The Legacy of Dr Brian Hope-Taylor, Part 2: An Unusual Discovery

Today’s blog entry looks at one of the BRP’s most unusual and exciting discoveries to date. It follows on from an earlier blog entry that introduced Bamburgh Castles first archaeological exploration undertaken in the 60’s by Dr Brian Hope-Taylor. To read this entry follow the link Part 1: the legacy of BHT

Hope-Taylor sadly died in 2001 without ever publishing his work based on his excavations at the Castle. However, some quick work by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) and English Heritage meant that a partial archive was rescued from his house and preserved for future generations. These included finds as well as written, drawn and photographic records; many in a poor state of preservation and rather mixed. This ensured a substantial body of finds were returned to the castle along with a digital copy of the records and photographs by 2006 (Young, 2009). This meant the BRP could be begin to tie the archaeology in Hope-Taylor’s trenches with his archive and marry our own data to his.

Section drawings from BHT’s excavations recovered form his house in 2001

The surviving plans, sections, notebooks and numerous photographs relating to Bamburgh from the Hope-Taylor archive have given us a good general understanding of the work undertaken at the castle during the 1960s and 1970s. Amongst the drawings is a plan depicting the location of all of the trenches excavated within the west ward. This identified a previously unknown trial trenching programme undertaken in 1970, involving four trenches radiating down from the rock outcrop on which the post medieval windmill now stands. They were labelled Cuttings B, C, D and E, the open area excavation being Area A (Young 2009). During 2006 and 2007 the BRP removed the backfill from most of them in order to complete our re-recording of the Hope-Taylor trenches. Most of these trenches have been reported here on the blog already, such as Trench 8 and 10.

What follows in an account by Project Director, Graeme Young, who tells us about an unlikely discovery made by the BRP team.

In the summer following Dr Hope-Taylor’s death, it was the turn of an unexpected discovery to play its part, when in an effort to provide some site office space for the current excavation, a series of rooms built into the landward wall of the west ward were investigated by the castle groundsman. 

The offices along the landward wall

The locks had long since corroded in the sea air, and the doors had to be forced open with a crowbar. The first room entered was at the southern end and proved to be a double room divided by a crosswall. Within it, a series of desks and chairs were present, together with a kettle, milk bottle and a copy of the Daily Telegraph, dated to 1974.

Hope-Taylor’s offices as he left them in 1974

The date of the newspaper coincided with Hope-Taylor’s last excavation season and it was clear that this was Brian Hope-Taylor’s site office. To the north of the double room, a smaller single room contained tools and a series of palaeoenvironmental samples. The most intriguing items were four plaster casts, three taken from an archaeological surface and the fourth a single hoof print. An accompanying letter from a local Farmer, Charles Baker-Cresswell, to Brian Hope-Taylor described the difficult operation of encouraging a bullock to step in wet plaster. It also included the slaughterhouse certificate for the animal that provided the specimen foot print. Photographs in the Hope-Taylor archive show these casts being taken around the ‘gingan’. This feature still survives within the trench and appears to be a mortar mixer of probable early medieval date. The final room contained numerous boxes of finds mostly animal bone, thankfully with the majority of the labels still legible and demonstrating that they were from the 1970 to 1974 excavations.

Hope-Taylor’s finds from his excavation

The discovery of the content of the rooms was a surprisingly emotional experience. Items seemed to have been discarded as if the excavation team had just stopped for lunch. Some finds on a table within the northernmost room were clearly laid out in the process of being recorded. The obvious reference to the Marie Celeste was made and others felt it was a little like opening a tomb.

The offices in use by the BRP

Follow this link to see some of the reactions and footage of the archaeologists as they entered and explored BHT’s old site offices The BRP Project Video

These discoveries have taken us a big step forward in understanding and integrating the work of Dr Brian Hope-Taylor and that of the BRP. However, many of the finds still remain missing from Hope-Taylor’s archive and we have the challenge of converting a site measured in feet and inches. Furthermore, we have to build interpretations based on incomplete notebooks and partial records. This is a huge challenge but one that is already underway.

If anyone would like to share their memories of the original excavation we would love to hear from you here on the blog or via email at

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