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Unfinished Business? New Excavations at Clarendon Palace

Find out how volunteers are literally helping unearth the secrets of this medieval royal residence and sign up to join future digs.

Volunteers excavating at Clarendon Palace, Wiltshire
Volunteers excavating at Clarendon Palace, Wiltshire

Clarendon Palace near Salisbury, Wiltshire, is one of the largest early medieval royal palaces in England and was used for generations from the Anglo Saxon until the Tudor period. Today, what survives of the royal residence used by kings and queens from Henry I to Henry VI are extensive earthworks, flint walls, and the eastern wall of the Great Hall.

Despite its great importance and potential to tell us about four centuries of occupation during which each monarch made their mark, only very fragmented excavations and survey work has been carried out at Clarendon Palace in the past. 

But in August the first of a series of volunteer digs began at this fascinating royal site.  Context One Archaeological Services are hosting the excavations as part of a conservation project that Historic England is funding. 

This first week of digging was all about unfinished business – volunteers excavated and sieved a huge spoil heap left untouched since previous excavations were abandoned at the onset of the Second World War (World War II, WW2).

What did the volunteers find?

Equipped with just shovels, buckets and hand sieves, ten volunteers sieved their way through eight tonnes of soil (only a fraction of the spoil heap) and recovered an array of finds, including medieval ceramics, animal bones, and metalwork including lead window bars. They even found some broken beer bottles and tea cups thought to have belonged to the 1930s excavators!

Why is this work important?

Clarendon Palace was placed on the Register of Heritage at Risk in 2016. Its care, repair and investigation are a priority for all involved in this special site.

We're making good progress together. Natural England has funded a conservation management plan, and repairs to the masonry and stonework along with various other conservation works are due to be carried out later this year, funded by Historic England and the owners, with help from the Friends of Clarendon and other volunteers. 

Get involved!

The great news is that there is more to do and more to learn at Clarendon Palace. A second excavation event is planned in summer 2018, but before then there will be a series of weekend digs. To find out more, and to register your interest in taking part, please contact Context One

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