West Bailey, Corfe, Day 5 The Burial Ground

The view south across the finished  trenches and the West Bailey high above the Purbeck countryside

The view south across the finished trenches and the West Bailey high above the Purbeck countryside


A day to take photographs, make scale drawings and polish the archaeological record. This will be the residue of our days once the trenches ..and eventually we are gone.
Drawing the revealed part of the buried north wall.  Once, it is thought, the 13th century constable's house. Someone like Richard de Bosco  who made sure the Castle was at the cutting edge of military design for his master Edward I.

Drawing the revealed part of the buried north wall.
Once, it is thought, the 13th century constable’s house. Someone like Richard de Bosco who made sure the Castle was at the cutting edge of military design for his master Edward I.

What of past digs? Thomas Bond in the 1880s left his book on Corfe Castle and a few photographs.. and the RCHM scholars published their article in Medieval Archaeology and created their wonderful Dorset volumes. Volume II pt.1 has their account of Corfe Castle.. still the best .. though we have added something new this week.

But Corfe’s RCHM men were mainly experts in medieval history and architecture. There was so much to say about medieval royal Corfe that Corfe the post-medieval new money mansion got a bit neglected. Queen Elizabeth I flogged it in 1572 and from the Hatton family is passed to the Bankes. Sir John and Dame Mary garrisoned the Castle in support of Charles I, and, following its capture in 1646, Parliament insisted on blowing it to bits. It’s this late Tudor, early Stuart and Civil War knowledge of Corfe that the National Trust’s research over the years has built up. It’s great that Ralph Treswell created his plan of the Castle in 1586 but as we found out this week Sir John Bankes paid for a lot more work on his prestigious new home before its destruction.

One of the lumps of animal bone mixed in the limestone debris on the east side of the 17th century wall.

One of the lumps of animal bone mixed in the limestone debris on the east side of the 17th century wall.

Carol and Kate spent the last hours digging down on either side of our narrow wall in trench B while the well-cut masonry of the ‘Constable’s House’ was being measured and drawn in trench A.

We have some good information on some of the constables. My favourite is Richard de Bosco who served Edward I in the 1280s-90s. His name shines out as the Castle’s Project Director in the parchment account rolls which survive in the National Archives, London. He made sure that what was required got done. If you know medieval latin and can decipher the handwriting and abbreviations (I can’t but we found someone who could).. they’re a great read (well, if you’re into that sort of stuff). Month by month they detail the repairs to the Castle, naming nearly everyone involved and how much they got paid. Some good touches too.. like the candles bought to enable the craftsmen to work at night “in preparation for our Lord King’s arrival”.

Not a royal wall but a revetment wall. This the rough east side was not meant to be seen built up against a pile of limestone debris.

Not a royal wall but a revetment wall. This the rough east side was not meant to be seen built up against a pile of limestone debris.

In the 1630s, the Bankes family called on local builders who did a good job but the wall in trench B was very different to that in A. It only had a good finished face on the west side. Carol uncovered only a rough rubble surface on the east which was clearly not meant to be seen. It was a revetment wall, built to shore up a slope made of limestone gravel and rubble containing animal bones and the odd fragment of medieval pot.

The west side of the 17th century wall. Well built and pointed with orange brown mortar.  The sand and rubble peeled off onto a level gravel floor. Pottery dated this floor to the 17th century.

The west side of the 17th century wall. Well built and pointed with orange brown mortar. The sand and rubble peeled off onto a level gravel floor. Pottery dated this floor to the 17th century.

The west face was nicely finished and pointed with an orange mortar. It appeared as good as new, presumably because it had been covered by debris for over 350 years. It was probably less than a decade old before Captain Hughes and his Parliamentarian soldiers did their work. At the lowest level, were a few fragments of green and yellow glazed earthenware typical of the 17th century, just above a limestone gravel floor.

What was this lower west end of the West Bailey used for? The RCHM men give us an idea in their report, though not enough information..”of the later history of the site we have little knowledge except that.. at some date after 1600 the area west of the cross-wall was used as a burial-ground. The most likely period for this later development would be that of the blockade of the castle in the years 1643-6, when the use of the parish church-yard might well have been denied the garrison over long periods”. Sadly no explanation.. how many bodies were found and when? Where are they now? Perhaps a trip to the English Heritage National Monuments Record in Swindon to see if there are extra records there. No grave-like features appeared on the geophys.

What do we take away from this? Well, the obvious..that there is much that we still do not know about this place and particularly its use for the 60 years after Treswell. Our resistivity survey picked up traces of the ‘Constable’s House’ north wall and also the 17th century revetment wall in trench B. We found the very edge of another wall abutting its west side at 45% and the geophysics picked up its continuation south-west, parallel with another feature 6m further south.

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On their fold-out map at the back of Dorset II pt.1, the RCHM show a continuous cross-wall (Ben’s Shweppes bottle suggests some unrecorded digging along there) but we found that it was not continuous and not of the same period, but two walls following a similar line but built 300-400 years apart.

We also found that the erosion along the steep slope, from the east to the west sides of the cross-wall, was not causing any damage to the archaeology. National Trust staff have put a geo-textile barrier across the area overlain with clay .. and although the gradient is never likely to look pristine, it can be topped up with soil from time to time.

Someone said this week. ‘I came here as a child and today I’ve come back with my children, it’s so good, it feels just the same.’ Corfe Castle,..Dorset Scheduled Ancient Monument No 1, will always need funding, monitoring, maintenance and conservation repair to enable it to be enjoyed long into the future.

Carol found a shiney new 5p piece dated 2014 and we put it under a stone placed on the quoin of the ‘Constable’s House’. Then the trenches were refilled and we pushed the wheelbarrows back down the hill.

Trenches gone.

Trenches gone.

So that’s it. Many thanks to everyone for their help and support. Those who dug and encouraged and particularly the staff of the NT Corfe Tea Rooms.

West Bailey Corfe Day 4 Into the Garden

We had to cope without Ray, our front of house manager. Although irreplaceable, we did our best by rapidly annotating our illustrations with marker pen. Still very hot but a bit of a breeze so carefully placed Purbeck limestone rocks to hold the interpretation in place.

The annotated maps on the information table.

The annotated maps on the information table.

It was time to leave the ‘Constable’s House’ West Bailey and climb the stone steps through the gateway into the King’s domain in the Inner Ward. Treswell’s plan of 1586 shows a garden above the well in the north-east corner of this top and most prestigious area of the Castle. The feet of many thousands of visitors have revealed a wall forming the edge of the garden but it post-dates Treswell.

Ralph Treswell's Inner Ward plan of Corfe of 1586. The eroding wall is above the well (top right).  It is not on the plan so perhaps it was built for Lady Elizabeth Hatton or for Dame Mary Bankes.

Ralph Treswell’s Inner Ward plan of Corfe of 1586. The eroding wall is above the well (top right). It is not on the plan so perhaps it was built for Lady Elizabeth Hatton or for Dame Mary Bankes.

Today it was photographed and drawn to scale and Andy will protect it under a geo-textile and clay capping. This will stop the garden structure being worn away. We don’t know very much about the garden but it was probably managed and enjoyed by Lady Elizabeth Hatton who owned the castle from the end of the 16th century or Dame Mary Bankes wife of Sir John Bankes who bought the Castle in the 1630s.

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The 17th century wall in trench B was cleaned and the ground lowered on either side of it. In trench A Carol and Kate uncovered the buried wall face of the 13th century building thought to be the enlarged hall of the Castle’s Constable. When in residence he would have managed Corfe and the Forest of Purbeck for the King.

Carol and Kate have uncovered  the face of the 13th century return wall of the 'Constable's House'. In the foreground the smaller 17th century wall.. after a brush down.

Carol and Kate have uncovered the face of the 13th century return wall of the ‘Constable’s House’. In the foreground the smaller 17th century wall.. after a brush down.

At the end of the day Carol found a ring.. I wonder who it belonged to.

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Last day tomorrow..

West Bailey, Corfe Day 3 Both Sides Now

Ben returned to his trench today. He had researched on line and the bottle was typical of a Ginger Beer bottle manufactured by Schweppes in the 1930s.

Some of the older finds from the soil over the wall in trench B. Fragments of ox and sheep bones and more slender bones perhaps hare, rabbit or birds. The meds ate all sorts of birds which we don't bother eating today. In the tray there is also a black medieval cooking pot fragment and a green glazed medieval jug fragment.

Some of the older finds from the soil over the wall in trench B. Fragments of ox and sheep bones and more slender bones perhaps hare, rabbit or birds. The meds ate all sorts of birds which we don’t bother eating today. Black medieval cooking pot fragment and a green glazed medieval jug fragment.

He pressed on with uncovering the wall and soon the silver paper and bottle tops disappeared and a new layer was reached containing fragments of coal and lengths of tobacco pipe stem. When this was removed both sides of the wall could be seen. The east face was exactly in line with the medieval wall in trench A but that wall is over a metre wide. The wall in B is only 0.68m and not so well made. A void in the middle might have been for a post.

Trench B the wall now clearly visible but it is narrower and less well built than the wall in A. There is part of another wall on the right hand side of the picture meeting the main wall at an angle from beyond the trench.

Trench B the wall now clearly visible but it is narrower and less well built than the wall in A. There is part of another wall on the right hand side of the picture meeting the main wall at an angle from beyond the trench.

This wall is not shown on our only detailed plan of the castle.. pre Civil Ware demolition. It was surveyed in 1586 by Ralph Treswell. Perhaps this is evidence of a building constructed at some time in the 60 years after Treswell. Ben hit a orange brown soily layer mixed with a few fragments of stone. This looked like an earth floor layer and contained a small fragment of earthenware with a wet looking green glaze. This very shiny type of glaze is often found on 17th century pots so this might be a Civil War layer. We will see tomorrow.

This is the West Bailey part of Ralph Treswell's map of 1586. The wall we are interested in is the central one pointing north, the one to the left of the South Tower. The wall in trench B is not there..

This is the West Bailey part of Ralph Treswell’s map of 1586. The wall we are interested in is the central one pointing north, the one to the left of the South Tower. The wall in trench B is not there..

In trench A the wall is buried deeply below rubble we worked hard but it was a very hot day.

Trench A, footings of the wall discovered in 1952 seem deeply buried.

Trench A, footings of the wall discovered in 1952 seem deeply buried.

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West Bailey Corfe Day 2 Ben’s Bottle

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Today, Andy brought up the gazebo, bollards and information sign and we broke open the string and 6 inch nails and marked out the two trenches.

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Dry and hot and the ground was hard but Ray soon had a crowd round the information table and Nancy’s National Trust archaeology badges were flying off the shelf. Ben asked if he could help and spent the day with us.

Trenches A and B hoping to pick up the line of the wall.

Trenches A and B hoping to pick up the line of the wall.

We came down onto a limestone rubble layer beneath the topsoil and were excited to find medieval pot fragments but they were mixed with silver paper, bottle tops, a sticking plaster (yuk) and then Ben found a rounded brown shape amongst the stones. It came out whole. There in his hands was a c.1950s SCHWEPPES bottle. Probably one of the 1952 RCHM diggers who had a lemonade and chucked it in the spoil heap as the trench was backfilled. Ben’s dad brought us drinks which were greatly appreciated.

Ben's 62 year old Schweppes bottle.

Ben’s 62 year old Schweppes bottle.

At the end of the day we hit a solid stone and then two more and it seems that we have found the top of the wall we were looking for. We’ll find out tomorrow..

A line of stones in the trench nearest to the camera. It is in line with the 13th century wall so perhaps we have found what we're looking for.

A line of stones in the trench nearest to the camera. It is in line with the 13th century wall so perhaps we have found what we’re looking for.

Remote Sensing in Corfe’s West Bailey

Thomas Bond of Tynham first dug in the West Bailey. Writing in 1883 he said “Some diggings which, by kind permission of the owner, W.R.Bankes Esq. I have recently made within the castle, have brought to light some curious facts, which afford much food for conjecture.” Next to investigate the area were scholars of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments in 1949-52.

One of the 11th century windows in the West Bailey later blocked by the construction of 13th century curtain wall in King John's reign.

One of the 11th century windows in the West Bailey later blocked by the construction of 13th century curtain wall in King John’s reign.

This year we are reopening one of their trenches and seeing whether the wall that was found over 60 years ago continues north to join the curtain wall. If foundations exist, the footings may be able to act as a foundation for a revetment wall which will even up the slope and limit further erosion

The last few lines of the resistivity survey at the west end of the West Bailey

The last few lines of the resistivity survey at the west end of the West Bailey

The plan of the West Bailey. The area of the geophysical survey today. The site of tomorrow's excavation is at the top of the long black wall pointing to the top of the page. Did it once continue right across the West Bailey.

The plan of the West Bailey. The area of the geophysical survey today. The site of tomorrow’s excavation is at the top of the long black wall pointing to the top of the page. Did it once continue right across the West Bailey.


Our first task was to try to detect the buried walls using geophysics. Both resistivity and magnetometry were used. It’s not a big area.. about 60m long and narrowing from 20m at the east end to less than 10m in the west.

A hot sunny day as we pushed our wheelbarrow loaded with gear up through the potters and weavers of the craftsmen village in the Outer Bailey ..up through the South West Gatehouse and into the West Bailey.

A busy day with lots of interested people from Europe and USA mixed with the Brits asking us about the survey and the Castle’s history. Quite a few student groups led by their guides. We wove backwards and forwards with our machines making the survey but we completed it in good time. We will mark out the trenches tomorrow.

Welcome to the Constable’s House, Corfe Castle

The National Trust SW is in the midst of CBA Archaeology Festival.

Corfe Castle from the village of Kingston to the south. A view from Kingston on Purbeck's limestone plateau.

Corfe Castle from the village of Kingston to the south. A view from Kingston on Purbeck’s limestone plateau.

Tomorrow we are in the West Bailey, Corfe Castle. A geophysical survey and evaluation excavations are needed and have been saved for the Festival.

We are trying to solve an erosion problem while discovering more about the Constable’s House in the West Bailey.

Erosion in the West Bailey. Is this area part of the Constable's House?

Erosion in the West Bailey. Is this area part of the Constable’s House?

The Constable was the baron appointed by the King to oversee his magnificent castle of Corfe and administer justice in the Isle of Purbeck. We have the names of many of the prominent men of the time who were appointed to the position of Constable at various times from 11th-16th centuries. The Constable’s house would have been high status accommodation but it changed greatly in form and plan during 500 years as fashions and architecture changed.

The King’s apartments, when he visited, were at the top of the Castle in the Inner Ward but the Constable is thought to have lived in the Middle Ward or West Bailey.

His house can now only be seen in fragments of walls..what remains of the rest of the site lies below the ground.

We’ll let you know how we get on as the work progresses.. but if you’re in the area come along and visit.

18th Century Water Management at Stourhead

Last week I was asked to look at something that had been found behind the garden lake dam at Stourhead, Wiltshire. It’s a short ride from Warminster, skirting the Longleat Estate’s Sheerwater, past Maiden Bradley through the chalk ridge and back into Greensand country.

The view from Stourton village would once have been along the stream but this was blocked in the mid 18th century to create a lake. One of the Neo-classical garden buildings, the Pantheon is under repair at the moment. The dam lies to the left.

The view from Stourton village would once have been along the stream but this was blocked in the mid 18th century to create a lake. One of the Neo-classical garden buildings, the Pantheon is under repair at the moment. The dam lies to the left.

At Stourton church there’s the amazing view past the Bristol cross, across the turf bridge and lake to the Pantheon. This Neo-classical temple folly is under scaffold at the moment, the portico has been leaking and needs to be made water tight again. The view looked particularly beautiful in the early morning light.

Behind the Stourhead garden lake dam where the track had subsided. The drain was found beside the vehicles.

Behind the Stourhead garden lake dam where the track had subsided. The drain was found beside the vehicles.

I drove round the lake under the Rock Arch and took a right behind the dam. Half way along was some fencing across the track which divides the Garden Lake from the Turner’s Puddle Lake. I was told that the track had subsided into something. They had dug down 2.6m and found a collapsed stucture. A brick arch over a culvert lined with Greensand blocks and floored with blue lias flagstones. Nicely made but now blocked with silt.

The well-built brick lined drain 2.6m  below the track surface.

The well-built brick lined drain 2.6m below the track surface.

One idea was that it was built in the mid-18th century to carry the River Stour during the original construction of the lake for Henry Hoare. It was certainly of that date but may have been designed as a drain to let the water out when needed. This would transfer the water from Garden Lake to Turner’s Puddle Lake and enable de-silting and repair of the lake from time to time. I walked down to Turner’s Puddle lake edge and saw that the culvert outlet had been exposed as part of the work.

Water management at Stourhead is often needed. If silts build up, the lake depth is too shallow, the water becomes too warm in the summer and algae and other vegetation begins to close over the water and spoil the view. The Nautical Archaeological Research group dived on the lake bed a few years ago to map submerged structures and carried out a sonar scan of the lake bed for the National Trust.. taking lake bed samples to measure the depth of silt.

Nautical Archaeology divers in the Garden Lake, Stourhead

Nautical Archaeology divers in the Garden Lake, Stourhead

The Georgians were dab hands at water management and large bodies of water need regular monitoring. If the dam breaks it can cause mayhem down stream. Sometimes there’s not enough water and it has to be held back and conserved. Sometimes there’s far too much and spill-ways, drains and sluices are needed. At places like Prior Park, Bath and Dyrham South Gloucestershire, cascades were designed to make the excess water an aesthetic feature. A hatch is lifted a long metal rod is turned and the water flow regulated.

One of the dams at Prior Park recently repaired. The water is regulated using valves and sluices.

One of the dams at Prior Park recently repaired. The water is regulated using valves and sluices.

The flight of massive 18th century lakes at Woodchester, Gloucestershire blended landscape design with industry. Beside the upper lake was a brick kiln and further down the valley, the fall of water between the lakes enabled stone-lined traps to be built along the lake spill-ways to catch eels.

Below the Park Mill Lake. The mouth of the drain can be seen on the right and top left the dam spill-way to take excess water feeding into an eel trap before discharging into a pool.

Below the Park Mill Lake. The mouth of the drain can be seen on the right and top left the dam spill-way to take excess water feeding into an eel trap before discharging into a pool.

Park Mill was the name of the bottom lake. There was once a large flour mill where the corn was ground using the flow of the water from the dam to turn the grinding stones. We found one stone amongst wall footings during an archaeological excavation. The mill had been demolished in the 19th century and the site was found again when work was carried out on the dam to meet enhanced Environment Agency specifications.

Park Mill dam Woodchester. The water from the dam was regulated in the 18th century to drive a flour mill. The building has long gone but this mill stone was excavated on the site beside the footings of the building.

Park Mill dam Woodchester. The water from the dam was regulated in the 18th century to drive a flour mill. The building has long gone but this mill stone was excavated on the site beside the footings of the building.

The National Trust has been awarded Higher Level Stewardship funding which has enabled Woodchester’s lakes to be revealed again in their 18th century splendour. Take a trip there and prepare to be wowed.

Woodchester, Gloucestershire. A chain of lakes utilised both for beauty and industry.

Woodchester, Gloucestershire. A chain of lakes utilised both for beauty and industry.