The Hatley digs were superbly organised by GamArch member Simon Keith and technical assistance was provided by Jigsaw, the community archaeology organisation. Our Hatley hosts went out of their way to make us welcome and thanks to their hospitality a large team of diggers and interested visitors were kept refreshed with tea and nibbles as each test pit was excavated.
So, fuelled by tea and cake we set about digging on the unforgiving boulder clays of the Hatley area. For our first test pit we returned to a Medieval manor site which had last year produced a lot of finds above a cobbled area. This year, digging on the higher land the manor was probably built upon, we found the land had been disturbed in recent times and, on discovering a modern(ish) field drain at the lower levels and nothing but natural boulder clay beneath that, the test pit was closed. Whilst this was a disappointment archaeologically it was still a very useful learning and practical experience for all involved, even for the seasoned GamArch members.
Our second test-pit of the weekend was in a small paddock between the now disused 14th century church of St Denis to the west and East Hatley’s old High Street at the east. Church and paddock are separated by a well-defined deep and steep-sided straight ditch which turns sharply and continues along the paddock’s southerly edge. The paddock’s interior here sits proud of the land further south and south east of the ditch. It all looked to be a possible house platform and croft or perhaps a church related site of some kind. On the other hand, as some locals felt, the paddock may have been used as a plague pit.
What did we find? Thankfully, no human remains! Instead, beneath the topsoil was a thin charcoal rich layer and beneath that were remnants of brick and tile, modernish (post-Medieval) pottery and other small finds such as nails, clay pipe and so on. The fabric of the brick finds is similar to that found in a local 18th century built building. Finds thinned out as we went down and at deeper levels we recovered a fair few Medieval potsherds. All finds were within what appears to have been redeposited clay and so a tentative outline of paddock events is that it was artificially raised, probably by spoil from the dug boundary ditches. A structure of some sort was built on top and later demolished, burnt or became derelict and the land cleared for grazing. Post-excavation processing of the finds and some background research will help us provide a much fuller account of the paddock’s history.
We are entirely reliant on the good will and permission of landowners wherever we undertake field work. Our Hatley hosts not only gave us permission to dig holes on their land, they fed and watered us too. Also, they somehow managed to give us sublime Autumn weather throughout the weekend. Perfect, thank you!