In Trench 1 we have extensive structural evidence including two structures identified in previous seasons. One structure is of timber construction and believed to be of middle Anglo-Saxon date and a second robbed out stone building of middle to late Anglo-Saxon date. They are aligned on the cleft of St. Oswald’s gate, known to have been in use as an entrance since at least the 8th century AD, and are likely to have been the halls where a gate warden lived, controlling access to the fortress. We now hope to reveal the full extent of the structures as we carefully excavate through the delicate stratigraphy.
Why did we dig here?
Trenches 1 and 2 were the first trial trenches excavated within the Castle by the Bamburgh Research Project. They were located at the far northern extent of the West Ward with the intent of investigating the defencesof the fortress, as a surviving stack of medieval masonry still stands in the area built into the 20th century perimeter wall. Our initial excavations revealed traces of the early defences of the fortress. These include substantial post settings and load bearing structural foundations, some of which may well pre-date the Anglo-Saxon period.
The passage of steps leading to St.Oswald’s Gate was the early entrance to the castle mentioned in monastic annals dated to 774 AD collated by Simeon of Durham in the 12th century. Under the slabs of the late 18th century staircase and at least two phases of earlier slab surfaces the bedrock was worn smooth, indicating an entrance in use for many generations.
Archaeology in Trench 1
Trench 1 and 2 were amalgamated into what is now Trench 1, an open area excavation that has been dug in stages. In the main body of the trench a detailed stratigraphy has been investigated, and among the discoveries have been two phases of a large early medieval hall that may have served as a residence for the castle gate wardens, as it’s position alongside the entrance of St.Oswald’s Gate is ideal for controlling access to the west ward.
The first of the two Anglo-Saxon halls was a timber hall broadly dating to the 7th century, and this was later replaced by a smaller stone hall that went out of use by the 11th century. In recent years we have expanded the trench further towards St. Oswald’s Gate to reveal the full extent of the Saxon halls.
Trench 9 was the re-excavation of a further Hope Taylor trench, this one extending from the back of the St.Oswald’s Gate steps up the hill towards the windmill. Hope Taylor’s excavations were detailed on a plan drawing recovered by the RCAHMS and returned to us in 2006. He had excavated a series of small trenches, Cuttings B, C, D & E that radiated out from the windmill mound.
Trench 9 (Hope Taylor’s Cutting D) was particularly interesting to us as it extended down towards our Trench 1, allowing us to further investigate the Anglo-Saxon entrance to Bamburgh through St Oswald’s Gate. The gate lies in a natural cleft in the bedrock and is reached down a series of steps, first mentioned in a text of AD 774, which is how we know the entrance is of such antiquity. Hope Taylor had uncovered mortared settings for earlier steps, the masonry for which had been robbed away, which were likely to have been of medieval date.
One of the standing sections, with a very high sand content, collapsed overnight. When we cleaned it up and cut the section back we discovered a burial of partial horse and cow skeletons overlying the robbed out medieval steps, indicating that they had been deposited in the post-medieval period.
It is difficult to understand the nature of such a deposit, dumped as it is in one of the entrances to the castle, but it is just possible that it was associated with the occupation of Bamburgh by the Forster family, who owned the estate from the beginning of the 17th century to the middle 18th century and were known to be a somewhat colourful bunch. Ultimately, Trench 9 will be published as part of the Trench one report, which will be written once the trench has been completely excavated.