it has been planned it can be excavated to see if it contains any dating evidence. In the area outside of the barn we started to see the layer that the building was constructed upon. This contains several features, including what might be a capped drain, although we won’t know how old these are until we dig them.
In Trench B the tile layer has finally been removed from across the whole trench, much to everyone’s relief! Below is a very different soil and we think this will be a preserved medieval surface, so we will start looking at this very carefully in the next couple of days. In Trench C lots of very delicate excavation took place. In the south of the trench, where we are excavating in the area of Skinner’s house, we have been able to examine the stratigraphy of the deposits cut by the wall robber trench. It is now clear that there is a layer of dumped sand least 60cm thick across this section of the trench, and we are assuming that this was deliberately deposited at the time of the house’s construction. The tops of the other features we can see across the rest of the trench appear to be cut into this same sand, so are presumably later than the initial construction of the house.
In Trench A lots more progress was made, despite the heavy rain which makes our trenches look very messy in the photographs! Inside the barn we continued to remove the medieval clay floor. This contained a small amount of medieval pottery that had been pressed into the surface, and will be useful for dating the occupation of the building, but otherwise relatively few finds came out of this area. Interestingly below the floor we began to see the top of a French drain. This is a rubble filled channel usually sealed below a floor to provide drainage for natural ground water, just the thing you’d want in a barn. Hopefully when we excavate this later on it will contain some artefactual evidence that will allow us to date the laying of the floor. Elsewhere in the trench more deposits were removed both internally and external to the porch. Whilst doing this we found the lowest wall course of the porch, and the difference in the relative levels tell us that it was definitely a later addition to the main barn.
In Trench C lots of good progress was also made. In the southern area we finally reached the bottom of the robber trench that formed the northern wall of Sir Vincent Skinner’s house. Somewhat disappointingly we found that no trace of the house wall survived at all but it does confirm what the 17th-century antiquarian Abraham de la Pryme said when he wrote that after the collapse of Skinner’s house “Sir Edmund Win, seeing no building would thrive there…caused all the stone to be fetched away”. At the other end of the trench further features could be seen for the first time. Underneath the post-medieval bank, which we had already removed, was the top of an east-west running wall. This seems to have some ditch-like feature running parallel to it on its southern side, although we need to clean up both of these to find out exactly what’s going on. At this stage we still don’t know what the date of the wall and possible ditch are, but it means that Trench C is getting more complicated, and interesting, by the day!
Two days ago we finished our magnetometry survey of the North Bail and North Bail yard portions of the site, an area of just over 9 hectares or 90,000 square metres. Although the data needs to be more properly processed to enhance the visible features, some things can already be seen. These include a large road running through the bail as well as what would seem to be portions of ditched enclosures. The reason the results are not as clear as might be expected is that the ploughing has obscured many of the features, and many of the buildings in this area were probably timber built, so less likely to show up. Nonetheless, these preliminary results are very helpful in enabling us to reconstruct some of the activities taking place in this area, all without having to remove any soil.
In Trench A the last of the rubble layer inside the barn was removed to reveal what we believe to be the original medieval floor surface. As might be expected for an agricultural building, this was formed from compacted clay rather than flag stones, but this has the advantage that there might be pieces of pottery and other datable material pressed into the floor that will help us date the building. In Trench B (yet!) more of the bank material was removed. As far as we can tell this is now nearly all gone and there is now only a thin layer of tiles left on the base. Hopefully we can soon remove these and see if there are earlier medieval layers below.
In Trench C a lot of later demolition material was removed, particularly from the southern portion of the trench. Here we think runs the outer wall of Skinner’s mansion house which has been robbed out or excavated at a later date, leaving a deep trench (see below). We’ve started excavating this robbed walling to see if any of the foundations survive, but it’s entirely possible they have been completely removed and all we’ll be left with is a ‘ghost’ of where they once were.
Today, despite some quite heavy showers, quite a lot of soil was removed from Trench A at the barn. Inside the building the new layer we saw yesterday turned out to be too rubbly to be a floor surface, and this now looks like a level of demolition and collapse that is right above the top surface of the clay floor. We removed this rubble but because it was too wet have left cleaning up the probable floor until a dryer day. We also made progress in the area that would originally have been outside of the building and helped make sense of something that had been puzzling us. Originally we thought we have reached the foundation course of the porch, which given its higher level than the main body of the barn we assumed to be a much later addition. However, it is now clear that this isn’t a foundation level, but a distinct break in the wall construction, with a later rebuild present. Although we still see the porch as a later addition, we can now identify a further phase to its construction and use.
In Trench B at the bank, another of our earlier assumptions proved to be incorrect. The day before we had observed a narrower chalk rubble bank under the dumped tile layer and postulated that it might be an earlier medieval bank formed by the upcast from the moat to the north. However, further careful cleaning showed that the chalk rubble layer had another layer of tile running beneath it, so it seems like it is just another band within a larger post-medieval structure.
In Trench C good progress was also made. Our main aim was to bring the whole trench ‘back into sequence’ by excavating the extended portions of the trench to the same level as the original area. This was almost completed, so it will now be much easier to excavated and make sense of the exposed walls.
Today saw the completion of the magnetometry survey in the North Bail field, which is believed to be the location of the monastic grange farm. Although it has been ploughed periodically since the 1950s, our preliminary results show that many features, such as a road and portions of enclosures, still survive. Most of these correspond with features visible on an aerial photo taken in 1946 before the field was first cultivated, so together these sources of data will enable us to reconstruct land use in this area.
In Trench A we started to clean up the new surface inside the barn. Whilst doing this it was clear that there was rather more rubble than we first thought, and it now seems that we haven’t quite reached the floor level, and instead are looking at some primary demolition or collapse material. Hopefully this won’t be to thick and we’ll get to the medieval surface soon. In Trench B the new chalk layer was fully exposed, and it is now clear that there is a definite edge to it (see above). Although finds are still sparse here, there is a noticeable increase in the amount of animal bone being recovered which might be of some significance.
In Trench C most of the area of the extension from a few days ago has been dug to the same level as the original trench, so everything is now back in sequence and a little clearer. We are continuing to find some quite sizeable pieces of architectural stonework from Skinner’s house and hopefully we’ll soon start to make sense of the walls in the trench.