Community Excavations at Ampthill

 

In 2014 Ampthill Town Council secured a ‘Parks for People’ (PfP) grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to restore Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown landscape. The project also aimed at increasing the awareness of the park’s earlier heritage, and included a proposal for a community-led archaeological excavation.  Albion Archaeology was commissioned to manage the community project.

Ampthill Park is associated with the scheduled monument of ‘Ampthill Castle’, a late-medieval ‘Magnate’s residence’ rather than a fortified castle, famous for its connection with Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII. The main focus of the work was to investigate Anglo Saxon remains found in previous excavation, the location of a Tudor Tower and the location and condition of the ice-house. Over a three week period 40 local volunteers assisted with the excavation and around 1,000 people visited the project.

  Excavations by volunteers in the park itself, looking for evidence of Saxon settlement.

Excavations by volunteers in the park itself, looking for evidence of Saxon settlement.

  Excavations by volunteers in Laurel Wood, looking for the late-Medieval standing.

Excavations by volunteers in Laurel Wood, looking for the late-Medieval standing.

  Members of the public were given tours by Albion staff.

Members of the public were given tours by Albion staff.

Trench 1 of the excavation, looking for evidence of Saxon settlement in the park itself, revealed evidence of a Saxon sunken featured building and associated ditches. Finds included a partial loomweight, plenty of early to mid Saxon pottery, and a small glass "melon" bead. 

 
  Fragment of loom weight from SFB. Originally "doughnut" shaped, these fired-clay weights hold the warp threads on a loom taut while the weft is woven in.  

Fragment of loom weight from SFB. Originally "doughnut" shaped, these fired-clay weights hold the warp threads on a loom taut while the weft is woven in.  

 
  Roman "melon" bead made of frit (a glass-like substance). This Roman object was found in the Saxon SFB, and would have been found and used decoratively by the Saxon owner. 

Roman "melon" bead made of frit (a glass-like substance). This Roman object was found in the Saxon SFB, and would have been found and used decoratively by the Saxon owner. 

 

Trench 2, located in Laurel Wood (to the east of Ampthill Great Park) was placed in an attempt to find "The Standing", a late-Medieval to Tudor building used for hunting. Large quantities of appropriately-aged brick and tile were recovered from this trench, which also revealed two postholes (lined with tile) and a hard surface. Additionally, a small late-Medieval dress pin was found by one eagle-eyed excavator. 

 
  Copper-alloy dress pin.

Copper-alloy dress pin.

 

The excavation attracted interest from the local press, with a BBC news article and a feature on ITV Anglia news, as well as the Project Manager, Jeremy Oetgen being interviewed for BBC Three Counties radio.