In June 2019, participants from Operation Nightingale (Facilitated by Defence Archaeology Group) took part in a two-week excavation at Oakham Castle in Rutland, run by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS). The aim was to continue building a picture of the buildings to the north and west of the Great Hall, first found by Time Team in 2012 and explored further by the first community dig in 2018.
The Op. N/DAG team mainly worked on the trench north of the Great Hall. The previous year, ULAS uncovered the gable-end of a 13th or 14th-century building that was speculated to be a stable or workshop. It appeared to have been long and narrow with its east side opening onto a large yard area in the northeast quarter of the castle’s inner bailey. This year’s dig considerably advanced the understanding of this building, in the process confirming it is indeed long and narrow as first suspected, approximately 6m wide and just over 20m in length. It is built with sturdy mud-bonded stone walls, it has at least one doorway on its east side, and internally it is divided into two large rooms.
The team excavated one of the two large key-hole shaped stone hearths that were uncovered inside the building and a large stone platform built outside against the north wall. The hearths comprised enclosed circular fire pits, raised stone walls, presumably to support a higher structure or vessel, and flue or stoke-holes which projected into the room. Many of the stones in the walls inside the building are scorched, as if there had been a fire and the current thinking is that maybe one of the hearths may have got out of control and burnt the building down. So, a workshop now seems more likely than a stable, perhaps a brewhouse where hearths were needed for both roasting the malt and boiling the mash, two key processes in brewing beer.
The team had a fantastic time during the two weeks, despite a few really wet days and came away with a definite sense of achievement. DAG would like to thank ULAS and especially the Site Director Mathew Morris, for allowing us to take part on this dig.
For more information about the castle and the project click here