Unearthing a medieval mystery

The Medieval walls uncovered to the south of the Manor House,  will be preserved in-situ and their locations marked in final surfaces.

Part of the work to restore the Manor House required new heating pipes to be laid across the island. In excavating the route for these pipes we knew we were likely to encounter some archaeology and so employed Oxford Archaeology to observe the digging. Almost immediately we began to uncover the remains of Medieval foundations on the north side of the Manor House.

The conjunction of two or three Medieval walls with previously installed service trenches running through them.
This image shows neatly cut chalk blocks and flints which make up the construction of the Medieval foundations uncovered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Made from shaped chalk and flint, the uncovered walls are very well constructed and their width is indicative of the foundations of a two-storey building. The north-south orientation of two of the walls was at first thought to suggest an extention to the medieval part of the building which still stands, being on the same alignment. However when the scaffolding was removed from this side of the house and the excavation extended we discovered that the wall returned to the east, suggesting an entirely independent structure.

This was rather unexpected! We thought there had been ‘outbuildings’ on this part of the island, but nothing as grand or substantial as these foundations would suggest. There was much excitement about whether we had found the long lost chapel, a feature we know Headstone had in the 14th century but with no record of where this might have been. Frustratingly all of our trenches were devoid of finds to help us establish either a more accurate date, or the use of this considerable building.

A brick drain laying over a Medieval sespit uncovered to the south of the Manor House whilst preparing for the installation of the new gardens.

To preserve the archaeology, the new services have been installed using the existing routes cut in the 1970s and 1980s before the site was recorded as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Excavation to the south side of the house was expected to uncover the foundations of the Great Hall which was originally two bays longer in that direction.  What we actually found (shown in the very top image), was much more substantial, and a bit of a mystery!

 

Medieval wall uncovered in the works to install new heating and power services to Manor House.

These foundations were as substantial as those on the north side, again suggesting a two-storey building, and again as devoid of finds to help us with ascertaining a specific century. Equally confusing was the alignment of the walls not quite matching the house that remains, and extending way beyond our original estimation of the size of the Great Hall. In fact, we have not been able to establish where the building ends as the foundations appear to continue south towards the Moat!

We know that there was a house at Headstone in 1233 CE, we know that one Ailwin de la Hegge was living here, and that there was no moat then, but we can’t be sure if what we have uncovered is the remains of his house. The only thing we can be sure of is that there were significant and substantial buildings, indicative of great status, here at Headstone before the 14th century.

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