With our first week of digging drawing to an end, we are starting to make some exciting new discoveries at Oakham Castle. Work so far has focused primarily in Trench 1 to the north-east of the Hall.
First, turf and topsoil were removed with a mechanical digger. This revealed that various earth mounds within the trench area were large piles of rubble, presumably from the demolition of a nearby building.
The topsoil is full of finds dating to the late 17th, 18th and 19th centuries – pieces of clay tobacco pipe, pottery, china, animal bone, iron nails, copper buttons, a bone knife handle and part of a jar lid for Crosse & Blackwell Anchovy Paste (c.1839). This ‘rubbish’ was probably dumped here by the people of Oakham after the castle had been abandoned, the site becoming a convenient place to dispose of refuse.
The building rubble probably dates to the early 17th century, when George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham levelled the ruins around the castle.
Our team of volunteers are now removing this rubble and exposing the walls of the underlying building. A wall Time Team’s found, orientated broadly north to south continues half way into the trench before turning east at right-angles, marking the corner of a building. The rubble contains dressed stone, roof slates and large quantities of broken glazed medieval roof tiles. Soil beneath the rubble is producing
medieval pottery of 12th-14th century date, with later 15th and 16th century pottery types largely absent.
This would suggest that the building had fallen out of use before the 15th century, becoming derelict perhaps 200 years or more before its ruins were finally demolished in the 17th century.
So far, the archaeological evidence supports historic sources which describes the castle “in a poor state, suffering from neglect and lack of maintenance” in 1388, and “all ruinous” in 1521.
Work in Trench 2 has only just begun but already we have identified that this area of the castle, west of the Hall, is covered in a thick layer of rubble. Some of this has probably fallen from the castle’s curtain wall whilst the rest has come from the demolition of other castle buildings. During the removal of the rubble, we found several pieces of stone tracery, probably from the arch of a medieval door or window. A wall found by Time Team’s wall, at the northern end of our trench, has also been found again and we now have evidence for the opposing wall of the building. Our focus in the second week will be to learn more about this building and look for evidence of earlier buildings beneath it.
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