Oakham Castle – you dig it?
A team of volunteer archeologists are hard at work at Oakham Castle hoping to unlock more of the site’s fascinating history.
The two-week dig is a partnership between the University of Leicester Archeological Services and Rutland County Council and is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The excavation builds on the work of Channel 4’s Time Team, who visited the site in 2012 and excavated two trenches which gave a tantalising glimpse of two further buildings on the site. However, the time constraints associated with filming a TV show meant they only had three days of digging.
Site leader Mathew Morris, from the University of Leicester Archeological Services said:” Time team found a stone wall to the north-east of the Great Hall which dated to the 13th or 14th Century, but they were unable to say any more about it.
“This intrigued us. Is it part of the building mentioned in the account of 1340? If so, what type of building is it? That’s why we’re here.
“West of the hall, evidence of further buildings was found. These appeared to be much later, dated to the 15th or 16th Century. Additional work, as part of the castle’s recent restoration, suggests that these are detached ancillary buildings next to the hall. Could they be the castle’s Great Chamber or Solar Block?”
The dig is the community element of the Oakham Castle restoration project and a team of more than 40 volunteers has been taking part in the dig as and when they can.
After relocating the Time Team’s original trenches, the top soil and turf was taken off with a digger before the army of volunteers busied themselves with their trowels and mattocks extending the trenches by hand.
They have already located some padstones for the timber posts of one of the buildings, as well as evidence of two further buildings, both medieval, with one being built on top of the other.
Liz Sanders, a field worker and member of Rutland History Group, said: “This is the first time I have worked on an archeological site. It’s tremendously exciting.”
The dig has already unearthed a variety of interesting finds.
Site leader Mathew said: “The dig is going well – it is a great way for people to explore more about their local history.
“The top soil contains a lot of artefacts from the 18th and 19th Century. The castle was derelict then so it is probably rubbish from the market. We have found bone knife handles and some copper alloy buttons.
“We have also found a lot of medieval materials including pottery, glazed ridge tiles, animal bones and nails from construction.
Coun Gordon Brown (Con), portfolio holder for culture and leisure at Rutland County Council said: “Oakham Castle is a great source of pride for the county and it’s wonderful to see people coming to explore the site.
“Events like this help us to tell the castle’s story and highlight its significance as one of the finest surviving examples of Norman domestic architecture anywhere in Europe.
“We are almost two years on from re-opening after the end of our £2m Lottery-funded restoration and the castle continues to draw huge crowds throughout the year.
“We had more than 50,000 visitors in 2017 and are looking forward to welcoming even more people this summer – particularly to our next living history weekend in May, celebrating the castle’s 800-year history.”
The dig threw its doors open to the public last Sunday and hundreds of visitors took the opportunity to see what was going on for themselves.
The artefacts will be taken back to the University of Leicester where they will be analysed and categorised before returning to Oakham where they will eventually go on display.
Children at Cottesmore Millfield Academy were among the schools to visit.
School teacher Beth Nix said: “We went on a history trip to Oakham for the day. In the morning, we learned about the Second World War at Rutland County Museum. We then walked to Oakham Castle where we learned about what the archaeologists were doing there. One girl found a boar tooth, and another little girl found a piece of what they thought was a tile.
“The children were absolutely intrigued by the whole day and they loved helping the archaeologists by sifting through dirt to find things, and then clean the findings. They were so engaged and made great use of being around all the experts as they quizzed them to death!”