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Welshpool Motte, Dig Diary, 2016


This Dig Diary gives progress of the excavations at Welshpool Motte (Domen Gastell) early medieval castle in Powys, over a week in August 2016. The dig is run by the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust with help from local volunteers. The project is funded by Cadw.

The excavation is part of a wider project called Welshpool Heritage Gateway which was designed to support and augment Cadw and Welshpool Town Councilís ongoing conservation, public access and interpretation project at Domen Gastell and the adjacent Railway Transfer Dock.

The main objectives of the project are to restore the Crown Green Bowling Club created within the castle earthworks to its 19th century heyday as a new hub for the sport, to interpret the motte and bailey site of the well documented Welsh-built castle.

More information on the sites can be found here.

Monday 22 August 2016

CPAT©

CPAT archaeologist Ian Grant gives the volunteers a tour of the site

The first day of our excavation focused on two specific areas located in the outer side of the bailey bank. Volunteers received a site induction by the project manager (photo left), they were instructed on tasks and activities to be developed on the day and they were constantly provided with guidance on excavation techniques. Trench 5 and Trench 6 (see plan below) aim to determine the form and date of surviving earthworks and in particular whether this is likely to relate to the medieval defences, or 19th century remodelling.

Both trenches were prepared and all the overburden removed. In this early stage, Trench 5 has revealed the possible location of the defensive ditch and material, including modern bricks, burned clay, several fragments of stems of clay tobacco pipes and slag, has been recovered from a Victorian track.

In the meantime a second team of volunteers has prepared Trench 6. Although material evidence is currently very poor, a flywheel from a traction engine has been recovered. We are not entirely sure how it ended up on site.

Site plan with the trench locations outlined in green

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Our new little friend

In the final hours of our first day on site an unexpected visitor appeared next to Trench 6 (photo right) looking a bit stressed and unwell. Our little site mascot is now under the care of the Cuan Wildlife Rescue Centre in Much Wenlock.

Viviana Culshaw, CPAT

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Tuesday 23rd August 2016

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Ian and the volunteers in Trench 5

Good progress today with six volunteers working in lovely warm weather. Trench 5 is ready for some exploratory tests to investigate if any medieval deposits survive.

In the meantime, the motte has been prepared and by the end of the morning a topographical survey was conducted to map significant features. In the afternoon an area of around 15sqm (trench 4) was prepared on the summit of the motte. We are hoping to evaluate the potential for surviving archaeology relating to the medieval motte, as well as a 19th century pavilion depicted on a print dated 1850. The print clearly shows one pavilion on the summit of the motte and an additional three pavilions adjacent to the club house. None of these survive today.

Viviana Culshaw, CPAT

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Wednesday 24th August 2016

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Revealing the Victorian spiral pathway around the motte

Today was 'a good old digging day' according to CPAT archaeologist Will Logan. Work continues in trenches 5 and 6, with the volunteers learning new skills all the time. With no artefacts to show off there is little more to say here but good progress is being made as we look for evidence of the medieval bailey bank and ditch.

Excavation has begun of the area cleared on top of the motte yesterday. Here we are trying to find out to what extent the mound was re-modelled when the Bowling Club was established in the 19th century. As we suspected, the answer is 'a considerable amount'! No medieval material has been found so far, but we have found a path that spiralled around the mound to the top, and some stones that would have edged the path (see photo). No evidence of the pavilion shown on the print mentioned yesterday has been found as yet.

Tomorrow we are expecting a visit from Cadw Inspector Will Davies and look forward to welcoming him on site.

Abi McCullough, CPAT

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Thursday 25th August 2016

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Ian and Will Davies of Cadw playing with finds while the volunteers do the real work!

Sad news to start the day, our prickly site mascot died overnight at the Cuan Wildlife Rescue Centre. As the vet there had feared, she appears to have been poisoned, they assume accidentally by ingesting rat poison. Community Archaeologist Viviana is particularly upset as she was going to adopt 'Mrs Pricklepants' and had made a home for her in her garden.

Moving on to site news, work in Trench 5 has now been completed. Material making up the bank surrounding the medieval bailey was identified, though this appears to have been cut back and reshaped, presumably in the Victorian period. Evidence of the ditch remains inconclusive, and this is complicated by the changes to the bank. With the excavation complete, we took a 1m deep soil sample with an auger, and still no evidence of the ditch. It is possible that it partly lies beneath modern development.

CPAT©

A military button and a thimble found on the motte. Victorian not medieval, unfortunately

Work has continued on top of the mound, with Cadw Inspector Will Davies keeping a close eye. His area of expertise is early Welsh castles, so it would be interesting to see what he thinks of the 'improvements' made by the Victorians!

Tomorrow we will be turning back to Trench 6, where we know the ditch can be found (famous last words...), based on previous evaluations and watching briefs carried out by CPAT going back to the 1990s when Welshpool bypass was built. Watch this space...

Abi McCullough, CPAT

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