The Legacy of Dr. Brian Hope-Taylor Part 1.

Today we take a look at the work of Dr. Brian Hope-Taylor who excavated at Bamburgh during the 1960’s and 1970’s. You have probably heard his name mentioned in numerous blog entries over the past few months, this primarily stems from the fact that the Bamburgh Research Project has actively sought to re-investigate the work of Hope-Taylor with many of our trenches sited to explore his work (T8 and T10 for example).

Hope-Taylor’s trenches, as located and re-excavated by the Bamburgh Research Project.

The first systematic excavation prior to the foundation of the Bamburgh Research Project (BRP) in 1996 was conducted, by the late Dr Brian Hope-Taylor, of Cambridge University. Hope-Taylor’s interest in Bamburgh seems to have stemmed from his previous work at the Anglian royal site at Yeavering, some 25km to the west of Bamburgh. It appears that Hope-Taylor believed Bamburgh, being in the first tier of royal centres, would make an interesting parallel to Yeavering and aid in its interpretation. Hope-Taylor began excavations at Bamburgh in the early 60’s and returned between 1970-1974 for more systematic excavation (Young, 2009).

A photograph of BHT's excavation in the West Ward
A photograph of BHT’s excavation in the West Ward

Hope-Taylor never published his findings at Bamburgh, so when the BRP began their first season of investigation in 1996 they were not sure what to expect.

Project Director, Graeme Young, tells us in his article in Antiquity (2009) that “Dr Hope-Taylor loomed substantially in the minds of the small group of archaeologists who formed the BRP, not just because the thought of following in the footsteps of such a famous name seemed a little daunting, but also because without knowing the extent of his work within the castle, how would we integrate our own studies to his. It was perhaps this, as much as the interest of the site itself, that prompted the initial excavation undertaken by the BRP, to concentrate on the identification and investigation of an early medieval burial site close to, but beyond the castle gate” (2009). It was here that the BRP would unearth and excavate approx. 100 bodies from the final phase cemetery known as the Bowl Hole. Follow the link to see the first of three blog entries discussing this site. Bowl Hole: Part 1

The BRP also wished to explore the interior of the castle and decided to situate their trenches in the same area in which Hope-Taylor excavated.

Graeme tells us “ Documentary survey, resistivity and ground penetrating radar surveys were undertaken prior to excavation and, together with anecdotal evidence from those who remembered Hope-Taylor at Bamburgh, helped identify the general area of the 1970s excavations. Sufficiently to at least allow a trial trench to be sited with some confidence within the west ward in 2000”.

Geophysical survey being undertaken in the West Ward of the castle

This 30m by 2m trench, oriented broadly north to south, was by sheer good fortune, perfectly placed to identify the east side of Hope-Taylor’s main excavation trench.

Excavation begins in the West Ward

And once this had been identified, it was a relatively simple task to follow the edge during the following season to reveal the vast majority of a substantial, trapezoidal, open area excavation, divided by a central baulk. The north side of the trench was 10m wide, the south 7m wide, extending 19.4m north to south.

The extended trench in the West Ward

The full trench was emptied to the base of the original excavation, with the exception of the southern 3m, where a service pipe had been inserted in the intervening time between the BRP and Hope-Taylor excavations. This was a relatively easy task, as the trench had been covered with a mixture of polythene fertilizer sacks and tarpaulins weighed down by stones and timber by Hope-Taylor and his dig team at the end of the 1974 season.

The Hope-Taylor level covered by fertilizers sacks and tarpaulin

The Hope-Taylor level covered by fertilizers sacks and tarpaulin

The day of the great unveiling, when the tarpaulins and sacks were peeled back was a memorable occasion, given the quality of the archaeology that was revealed. This was made all the more interesting by the presence of section strings, nails and occasional marker tags left in situ. Clearly, Hope-Taylor had left with every intention of returning in a later season. Once cleaned, the Hope-Taylor trench was extensively recorded by photography, as well as by plan and section. In addition to this record, our strategy was to excavate a parallel trench on the east side of Hope-Taylor’s. This it was hoped, would provide sufficient insight to allow at least a basic interpretation of what had been excavated during the 1970s. Primarily however, it would provide an independent sample of the west ward stratigraphy (Young, 2009).

Trench 3. The extent most people would recognise today. Note the baulk in the bottom right corner

This trench is what many people now know to be Trench 3 and is still under excavation today. The 2011 season was particularly interesting as we began the excavation of the baulk which BHT left in-situ. This has enabled us to begin to marry-up the excavated stratigraphy in the BHT trenches with the stratigraphic sequence we recorded this summer.

In the following blog post we will discuss one of the BRP’s most exciting discoveries to date, which concerns our main protagonist, Dr. Hope-Taylor.

Young. G. Excavating an Archaeologist: Brian Hope-Taylor at Bamburgh. Antiquity 82(318)

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