Blog 5

Typical. You wait six months for a blog (this is addressed to my imaginary reader) and then two come along at once. But this is for the very good reason that, already, Shrewsbury Castle is yielding what I persist in calling Groovy Archaeology*

*(technical note: by ‘Groovy Archaeology’ is meant: significant, interesting, satisfying to investigate, tells-a-story, photogenic. And, as a jazz fiend, I’m attached to the word groovy – it means something but it’s a bit of linguistic dad-dancing…and it is after all a parent’s statutory responsibility to be an embarrassment to their grown-up children).

Phase 1 of the super soaraway 2019 Shrewsbury Castle project – with thanks once more to the Castle Studies Trust – got off to an amazing start with specialist geophysics contractors Tiger Geo mowing the inner bailey lawns with ground-penetrating radar and resistivity, and, within just a few hours of setting up, the first results came on the screen. So now we know that there was originally a large ditch around the foot of the motte, within the inner bailey. Which means that, as first conceived, the flat area within the defences would have measured only around 30 metres square. The second important result to emerge is that there is indeed a building range lying under the grass opposite the so-called Great Hall (the Regimental Museum). In fact there was only just room for this range, which would almost have backed on to the motte ditch.

What it was, only excavation can tell. As I’m a slow learner, I will keep on saying out loud that it must be a ground-floor hall range – the real Great Hall – opposite which the standing royal chamber block was built in the 1230s-40s. But, at the moment, it’s just an electronic indication of hard stuff under the grass. So, archaeology being what it is, we could equally turn out to be the first explorers of – Thomas Telford’s builders’ yard of the 1790s?

While Tiger Geo trundled their gear back and forth in diabolical weather, I freed-up a long sealed manhole cover and descended two metres into a brick inspection chamber which gives access to the castle well! Unknown to Science, I’d seen this just briefly in the late 90s, thanks to a sympathetic gardener, but not been able to record it. But seen again it looks late medieval, or at least pre-Telford, and was measured at 21 metres deep (70 feet 6 inches) down to the water at the bottom. It’s beautifully built and in fine condition, looking like it’s never been exposed to the elements. It just so happens that the only building still roofed shown inside the castle on the Burghley Map of c.1575 was in just this spot. The well house?

And finally. It’s been confirmed that Shrewsbury Castle will feature in this year’s Digging for Britain TV series with Professor Alice Roberts. So, as Gil Scott Heron nearly said – the excavation will be televised.


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