Basing House Archaeology 2008
Community excavation 24 May to 13 June
The object of this year’s excavation was to complete a project begun, but abandoned, over twenty-five years ago. The Citadel Ditch, to both east and west of the main gatehouse and adjacent to the bridge, was filled with rubble after the fall of Basing House in 1645. An attempt to empty the eastern length started around 1980, but ground to a halt with the job only half done. This resulted in a confusion of contours for the average visitor and it was a recommendation of the Conservation Management Plan drawn up as part of the HLF grant bid for the development of the site, that this length of ditch be fully emptied to show its 17th century lines. Permission was obtained to do this (Scheduled Monument Consent) and the work took place over a three-week period in late May and early June.
Once again the major part of the workforce was drawn from members of the Basingstoke Archaeological & Historical Society, but it also included Museums Service staff and A-level Archaeology students from Queen Mary’s College in the town. In all, some 30 volunteers contributed in the region of 200 days work, and the level of enthusiasm, particularly in the face of one or two bouts of monsoon weather, ensured the success of the exercise.
The chosen strategy was quite simple. The 1980’s method had been to remove the ditch fills in plan, on a layer-by-layer basis, but it was decided that two cross-sections, dug by hand and stepped and battered to accommodate the loose nature of the material, would be a more satisfactory approach. The central baulk – up to 6m in width – would then be removed mechanically.
In both areas the upper levels of ditch fill – perhaps as much as 1.5m - had been removed in the 1980s, leaving a thin turf above a truncated layer of brick and stone rubble. The excavation adjacent to the Tudor period bridge (Trench 1) then revealed layers and lenses of silts, brick, tile and mortar above a horizon of burnt material (fig 2 left). This was interpreted as the Civil War (1645) level. Beneath this was a uniform layer of chalky silts which had accumulated on a thick band of much darker clay silts. It was clear that some of this darker material had been removed to facilitate the construction of the bridge, presumably in the mid 16th century.
Beneath this level was a further 0.5m of silts, with some evidence for recutting or scouring, before the base of the ditch was reached at a depth of c 5m from the outer lip, and 7m from the inner.
In the eastern area excavated (Trench 2) more consolidated bands of brick and stone rubble were encountered, and the tip lines showed how they had entered the ditch from the southern face. Beneath this material lay grey clayey silts with ample evidence for burning, as seen in Trench 1. This was again interpreted as the Civil War level (1645). As this was the proposed depth for the refashioned ditch, excavation was not taken beyond this point.
fig 3 Trench 2
The sequence as seen, although by no means complete, would allow for a substantial Norman and medieval ditch, accompanying the ringwork castle, which by Tudor times had silted up considerably. After construction of the brick-built bridge further silts accumulated, before a horizon of burning and broken brick marked the siege and Civil War episode. Further silts then accumulated before the ditch was deliberately filled with a vast quantity of brick and stone. The most likely date for this was the last quarter of the 17th century, when the Citadel was landscaped and turned into a garden – possibly a memorial for those who died during the conflict (Allen & Anderson 1999, 58).
'Before’ and ‘after’ views of the excavation from the east.
Fig 9 – Getting to grips with Trench 2.
The ditch contained a vast quantity of brick and stone and this was scanned for decorative features, paw prints, graffiti, mason’s marks etc. Three mason’s or set out marks -‘x’- were found, as well as a ‘T’ and possible arrows. Decorative features were numerous, including small fragments of foliate carving, and some window mullions still had bits of lead kames in the grooves. A corbel with a grotesque head was found (fig 1) like those on display in the Bothy, but this example had a very weathered, pitted surface, probably from contact with lime mortar. A piece of spherical stone ammunition (fig 11, 300mm diameter - right) survived in a much better state.
The opportunity to scan the banks with a metal detector revealed musket and pistol shot in some quantity, and their distribution was plotted. Unused (still with sprue) unblemished and flattened examples were noted.
Apart from dressed stone, the commonest finds were fragments of animal bone and pottery. The latter were generally of types already known from Basing, and included a number of medieval sherds from the lower levels of the ditch. Metal finds, apart from the musket balls, were few, but included a copper alloy medicinal syringe with a direct parallel among the finds from the wreck of the Mary Rose (fig 10).
Fig 10 – illustration from the Mary Rose volume of the medicinal syringe very similar to the example found in Trench 2 at Basing.
© Mary Rose Trust
Many, many thanks go to all those involved in the project, for helping to produce the desired outcome.
David Allen, Alan Turton, Mark Peryer.
fig 2 Trench 1
Work in progress – from the west
Fig 1 Corbel with a grotesque head