medieval site

Cakes, Cottages and Manky Bones

Hello!  Gabe here.  I teach archaeology-type things at UCL, but I don’t get to dig as much as I’d like to. This year I was very excited to be able to spend the Day of Archaeology at the Museum of London’s community archaeology project at Headstone Manor in Harrow, North London, where I’ve been helping out for a few weeks.  Headstone Manor is a medieval site with a rather lovely moat full of ducks – the site was a farm for centuries, and the dig is aimed at examining the remains of farm workers’ cottages.


In the morning it rained, so to protect our precious field-school participants from getting wet we ran an impromptu indoor teaching session on human remains. The Museum of London provided a skelly – a rather nice medieval male specimen with a truly horrifying spine.  As we laid him out we saw his very worn teeth, and the severe lipping and spurring (growths of bone) on the vertebrae.  The general impression was “ouch”.

Back on the trench when the rain stopped, we got back to revealing the outline of the cottage with its flint and brick foundations and the outlines of brick outbuildings, including a mysterious circular feature (see above, on the left of the trench).


Away from the cottage, we were busy planning the rather tangled set of layers, lenses and splodges in the east end of the trench, which is both nasty and confusing.  While we were cleaning it up a local resident stopped by for a chat.  I told him what we were up to, and he told me he’d never seen middle-class people working so hard – high praise indeed … I think.

Tea break!  Both me and digger Anna had made cakes for the last day of the fieldschool, so we had a classy carby break – I made cherry and almond loaf cake (Nigella’s recipe), and Anna made a delicious chocolate banana cake.


At the end of the day we gathered around the finds processing area to look at some of the stuff that’d been found during the week, including big lumps of an iron hearth, and an assortment of mostly nineteenth century finds including clay pipe, ceramics and glassware.


Finally, a review of the weeks results on the trench by site director Ian Blair.  In the picture you can see the front wall of the cottage (partly robbed out) with part of a brick floor to the left.  All in all we had a great week of fieldschool fun with a fantastic team, some lovely finds and features, and great cakes.  Still, it’s that twisted and spiky medieval spine that sticks in my mind – ugh!

Thanks to everybody on the dig!  See (some of) you next week.

Want to see the dig? There’s a FREE open day at Headstone Manor on July 20th from 12 to 4.  Pop in for some family friendly activities. Come and see some finds from the site, go on a site tour and experience medieval re-enactments.

Headstone Manor is located at Pinner View, Harrow, HA2 6PX. The closest station is Harrow and Wealdstone.

Aisha Al-Sadie (RCAHMS) – Fife

Fife ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Fife ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Falkland Palace

Over the last three months I have been researching the history of Falkland Palace, situated in Fife while on placement there as a Skills for the Future education trainee. It is surrounded by a wealth of history, not only from the surrounding village of Falkland but also in the very grounds of the palace. Under the Palace garden, remains of earlier structures have been found and others have completely vanished.

View of Falkland Palace. Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

View of Falkland Palace. Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie



The earliest known structure on the site was a 12th century hunting lodge owned by the Clan McDuff, the Earls of Fife. It is not known whether the lodge was either destroyed or whether it was incorporated into the later Falkland Castle which was levelled in 1371.The 3rd Marquess of Bute who was the Keeper of the Palace in the 1800s carried out several archaeological digs to look for evidence of the medieval site of Falkland Castle but only found a pile of medieval rubble. However, foundations of a 14th century Well Tower and the Palace’s destroyed North Range were discovered at this time which are thought to be either part of a Great Hall or a Chapel. The Marquess placed stones over these foundations to enhance the structures of both these sites and reformed the ‘upper garden’ to express the shape of the ruined buildings. Medieval remains of the castle were also found buried in the 17th century bowling green which the Marquess removed when digging, the rest of the stone was probably reused to build Falkland Palace in the 1500s.

Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

In the 17th century Sir David Murray and his brother built a mansion house in the northern part of the Palace garden. This has been referred to as the Low Palace, the Castlestead, the Rangers House and the Netherplace of Falkland. During this period the Palace lay empty and fell into ruin so by 1757 no effort had been made to repair it.

Drawing, by the author, of Falkland Palace. Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

Drawing, by the author, of Falkland Palace. Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

“in my last that I was at Falkland which I found in very ill cause both as to the glasses and window cases and floorings, and besides it will be very inconvenient and chargeable living there since I have no interest in it, nor near it so that I think any charges I will be at will be better bestowed at Huntingtower…”

Lord Murray writing to his father-in-law the Duke of Hamilton on Falkland Palace, 1684

Ironically, the structures built during this period no longer exist and little is known about them. However the 3rd Marquess of Bute ensured that Falkland Palace itself was preserved for future generations. Unfortunately he died in 1900 before he could complete all his plans for the palace. One of these was to put a roof over the ruined East Range which is still a shell, it is however constantly monitored and conserved by the Deputy Keeper, National Trust for Scotland and partly funded by Historic Scotland through the Annual Maintenance Grant Scheme.

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.

For further information you can also contact the local authority archaeologist. In this case contact details are:

Douglas A Speirs Archaeologist
Enterprise, Planning & Protective Services
Regeneration, Environment & Place Team Fife Council Kingdom House Kingdom Avenue
Glenrothes KY7 5LY
Dial VOIP: (08451 55 55 55) ext :473748
Mobile: 0785021224
Fax: 01592 583199


What is in the Post?

One of the delights of specialist post-ex work is that you never know quite what the next delivery from the postman or courier will bring. Today’s delivery was of 15 crates of iron-working residue (almost quarter of a tonne!) from a medieval site in Ireland.

A quick look (its a bit like Christmas…!) shows a beautifully-preserved assemblage of slag and large fragments of tuyères (the ceramic ‘nozzle’ carrying the blast from the bellows into the blacksmith’s hearth).