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Date October 1988 - January 1990

Event ID 606659

Category Recording

Type Excavation


A series of excavations was carried out between October 1988 and January 1990 before work commenced on a new visitor centre to the W of the castle. The chosen site was an area left untouched when much of the garden was dug out in the later 19th century to accommodate a sunken bowling green. The somewhat irregular area of excavation measured c40m EW by 10m to 15m NS. The principal findings, which were extensive and complex, can be divided into: prehistoric features; medieval timber structures; medieval masonry buildings and associated features; a series of large pits; other, smaller pits; and structures post-dating the occupation of the site.

Prehistoric features

Several small, linear and curvilinear trenches, varying in length from 1.35m to 2.7m, were cut to a depth of 0.2m to 0.55m into the sandy subsoil. All were infilled with redeposited subsoil enclosing deposits of pink-brown silty sand. Within one of these trenches were the base and several body sherds of a vessel provisionally identified as a cord zoned beaker of Early Bronze Age date.

Timber structures

Sealing the putative Bronze Age features and covering most of the excavation area, was a deposit of sandy loam, up to 0.45m deep, into which were cut numerous post-holes and post-pits and several beam slots. Few structures have been identified from these many post-settings other than from a series of pits that extended from E to W across most of the length of the site. On the evidence of its length and the apparent absence of a return, this line may define a boundary rather than a timber building. In all likelihood, however, many of the post-settings and beam slots were associated with timber buildings yet to be identified.

Masonry buildings

There were two stone buildings, both aligned EW, near to the S wall of the garden.

Building 1, at the E end of the site, was outwith the area ultimately designated for development and, consequently, was only partially excavated. Substantial rubble foundations survived on the E, S and W sides of the 13m long (EW) building but all traces of its N wall had been destroyed by stone-robbing, landscaping and gardening. Internally there was evidence of a stone partition wall, a circular stone-lined hearth, three under-floor drains and vestiges of a metalled floor. More extensive and compact metalling, covering a large area outside the S and E of the building, may be evidence of a road or perhaps a courtyard. Building 2, situated to the immediate W of Building 1, was very fragmentary, the only positively identified elements being short lengths of its E and S walls. Nothing remained of the N side of the building, the position of its W wall remains unclear and neither floor surface nor occupation debris was found. Towards the W end of the bulding (or perhaps beyond it) was a badly eroded sandstone hearth. This feature was overlain and surrounded by a thick layer of ash and burnt soils, measuring c3m square and bounded by three narrow linear cuts, which perhaps represented the walls of a flimsy timber structure. The ashy deposit may have been contemporary with a nearby clay-lined trough, both features perhaps being associated with an industrial, rather than a domestic, process.

Large pits

None of the four large rectangular and sub-rectangular pits that cut the subsoil on the N side of the site could be linked stratigraphically with any of the timber or masonry structures. One of the pits is thought to be a cess pit from which an overflow channel led northwards into another pit that measured 2.4m by 1.4m and 1.1m deep. This pit and those further E, which had similar dimensions, all had very straight sides, suggesting they had been lined, probably with timber, and the linings removed immediately prior to backfilling. At least some of these pits are believed to have been associated with the tanning of leather. Enormous quantities of pottery and large amounts of fishbones and butchered mammal bones were retrieved from the infills.

Miscellaneous smaller pits.

Distributed throughout the site were several rectangular, sub-rectangular and sub-circular pits: some were probably sand quarries, some perhaps associated with various industrial processes and others of unnknown functions.

Later features

A shallow EW robber trench, post-dating both stone buildings and extending for at least 30m across the site, is thought to echo the line of a boundary wall depicted in an illustration by John Geddy and dated to c1550-80.

Sponsor: HBM.

J Lewis 1989a; 1990c.

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