Some thoughts on the chapel

The castle chapel, now a ruin in the north-east corner of the Inner Ward, has been the subject of a quite a lot of archaeological work during our time at the castle. In fact we are working on a publication (supported by the Royal Archaeological Institute and by the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund) that will bring together the various phases of work that will be published later this year.

The chapel under excavation in 2004. Two trial trenches were located to investigate features identified by geophysical survey.

The chapel under excavation in 2004. Two trial trenches were located to investigate features identified by geophysical survey.

Excavation has been undertaken both within the chapel and in the former flower beds along the north, east and a short stretch of the south sides. Broadly speaking what this tells us is that we have a post-medieval ruin built upon the foundations of a former medieval building. No early, or modern, laid floor surface survived anywhere within our trenches. What we did identify was an earlier trench, a little less than a metre wide, dug inside the medieval foundations. This would appear to be an antiquarian ‘wall-chasing’ trench, excavated to follow and expose the earlier foundations. This may well date back to the Sharp era as, the antiquarian, Cadwallader Bates reported that the medieval chapel foundations had been found when a huge volume of wind blown sand was excavated from the Inner Ward. It was clearly onto these earlier foundations that the masons began their reconstruction efforts in the late 18th century, as shown in the transcriptions from the previous blog.

We have no evidence that the reconstruction was ever completed, certainly no drawing, painting or photograph, that we know of, shows the church as anything but a ruin. My own pet theory is that at some point the reconstruction effort was turned into an antiquarian vision of a ruined chapel. A deliberate folly!

The chapel, we see today, is a relatively plain rectangular structure with a semicircular apse. The chancel and nave were demarked, one form the other, by a simple narrowing of the rectangular main body of the building, by a pair of buttresses. Its hard to imagine this simple building containing an organ loft and fireplace, though the windows can still be seen within the apse. Perhaps the nearest we can get to resolving this is to imagine a relatively tall building, with a half-height organ loft, perhaps above the chancel, and a small fire-setting in one of the walls to warm the organist on a cold winter’s day. Nothing wrong with a little bit of a mystery though!

Graeme Young

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