Phase V – 1248 to 1403

 

The Moated Site: i) de Newmarch

 

 

 

Fig 19: Wood Hall: the de Newmarch phase, 1248 – c 1440

 

 

The moat at Wood Hall is not a particularly large one, varying between 10m and 13m in width, and enclosing an area of approx. 3.5 acres. It varies in depth between 1.5m and 2m, and is bottomed on the thick, impermeable, grey lacustrine clay. The material dug out of the moat was spread around the edges of the interior platform, forming a slight levee at the moat edge in order to prevent the interior of the platform from flooding. At the northwest corner of the moat a number of stone hearths and spreads of heat-affected cobbles were found, interleaved among the layers of upcast from the moat - possibly representing the medieval workmen's equivalent of 'tea-breaks' during wet and muddy work.

 

 

Fig 20: Two of the hearths within the upcast from the digging of the moat.

 

The moat, which is fed by springs to the north-west, is linked into the surrounding land drainage system via the ditch on the east side of the causewayed approach track. The junction between ditch and moat had a simple system of sluices for controlling water-levels, which would also have assisted in draining the moat if required. A similar system may exist for the western ditch; the area has not yet been investigated.

 

 

Fig 21: The overflow/sluice system between the moat and the

eastern causeway ditch.

 

 

The earliest of a sequence of four phases of timber bridge discovered at Wood Hall belongs to the de Newmarch period. Unfortunately it has proved impossible to date this bridge by dendrochronology, since the oak trees from which it was constructed, growing in optimum conditions, achieved a diameter from heartwood to bark of approx 43cm in only 48 years, and would not fit into any known dating curve. However, a length of structural timber of similar dimensions, abandoned in the moat close to this bridge after it had been damaged as a mortice joint was being cut, had a dendrochronological date of 1247AD. This lies within the date-range of the pottery associated with the moat construction, and also corresponds with co-operative drainage works being carried out by the de Newmarches and de Warennes at this time. It seems likely that the bridge was constructed at the same time.

 

 

Fig 22: A dendrochronological sample cut from the earliest bridge at Wood Hall.

The sample has 48 rings from heartwood to bark.

 

All that remains of this early bridge are the massive timbers, which formed the base of the box-frame construction for the fixed portion of a drawbridge, extending 7m into the moat. Three transverse soleplates lay upon the bottom of the moat, supporting two longitudinal soleplates connected by halving joints. These five timbers formed the substructure for three upright trestles, connected to the base by mortice and tenon joints, which supported the upper decking.

 

 

Fig 23: The lowest timbers of the earliest bridge remained in situ.

 

 

A gap of 3.5m, from the surviving structure to a contemporary revetment wall at the north bank, remains to be bridged. No timbers corresponding to this phase have been found in the northern half of the moat, from where they had probably been removed by later activity. Nor was there any trace on the north bank of the moat of any structure suitable for lifting a drawbridge. However, it is quite possible for the lifting mechanism to have been supported on the bridge itself, or on the stone revetment wall. The solid box-frame construction of the southern portion of the bridge suggests a drawbridge as the most likely option.

 

Although some of the earliest buildings at Wood Hall were deliberately dismantled to make way for the digging of the moat, the original pre-moat hall continued in use. The land immediately north of it remained in agricultural or horticultural cultivation. The digging of the south eastern corner of the new moat caused the abandonment of the first kitchen, the remains of which were sealed under the upcast, and the construction of a second kitchen a few metres to the west. A paved area immediately to the north of this building, contemporary with the first kitchen, continued to serve as a yard; the pentice path remained in use.

 

Fig 24: The paved area to the north of kitchen 2, cut by later features.

 

 

Fig 25: Plan showing kitchen 2. Kitchen 1 was removed to make way for the

moat; the 'pentice' path and stone 'paved' area remained in use.

 

To the south of the hall and west of the pentice path a number of limestone rubble spreads, post-holes, and a hearth suggest at least one insubstantial building. This was surrounded by several rectangular pits, all with water-logged organic lower fills, which seem likely to have had an 'industrial' function, though it is possible they were used for storage. One had a stone lining still 'in situ', and the nature of the primary erosion in the others makes it likely that they too were originally stone-lined. Analysis of the fills may help to establish their function.

 

One outstanding feature belonging to the de Newmarch sequence was a large circular pit, 3.3m in diameter by 1.3m deep, lying centrally within the excavated area. The pit had been lined with timber stakes and a clay lining, and was probably a tank or cistern for holding water for use in the adjacent industrial process. It contained a number of wooden fragments, debris from the conversion of tree-logs to usable timber. Its final use was as a dump for brash from the clearance or pruning of shrubs - immediately identifiable species included rose, holly, birch, hawthorn or blackthorn, goat willow, sallow willow and oak.

 

Artefacts found in the pit included a tooled leather knife scabbard with a pattern of waves and fishes, and two fine lathe-turned wooden bowls. A brass mirror case was actually within the clay lining. Other finds from the de Newmarch phase include, among quantities of Hallgate, Northern Gritty and early Humber wares, part of a Saintonge polychrome wine jug, and a fragment of a Romanesque ivory carving of Samson and the Lion.

 

Fig 26 and 27: The large circular 'cistern' belonging to the de Newmarch period.

Fig 26: Shows the excavation of the brash dumped in at the end of its use.

Fig 27: Shows the feature after excavation

 

The assessment of the environmental evidence from water-logged features belonging to this phase indicates a pastoral use for the land surrounding Wood Hall, with little evidence for cereal production (though both wheat and barley were grown on the moated platform, on the 'field' immediately to the north of the hall), or of grain-associated insects that might indicate extensive arable farming. Instead, dung beetles were present in quantity, suggesting animal husbandry. This evidence, taken in conjunction with large quantities of cattle bone and the presence of dairy-type pottery utensils, seems to suggest cattle farming, with high production of cheese and butter, meat and hides. Significant quantities of deer bones suggest that hunting was an important part of the economy at this period; and bird bones (eg waterfowl) were also present.

 

Although a significant proportion of the evidence remains unexcavated, the results so far seem to suggest that de Newmarch Wood Hall was a busy and productive place, functioning as a food/resource supplier, but nevertheless being of sufficiently high status to have fine pottery, treen and artistic work among the possessions of its people.

 

 

Fig 28: Artist’s impression of fifteenth century Wood Hall showing craftsmen at work.

(Artist - Peter Scholefield)

 

 

 

Phase IV - 1403 to c 1440

 

 

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