Friday, 14 June 2013

Breaking New Ground

Over the half term break the Petworth Park Archaeology Project, with the help of nearly 30 volunteers, undertook its first archaeological excavations within the park.  For the first three days the focus was on three trenches on Lawn Hill – we had noted features in this area from historic mapping, recorded earthworks during our field survey and identified some interesting anomalies in our geophysical surveys which all led us to this area.

Locations of the Lawn Hill (blue) and Tillington (yellow) trenches
Two of our trenches appeared to contain very little, but they do help us to build up a picture of the park and how it has changed.  In one trench we identified the edges of what appear to have been quite substantial stone quarries - in the past the park was not just the ornamental landscape we see it as today.  Instead it might have been viewed as a larder, stocked with deer and rabbits, as a source of raw materials such as stone and clay, and as a working landscape where there were brick kilns and lime kilns in the 18th century.  Of course, today Lawn Hill is a grassy flat-topped hill with gently sloping faces – this is part of ‘Capability’ Brown’s legacy, and our excavations showed he must have gone to great lengths to turn an undulating and pocked outcrop of sandstone into a wide level expanse of grass.

Our final trench on Lawn Hill proved to contain much more substantial remains.  A large quantity of stone rubble and brick was identified, as well as plenty of pottery and small finds including a Jeton (a medieval French token), a cavalry spur and a gilded brooch or strap fitting.  The evidence seems to suggest this is the site of a substantial stone building which looked across the park between the 15th-17th century, possibly related to a tower-like structure which last appears on the 1610 map of the estate.  Perhaps this is the banqueting house known to have been within the park during the reign of Henry VIII?  Or the ‘castle’ referred to in the accounts of Elizabeth I?

Volunteers at work in the ‘banqueting house’ trench on Lawn Hill (right) and the medieval Jeton recovered from it (inset right).  This may represent the tower-like structure shown on Lawn Hill on the 1610 map of the Park (left)
Our final three days of excavation took us across the park to the paddocks and Colt House near Tillington.  From historic maps we know the area used to actually be a part of Tillington village, with fields, houses and sunken lanes.  In 1763 however, the park was expanded, encompassing this portion of the village.  By using the historic maps alongside the evidence from our excavations it was possible to reconstruct the layout of some of the village plots.  One trench cut across the outer wall of a building, into the front garden, where there were a number of small pits, and down to the garden wall, across the sunken lane and across the boundary of the property opposite.  Our second trench showed the back garden of this opposing property, with a boundary ditch and a number of pits, probably from fruit bushes or small trees.  The finds from this area represent the domestic items we might expect from a village in around the 17th and 18th century – jugs and glass bottles, loom weights and clay pipes – but some of the pottery recovered also hints at earlier medieval origins for the village.  Much later, over the top of this garden, a crushed chalk pathway had been laid to serve the elaborate Colt House built in 1841 – nearly 80 years after the village had been cleared.

A carefully excavated medieval property boundary ditch at Tillington, packed with stones, glass bottles and pottery (top right).  Volunteers also got the chance to learn about archaeological planning and recording (left) and the occasional well-earned break (bottom right).
A further trench was dug to investigate earthworks and geophysical anomalies near the park wall.  These appeared to be large dumps of clinker, slag (metal-working waste materials) and general detritus, interspersed with areas of crushed chalk.  This appears to have been laid down at the end of the 19th century, or early 20th century, as an area of hard standing – though for what purpose exactly it remains unclear.  Perhaps it was for one of the military units which were stationed within Petworth Park during the First World War, or for a fair or similar event.  Hopefully careful examination of the archives by our Documentary Research Group will give us the answer.

We have accomplished a huge amount over just six days, thanks to the hard work to our team of dedicated volunteers, and we have only just begun to scratch the surface – keep an eye out for our July excavations (13th-22nd) and 'Digger's Big Weekends' looking at the ‘lost’ North Wing of Petworth House!

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