Today, (11th September) English Heritage starts the first ever archaeological excavation of the Isle of Wight’s only medieval castle, Carisbrooke Castle.
The dig runs for nearly three weeks (11th – 28th September) and aims to gain knowledge of the Privy Garden’s varied history from Saxon, Medieval and Georgian periods, up to present day.
Archaeologists are hoping to confirm whether the area was used as a cemetery in Saxon and medieval periods. There is also the prospect of revealing buildings from the Norman period (11th – 12th centuries), when the current motte-and-bailey castle was erected and further evidence of the late Saxon fortifications which came before it.
The Privy Garden, as it is now known, became a garden in the 1700’s and English Heritage is eager to unearth evidence of how it looked and was used. A preliminary survey has revealed parch marks and uneven areas which could be evidence of pathways and flower beds.
Tracey Wahdan, Visitor Operations Director for the South East, said:
“English Heritage is very excited to be excavating the Privy Garden as it will enable us to identify key periods in the history of the garden and its characteristics at those times. It will give us a rare insight into its development over the centuries and will increase our knowledge of Carisbrooke Castle itself. There is a very real chance that we could unearth some early Islanders.”
Any archaeological finds will be announced at the end of the dig. The results will influence the new design for the garden which is part of a larger scheme to enhance visitors’ enjoyment of Carisbrooke Castle.
The area is thought to have been an enclosed cemetery until about 1700, when it was shown as a garden on plans. It evolved from a simple open space with trees, to an area with paths and flower beds by the 1880’s. In 1904, possibly under Princess Beatrice’s influence, a lawn was laid on top of the paths and three flower beds were established. Variations on this design remain today.
Carisbrooke Castle is a magnificent example of a Norman motte-and-bailey castle. It was built on an isolated chalk hill which had previously been used as a high status burial ground in the 6th century.
From the 16th century, Carisbrooke Castle became the official residence first of Captains and later Governors of the Isle of Wight. It was taken into the care of the Office of Works in 1856 and after 1944 it was managed as an ancient monument. It is now under the guardianship of English Heritage.
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