Picture gallery: Archaeological dig at Saffron Walden castle unearths surprise

13:08 21 June 2013

Trevor Ennis from Archaeology South-East, Robert Tate from contractors Noble & Taylor and Simon Marks from architects Purcell.

Trevor Ennis from Archaeology South-East, Robert Tate from contractors Noble & Taylor and Simon Marks from architects Purcell.

Archant

A “CRICTICAL phase” has begun in the work make to Saffron Walden castle a public attraction.

Trevor Ennis from Archaeology South-East, Robert Tate from contractors Noble & Taylor and Simon Marks from architects Purcell.Trevor Ennis from Archaeology South-East, Robert Tate from contractors Noble & Taylor and Simon Marks from architects Purcell.

Archaeologists have carried out tests on the 12th century site after Uttlesford District Council requested a survey before repairs to the eroded walls.

A team from the University of London dug three trenches next to the walls of the keep ... and it unearthed a surprise.

The team found the usual fragments of glass, animal bone and clay pipe. What they hand not expected was for the castle’s foundation walls to be missing.

The flint foundations had been ‘robbed out’ – the technical term for being plundered or recycled – in medieval and early-Tudor times.

Senior archaeologist Trevor Ennis, who headed the team, said: “All we found was a trench dating back to the Middle Ages where someone had moved along the keep removing the flint wall foundations.

“There wasn’t much local stone available to the previous inhabitants of Saffron Walden and these piles of flint came in very handy during medieval times for building roads, walls and sheds.

“When the original castle fell to ruin it became a giant standing stone quarry. People in later times appear to have recycled it for their own purposes.”

Now the dig has finished the castle will be handed over to architects and heritage consultants Purcell, who are due to start stabilising the walls this week.

They plan to inject ‘limecrete’ – a form of concrete where lime is used instead of cement – into the base of the walls to replace the missing foundations.

Brick piers will then be built into the walls to support them before they are given a flint face to match the existing masonry.

The £28,000 bill is being funded by UDC with the help of a £20,000 grant from English Heritage, which has identified the castle as a ‘monument at risk’.

It is the first phase in making the monument more of a prominent feature.

UDC’s head of planning, Andrew Taylor, who is overseeing the project, said: “It is a long-term goal to open the castle for more general use and for people to be able to get closer to it.

“We are trying to develop a tourism strategy and the castle is part of that. This links in with the Town Team and the efforts to try to give the town an overall lift.”

Carolyn Wingfield, curator at Saffron Walden Museum, believes that repairing the monument could “open up lots of possibilities” and described the most recent work as a “critical phase” in its regeneration.

“We’re really pleased to see this happening – the castle is a much more important monument to the town than many people may realise,” she said.

“It really does need some TLC to keep it going for another 1,000 years.

“We get a lot interest from visitors about the castle. Anything to illuminate its history is great.”

Mr Taylor said it would be “two or three years” before the castle was made safe.

There were no fixed views on its future use, although ideas being mooted include removing part of the boundary wall around the common and installing up-lighting to emphasise the monument. It could be that the castle also holds community events, such as theatrical performances, in future.

A consultation with residents would be held at a later date.

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