Community Dig 2020 – Event Summary and Preliminary Archaeological Assessment

After months of preparation for the provision of COVID-19 secure events over the King Alfred Weekend, the Hyde900 2020 Community Dig took place on the site of Hyde Abbey in the now traditional (for Hyde900) downpours of rain. For a time, gazebos erected over the trench positions provided some cover for hardy participants of the Dig. However, the winds on Friday put paid to a couple of them! 

Despite the challenges, the 2020 Dig sites featured no fewer than four separate gardens, generously made available by the  householders, making this the largest and most ambitious Dig put on by Hyde900. 

The project was run with the help of members of Hyde900, local experts and WARG, a Winchester archaeology and history group together with financial support from Council for British Archaeology  Wessex section and the Hampshire Field Club. 

Hundreds of hours of planning were put in by a dedicated team to ensure the Dig met all government guidelines, so as to provide as safe an environment as possible for those taking part.

Two of the sites were in gardens in King Alfred Place, the area which had been occupied by the nave of the abbey church until the Dissolution, and subsequently between 1788 and c.1860 by the county Bridewell.

For the other two sites the dig returned to gardens in King Alfred Terrace, one in the area previously occupied by the cloisters, and another to the west just outside of the cloister area. In addition there was a separate team in a ‘finds’ tent, where the items discovered of potential interest were processed and recorded.

Over 200 people of all ages from 5 year old upwards took part in the dig, with many expressing their delight in taking part in a safe community activity at a time when such outdoors events were rare. 

Once again the area excavated yielded results which exceeded all expectations.

6 King Alfred Place

No 6 King Alfred Place revealed a 0.3m thick layer of loosely packed demolition rubble most probably from the Bridewell at 0.3 m below ground level. In one trench at around 0.6m below ground level a series of chalk clunch blocks with a roughly axed finish in amongst a compacted chalk layer were found.

These almost certainly came from the nave of the abbey over which the Bridewell was built. A similar make up, without the chalk blocks, was found in the second trench.

Finds included fragments of medieval decorated tile and of Roman greyware.

7 King Alfred Place

7 King Alfred Place revealed an area of rough floor (and some roofing) tile surface about 1 by 1.5 metres some 0.7m below ground level which is likely to be the floor of one of the areas of the Bridewell.

Below this was a densely packed layer of chalk extending to at least 0.4m below the floor surface, potentially extending to 0.95m below the floor surface, similar to that found in 6 King Alfred Place.

Probing revealed hard surface remains of what is likely to be the abbey church over the south end of the trench 1.65 m below ground level.

Finds include fragments of medieval decorated tile and brick and other demolition rubble from the Bridewell.

3 King Alfred Terrace

The wall already found in No 3 King Alfred Terrace was revealed to be even larger than previously thought, with flint facings showing that it was approximately 1.5 m wide and in exact alignment with the cloister buildings. This indicated that it had formed part of a substantial building of at least two storeys. Research into comparable abbeys pointed to the possibility of the wall having been part of the long lost abbot’s lodging. This building was the first structure to be quoted as still standing after the Dissolution in the grant by Henry VIII to Bethell of the site in 1546. The north face of the  wall terminated at the western end with an approximately rectangular greensand block  measuring around 200mm X 250mm. 

• Already found earlier in the year, alongside the south face of the wall was a 200-300mm thick layer of oyster shells (95+%) and other molluscs which was notable as it contained no pottery fragments,  and appeared to overlay a previous possibly medieval demolition layer. The deposit is currently being analysed which may provide evidence of dates. 

• A substantial deposit of medieval painted glass fragments (400+) was found adjacent to the north west corner of the wall. These are currently being cleaned and conserved. The presence of this indicated that the structure found had been in all probability a high status building. The glass is of major importance as finds of medieval glass are rare.

13 King Alfred Terrace

No 13 King Alfred Terrace fully met expectations being next door to Chris Prior’s garden where the Norman voussoirs and many of the 2017-18 dig finds came from.

A beautifully defined wall running east – west was revealed with remains of a white painted plaster facing on the north side, with the flintwork on the south face described  by Tim Tatton Brown as typical of the later middle ages. 

This trench also provided some Roman pottery and fragments of decorated tiles. one of which featured a  leaf – a pattern not previously found in the precincts of Hyde Abbey.

For more information on the dig and to see the dig photos please click here.