Our history : Dig, Dig, Dig … What has been found at Middleton?
One of the very frequent questions often asked at Middleton Hall is what archaeological investigations have been conducted? This has a really short answer … not many!
In total there have been five trenches dug at Middleton. These were all conducted in 1981 by Dr Mike Hodder.
- Trench one examined the old moat in front of the Great Hall. It revealed the construction of the moat and also the foundations of the chapel and bridges that are now buried beneath the car park. The archaeologists also found bits of the ornate coving from what is now the Ballroom that had been used as infill when this part of the moat was filled in the 19th
- Trench two was dug between the Stone Building and the edge of the moat. This provided information about the construction of the Stone Building.
- Trench three was dug from the south wall of the Old Kitchen to the edge of the moat. This provided information about the South Wing, which turned out to be much more complicated than previously thought as there were at least three different foundation layers! As a result we know that this section was knocked down and rebuilt a few times.
- Trench four was dug in the middle of the west lawn and found only garden soil.
- Trench five was a long narrow trench that went from between the brick pilasters where the chapel used to be, through the courtyard and round to the toilet block. I believe this was dug because the Trust needed to lay a new pipe. This showed the extensive foundations of a warren of many different rooms, some with stone walls others with brick, which were demolished in 1925 by John Averill.
A small test pit was also dug in the base of the Jettied Building during its restoration, which detected the presence of charcoal.
Therefore, with so little archaeological investigation, we always have many unanswered questions about our complicated history. It also means that we often learn new things and have to re-write our history when new aspects come to light.
Recently a 1762 map of Middleton Hall came to our attention. This provided confirmation of some things that we knew but more astonishingly there were a number of new buildings. It showed three buildings in the area of the circular car park. There was a building double the length of the Tudor Barn directly to the south of that structure. Furthermore, there was a 100+ metre-long lined brick pool stretching from the west side of the moat. It really says something about the challenge of Middleton when structures of that size are still so obscured. However, that map did answer the question of why we can’t get tent pegs into the ground to the south of the Tudor Barn!
A lot of what we know comes from anecdotal evidence, particularly the work of Egbert de Hamel who was a tenant of Middleton Hall from 1886 to 1924. Egbert did write about a large structure, by his time gone, that extended southwards from the Tudor Barn and was made of the same materials. He wrote of the loop of the moat being filled in because it was unsanitary. There was also a structure he had described as the north stable range that had once extended the length of the inner northern loop of the moat. However, we had misunderstood his descriptions. We had looked in the wrong areas and then dismissed most of his comments. Once we saw the map, what he had written finally made sense. Not sure which sentiment was stronger at this point – wow! or duh! We still have so much to learn.
In terms of items that have been found at Middleton, I am going to highlight three: a piece of pottery; the Middleton Torc; and the Middleton Jewel.
This piece of pottery was found by a volunteer. It is imprinted with the words Uppingham. Therefore, we know that it came to Middleton during the tenancy of Reverend Robert John Hodgkinson (1881-1885) who was a master of Uppingham School.
The Middleton Torc was found in 1977 when field walking near the Tudor Barn. It is dated to 150 to 50BC and is the oldest artefact to have been found at Middleton Hall. The Torc consists of 12 alloy gold wires. Two wires have been twisted together to form six strands, which have then been plaited to form a single curved strand. It is believed that there were originally more strands that would have turned this piece into a substantial neck-ring. The Torc is currently on display in the British Museum, London.
The Middleton Jewel was found in 2014 near the crossroads at the entrance to the Hall by metal detectorists. It is dated to about 1450 and is the lid of a reliquary pendant. The image is of St George in Italian armour holding a lance and spearing a dragon. It is a lozenge shape, which means that it would have belonged to a woman. The Jewel was purchased by Warwickshire Museums.
So, when you are next at Middleton – keep your eyes open as you never know what you may find!
Debbie Jordan, Middleton Hall Trust Volunteer & Historian