Great news about our Inner Ward publication

The blogs describing our excavations at Bamburgh Castle naturally tend to be concerned with the excavations in the West Ward, where the majority of our work, like Brian Hope-Taylor’s before us, has been concentrated, but now and again we have had the opportunity to do some investigations at the heart of the fortress, the Inner Ward. This is the summit of the hill where the Keep now stands alongside the re-constructed medieval buildings and where we know from the pages of Bede that the church that held the relics of St Oswald had had formerly been built. We can also imagine the great hall of the kings of Northumbria here, once the focus of the palace complex.

BC04 Chapel 12

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

The main body of work was undertaken in 2004 and 2008, but we also conducted geophysical survey in advance of that as well as a modest excavation in the centre of the ward with Time Team in 2010. We have blogged about some of this work in the past: Now we are delighted to have a substantial paper published detailing all of this work in the Archaeological Journal, which is the journal of the Royal Archaeological Society. It’s terrific to have had this opportunity, aided by a grant from the RAI as well as the HLF and the Mick Aston Fund. It has taken a lot of work, not just by the BRP authors Jo Kirton and Graeme Young, but also by the editor Howard Williams and our anonymous referees.

It is the largest publication on Bamburgh so far (you can check out the others here) and intended to be the first of many as we increasingly concentrate on publishing our work. It will be in libraries free to access next year but until then you will need to be a member or have institutional access (Archaeological Journal). Long before then we aim to publish more popular articles on the results, and we will keep you posted on progress.




Pre-Season Excavation Round-Up

Jo Kirton gives us a round up of the pre-season excavation at the Castle site:

Over the past week the BRP welcomed 10 students and 2 of their lecturers from the Catholic University of America (CUA), to the project and the excavations within the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle.

Some of the CUA group and BRP staff celebrating Graeme's birthday

Some of the CUA group and BRP staff celebrating Graeme’s birthday

Thanks to the enthusiasm of the students and staff and a little luck with the weather, we had a really productive week.

After the usual site introductions the CUA group quickly removed the tarps that had been protecting Trench 3 and set about cleaning the trench from head to toe. As is normally the case with the initial clean-up, we found a number of finds, such as styca coins, Samian Ware pottery and a fair few Fe blobs.



Abby with her Samian pottery rim

Abby with her Samian pottery rim

Burnt wood and Iron from one of the beam slots and Abby with her Samian Ware find

Burnt wood and Iron from one of the beam slots

Throughout the week students were taught how to plan and section draw, use the Total Station and levelling kit, process small and bulk finds, and use the siraff tank for processing environmental samples.

Casey, Abbey and Michael tackle one of the section drawings for the southern beam slot

Casey, Abbey and Michael tackle one of the section drawings for the southern beam slot

The archaeology was pretty exciting this week and the students needed all their newly acquired skills to excavate and record what we found.

The elusive southern beam slot for the probable tenth century building was picked up in three sections, which gave us a pretty good idea of the size of the building. This also meant lots of section drawings and planning!

The southern beam slot became apparent in the sections of the southern latrine pit

The southern beam slot became apparent in the sections of the southern latrine pit

On the final day we were able to excavate what we think are parts of the western and eastern beam slots in the NW and NE corners respectively. The excavation of the eastern beam slot went as expected and we found the next surface, which is beginning to appear in various areas of the trench. The western beam slot whilst quite clear, raised questions about its association with the mortared surface, which it abuts – this needs further investigation but should prove pivotal for understanding the NW corner of the trench.

Chris and Alexandra excavating the western beam slot.....or is it????

Chris and Alexandra excavating the western beam slot…..or is it????

Dr Kopar, Marielle and Casey excavating the eastern beam slot with Ass Sup, Joe Tong.

Dr Kopar, Marielle and Casey excavating the eastern beam slot with Ass Sup, Joe Tong.

We also took the opportunity to remove several features from the SE corner of the trench around the ninth century metalworking building, which has been evident for several seasons. We were able to remove several external features, such as the flagged surface just outside one of the entrances, packing stones around the ‘doughnut’ shaped stone, which may have served as a drain and the hearth packing stones that sit between the metalworking building and the southern latrine pit.

Goodbye flagstones!

A hive of activity!

As part of the excavation of all these features the CUA group were able to complete cut and deposit sheets and learn how to take and record environmental samples.

As well as working in the trench, our visitors were able to tour the interior of the Castle, visit the locations of the Chapel and Bowl Hole excavations, make a trip to St Aidans in the village and head out to Lindisfarne. They are now touring significant Northumbrian sites in the North East, such as Hexham, York, Durham and Jarrow. We hope they have fun and learn a little along the way!

Hexham Abbey from the seventh century cript steps

Hexham Abbey from the seventh century cript steps

The main dig season starts Monday 2nd of June. We will have all the latest on the excavations at the Castle and the prehistoric wetlands site out at the Bradford Kaims.

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

The strange story of the Bamburgh Castle Chapel

In researching the history of the Castle over recent years, especially the treasure trove of stories revealed in the Lord Crewe Charity papers, held at Woodhorn County archive, some wonderful stories and characters from 18C Bamburgh emerge. The papers are still owned by the Lord Crewe Trustees, but on deposit at and accessible by the public, at Woodhorn. The stories really do bring to life previous centuries of life at the Castle, where I am a volunteer Guide-and village. This story relates to work on the “Chaple” during Dr Sharp’s time; these frequent accounts and references in correspondence throw up a real mystery, which is not yet 100% resolved….

Everyone who knows Bamburgh Castle, will be aware of the ruins of St Peters Chapel, where it is said that long ago, the relics of St Oswald were held. St Oswald was the Christian King of Northumbria who died in 642 in battle against the pagan king Penda; it is said that his arm was revered at St Peters Chapel, Bamburgh, although later stolen. Recently, archaeological excavations have confirmed the existence of Saxon foundations beneath the Norman ruins, the apse area confirmed as Norman although there are later restorations to the walls. The British library owns a remarkable etching of the ruined Chapel by Samuel Grimm, who produced many etchings of the Castle, before any restoration work was undertaken by Dr Sharp, showing it not unlike it appears today.

Hence, when studying the voluminous correspondence in the Archive, and especially the letters written to Dr Sharp whenever he was absent, by his Foreman and Constable at the Castle, George Hall, frequent references to work at the “Chaple” seem really puzzling, indicating a substantial restoration.

March 17 1787

There is now 2 masons building the chimney in the Vestry as you ordered it to be done

Dec 27 1788

Robson and son will continue dressing stones for the Chaple

Jan 31 1789

This week Robson and son have been dressing stones for the Chaple at the Castle (DN-confirms St Peters Chapel-NOT St Aiden’s)

Feb 21

This week Robson and son have been dressing stones for the Chaple-they have a great many stones drest for the Chaple. I think Robsons should begin to sett them

Feb 28

I will set the Robsons to work on the Chaple on Monday

March 7

This week Robsons have got 2 courses stones set in the sinclor (circular!) part of the Chaple

March 21

Robsons are going on with the third course upon the Chaple..

On firing the guns at Alnwick Castle for the Kings Recovery one of them unfortunately busted and took a poor mans thye from his body

March 28

Robson have been casing the inside wall of the chancel which were much the lowest part of that work but are now higher than the alter part

April 2

This week we have had very unfavourable weather for our masons work going forward not one day without great falls of snow.

Robsons has been dressing a part of the outside of the Chancel wall-

April 11

The Robsons are going on with the alter part of the Chaple…

May 9

Received yours of the 6th was sorry Robson had left off the alter part of the Chaple before and are going on with the South Wall of it and have laid one more window sole {sill].

May 30

Robsons have got the collard of the Chaple to the same height of the other [?]next to this which joins the door. We are raising the jamb of the door a little at the same time work and are now going with the other collard

Jan 8 1790

On Sat last the two Robsons began dressing stones for the Chaple

Jan 16

The two Robsons are dressing stones for the Chaple, old Wilson is winning stones for them, the other 3 masons are winning stones at Sunderland Quarry

Jan 23

The Robsons are yet dressing stones for the Chaple and old Wilson winning stones for them. The bottom of the Quarry turns out as fine stones as ever (DN the quarry, now the Grove, is near exhaustion; trials are being made to seek a new source of stone elsewhere in the village)

Jan 30/Feb 6/13,20

The Robsons are yet dressing stones for the Chaple and old Wilson winning stones for them, and other Masons are working on flagging

March 6

The Robsons now have a great many stones dressed for the Chaple and the weather are now very promising for walling if you think it convenient for them to begin to sett

March 13

I rec’d yours of 8th inst on Thursday and set the Robsons to wall of the Chaple on Friday morning they have since got the window soles level-what height from the Chaple floor should the fireplace for the Organ loft be placed?

March 20

The Robsons are now going with the third course above the window soles each course being one foot high. I mentioned in my last what height the fireplace for the organ loft should be placed from the Chaple floor-which should be determined as the work are going on in that part of the Chaple

April 17

Since you left us Robsons has repaired both the large jambs in the Chaple and are now going on with the North Front

April 24

We have now got a scaffold raised to that part of the Chaple which are now going forward-also a scaffold on that part of the old hall both of which are going on very well. I think a base should be taken of the pillars in the old hall in the going on of that building

May 1

The Robsons is now leveling the North Wall of the Chaple to the height of the fachea

May 8

Robsons has got the fachea course put in the Chaple which looks very well

May 15

There is now one course stones put in the Chaple work above the fachea

(Letters for 1791 cease)

There is a further handwritten Account Book containing sadly, little information-

Chapel Accounts 1787 (NRO 00452/D/5/12/2-)

(in Dr Sharp’s hand)

BC Chapel begun to be repaired March 27 1787

(Individual payments of wages detailed; no info re work or site)

Work at Chapel paid for by Contingencies

1787 June 7 To George Wilson-Cottagers Bondage rent- £2-12-9

1788 July 23 Dr Poyn’s present laid out upon the chapel-paid to Guy the Mason-£1-11-6

1789 A Present to the Chapel-anon-£20-0-0

When the Castle management, and BRP Graeme Young were given these references, they could not accept that so much restoration work was undertaken on St Peter’s Chapel, without any trace remaining, or sketches of the restored Chapel.

Months later, a thought occurred-for years, there had been a building in the West Ward, abutting the Castle Wall, the entrance through the Smith’s Gate(now Neville Gate). Could this be the Chaple?

Bamburgh Castle in the 19th century

Bamburgh Castle in the 19th century

The windows appear to be gothic in structure, however the entrance door cannot be seen, and all trace of the building has disappeared with Lord Armstrong’s subsequent work in that area, after he purchased the Castle in 1894. Graeme Young believes that the orientation of the building is not correct for a church-and there is a further fly in the ointment. In 1835, Mrs Catharine Sharp, niece of Dr John, and widow of Rev Andrew Sharp(Bowlt) wrote of work carried out during her late husband’s Curacy at St Aiden’s Bamburgh. This included-

1817 Between this year and the year of his death 1835 the following works were carried out in the church by Rev Andrew Sharp-

– A Gallery was built for the Castle Schools and an Organ erected by Subscription. The Gallery was erected at the expense of the Lord Crewe Trustees

NRO 00452/J/29

Why would a Gallery (since disappeared) be erected for the Castle Schools if indeed this building was a Chapel used by Castle residents and Schools?

The mystery remains to be conclusively settled, but meanwhile, I continue to believe this is indeed Dr Sharps lost “Chaple”!

With thanks to Woodhorn Archive

Carol Griffiths

This Week in Photos

Spending more and more time holed up in the windmill, databasing and doing other environmental odd’s and ends, I’ve come to appreciate the re-introduction to the trenches and interesting finds that Friday Trench Tours provide. In order to stay apprised of the going-on’s (and to appease my archaeological cravings), I’ve taken to accosting my fellow supervisors for updates and explanations of new features, intriguing finds, and general archaeological musings, on a semi-regular basis. Since most of you readers don’t have that option, I thought you might appreciate a taste of what Friday (and the preceeding week) offers our volunteers and staff. On that note, I present our first ever “This Week in Photos”:

ENVIRONMENTAL (an oft-neglected aspect of BRP archaeology, and never a part of trench tours)


Some of the specimens in the Trench 7 flotation residue.

This is very exciting for me, since I’ve been working towards this goal since last season. Thanks to all those people who helped me with the endless flotting, sorting, and discarding of the BC08 Chapel Samples.

Lally and Jani sorting the last Trench 7 sample.

We’ve also been working our way through BC12 and BC11 samples in order to free up sample buckets for use in the trenches. The greedy people keep wanting to do important environmental archaeology, filling up my freshly washed sample buckets faster than I can flot them.Alex, Jess, and Trench 1 kindly filled a wheel barrel FULL of sample bags for me this week.

Lauren and Anne flotting a very clay-ey sample.

The flot tank at work.

Flotting of BC12 T3 (400) and (401) and BC12 T1 (206) and (207) all revealed somewhat unusual samples… stones, bone, and shell galore. Looks like cobbled paths and post-hole fill are the trending contexts this week. It will be interesting to see what the sorts reveal.

Flot and environmental samples drying in the sun.


Greetings from Steph and Maria, the Trench 3 Assistant Supervisors! Despite the loss of our supervisor and beloved leader this week (Jo, we miss you!), we have tried to plough ahead as usual, and have certainly been rewarded with some interesting developments.

Media (“T”) filming progress in T3.

In the South of the trench, we’ve exposed more of our strange ‘doughnut’ stone and the packing stones around it, as well as excavating and sampling a pit nearby.

1387: “Doughnut stone”

The ‘doughnut’ stone may be a drain associated with the nearby metalworking structure. The relationship of the nearby pit and surrounding shell deposit with the structure is as yet unknown, but they may also be related. Shell is indeed a raw material used in some metalworking processes (e.g. cupullation)

Jessica G. and Victoria planning the SE corner of T3.

Danielle and Harry planning the SW quadrant of the SE corner of T3.

After cleaning, photographing and planning the southern half of the trench, we turned our attention to the north which has received less attention so far this season.

What we have affectionately termed the T3 “Sexy Section”.

Originally believed to be earlier in date, lines in section are now suggesting that this higher end may actually still be later than the south, so we started off with a big clean to expose the contexts hidden by the recent heavy rain!

Cleaning in the NW Corner of T3.

Kelly excavating in the NW corner of T3. The appearance of unusual clay and shell deposits suggest a possible floor.

Considering the few contexts visible in the Northern part of Trench 3 at the end of last season, this week has proved surprisingly fruitful! An interesting burning(?) feature apparently associated with a strange triangular spread of rocks and pebbles has already appeared…

Left-centre – Linear scatter of large pebbles; Bottom right corner – Strange triangular spread of rocks and pebbles.

.as has what appears to be a linear of bluish grey soil containing a pebble scatter.

Contexts were proving particularly hard to distinguish in the NW corner, so we have started digging by quadrant in this area.

Tyler excavating the east quadrant of the NW corner.

This involves splitting the area into four quadrants and digging two of the four down. This will expose 4 sections which will hopefully provide greater clarity and aid us in our interpretation as we excavate this complex area down. 


T1 students trying to look busy.

Over in Trench 1, the main effort has been on finding the return of the timber building and the robbed out stone building. After pulling back the tarp in the old trench to reveal where the walls were heading, we popped two sondages into the area of the trench we have been working in. One sondage was placed in the SE corner, revealing a cut cut by another cut.

Sondage in SE corner of T1, and patches of boulder clay coming through.

The other sondage was placed in a possible pit in the NE area.

Sondage in NE corner of T1.

Judging by what we could see in the old part of the trench, the timber and the stone building both cut the pit. We are still in the process of excavating the pit, so we don’t yet know whether our theory holds. We’ll let you know the results soon!

T1 Supervisor Alex tidying the NE corner for a photograph.

Stay classy bloggers 😉  — Jessica


Finds Assistant Supervisor Jeff and Supervisor Kirstie caught on camera in the AsSup’s office.

Finds update to follow later this week…

The Bamburgh Village Coin Story

The video below demonstrates how we managed to date the coin that featured in one of our previous blog entries. Click here to read the post.

We are also trying to find out more information about this coin. Can anyone help with a date, mint etc?

The kings head in profile

Fleur de Lys on the reverse

Annual BRP Winter Lecture Announced

We are pleased to announce that the Bamburgh Research Project will be giving its annual winter lecture on Friday 16th of December at 6.30 p.m. in the Pavillion in Bamburgh Village. Everyone welcome.

The lecture will discuss the archaeology uncovered during the 2011 summer dig at Bamburgh Castle and introduce our new project the Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Research Project

Click here to read more about the project and opportunities to get involved

Trial trenching at the Bradford Kaims

I am also pleased to announce that the report for the 2004 investigation of the chapel situated within the inner ward of Bamburgh Castle is now available to download.

Click here for a list of downloadable publications from the BRP

BRP Online Publications

The BRP are actively working to get our interim data into the public domain. Consequently, we have created a hub on our website where we will be posting downloadable pdf reports of our work. This space will also list our publications that have appeared in print, both in books and journals. The first of these reports can be found by following the link and a short synopsis of each can be found below.

Publications on the BRP website

The BRP undertook a survey of Bamburgh Village together with excavation work in the chapel of the castle’s Inner Ward and the area of the village in 2003/4. The work was undertaken as part of the ongoing investigation of Bamburgh’s environs. The two excavations undertaken as part of this process are separately reported and the results of the general survey, which comprised geophysical survey, field walking and a trial trench are listed in the report below. The first of these reports is now available to download.


This survey report contains the results of a substantial body of geophysics, predominately gradiometry, which has revealed a landscape, in and around the village, densely populated with anomalies. One of the most interesting of these anomalies, nicknamed the ‘Bamburgh Egg’ was subject to field walking and a single trial trench was excavated over a further anomaly identified as a good candidate for part of the medieval hospital, the exact site of which is not certainly known.

Geophys analysis from the report
The local volunteers field-walking around Bamburgh village

The second report will appear shortly.

Chapel of St. Oswald, Bamburgh Castle, Archaeological Trial Trenching Report

The report details the results of a trial trench investigation undertaken within the chapel in the Inner Ward of Bamburgh Castle. The work was prompted by the results of resistivity and ground penetrating radar survey that indicated the presence of structural anomalies within the body of the chapel. In particular the the results of the radar survey that hinted at an underground structure within the chapel that could conceivably have been a crypt.

The results of the trial trenches disprove the presence of a crypt but have revealed structures associated with the medieval chapel and part of what appears to be a masonry structure of pre-chapel date.

This area of our website will be updated throughout the year, so please check back on a regular basis for new reports and information

Bamburgh Castle in its Landscape Context

Project Director, Graeme Young, will be giving us an update on some of the earlier trenches that the BRP opened in past seasons to explore the relationship between the castle, the Bowl Hole Cemetery and the surrounding landscape.

Trench Updates

Regular followers of the blog will no doubt be familiar with Trench 1, adjacent to St Oswald’s Gate, and Trench 3, where we are excavating in parallel with Dr Hope-Taylor’s 1970s excavation. Trench 2 which originally lay next to Trench 1 was bottomed to bedrock and then back-filled some while ago. Trenches  6 and 7, that were associated with the investigation of the chapel in the Inner Ward, have recently been covered. In order to fill out the picture over the closed season we are reviewing and updating some of our previous work in and around the castle. The fact that we had reached trench number 11 during the Time Team week, when we excavated in the lawn area of the Inner Ward, should give some indication of the wide-ranging work so far undertaken. The updated reports will be added to the website for download in due course and we will do short introductions to them on the blog. In the mean time here is a little update on Trench 4 and 5 will be covered in the next blog entry.

Landscape Location

The castle rock site has been occupied for thousands of years. The fact that it is a natural fortress is perhaps the principal reason for this, but there are other reasons too, such as its coastal location. A site like Bamburgh that provides access to both good agricultural land and the sea combined with a defensive location has a great deal going for it. In order to understand the setting of the fortress as  well as the site itself we have been studying its landscape. We know that an early medieval burial ground lies to the south of the castle and we have been attempting to understand the relationship between the fortress, the burial ground and the sea. Even the most basic investigation of the Ordnance Survey maps, going back to c.1860, shows us that the high tide line lay much closer to the northern side of the castle rock less than 150 years ago. The coastline to the south of the castle has also extended out to sea in that time, with dune field forming in considerable volume. At present when we look at the height above sea level of the low-lying ground of the Bowl Hole itself, a deep hollow in the dunes next to the burial ground to which it gives its name, it seems quite plausible that in earlier periods before dunes accumulated that the tidal beach could have extended right up to the edge of the cemetery. It seems then that the castle rock in earlier times, far from being separated from the sea by a wide expanse of Marram grass and dune in the way we see today, lay intimately close to the sea, with the tides reaching up to the base of the rock.

The castle by the beach
View of the dunes and the Bowl Hole from the castle walls, facing south

A port at Bamburgh?

We know that in the later medieval period the area of the present village was the site of a borough, a semi-urban trading site with a  particular tax status. The Normans encouraged the founding of such sites adjacent to castes, but in the case of Bamburgh we have reason to think that a settlement in the area of the village has been present since at least Anglo-Saxon times. Surviving medieval records speak of the burgesses, the free men of the borough, and their buildings and land. They also mention the founding of a trading port in Budle Bay, a coastal inlet 2km to the north-west of the village in the middle of the 13th century. There is though evidence of the presence of ships at Bamburgh from an earlier time, as Robert de Mowbray Earl of Northumberland was summoned to court to answer the charge of plundering four ships at Bamburgh in 1095. This begs the question of where were these ships? Could there have been something of a port at Bamburgh itself?

We know from research at a number of sites around the country that beach trading site were reasonably common in the early medieval period. At such sites the shallow draft, clinker-built, ships of the period could be drawn up on a beach and a simple market would form around them once the tide had gone out. Such sites tend to be identified by metal detecting as the coins and small metal artefacts dropped onto silt or sand were hard to recover at such places. The wide stretches of beach at Bamburgh, much closer to the castle at earlier times, would be ideal for such a temporary market site.

In addition, study of the first edition Ordnance Survey map shows an intriguing little inlet immediately beyond the defensive outworks of St Oswald’s Gate, close to one of the streets of the medieval borough, the Wynding, and with a spur of higher ground offering a degree of shelter to its north. It occurred to us that this area could have been a small somewhat sheltered anchorage accessed by the earliest gate known to be present at the fortress. We could not resist the urge to investigate.

In 2001 we sited Trench 4 extending down from the base of the steep slope depicted from the earliest maps, eastwards across the base of a low-lying area of ground, now cut off from the sea by the modern dunes, but formerly open to free flood at high tide.

Map of trench location in relation to castle and topography

The hill-like feature, above our possible harbour, had from map evidence, been much altered but was always present, suggesting a natural feature. Our trench revealed that the base of the slope had been reinforced by a layer of stones and that the ‘hill’ beneath was composed of sand. Excavation at the base of the slope cut through silty sand layers with domestic waste, indicating that the low-lying area had been in-filled with rubbish from the village in the post medieval period. Excavation had to stop before any earlier layers could be reached as the trench quickly began to flood.

The excavated trench. The water table can already be seen at the base and the rubble layer overlying the sand mound at the far end.

With this avenue of investigation frustrated we changed tactics and took a series of soil cores to map the natural slope. This indicated that beneath the silt, rubbish and sand layers a much more solid natural surface formed from glacial boulder clay extended as a gentle slope out towards the sea. Relating this slope to the tidal levels indicates that the base of the inlet could well have formed a gently sloping tidal beach suitable for drawing up the clinker-built ships of an earlier age.

We cannot prove it but, it is more than likely that right next to St Oswald’s Gate a small tidal inlet formed a moderately sheltered harbour leading out to a wider beach where markets could have been held in the early medieval period. This arrangement may have lasted as late as the mid 13th century, when the introduction of deeper draft trading vessels led to the founding of a new deeper water port on the south side of Budle Bay. A site today marked as the Newtown on the Ordnance Survey maps.

In the next blog entry we will take a look at Trench 5, which was situated outside St Oswald’s Gate.

The Chapel Excavations 2008

The Chapel Excavations 2008

Following on from the previous blog post, which described the excavations in-and-around the chapel in 2004, today we take a look at the work undertaken in 2008. Apologies for the lack of scaled images and north arrows, most of the photographs are personal shots.

At the beginning of the 2008 season the BRP had no plans to excavate the chapel. However, when one of the castles grounds men found a substantial wall in the flower beds that surround the outer chapel walls, we decided to investigate.

Excavation under way along the outer walls of the chapel
Excavation under way along the outer walls of the chapel

The major part of the work was undertaken along the north wall but additional sections were excavated around the apse and one section along the south wall.

Excavation around the apse

The sandstone wall, to the north of the chapel which sparked the investigation, was found to extend from beneath the medieval chapel foundation. It was a substantial wall, surviving two courses high.

The wall that sparked the whole excavation sits above plenty of archaeology

A small triangular space between the front of the wall and the modern tarmac path was excavated to reveal an earlier wall beneath the sandstone. It was constructed from a dark siltstone, irregularly coursed and constructed from blocks of various size and shape.

Two phases of wall and the tiny working area.

Two competing themes emerged. Project Director, Graeme Young, believes this to be two phases of the perimeter wall of the Inner Ward. There has also been suggestion that this may represent the potential for an earlier chapel wall, as early Anglo-Saxon chapels are often found on slightly different alignments to later chapel structures. However, the small size of the trench ensured that we could not excavate further to test either hypothesis.  Abutting this wall, we also found a disturbed, semi- articulated skeleton, which we could only partially expose due to the size of the trench. It is believed that this body was disturbed during one of the many building phases within the Inner Ward and redeposited near the church.

4m to the west of this area we found evidence of more construction phases in the form of a further masonry wall that pre-dated the construction of the chapel. It was on the same alignment to the previous wall and constructed from squared sandstone blocks, but with a layer of plaster applied to the exposed north side.

The feature protruding from beneath the 12th century chapel foundations

In the same area as the plaster rendered wall and extending for 7m in front of the chapel foundation, a very substantial rubble foundation was present. It is thought that this crude foundation formed a platform that led out to the Constable’s Tower, which lies below the Inner Ward, to the north, as a second defensive barrier in the castle entrance route.

Finally on the south side of the chapel, a single section of the flower border at the east end was investigated, opposite the point where the wall seen in Trenches 6 and 7 passed under the chapel foundation. The investigation successfully identified this wall emerging from beneath the chapel, but showed that it had been cut away to form part of the chapel foundation.

The trench excavated on the south side of the chapel. Note that the wall has been chiselled away.

In summary, the two seasons of excavation have demonstrated that the 12th century chapel erected in the reign of Henry II appears to be a new building. Furthermore, the various structures unearthed beneath these layers are indicative of a possible Anglo-Saxon building phase, which is supported by the lack of finds from the area.

The work undertaken in-and-around the chapel is currently been written up for publication. The conclusions outlined above are primarily based on this work. We will keep you updated with forthcoming publications for the chapel and other areas of investigation under the umbrella of the BRP in coming months.