We have made superb progress on day one of our evaluation in the Lords Garden, Nantclwyd y Dre, despite an initial slow start due to a trapped finger in the van door!
However, this did little to hinder progress and as planned, with the help of a group of enthusiastic volunteers, we managed to get both of our trenches opened up, as well as saving numerous clumps of snowdrops which are in bloom across much of the garden. We will replant these at the end of the week after we backfill. Fingers crosses the weather remains fine and bright for the rest of the week, as it has been today.
Both trenches were located to take in features of potential archaeological significance which were identified in a geophysical survey, carried out in 2007, including a large mound near the south western boundary of the garden and an anomaly towards the centre of the garden.
Trench One has been positioned over this anomaly and already there have been a wide range of artefacts recovered from within the topsoil, including fragments of clay pipe, pottery, bottle glass, window glass, and metal artefacts including some hand made nails. The finds are mostly 17th-19th century in date and all demonstrate that this was a well tilled garden, with soils containing centuries of mixed artefacts relating to the house.
Trench Two has been placed across the elongated mound Ė a feature that is not currently understood, though there have been suggestions that it could have been a Civil War artillery position, or perhaps a garden viewing platform to take advantage of the views towards the castle and across the garden towards the gazebo.
After de-turfing this trench, we came straight down onto building rubble and general debris which has presumably accumulated as the buildings at Nantclwyd have developed. Many of the finds were also representative of the day to day rubbish which would have accumulated from the house and kitchens, such as chicken bones and sherds of pottery, most of which look to be Victorian in date.
Tomorrow we will continue working both trenches to reveal more about the early history of Nantclwyd and how the Lords Garden has developed over time.
This morning we saw the Lord's Garden in all of its frosty splendour and we have had another glorious day of sunshine which has allowed us to make great progress. We were pleased to see most of yesterdays volunteers return to the garden again today as well as some new faces.
It was all hands to deck in Trench Two for the first part of the morning as it had become apparent that the upper layers are made up of demolition rubble. The rubble looks to have come from various phases of Nantclwyd buildings, particularly old roofing tiles. Small finds in this trench are still predominantly late Georgian and Victorian though there have been a few glimpses of Late Medieval-Early Post-Medieval pottery. The amount of kitchen waste has also increased in the finds trays today.
At the southern end of Trench Two, towards the castle we think the beginnings of one of the outer footpaths of the garden has started to show.
There are still no signs of the anomalies picked up in the geophysics in Trench One. Tomorrow we plan to dig a sondage through both of the trenches and hopefully make our way through the building rubble in Trench Two to reveal more about the makeup of the mound. More thorough cleanng in Trench One is required and will hopefully begin to show us what the features shown in the geophysics represent.
As we had planned for today, we have created two sondages, one in each trench. We have really pushed on today as our ranks have multiplied with further assistance from a number of volunteers who have helped us on previous excavations such as Hen Caerwys and St Michael's churchyard, Abergele. Interestingly, one of the volunteers, Andy, had come fresh from the World War One battlefields of France, where his day time job involves clearing unexploded bombs and excavating and recording the tunnel systems around the Vimy Ridge.
Conversation in Trench One therefore proved fascinating, hearing stories about the discoveries Andy has made, however, Trench One itself is still yet to reveal any features which may explain the anomalies shown in the geophysics results, though we have broken through the Victorian garden deposits and the occasional sherd of medieval pottery has revealed itself.
In Trench Two (left), we have removed a large volume of 19th century building rubble, which has revealed, on the crest of the mound, a stone plinth. Only the corner of this is visible as it extends into the section edge, but it looks to be square, or possibly rectangular and appears too small to be part of a building. Furthermore, it looks to be relatively modern, possibly a platform for a statue or ornamental garden seat.
Tomorrow we look forward to meeting two local school groups and intoducing them to Nantclwyd y Dre and the archaeology of the Lord's Garden.
We have had a busy day on site, with two classes from local schools, Ysgol Pen Barras, and Ysgol Borthyn, visiting Nantclwyd Y Dre. Both CPAT and Denbighshire Heritage Services had set up activities for the pupils to partake in, including a tour of the gardens and excavation. The pupils also looked into the variety of wildlife and insects that reside in the garden and told us what they would like to see in the Lordís Garden once it is restored. They also made a vital contribution to the excavation by helping us to wash some of the finds that we have recovered so far.
Our team on site have also made great progress today in Trench One, where we now have evidence of the 18th century garden, having revealed the outline of up to eight linear planting beds in one half of the trench. At the other end of the trench, in the absence of any significant features we have been able to excavate to some depth through the garden deposits and hopefully we are now coming down onto medieval deposits.
In Trench two, as much as we would like the mound to be an artillery position, our Victorian friends continue to confound us with the amount of building debris and general household waste they have deposited in this part of the garden. However, the lower deposits of the mound relinquished tantalising building debris, including fragments of wall plaster, impressed with hazel withies which could be Medieval building fabric.
The stone plinth is still there in the middle of the trench though we have now begun excavating the material on either side of it.
Finally, this afternoon we were able to complete a survey of the garden and have located the excavations within it so that we can relate this to the earlier survey and see how the features we have uncovered relate to the geophysics plot.
Things look to become even more interesting tomorrow and we hope to have come to some conclusions about the purpose of the mound and the development of the gardens.
After the buzz of activity we had in the garden yesterday with the local schools visiting as well and members of the public, the Lordís Garden was a picture of tranquillity this morning and we took a moment to stand back and admire the surrounding views. We also managed to finally spot the woodpecker that has been tapping in one of the trees each morning as we have arrived.
We have been granted an extra day on site next week, so today we have been able to continue our work in both trenches and we will now be backfilling on Wednesday of next week.
In Trench one, we have explored the planting beds further which do seem to be 19th century or perhaps even earlier and their location correspond to a vegetable bed which is shown on a wartime aerial photograph of Nantclwyd Y Dre.
We also continued to excavate the sondage we had put in the trench on Wednesday and are sure that we are now through the garden cultivation deposits. Surprisingly, in the base of the trench we have seen a glimpse of archaeology that predates the garden, in the form of a possible post hole. We can also report an unexpected star find - a Prehistoric flint microlith.
In Trench Two, Chris, Dan, Graham and Andrea have done some sterling work and have continued to remove the successive dumps of material around the stone plinth we uncovered on Wednesday. We will draw this trench to a final conclusion next week, though we are certain that what we have here is a mound formed of building rubble and general household rubbish that has later been utilised as garden viewing platform.
Our next diary entry will be on Wednesday 27th February, when we will be closing the site down and presenting our final conclusions. We are extremely grateful for all of the hard work our volunteers have put into this evaluation and look forward to seeing many of you again in the near future.
Our final day in the Lordís Garden was spent digging an exploratory sondage in Trench Two, recording our findings and then the momentous task of backfilling!
Our main objectives for this excavation were to examine geophysical anomalies that had been recorded during an earlier survey and to examine the large mound in the south-western corner of the garden (previously believed to be either a possible artillery position associated with the Civil War siege, or a garden viewing platform, offering commanding views of the castle and gardens).
Though we cannot directly relate our findings in Trench One to the geophysical results, we have most definitely identified garden archaeology in the form of organised planting beds (albeit 19th century in date) with underlying cultivation soils probably dating back to the 15/16th centuries.
In Trench Two, we can confirm that the mound appears to be constructed of successive dumps of building rubble from Nantclwyd House and probably formed in some part from material excavated during the construction of the swimming pool in the courtyard. Unfortunately the stone-built plinth also proved to be a later addition, having been constructed some time in the late 19th century. On a more positive note, the small pieces of medieval and early post medieval pottery we retrieved from our exploratory dig through the underlying cultivation deposits once again revealed tantalizing glimpses of the earlier history surrounding the Lordís Garden.
Sophie and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our volunteers for all their hard work as well as Wendy Williams (Lordís Garden Restoration Project) and Fiona Gale (County Archaeologist, Denbighshire County Council).