Quiet Saturday

Its a quiet Saturday in the castle. The new features exposed in Trench 3 are being planned, and with a little time to spare the author is working on the Trench 3 matrix. This brings to mind the fact that we have a stratigraphic puzzle to solve regarding the new stone structure and its relationship to the newly traced timber hall. Which came first? A look through what we have of Brian Hope-Taylor’s photographs has not helped. There is no sign of such a stone structure, nor of the construction cut for the timber building. Yet one certainly, and the other probably, passed through the northern part of his main excavation. This may well reflect on the partial survival of his archive, as it is unlikely he missed them. It seems it will be down to us to resolve this within our own excavation area. Watch this space next week.

The stone feature, beyond the T-shaped ranging poles, and the construction trench, barely visible foreground, must have crossed within Hope-taylor's trench.

The stone feature, beyond the T-shaped ranging poles, and the construction trench, barely visible foreground, must have crossed within Hope-Taylor’s trench.

A Prince, An Octocopter, and Many Hands: Wrapping up with “This Week in Photos”

So we’ve finished wrapping up the 2012 season. In order to commemorate the final push, I thought we might have our second ever BRP “This Week in Photos”.

Graeme and Gerry with HRH Prince Charles on the beach below Bamburgh Castle

It was a rather eventful week, with a Tuesday visit from HRH Prince Charles to Bamburgh Village, a spectacular introduction to archaeological aerial photography from an octocopter on Wednesday, and the closing down of the trenches at both the Bradford Kaims and the castle from Thurday to Saturday.

Frantically cleaning Trench 3

Everyone lending a hand

On Thursday, students and staff alike got down on hands and knees (literally) to clean the trenches for our visit from our A.P. Horizons Friends, Paddy and Jack.

A.P. Horizons Boys Paddy and Jack

Even Finds Supervisor Kirstie was (forcibly) lured out of the windmill to make sure Trench 3 was spic-and-span for the octocopter’s aerial photographs.

All our ducks in a row… cleaning S to N in T3. Admire the clean lines in the rather dry trench

While I’m reluctant to admit it, in case I jinx it, the beautiful weather we’ve been having the past week has made the task infinitely more difficult.

Bone dry soil in T1 making cleaning difficult

A view of the E trench wall in T1 (now stone-walled) and the bone-dry soil










T1 in particular was complaining of bone-dry soil, making it both near impossible to clean properly, as well as very difficult to differentiate between contexts. The students were able to take some final levels and complete the end-of-season trench plan.

Planning Trench 1 is a group effort

Taking a few final levels before tarping over Trench 1

Matthew and Amin taking levels at T1











Despite the complaints, both Trenches were clean by the time Paddy and Jack showed up at 5 pm with the illustrious octocopter. As they set up near Trench 1, we all gathered on the castle walls to observe the show.

A view of T1 and the octocopter from the windmill walls

Watching from the wall

I don’t think I’ve seen us all so united in our excitement this entire season. If only we’d had popcorn…

Supervisor Alex and Directors Graeme and Gerry gather round … to get a real-time birds-eye-view of the trenches

After a tour over T1, the boys set up at T3 to repeat the process.  They finished up the evening with a flyover above Bamburgh Castle. I can’t wait to see the shots.

Jack piloting the octocopter

Approaching T3









Friday was the last full day of work at the castle for most of us. Trench 1 was tarped and stone-walled along the E section wall. Trench 3 finished planning the SE corner and tarped over it.

Taking down the N quadrant in the NW corner of T3

While some students continued to excavate the N and S quadrants of the NW corner, others worked on planning the NE section of T3. Supervisors from both T3 and T1 frantically worked on closing contexts and writing up context sheets and end-of-year summary reports.

Short-term T1 Ass-Sup Constance drawing up a final plan of T1

Finds Supervisors Jeff and Kirstie finished box-indexing and cataloguing the day’s finds.

Kirstie and Jeff sorting finds

Once lost finds, re-discovered in a cleaning of the Keep

And only with the wonderful and much needed help of some of the BRP students did I survive the day and manage to accomplish most of what I set out to do for environmental.*

Nat flotting 2010 and 2012 Kaims samples

* A special shout out to Sarah, Liam, Natalie, and Americ who helped sort samples, record heavy discard, clean out the flot tank, and any number of other enviro things I asked them to do. Without their help, my role as environmental supervisor might have finally turned me “mental”. Thanks, guys!

A somewhat-sane me, taking a brief pause from the environmental to peek at T1 and listen in on Lauren’s trench tours

We were all hard-pressed to find a spare moment even for tea between taking down the mess tent, washing dishes and duckboards, and doing post-excavation odds-and-ends. Full-season BRP-er Lauren did manage to squeeze in a final tour of the trenches for the public, however.

Lauren engrosses the public in tales of T1 and the adventures of it’s archaeologists

I tagged along for the first time this year and was surprised and delighted to learn things about the start of the project, Brian Hope Taylor’s hoard of records and finds, and the caslte’s dynamic history that I never knew. Lauren’s interest and wealth of knowledge provided an exciting glimpse into the archaeology of Bamburgh Castle, that even I, a long-time BRP-er enjoyed immensely. Thanks Lauren!

Loyal BRP-ers ensure “The Moose” is preserved for posterity

A very warm shout-out to all this season’s staff, volunteers, and students! We couldn’t have accomplished as much as we did without all your hard work and enthusiasm. So, thank you!

The sun sets over the BRP

Finally, while the trenches have been tarped over or back-filled and the windmill locked up, the archaeology continues (albeit in a somewhat more limited form). We’ve got more posts to come in the following weeks and months. Closing up the Kaims. BRP Bloopers. Bamburgh Beast Body Art. Publications. How-to Archaeology. And so much more.

So, don’t disappear, blog-followers. You might miss something interesting. 😉

Meet the Staff of the BRP 2012: Trench 3

Today we have our next installment from the blog thread covering the hopes of each staff member for the imminent 2012 dig season. To date we have heard from both onsite directors, Graeme and Gerry, the Bradford Kaims staff and Trench 1. Today we will hear from the Staff of Trench 3. Archaeology Supervisor, Jo Kirton (that’s me by the way!) and the assistant supervisor’s, Stephanie Rushe-Chapman and Maria Buczak.

Trench 3 being cleaned and recorded


To see the staff profile from last year click here

This year will be short one for me, as I will be leaving before the season ends as I have a small matter of a PhD to finish. Nevertheless, I have grand plans for my shortened stay. Firstly, I want to see the Hammerscale sampling finished so we can get at the SW corner and lift the probable metal-working building. This will allow us to bring that area of the trench down to the 8-9th century layers that proved so interesting in the adjacent areas last year. My other main aim is to figure out whether the large areas of burning are associated with the ‘porch’ feature, which has been evident for some time. They are positioned on the same alignment, so I suspect they form part of a large timber building with a stone entrance, which burnt down leaving only the burnt-out post holes or beams for us to find.

The stone entrance and area of burning to the south

My other main interest this year is making sure we continue to keep everyone updated through the blog, plus the Twitter and Facebook accounts. I will be handing this over at the end of June and I hope to be able to follow the dig when I am in the office or out in the field. Long live the blog!!!

However, my primary aim for this season is to make sure Joseph Tong does not win the quiz. If I (I say, I but I mean Graeme) can do this then I will leave a happy lady.


Steph came to the BRP  from the States last year and soon made it into the ranks of BRP staff.

Stephanie holding a large cauldron fragment

I am really excited to be returning for my second year with the BRP! I am especially curious to see what new developments will be found in Trench 3. There seems to be so much going on, and I’d like to get a better understanding and a better ‘mental image’ of how the various features within Trench 3 relate to one another. I spent most of last summer taking down the baulk and searching for Brian Hope-Taylor’s large burning area, so I am particularly interested in what new discoveries will be unearthed in this area of Trench 3 and how they will match up with Hope-Taylor’s excavation notes.

On a more personal note, I am looking forward to spending another summer with such a great group of people—to be reuniting with friends and making new ones! I am finally officially finished with my PhD coursework at Missouri (yea!), so I also have a personal goal of doing a little academic reading each day in preparation for my comprehensive exams that will take place this autumn (yuck). But, there will still be plenty of time for fun!

See you all soon!


Maria is a new member of staff this year, having proved her metal at both the Kaims and the castle digs.

Maria sieving for finds at the Kaims

Like everyone else, I can’t wait to get back out to the castle and start digging again this year! I’m really looking forward to seeing what else will come out of Trench 3 – especially after the great results from previous seasons’ hammerscale sampling and, of course, Constance’s amazing gold find! It would also be great to try and test some of the theories people have come up with for this complicated, but very exciting, trench!

The social side of the project also promises to be just as fun as the last two years I have been at Bamburgh! Really can’t wait for the weekly BBQs, multi-weekly pub visits, impromptu football matches and, of course, to see what our amazingly creative forging team will be able to come up with this year!

The dig starts on Monday 4th, so expect a steady stream of blog entries and live tweeting from the trench edge. Hopefully we will have plenty of archaeology and antics to please everyone.

Bamburgh Village: Part 3

A little while back Project Director, Graeme Young, began a blog thread about Bamburgh Village. In this post we pick up where he left off. To see the earlier posts click here and here.

Today Graeme brings us into the post-conquest period exploring the remnants of the medieval village including the leper hospital and the Dominican Friary.

Bamburgh  Village and the Church in the late medieval.

In the last blog entry I was looking at the evidence we have from the Anglo-Saxon period. This amounts, pretty much exclusively, to evidence for the foundation and early history of St Aidan’s church, as we have so little information regarding the secular settlement that must have surrounded the church. Sadly, at the moment, the best we can add archaeologically is apparent evidence of absence in the form of the geophysical surveys undertaken around the village (To see the report for this click here). These have revealed a series of enclosures and features in the fields to the south, west and to some extent also immediately west of the church. None of these anomalies are reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon settlements seen elsewhere in the region, such as at Yeavering (Aerial photography, excavation and geophysics) Milfield and Sprouston (both known from Aerial photography). This suggests that we are looking at activity of a different period, in the main I suspect prehistoric and some later medieval activity being represented. It is dangerous to read too much into an absence of evidence but in this instance, and given the close proximity the Anglo-Saxon settlement is likely to have had to the village, it is very likely that the Anglo-Saxon settlement lies hidden beneath the present village.

Bamburgh Village

At the end of the last article on the village we had reached the slightly better documented Norman era and found St Aidan’s Church in the hands of an ‘Algar’ the priest. Aelred of Rievaulx, our source for Algar also noted that there was a tradition of a monastic community at Bamburgh from the late Northumbrian period. When we look at the early maps of the village there is a clear, and rather large, sub-rectangular enclosure attached to and extending from the south and west sides of the church yard marked out in field boundaries and walls. It is quite big enough to contain West House, Radcliffe House and perhaps tellingly the Glebe. A glebe is an area of land within a manor allocated to the support of a priest. So could we be looking at the lands owned by Algar, perhaps even the preserved outline of an early monastic enclosure?

We are on less speculative ground with records that note the granting of ownership of the church properties at Bamburgh to Nostell Priory in 1121. The grant included the church within the castle, but it took them some tome to take possession as they could not occupy the site until the death of Algar, who lived till 1171. Although Nostell lay in Yorkshire, some considerable distance from Bamburgh, the priory was associated with St Oswald and seems to have acquired the grant through their connections at the royal court.

A leper hospital lay on the edge of the civil settlement, located in an enclosure to the south of the triangular village green. The 3rd Edition Ordnance Survey map depicts the hospital enclosure and also marks the site of the leper’s well. A grass grown hollow-way can be seen extending from the wooded ridge, south of the castle, back towards the hospital site, its western line marked by a series of boundary plots. This hollow-way almost certainly represents one of the borough of Bamburgh’s principle  medieval streets, Spitalgate, named after the hospital site. The hospital was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene and was in existence by the year 1256. It contained a hall, pantry, kitchen and other chambers enclosed within its bounds, according to an inquiry of 1376. Part of its lands seem to have derived from the extensive holding of the Nostell community in the village.

The third ecclesiastical centre was a Dominican Friary, founded in 1265. The friary lay on the western edge of the borough, and gives us our best evidence for the extent of the urban spread of Bamburgh in the 13th century. The Dominicans liked to mix with the world and were attracted to major towns and settlement. They had centres in both Berwick and Newcastle, so their presence at Bamburgh is an indicator of the importance of the borough prior to the Scottish Wars. A few fragments of the friary buildings still survive, mixed in to the the housing estate on the south side of Radcliffe Road, just before Friars Farm. Dr Hope-Taylor undertook some limited excavation on the site in the 1960s, recovering three skeletons.

Relationships between the various ecclesiastical establishments in the borough were not always harmonious and on one occasion a quarrel led to a tragic results. The borough had a number of wells, but most had a tendency to dry up during a hot summer. One, said to be located within the boundariy of the hospital, called Maudeleys Well (Magdalene’s Well), was a secure source of water all year around and was as a result widely used by the community. At least until ‘certain friars preachers of Bamburgh, in a fit of passionate spite, killed a cur called Jolyff and threw it secretly into the well with stones around its neck’. A woman of the borough was sufficiently poisoned, to give birth to a dead child. The complaint reached the king, but does not seem to have been resolved quickly as the friars later blocked up the spring, which fed the kings mill, much to the frustration of the wider community.

Video Lecture: West Ward Excavations, 2011

Please take a look at the winter lecture given by Project Director, Graeme Young, discussing the 2011 excavation season at Bamburgh Castle.