Blog: Shrewsbury Castle dig – day 1: A Victorian greenhouse, or something else?
In 2019 Nigel Baker and University Centre Shrewsbury history staff and students took part in the first archaeological investigation within the grounds of Shrewsbury Castle and discovered the motte ditch for the Norman castle.
This year’s new dig site was chosen based on the TigerGeo geophysical survey, which has highlighted another area for examination. Research before the excavation showed this to be the location of Victorian greenhouses, visible on an 1882 Ordinance Survey map and in contemporary photographs. Earlier documents have suggested the greenhouses may be situated on top of the castle’s medieval chapel of St Michael. Tudor and Georgian maps, dating between the 1570s to 1770s show the ruined shell of a possible chapel where the dig is sited.
Day one began with a socially distanced briefing before breaking ground and setting out our first trench. Geophysical survey data showed where to locate the centre of the trench with the aim of discovering the greenhouses, which may be the gateway to earlier features. The survey work marking out a 4 X 1-metre trench was led by professional archaeologists Drs Nigel Baker and Dai Williams, with volunteer students and staff from History and Heritage at University Centre Shrewsbury. Volunteers helped with digging and also put up fences to protect the eager public, maintain security and ensure social distancing. Despite coronavirus we have been able to go ahead with the dig, but with fewer volunteers on site at any time compared to last year to enable social distance to be maintained between the diggers and with public visitors. Finds can already often be seen at the marquee opposite the trench.
Once the trench was established, the topsoil was quickly removed in turfs so it can be easily replaced when the dig is complete. Our nearby spoil heap is already growing and we are making good progress. When the topsoil was removed the finds emerging in the first level have all been late Victorian domestic or typical garden finds so far. We have found plenty of plant pot and glass, which fits with the story of an expected greenhouse. In amongst this layer there is plenty of domestic evidence of patterned porcelain, a wine glass stem, green bottle glass, clay tobacco pipes – one with a stamp, animal bone and the remnants of oyster shell.
Early levels have been photographed and recorded, as we moved on after lunch. Diggers carefully scraped back the soil with trowels, identifying and recording the change in soil colour. In the new context, less glass and plant pot were found, but a massive increase in nails and metalwork, including a lump of waste slag. After lunch a brick wall was exposed in the trench, which requires further investigation – is this our Victorian greenhouse? We will find out tomorrow.
W Whitfield and B Christian, on behalf of volunteers at Shrewsbury Castle dig.