Cowboy builders of the Tudor era

John Pinchbeck of Enfield Archaeological Society on the group’s latest eye-opening dig at the site of Elsyng Palace

The exposed wall at Elsyng Palace
The exposed wall (credit John Pinchbeck/EAS)

Enfield Archaeological Society (EAS) returned to the linden avenue of Forty Hall Estate last month to continue their exploration of the former Tudor-era site of Elsyng Palace.

In recent years we have looked at the boundary between the inner and outer courtyards of the palace,

specifically trying to locate the four-story gates that controlled access between the two.

Our summer excavations in 2022 found the moat, which had been filled with rubble when the palace was demolished in the mid-17th century, and the following year we found the nearby remains of a boundary wall and an octagonal tower, which may be the first evidence of the gate structure itself.

The 2023 dig was shown on BBC2 Digging for Great Britain series with Professor Alice Roberts and is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer service until December (series eleven, episode four).

We aim to return to the octagonal tower and other nearby features later this summer, but before that we had a few loose ends to tie up over the three-day bank holiday weekend at the start of May, continuing with some work nearby which we did. back in 2006.

That year, the EAS dug over 60 small assessment trenches (or ‘test pits’) ahead of Enfield Council’s proposed tree planting, to determine whether such planting would adversely affect the important archeology buried on the palace site. One of these pits, Pit 43, revealed the remains of a substantial and very high quality 16th century wall.

Due to time constraints, we were unable at the time to fully excavate the wall or determine whether it was part of a building or served another function. The location of Pit 43 is quite close to the features we found last summer, so now seemed like a good time to revisit this wall to try and find out its purpose and if it might be related to our potential gate and /or trench.

And so, on May 4th, we opened a two by eight meter trench near the location of pit 43 to expose more of the wall and to examine the area next to it for any evidence of either a building interior or a potential continuation . of the trench.

Our diggers got to work and quickly revealed the top of the wall line as expected. What we did not expect, however, was to find that the wall appeared to be considerably narrower and much more poorly constructed than the section we had seen in 2006, less than 1.5 meters away.

Recording what we had found so far, we went home to scratch our heads and returned on Sunday to dig down each side of the wall to see if it really was as badly built as it looked. It really was!

Enfield Archaeological Society digging at the site in early May (credit John Pinchbeck/EAS)

Finally, we revealed three courses of very rough brick, including ceramic tile chances and ends, probably added in an ad hoc attempt to keep the brick level. This was far from the best work the Tudor masons were capable of and was a world apart from the section of masonry we found in 2006.

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The ragged inner edge of the wall indicates that it was probably built on a brick-earth bank, which together with its size (too insubstantial for a building) leads us to believe that it was a retaining wall for part of the ditch. This theory is supported by the fact that towards the other end of the ditch we again found a deep rubble-filled feature which probably corresponds to the ditch itself.

The wall, as it appeared in pit 43, was undoubtedly much more than a simple retaining wall, so the possibility remains of a building nearby or, given its position next to the moat, a foundation for a bridge.

Unfortunately, I once again ran out of time to tackle this question, and as is often the case with Elsyng, I left with as many new questions as answers! We will almost certainly see this feature again, perhaps next summer.

In a way, that’s the attraction of the site – it’s not simple, but piece by piece we’ve put the puzzle together over the past 20 years, building a picture of the palace and the people who lived there. There.

For more complete background on the palace, our new book Enfield’s lost palace revealed is available for purchase alongside the full archaeological technical publication Monarchs, courtiers and technocrats through our website.

We will return to Hall Forty from July 7-21 to revisit the octagonal tower that appeared on Digging for Great Britainbut will further investigate what we believe to be a cellar in the possible gate building that appeared after the cameras stopped rolling.

If you would like to help us get to the bottom of this and other mysteries to come, the dig is open to all members of the society aged 16 and over. No experience needed.

Once again we would like to thank our hardy team of diggers who made the society’s work possible, especially those who saw it through to the end, braving the famous British holiday rain throughout Monday, while we worked our way through the unglamorous but necessary filling process!

In the words of one of our first diggers: “It was a fun and fascinating experience and I’m looking forward to the dig in July.”

For more information about the Enfield Archaeological Society, to purchase one of the group’s publications or to get involved as a volunteer:

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