The Old Keepers Cottage Community Dig
The Old Keepers Cottage, or Lodge, stood close to Queen Elizabeth's Oak, near the centre of the Park and was demolished in 1853. From a map of the Park dated 1695, a building similar to that demolished in 1853 is illustrated, surrounded by an orchard. Both the old oak and the pump (existing horse trough) were within the oaken garden fence.
In 2010 The Royal Parks ran a very successful community archaeology project for one week. This identified the potential for further fieldwork.
See report here.
- During the Old Keepers Cottage Community Archaeology Project 2014 - 2016 we propose:
- To excavate the former 'Keepers Cottage', a complex of 17th century buildings demolished in the 19th century.
- To locate and excavate the Tudor 'Snow Well'.
- To undertake; cleaning, survey and measured drawing, and relate findings to the historical evidence.
- To record, and subsequently analyse, and publish results.
The three year dig is being led by the archaeological consultancy, Keevill Heritage Ltd, with funding from the Friends and the Royal Parks Foundation and support from English Heritage and the Field Studies Council.
Archaeologist Graham Keevill reports:
The first stage was to carry out a geophysical survey. This took place in May 2014, but the very dry ground meant that the technique wasn’t as useful as we’d hoped – though some features were identified, and we looked at some of these in July. The excavations were all small, but quite successful, finding traces of buildings, ditches and other remnants of the complex. We are still checking the results against the old maps and other documents, again with the help of our fantastic volunteers who have been unearthing all sorts of additional information for us.
Seven further trial pits were excavated on the Old Keeper’s Cottage site in July 2015, following on from the eight dug in 2014. One pit was only opened for educational activities during the second of the two weeks’ fieldwork, and only the uppermost layer was excavated. Some finds were recovered by the children, including a few early 20th century coins and some small beads. All the other pits produced interesting and varied results. Finds included a good range of postmedieval pottery along with bottle glass, brick, tile and building rubble. Small metal artefacts were also unearthed including an intact musket ball which had never been fired. The star find was a Roman brooch made of bronze and in a remarkably good condition with only the pin missing. This year’s excavations were therefore very successful, and we are starting to build up a good picture of the Old Keeper’s Cottage. We believe we have located at least two buildings and part of the boundary around the complex. Buildings seem to have been a mixture of brick masonry or timber framed, with tiled roofs. This fits in well with the very few known illustrations of the Cottage complex. The finds are also very much within the known historic period of its use, ie 17th to 19th century - except of course for the Roman brooch!
This was the last of our three seasons of work on the Keeper’s Cottage site and, in the best tradition of such things, we saved the best until last! We probably all felt that we were getting tantalisingly close to the heart of the site in 2015, but we just weren’t able to pin down any of the buildings. When we put all the evidence from 2014-5 together with the historic maps, though, we felt that we knew where to dig next. It helped that we could use a small machine instead of doing everything by hand – and we felt the benefits immediately, finding walls in the first trench we dug. What a relief! As we carried on digging, it became apparent that we had found three buildings – each one in the position expected from Henry Sayer’s plan of 1840. The largest trench (above) revealed an L-shaped arrangement of walls, though these hadn’t all been built at the same time. The main walls, defining a long rectangular structure, were of 17th/18th-century date based on the character of their brickwork. The later section completed the L shape, and had been added around 1800, this date being based on the slight frogs (indentations) in the bricks. We think that this was probably the Cottage itself. Sadly only a tiny part of a brick floor survived, and otherwise we had no evidence for how any part of the building had been used. Another trench, a short distance to the west, located a second building. One end of this was in quite good condition, with one small square room and part of a second on its north side. The rest had been systematically demolished so that only the ‘ghosts’ of its foundations survived. Once more no floors were left, but there were plenty of finds (with lots of bricks!). This range of buildings seems to be of early 19th century date – so it can only have been in place for a generation or two before it was torn down. It is hard to know what function it served, but it is tempting to see it as the outside toilets known to have existed in the 1830s. Our third trench was sited next to the 2015 pit where we thought we might have found a cellar. It was therefore gratifying to reveal a short stretch of wall here – or to be more accurate, two walls built right next to each other. The earlier one was interesting because it included re-used Tudor bricks (the wall itself being of 17th/18thcentury date). As in 2015, a tangle of tree roots frustrated attempts to find out more about this building, but again it corresponds to a square one shown by Sayer. It might be the shed-like single-storey building illustrated by Webster in his 1902 book about the Park. We are now hard at work writing the report on our excavations. This will be available soon. There will also be a small exhibition of finds from the trenches, in the Park. Thus the fruits of our brilliant volunteers’ labours will be there for all to see!