Archaeology, Cymru, Europe, Ewrop, History, Uncategorized, Wales

New Shoots and Tree Roots

Apologies for the lack of activity. I have been chronically unwell (again). That, coupled with the shear volume of material I had collected, and unfortunately also curated, meant I felt I had nothing constructive to offer by the way of a blog post. Finally however, my last operation – hopefully for a while at least – will be on the 22nd of April 2016, so I expect to be able to write happily unencumbered by the usual ever growing rock army of kidney stones.

In among all this internal excitement I have also moved house. We (my wife and our three cats) now live in the flat which used to belong to my paternal grandparents. Built in the 1970s, it is light, bright and airy and most importantly my desk is now by a big window rather than tucked away in the far corner of the last place we lived.

As part of the moving in process I decided I would re-establish the container garden my grandfather maintained, and pots and soil in hand I planted up some heather and lavender and replanted my wife’s strawberry plant. As I stood and admired my handy work from the kitchen window, arm deep in washing up suds, I decided I would work on the material for my PhD chapter on gardens. It is by far the weakest chapter in terms of content and structure, but the strongest in terms of the new discoveries I have made during the research process. Unfortunately, many of these ideas have gone straight into the lecturing notes and Power Point presentations, rather than into the chapter as they should have.

Last summer I was fortunate enough to be one of two archaeologists working on an archaeological excavation in Rhuddlan (Latitude 53.288595; Longitude -3.463749). I’ve blogged about Rhuddlan previously, see:

https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/our-dark-garden/

and

https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/the-medieval-magic-in-pit-t349/

for some context to the area of North Wales I’m talking about.

The excavation was undertaken for a client who had planning permission to build a new house within a medieval burgage plot directly opposite the north-west corner of the Edwardian castle [A burgage was a town rental property owned by a king or lord. The burgage usually, and distinctly, consisted of a house on a long and narrow plot of land with a narrow street frontage]. A preceding archaeological evaluation, which examined only a small percentage of the total area of the site found medieval and post-medieval pottery and hints of some kind of ditch system within the plot.

Documentary research established that the front of the burgage plot was now lost under part of a row of nineteenth century cottages, but the rear of the plot, as far as all the evidence indicated had been unencumbered by buildings and appeared to have always served as a garden in one form or another. My fellow archaeologist and I employed the services of a mechanical excavator to remove the considerable overburden dumped on the plot from the building of both the cottages at the front of the plot but also from the construction of another row of nineteenth century cottages to the western side of the plot.

The archaeological excavation of the medieval deposits revealed that the rear of the plot had not been occupied by a property, but had served as open space within which over the following centuries a series of pits and ditches had been dug, some of which had animal bone within them. However it was something far more ephemeral which was uncovered that I was more excited about for my PhD research.

The natural ground surface (that is the surface into which we find cut the earliest archaeological deposits on any site) was on one part of the site imprinted with the ends of tree roots. This was where a tree had established itself within the soil higher up than the natural and had then tried to extend its tree roots through the natural. In this case, the natural was a very hard and impermeable clay, meaning the tree roots left ‘dents’ as it tried to force its way into the ground.

Tree Roots Not Marked
The site post excavation (after all excavation had been completed). Rhuddlan Edwardian Castle is at the top of the picture. Scale 1x1m.
Tree Roots Marked
The indentations within the red circle are those left by the tree roots as they tried to push through the natural clay.

Why are tree root indentations exciting? The Edwardian castle garden was only 80 metres (262 feet) away and planted on identical geology. Although all above ground evidence, except for the well within the garden has disappeared, the excavations reveal the kind of archaeological evidence we should expect if an excavation on the site of the Edwardian Castle garden was undertaken. And I haven’t given up on the idea that I could be the person to lead and carry out that excavation.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

My Manchester Metropolitan University page – which describes the aims and objectives of my PhD research:

http://www2.mmu.ac.uk/hpp/research/current-phd-students/

You can also help fund my research – which has reached its original funding target. However if you like what you read, then you can still donate.

http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks

My Academia.edu page – where you can download my published research:

http://mmu.academia.edu/SpencerGavinSmith

 

 

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Uncategorized

Our Dark Garden

With due deference to everyone who has tweeted, retweeted, donated or sent best wishes to me and my quest for PhD funding, I thought that this blog post should talk about some of the medieval gardens I’ve been researching, and the variety of sources available for such a study.

The earliest contemporary written evidence for the creation of gardens in Wales is to be found in the biography of a twelfth century king, Gruffydd ap Cynan, of the Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd. The Historia Gruffud vab Kenan says:

‘Then he increased all manner of good in Gwynedd, and the inhabitants began to build churches in every direction therein, and to plant the old woods and to make orchards and gardens, and surround them with walls and ditches, and to construct walled buildings, and to support themselves from the fruit of the earth after the fashion of the Romans’.

Some evidence for this reorganisation and improvement of Gwynedd has been identified, most recently by David Longley, and his research into the medieval landscape of the island of Anglesey. However, there are problems which mean that further work is still needed.

Archaeological excavations of medieval high status sites in Wales have tended to be small in scale, and to date very few high-status Llys (Royal Court) sites have been excavated. Exacerbating this is the fact that only some of the Llys site locations are known, as they fell out of use during the fourteenth century because they were no longer needed by the new administration.

The Edwardian castle at Rhuddlan (Latitude 53.288595; Longitude -3.463749) serves to highlight some of the issues which I have encountered during my research.

This castle was constructed from 1277 onwards to replace an earlier motte and bailey castle on a nearby site to the south, which in turn replaced a Llys, the location of which is most probably under the motte and bailey earthworks.

DI2010_1781

Crown Copyright DI2010_1781
The motte and bailey castle is in the trees to the right of the image.

Edward I, as part of the provision for his wife, Eleanor of Castile, and her household, had constructed for her a garden within the castle precinct between July 1282 and March 1284. The location for this has been suggested as within the inner courtyard of the castle, where it would have been overlooked by the Royal apartments.

The documentation states that encircling the head of the castle well (which had a boarded roof), a little fishpond lined with four cartloads of clay brought from the nearby Rhuddlan marsh was created and set around with seats. The adjacent courtyard was laid with 6000 turves and the lawn fenced with the staves of discarded casks.

Rhuddlan Castle was taken into state care in the twentieth century and following World War II conservation works were carried out. As part of the conservation works the moat was emptied:

DI2010_2242

Crown Copyright DI2010_2242
Excavation of the moat in 1949.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find any archaeological documentation to accompany the photographs taken, meaning any environmental evidence, including medieval plants, which may have existed within the moat has now been lost. In addition, there has been no programme of survey or excavation within the inner courtyard of castle, meaning that the location of the garden and fishpond is not conclusively identified.

During my research, I re-examined the historical sources, and found mention of a second garden at Rhuddlan Castle in 1285. This was described as a herber (a pleasure garden) opposite the north gate of the castle, and significantly, outside of the castle precinct. Fieldwork I undertook earlier this year suggests that this herber lay within the ditch to the north of the castle and may well have been accessible from the River Clwyd immediately to the west. The location of the herber is at the bottom left of the first photograph under the trees.

Further research of sites such as the Edwardian Castle of Rhuddlan will revolve around planning the best recording strategies for these two garden locations, whether that is deemed to be survey or excavation. Given that there is in close proximity an earlier motte and bailey and a Llys site, both of which are likely to have gardens of one form or another associated with them, there is exceptional potential for understanding the change and development of Royal gardening taste of both English and Welsh Royalty during the medieval period.