British Archaeology, no 24, May 1997: News


Ornamental water garden found at Cheshire castle

A recent survey of the earthworks of Shotwick Castle in Cheshire has produced a further example of a castle turned into a country house with ornamental grounds in the later medieval period. The growing list of such `decorative' later medieval castles now includes Bodiam in Sussex, Leeds in Kent and Kenilworth in Warwickshire (see BA, March).

Shotwick Castle (pronounced `Shottick') began life as a Norman motte-and-bailey, and is thought to have been built around 1080 by Hugh Lupus, 1st Earl of Chester, as part of a chain of castles to protect the earldom from attack by the North Welsh princes. In the 11th century the castle lay on the east bank of the tidal River Dee, although the estuary near Shotwick has since silted up. The castle was taken over by the Crown in the 13th century, and was in ruins by the 17th.

The most remarkable feature of the earthworks at Shotwick is an exceptionally wide area of moat on the north side of the castle. In the past, this has been interpreted as a possible dock, allowing ships to sail right up to the castle walls in the late medieval period. However, the recent survey, conducted by the English Royal Commission, has found that this part of the moat was cut off from the Dee by a late medieval dam, suggesting it was more likely a large ornamental pond than a dock.

The survey has also identified two further ponds on the north side of the castle, one with a distinct U-shaped dam holding back the waters of the river.

Earthworks have now been found inside the castle's bailey that appear to represent a late medieval garden, according to Marcus Jecock, who directed the survey for the Royal Commission. These earthworks - severely eroded by later ploughing and hard to interpret - seem to mark the former presence of a series of sunken areas surrounded by raised walkways. `This seems typical of what we now understand of later medieval gardens rather than buildings,' Mr Jecock said. `There is also an artificially raised mound in the bailey which may have been a viewing platform for the ornamental landscape as a whole.'

After Edward I's conquest of Wales in the late 13th century, and his construction of a new ring of castles around the North Welsh coastline, Shotwick is thought to have lost its strategic importance, and in documents of the period began to be referred to as a manor rather than a castle. In 1327, Edward III ordered a deer park to be created in part of the manor, and according to Mr Jecock, it was probably then that the castle was turned into a hunting lodge with gardens. This would make the new landscape roughly contemporary with Bodiam, which was built in 1384.


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New 7th century remains found at Ripon

Excavations near Ripon Cathedral's 7th century crypt have uncovered further remains of St Wilfrid's AngloSaxon monastic church, including numerous large pieces of Roman masonry possibly transported from Aldborough, to the south, or York.

St Wilfrid's stone church was built during the first century of Christianity in England - at a time when even kings lived in timber buildings - yet the recent work suggests that his church would seem large even today. Parts of the original north and south walls have been identified, both more than 6ft thick, and they enclose an internal space some 28ft across. Traces of Anglo- Saxon floors above the crypt have also been found.

The excavations, directed by Richard Hall of the York Archaeological Trust, have shown that many of the substantial stone blocks in the crypt's passage roofs and nearby walls are Roman. They are thought to have come from a large public building or military work.

St Wilfrid, at this time Abbot of Ripon but who was later made Bishop of York, had travelled to Rome as a young man and subsequently became the principal advocate of Roman authority in England, for example speaking out against Irish customs at the Synod of Whitby in 664. The identification of Roman building materials at Ripon suggest he was also keen to use Roman building technology in his new church, according to Dr Hall. The fact that he was prepared to bring the stone from a distance suggests that the skills of quarrying and stone-dressing were still foreign to the Anglo-Saxons of 7th century Northumbria. `Apart from Wilfrids other crypt at Hexham, there was nothing like Ripon's crypt in the whole of Western Europe at the time,' Dr Hall said, adding that St Wilfrid may have wanted to emulate the crypts of Rome which were designed to hold holy relics.


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Sussex `Flag Fen' decays without record

A Bronze Age settlement and ceremonial site in East Sussex, similar to Flag Fen, and regarded as one of the most important prehistoric finds of recent years, is decaying, unexplored, because no money can be found to pay for an archaeological investigation.

The site, known as Shinewater, was discovered well-preserved in waterlogged conditions in the marshland east of Eastbourne in 1995, and consists of a timber platform connected to a long causeway running across what was formerly a lake. Numerous bronze objects were found, some with wooden handles intact, apparently thrown into the lake as votive offerings as at Flag Fen, together with a wealth of other organic and environmental remains (see BA, December 1995).

However, only a small amount of archaeological work has taken place at Shinewater - a two-week rescue dig on the main platform, and some further work in the surrounding area - as the site was discovered unexpectedly by workmen constructing flood-storage lakes for Eastbourne Borough Council. As the sites existence had not been foreseen by East Sussex County Council, no provision was made in advance for archaeology, and as a result the developer - the borough council - was not obliged to pay when the site was found.

An attempt has been made to preserve what remains of the main platform in air-tight, waterlogged conditions by wrapping it in a vertical plastic skirt, but some experts doubt the attempt will be successful even in the short term. Meanwhile, the prospects of an emergency rescue excavation remain distant, as no organisation has offered the money to pay for it.

Maisie Taylor of Flag Fen said the site would decay `quickly', despite the plastic skirt, because the excavation of the new lakes had lowered the water-table, and this would cause the deposits to dry out from the bottom up before long. `It was a very important site with fantastic finds in amazing condition, but Im resigned now to the fact that theyre going to argue about it until it falls to pieces,' she said.

English Heritage is currently monitoring the underground conditions at the site, but Peter Kendall, English Heritage's Inspector for the area, said he feared Ms Taylor `might be right' that the site was rapidly deteriorating. However, he said English Heritage had no funds to pay for excavation this year, and no plans to do so in the future. `It is true, we are left with a funding gap - because if we dont pay for it, who will?'

According to Ms Taylor and Mr Kendall, the possibility that such a site existed should have been predicted; but Andrew Woodcock, the County Archaeologist, said that no other similar remains were known in the area, and that the site was invisible from the surface. `We did not make a mistake,' he said. `The machinery swung into operation very quickly to safeguard the site after it was discovered, and we keep our fingers crossed that the money is going to come from somewhere.'


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In brief

Wanborough looted

Treasure-hunters have looted the Romano-Celtic temple at Wanborough in Surrey, digging holes up to 10ft across and 4ft deep and carting off the soil. The same site was robbed during the 1980s by treasure-hunters using metal detectors, who took thousands of coins and other artefacts.

In the recent attack, the looters dug through the temple's foundations, strewing masonry and tiles across the site, and possibly damaging the temple irretrievably, according to the Surrey Archaeological Society. The removal of large blocks of soil for examination elsewhere strongly suggests an organised attack by `professional' looters, members of the Society believe. Local metal-detecting clubs condemned the raids and helped to backfill and tidy up the site after the damage was discovered.

Neolithic meat

Archaeologists excavating near Walton in Powys have discovered a Neolithic settlement site, with pottery containing food residues which suggest a curious change in Neolithic taste, or in Neolithic farming practice, over time. Peterborough Ware pottery from the site, dating from c 3000BC, had been used entirely for stews of beef and mutton, but Grooved Ware pottery, dating from after c 2700BC, had been used only for pork, according to Alex Gibson of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust.

The findings, he says, are consistent with evidence from Wessex - where the bones of farm animals survive in the chalky soil. Evidence for three Neolithic structures were found underneath a Bronze Age barrow, together with numerous stone knives, which analysis has shown had been used for preparing hides and wood, and for cutting vegetables and meat.

Tower fishing trap

A wicker fishing basket dating from the Tudor period has been discovered in a part of the Tower of London moat reserved exclusively as a fishing area for the Royal Household in the 16th century. The basket, discovered by archaeologists from the Oxford Archaeological Unit, was preserved in clay at the bottom of the moat.

NEWS is compiled by Simon Denison


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