Monday, 22 July 2013

A Great Week Digging

The past nine days have flown by but we have now come to the end of the excavations here at Petworth Park. It has been very exciting with new features and artefacts being found daily, helping us to gain a further understanding of both the former North Wing and formal gardens. Our volunteers have worked their way through soil, rubble and stone, in sweltering conditions, and their hard work has led to even more discoveries over the past weekend.

Trench 3 has been a hive of activity since we discovered the floor of the North Wing in Trench 4. Once we had the level of that floor we removed much of the soil and rubble in Trench 3 in the hope of discovering similar flooring. After some tough work trowelling through the last few inches of rubble the mortar floor was revealed and this quickly led to even more discoveries. First, the remnants of the south facing outside wall - whilst much of it had been removed, possibly to use on other buildings, the foundations remain. On the outside of the wall a complex drainage system was found, part of it built into the outside wall, showing several different periods of construction. To our surprise we also noticed our first medieval tile, not on the floor where it would have originally sat, but re used to cover the drainage system. In addition a large amount of elaborate cornice work, which would have adorned the upper parts of the indoor walls, has been found within the rubble, along with a decorative lead flower.

                                                 The team give the finishing touches to trench 3

We hoped that we would have a similar outcome in Trench 5 as it looked as if the wall would continue through the trench. Unfortunately it would appear that little has been left of the former wall, but two in situ floor tiles, located at the edge of the trench, confirming the extent of the building in this area.

The above discoveries, along with features found earlier in the week, have helped us to begin to answer some of the questions regarding the North Wing and the formal gardens. It would appear that the North Wing underwent significant alteration during the early to mid 17th century, as we have found very little, apart from the medieval tile, of the original medieval building (and this could be from a different building). The internal wall and apparent soot covered plaster suggests that the ground floor of the wing was compartmentalised and that different functions occurred in different areas. The wonderful quality of the green-glazed roof tiles and elaborate cornice work supports that this was a high status building and that at one time or another, due to the post-medieval vessel glass, bottle glass and oyster shells, food and drink were consumed in the building, possibly during feasts and banquets. In terms of the formal gardens we can say with some certainty that adjacent to the large carriage turning circle within the 6th Duke’s ‘Iron Court’ there were surface drains, stone pathways aligned with the house and courtyard areas, with enclosing walls separating it from the parterre.
                                                              A clean and tidy trench 4

It has been an incredibly enjoyable nine days, and it has been great to see the interest, from visitors, in the excavation (many are disappointed that we have to fill the trenches in!) and it has been great to see children and adults getting their hands dirty helping us out. A special thanks to all the volunteers whose hard work in the hot sun has made it all possible.

Our findings from the excavation of the North Wing, and the artefacts we have uncovered, along with the results from all of our other archaeological surveys within the Park over the last year, will now be brought together in an exhibition to be held at Petworth House in October.  This will tell the story of how the Park has evolved over the last 900 years and how archaeologists have been investigating sites ranging from the medieval village at Tillington and the Second World War camp, to Henry VIII’s banqueting house and the magnificent 18th century stables.

If you would like more information please contact

Friday, 19 July 2013

The North Wing of Petworth House begins to be uncovered

The last couple of days have been very exciting here at the Petworth
Park dig. Our volunteers have been doing a fantastic job and have made many new discoveries, which have changed our view on the internal gully and courtyard that were excavated earlier in the week. Probably one of the most significant discoveries was made in Trench 4. If you’ve been keeping up to date with the blog you will know that this trench was located in the Ha Ha bastion ditch and even before the excavation had begun we could see brickwork and masonry eroding out of the bastion ditch. Well, after some hard work removing all the rubble we made a great discovery - we appear to have a wall from the former North Wing of Petworth House.

As we dug deeper it became apparent that much of the wall had a plaster surface. It was initially thought that this may have been part of the cellar, but our volunteers quickly reached the bottom and found a tile still in situ, this means that the floor is unlikely to be a cellar as it’s not deep enough. As more was excavated the rest of the mortar floor could be viewed, parts still showing the impression of the tiles that would once have covered it. A quite substantial internal wall has become apparent and we’ve also found pieces of soot blackened plaster wall within the trench, could we be looking at the kitchens? Hopefully soon we will be able to tell!

A volunteer uncovers part of the floor of the North Wing, with tile in top left hand corner

This discovery in Trench 4 has changed our perception of the gully in Trench 3 as initially it was thought that this may have run alongside the wall of the North Wing. However the levels of these features suggest that the gully is quite a bit higher than the wall in Trench 4. The gully may have been part of the later formal gardens.  

The courtyard in Trench 2 is a bit of an enigma. The level here suggests that it is of a similar period to the gully, so possibly part of the formal gardens, but a piece seems to be missing. A sondage (deep test trench) in this area now indicates that this missing piece has been caused by the removal of a wall which stood here – a ‘robber trench’, where much of the stone has been dug out and removed to be re-used elsewhere.  The wall probably formed the boundary between the 6th Duke’s ‘Iron Court’ and the Parterre from the 18th century.
Volunteers working on the courtyard in Trench 2

In the coming days we hope to dig deeper into Trench 3 to see if we can find any part of the North Wing below the level of the gully. In addition, we hope to put in a small trench where we think the wall from Trench 4 continues, to gain a better understanding of the structure and functions within the North Wing. Of course we will keep you updated with all that we find.

Earlier in the week I promised you pictures of the finds and below you can see some of the things we have found. One of the most impressive pieces is a glass seal that would once have been part of a glass bottle. Impressed onto it is the emblem of the Percy family, the Earls of Northumberland, who owned Petworth from the early 12th century until the late 17th century. We have also found impressive pieces of moulded and painted plaster cornice, which along with the finds earlier in the week (green-glazed roof tiles, post-medieval vessel glass) clearly signifies a high status building.
A finds tray with parts of the soot covered plaster (in the bottom half of the tray)
The glass seal with the imprint of the Percy family emblem

If you fancy visiting the Petworth dig we will be here until Sunday 21st July, with daily site tours from 3.30pm on weekdays and 12 noon and 3pm on weekends. Hope to see you soon!

Plaster cornice work, similar to ones seen on the current Petworth House

(If you wish to see a map of the locations of our trenches please see the previous post)

Monday, 15 July 2013

A Hot Weekend in the Trenches

It has been an absolute scorcher of a weekend, but this has not stopped our volunteers getting muddy (or more like dusty) in the trenches in our search for the lost north wing of Petworth House, and they have already begun to uncover all sorts of features. Straight away, early on the Saturday morning we spotted what looked like a wall in trench 3 but after some work cleaning and uncovering, it now looks more likely to be an internal gully. Unfortunately the wall that would have once run along side this appears to have been removed. Also on the Saturday morning the team in trench 2 began to uncover what looked like a floor or pathway (see picture 2). On further investigation it would appear to be a floor to an external area, possibly a courtyard, with a path running off it.

On Sunday we began to excavate the Ha Ha (trench 4), which already had elements of brickwork and masonry work eroding out of the bastion ditch. After some hard work with the mattock and spade it appears that a wall is being uncovered, whilst in trench 5 a possible wall appears to be showing up on the edge of the trench.

In terms of small finds we already have some fragments of lovely post-medieval vessel glass, plaster moulds from the old North Wing, both medieval and post-medieval pottery and some wonderful green-glazed roof tiles, all indicactions of an important, high status site (we will put pictures of the finds up later in the week).

The locations of our Festival of Archaeology trenches, investigating the former North Wing of Petworth House and the later 18th century formal gardens.

Of course this is still early days and as more is excavated we will have a better understanding of what we are uncovering. In the coming days more the features will be uncovered and some small test pits put in the current trenches (known as a sondage) to see how deep the deposits are and how they relate to one another. Of course we will keep you updated with all the developments!

Friday, 12 July 2013

The Big Dig

Well the time is almost upon us! When mattock and trowel will be put to work on the grounds of Petworth Park to help us to discover the secrets that have been under our feet for centuries. That’s right the Petworth dig is starting tomorrow (Saturday 13th July) and with over 40 volunteers hard at work we’re sure to discover lots of interesting items.

For those that haven’t heard about the dig we are carrying out an archaeological excavation on the West Lawn in front of Petworth House. We will be excavating in 7 trenches, over 9 days, in the hope of developing a better understanding of the former North Wing (which was demolished in the 17th century) and the Petworth grounds, which were transformed by ‘Capability’ Brown in the 18th century from formal gardens and into a naturalistic park. So will we find the floors of the original Manor House, or the fountain from the parterre? Who knows, but it is certainly going to be exciting finding out!

Whilst we will be updating the blog regularly, with posts including photos and video, why not come down and take a look for yourself. There will be plenty to see and discover. The trenches and the finds tent will be open for you to take a close look, and tours of the site will be carried out everyday (12 noon and 3pm on weekends and 3.30pm on weekdays). You can also walk the archaeology trail, which takes you, self guided, around the park to explore all the archaeological features that remain of long gone buildings, forgotten lanes and the demolished sections of Tillington village.  What's more, on both weekends we will have many activities going on including historical cookery demonstrations (13th and 14th July) and Armour and weapons handling (20th and 21st July). What better way to spend a lovely summer’s day!

Hope to see you all soon.